In this article, we will compare breadboards vs. circuit boards to see the similarities and differences between the two.
The building process of a functioning electronic device begins by linking components using physical wires.
So although circuit boards are the heart and soul of modern electronic systems, the process usually starts with breadboards.
Read on to learn more!
What Is a Breadboard
A breadboard is a prototyping board that forms the construction base for building electronic circuits without soldering.
The lack of soldering makes these boards less permanent, meaning you can reuse or restructure the circuit construction as required.
In terms of appearance, the solderless breadboards are rectangular, but the name might throw you off a little.
Early on, electronics relied on circuits made by mounting screws or nails into wooden boards.
These pieces of wood were the same ones used to cut bread on, hence the name.
Electricians at the time would wrap wires around the nails or screws to form the circuit.
Breadboards used for cutting bread
But things have changed. Modern breadboards are no longer wooden breadboards.
And you don’t need nails or screws to form the conductive posts.
Instead, they have conductive holes with connections hidden underneath.
How a Breadboard Works
To understand how a breadboard works, we will look at its anatomy.
The board has two primary parts: terminal strips and power rails.
Terminal strips are the inner breadboard holes (five on each side of the DIP support or inner groove).
With the board placed flat along its length, the terminal strips have vertical connections inside.
On the other hand, power rails are the two outer rows of holes. And they have horizontal connections inside.
Full-size breadboards usually have two 65 x 5 terminal strip columns, while the power rails have red and blue markings for positive and negative power connections.
Most people like to look at the board with the short side (width) flat on the surface.
In this orientation, the terminal strip connections will be horizontal, while the power strips will run vertically.
The inner ravine or groove (DIP support) that splits the terminal strips serves a vital purpose in the breadboard.
These boards are primarily for Dual-Inline Package chips, and the DIP support separates the board sections that hold the chip.
An example of a DIP integrated circuit is the popular ATmega328P used in several Arduino boards.
So you can mount a chip across the groove and connect components on either side.
These component-integrated circuit pin connections will not interfere with the functions of the pin on the opposite side.
One more thing. The connections inside the rows or columns are possible due to tiny metal strips and clips.
These clips grab and hold the wire or component leg once you insert it.
But it is vital to note that the number of holes (terminal strips and power rails) can vary depending on the board type.
And they come in three sizes: full, half, and mini.
- Rapid prototyping: it takes a few minutes to dismantle an old circuit and build a new one
- Solderless: Easy and fast to develop electrical circuits
- Cheap to buy
- Available in several sizes to suit different electronic projects
- Easy to change components (to alter the component value)
- Can include binding posts (power source connecting towers)
- Only ideal for simple circuits (low-current capacity projects)
- Not suitable for high-frequency circuits
- Occupies a large area
- Component/wire connections are not as reliable as soldered ones
- Circuit connections can experience disturbances when plugging or unplugging
- Disorganized wiring
- Heavier than PCBs
- Requires jumper wires
What Is a Circuit Board
A circuit board is a more permanent board and is the final product used in consumer products.
Paul Eisler (an Austrian inventor) built the first official PCB when working on a radio set in 1936.
Depending on use, modern boards can be flexible, rigid, or rigid-flex.
A flexible printed circuit board
Circuit boards usually come after testing and verifying the functional status of a circuit on a breadboard.
But before mass producing the PCBs, you must develop a few prototypes for small-scale trial runs.
This testing usually goes hand-in-hand with minimal improvement iteration steps to fine-tune the final product.
But the component connections in these boards must undergo soldering, making them more permanent.
So making modifications requires more work and skill, especially when dealing with surface-mount technology devices.
How a PCB Works
A printed circuit board is a laminated structure that comes unassembled and ready to have electronic components soldered on its pads.
But you can specify to your manufacturer to assemble the board to make it a PCBA.
An assembled PCB
Breadboards only accept through-hole components, but PCBs can connect to these and SMT devices.
You must specify these details to the manufacturer so the boards come with the respective pads or holes.
Unlike breadboards (which have terminal strips and power rails), PCBs have copper layers for carrying power and signals.
Breadboard vs. Circuit Board: Printed Circuit Board Advantages
- Firm soldered electrical connections
- Compact (more space-efficient than breadboards)
- Better current-carrying capacity (ideal for complex circuits)
- Forms a neat circuit (with no hanging wires)
Printed Circuit Board Disadvantages
- Cannot hot swap components
- Not easy to repurpose to handle other projects
- Soldering requires technical skills
- Designing and manufacturing circuit boards is not an easy task
Breadboard vs. Circuit Board: When To Use a Breadboard
Breadboards are ideal for rapid prototyping and experimenting.
So when you get a project idea, this board makes it easy to assemble the circuit.
Additionally, you can hot-swap the circuit components, move them to optimize the circuit design, or add new ones without causing damage.
A breadboard beginner electronics project
However, the board can only handle low electrical current levels and low-frequency signals.
So you can only use it to a certain extent. After that, you need to design and develop a printed circuit board.
Besides professional use, breadboards are ideal for hobbyists and students (electronics and electrical engineering).
Breadboard vs. Circuit Board: When To Use a Circuit Board
Circuit boards are the final products to use inside electrical devices.
So after testing the circuit on the breadboard and ensuring it works, the next step is to get a PCB.
But keep in mind a circuit board is a more permanent device that is expensive to make.
So ensure you get the circuit right and optimize it for efficiency and long-lasting use before production.
A PCB undergoing soldering using robotic soldering iron tips
And we recommend getting a few prototypes first for small-scale testing before going into mass production.
Breadboard vs. Circuit Board: How to Convert a Breadboard into a Circuit Board
Following the development of electronics, PCBs emerge from breadboard circuits.
Here’s a rough step-by-step process that shows how the latter transforms into the former.
We’ll use the VBB software for this conversion.
- Create the breadboard project in VBB software and set up the breadboard template.
- Layout the raw PCB design (schematic) by placing the components in the design software and connecting them.
- Emulate the PCB layout.
- Convert the breadboard layout into a PCB layout by clicking PCB direct preview.
A batch of printed circuit boards
With the circuit board layout, you can:
- Mount components
- Drill via holes
- Create copper trace connections
Prototype Board vs. Breadboard
As stated earlier, breadboards are ideal for rapid prototyping, but are they prototype boards?
A breadboard is a prototype board, but a prototype board is not a breadboard.
Let me explain.
Prototype boards test and develop electronic circuits before printing them on a PCB.
Sounds familiar? This definition is the exact one of a breadboard.
The difference is that prototype boards are available in several types, which include:
- Stripboard (Veroboard)
There you have it! In a nutshell, breadboards are prototyping boards that help with rapid prototyping.
But circuit boards are the final compact laminated circuits used in commercial consumer products.
So the only link between the two is that they are part of the electric circuit development process.
That’s it for this article. If you found it insightful, comment below to share your sentiments.
We appreciate your feedback.