Skip to main content

Types of Circuit Board Surface Finishes

PCB Manufacturing
PCB Assembly
PCB Design and Layout
PCB Basics
Vias, Drilling & Throughplating
PCB Fabrication
PCB Ordering

A PCB surface finish protects the circuit from any damage due to harsh operating and storage environments. Selecting the right coating plays an important role in enhancing the board’s solderability, and shelf-life.

Why do you need a surface finish on a circuit board?

The surface finish is a coating between the bare copper at the solderable area and the components on the circuit board. It protects the copper surface from oxidation. During assembly, the surface coating prepares the board surface for soldering components.

Types of surface coating

Surface coating for printed circuit boards can be classified broadly into metallic and organic.

Metallic surface finishes

Metallic surface finishes use metallic layers. Some examples of these finishes are discussed below.

Hot air solder leveling (HASL)

HASL is a traditional surface finish. In this method, the board is dipped into a molten solder bath to encase all the exposed copper surfaces with solder. The extra solder is removed by passing the circuit board between hot-air knives. The solder used here is a mix of tin and lead. HASL can make a device drop-resistant.

Lead-free HASL

Lead-free HASL is identical to the HASL method. The only difference is that the solder is made up of a lead-free alloy such as Sn-Cu-Ni-Ge, Sn-Ag-Cu (SAC), and Sn-Cu-Co.

Electroless nickel immersion gold plating (ENIG)

ENIG refers to electroless nickel plating covered with a thin coating of immersion gold.

ENIG surface finish

Electroless nickel deposition is an auto-catalytic process. Here nickel is deposited on the copper surface which is catalyzed using palladium. To obtain a consistent coating, the reducing agent that contains nickel ions needs to be restored. This also provides a proper concentration and temperature for plating. Subsequently, gold will adhere to the areas that have nickel plating. ENIG can be used to protect medical devices from shock and drop issues.


Design for Manufacturing Handbook - Cover Image

Design for Manufacturing Handbook

10 Chapters - 40 Pages - 45 Minute Read
What's Inside:
  • Annular rings: avoid drill breakouts
  • Vias: optimize your design
  • Trace width and space: follow the best practices
  • Solder mask and silkscreen: get the must-knows


HASL vs. ENIG: Which surface finish is better?

Type of metal coatingLead variant: tin-lead solder
Lead-free variant: tin with small amounts of silver and copper
Nickel and gold
Plating thicknessA thicker solder layer is platedA thinner gold layer is deposited
Adhesion to copperThe solder layer in HASL adheres well to the copper pads due to the metallurgical bond formed during the soldering processThe nickel layer serves as a barrier between the copper and the gold, ensuring good adhesion between copper-nickel and nickel-gold
Thermal stressChances of damage are high since the board is exposed to a higher temperature during hot-air knives processAs the process does not require high temperature, it reduces the risk of warping
Electrical performanceLower electrical performance compared to ENIGSince gold is a better electrical conductor than tin, it enhances the electrical performance
FlatnessCan create an uneven surface due to the thickness of the solder layerProvides a smooth surface finish
SolderabilityProvides good solderability for manual soldering and simple assembly processCompatible with all advanced and automated soldering techniques
Component compatibilitySuitable for both through-hole and SMT components. However, the thickness of the solder layer can create bridges between adjacent pads and cause issues in fine-pitch component placementAllows all types of component placement. It is preferred for fine-pitch and wire-bond components, as the thin gold layer does not create any bridging issues
Operational environmentNot recommended for harsh environmentsCan withstand harsh environments
CostCost effective due to its simple process and lower material costsExpensive as it undergoes the gold immersion processes
Shelf lifeLower shelf life as it can be oxidized and corroded over time, leading to solderability issuesLonger shelf life as the gold layer provides protection against oxidation and corrosion
Eco-friendlyThe HASL lead variant is not eco-friendly. It can cause health and safety issues in the working environmentENIG is environment safe
RoHS complianceThe lead variant does not comply with RoHS regulationAdheres to RoHS regulation

Electroless nickel electroless palladium immersion gold (ENEPIG)

ENEPIG is similar to ENIG. The difference is a palladium coating is implemented as the protective layer to prevent nickel oxidation and stop diffusion to the copper layer.

ENEPIG surface finish

ENIG and ENEPIG provide great solderability at a higher cost compared to other surface finishes.

Hard gold

Hard gold includes a gold layer that is plated over a nickel coating. The hard gold finish consists of gold alloying with nickel, cobalt, or iron. It is best suited for components with a higher risk of wear and tear such as edge connectors, interconnected carrier boards, contacts, and keypads.

Immersion silver (ImAg)

Immersion silver surface finish provides a lead-free layer of silver and protects the copper traces from corrosion. An electroless immersion reaction is used to apply ImAg to the copper traces.

Immersion tin (ImSn)

Immersion tin surface finish consists of a thin layer of tin. It is RoHS-compliant and a great choice when it comes to small geometries and components. It is also well-suited for flat surface requirements and fine-pitch components.

These are all the commonly used metallic surface finishes. Now let us take a look at the organic ones.


An organic finish includes organic compounds (compounds with carbon). Some of the popular ones are listed below.

Organic solderability preservative (OSP)

OSP is a water-based organic finish used for copper pads. It protects the copper pad prior to soldering.

Carbon ink

This consists of a layer of carbon ink. This method is used in welding equipment, remote controllers, automotive, keyboards, keypads, and RF shielding. The primary factors involved in board production with the carbon ink surface finish are printing, baking, and resistance control.

Choosing the right surface finish for a board

Selecting the right surface finish is essential since it decides the reliability of the board. Some important factors to keep in mind while choosing a surface finish are as follows:

  • Operating environment
  • Board aesthetics
  • Shock and drop issues
  • Corrosion
  • Presence of fine pitch components (BGA)
  • Flatness of SMT pads

The types of surface finishes available at Sierra Circuits are listed below:

RoHS surface finish selection: Part 1


ROHS surface finish selection: Part 2
PCB Manufacturing
PCB Assembly
PCB Design and Layout
PCB Basics
Vias, Drilling & Throughplating
PCB Fabrication
PCB Ordering

Sierra Circuits is
headquartered in Silicon Valley.
We welcome visitors at
our 70,000 sqft facility,
located at 1108 West Evelyn Avenue
in Sunnyvale, California.
Book a tour with an account manager today!
Let us introduce you to one of the most innovative communities of engineers and designers in the world.
We can help you plan your project from design to assembled board.

Manufacturing Equipment at Sierra Circuits

Our 70,000 sqft state-of-the-art campus in the heart of Silicon Valley contains the most advanced equipment required for the manufacture and assembly of your PCBs. Whether you’re looking for standard quick turn PCBs or boards with the tightest tolerances, made from exotic metals, there’s a reason Sierra Circuits leads the industry in quality and performance.

PCBs manufactured and assembled in the United States

Turn-times as fast as 1 day.

Sierra Circuits can manufacture your PCB and have it expedited to you within 24 hours.

Full turnkey boards, with assembly and components in as fast as 5 days.

Get an Instant, Itemized Quote

Talk to a Sierra Circuits PCB Expert today

24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Call us: +1 (800) 763-7503
Book a Meeting with a Sales Rep
Email us: through our Customer Care form