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Decoding the Nuances: Stripline vs. Microstrip PCB Transmission Lines

The perpetual debate between striplines and microstrips arises due to their roles as distinct types of PCB transmission lines. Both featuring signal traces and reference planes, their differences, especially in location, make a significant impact on various applications. In this detailed exploration, we uncover the intricacies of striplines and microstrips, shedding light on their advantages and the factors guiding their application choices.

Understanding Striplines in PCBs:

Striplines find their niche on the inner layers of PCB designs, enclosed within the PCB material and backed by ground planes. This configuration is particularly advantageous for multi-layer PCBs, ensuring a return path for high-frequency signal traces. The result is reduced emissions, shielding against spurious signals, and maintaining signal integrity.

Exploring Microstrips in PCBs:

Microstrips, prevalent in microwave and RF PCBs, differ by residing on the PCB’s surface, surrounded by the PCB material and air. Comprising strip conductors on dielectric substrates with a supporting ground plane, microstrips exhibit a dominant propagation mode known as Quasi-TEM. This mode introduces frequency-dependent characteristics, influencing impedance and other parameters.

Stripline vs. Microstrip: Analyzing Differences:

The crux of the comparison lies in the location – striplines within the inner layers and microstrips on the outer layer of the PCB. The choice between the two depends on various factors, including the need for high-density managed impedance, applications demanding impedance control, suitability for ultra-high frequencies, and the requirement for interlayer isolation.

Characteristic Impedance Insights:

The characteristic impedance of striplines is intricately tied to the cross-sectional geometry of the strip and ground plane, influencing dielectric constant and width. Conversely, microstrip characteristic impedance varies with frequency, with an IPC equation demonstrating high accuracy within the 100 to 50 Ω range.

Pros and Cons of Striplines and Microstrips:

Each routing style brings its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Stripline Advantages:

  • Shielding for signal traces.
  • Enhanced performance above 50MHz.
  • Low impedance, reducing emissions and crosstalk.
  • Improved EMI characteristics.

Microstrip Advantages:

  • Easy connection of components to the PCB surface.
  • Minimal crosstalk in high-density channels.
  • Immunity to PCB manufacturing process tolerances.
  • Simultaneous heat sinking and mechanical support.

Microstrip Disadvantages:

  • Lossier compared to other lines.

Stripline Disadvantages:

  • Embedded signal traces, complicating debugging.
  • Challenging to decouple.
  • Proper matching results in low impedance.

Rate of Losses for Striplines and Microstrips:

Both routing styles are susceptible to losses, with microstrips generally experiencing more than striplines. Loss factors include finite conductivity, magnetic resonances, dielectric dumping, and resistivity.

Routing Techniques for Microstrips and Striplines:

Microstrip routing techniques include standard microstrip routing, microstrip differential pair routing, embedded microstrip routing, and coplanar microstrip routing. Stripline routing techniques encompass standard stripline routing, coplanar stripline routing, and broadside-coupled stripline routing.


Choosing between microstrips and striplines necessitates an understanding of their characteristics and application nuances. For applications pushing the boundaries in data centers, telecom, and low-power embedded systems, seeking guidance from experienced manufacturers is crucial. Each routing style excels in its respective applications, emphasizing the importance of tailored choices.


Q: Can microstrips be used for applications demanding high-density managed impedance?

A: Yes, microstrips are suitable for applications requiring impedance control and high-density channels with minimal crosstalk.

Q: What challenges may arise with embedded signal traces in striplines?

A: Embedded signal traces in striplines can complicate debugging and make PCB troubleshooting and prototyping more challenging.

Q: Which routing style is better for applications demanding high isolation between layers?

A: Striplines are preferred for applications requiring high isolation between layers, as they create interlayer isolation that microstrips cannot achieve.

Q: Are there specific frequency ranges where microstrip characteristic impedance remains highly accurate?

A: The IPC microstrip equation demonstrates high accuracy within the 100 to 50 Ω characteristic impedance range.