Most circuit boards fall under one of two categories: flexible printed circuit board or rigid printed circuit board. While they both contain electric circuitry used in various devices, they are some key differences between them. As a result, it’s important for buyers to familiarize themselves with the nuances of flexible printed circuits and rigid printed circuits to make the best possible purchasing decision.

Rigid Printed Circuits

Rigid printed circuits have been around for nearly 80 years, with origins dating back to the 1940s. Since then, they’ve become an integral component used in TVs, computer monitors, smartphones, hard drives, cameras, GPS devices and more. So, what is a rigid printed circuit exactly? Well, the term “rigid” is defined as the inability to bend or change shape, while the term “printed circuit” is defined as a circuit board that contains resin, solder and conductive metal that’s used to direct and control the flow of electricity. Therefore, a rigid printed circuit board is a simply a circuit board that cannot bend or change shape. It’s stiff, hard and doesn’t flex under pressure — at least not without breaking.

Rigid printed circuits aren’t immune to damage when placed under pressure. If enough force is exerted upon one, it will break. And when this occurs, it may disrupt the device’s operations. This is why it’s important for manufacturers to use rigid printed circuit boards in the right applications. If a product is going to flex or bend,  a rigid printed circuit board could sustain damage.

Flexible Printed Circuits

Appearing several decades after rigid printed circuits, flexible printed circuits are characterized by a bendable design. Unlike rigid printed circuit boards, these newer and more advanced circuit boards can be bent or, in some cases, folded without sustaining damage. Statistics show that roughly 15% of all printed circuit boards are flexible.

Flexible printed circuit boards are typically used in applications where the device will bend. If an electronic device is going to bend, the circuitry must be able to withstand this shape deformation without ill effect. It’s also worth noting that flexible printed circuit boards are more effective at dissipating heat than rigid circuit boards, making them a popular choice for applications in which heat is a concern.

To recap, the primary difference between rigid printed circuits and flexible printed circuits is that only the latter can bend and flex without sustaining damage. Because of the increased time, labor and resources need to produce them, they typically cost more than their rigid counterpart. Depending on the application, though, they are often a smart investment due to their increased protection from damage.