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Cross-section of microstrip geometry. Conductor (A) is separated from ground plane (D) by dielectric substrate (C). Upper dielectric (B) is typically air. Microstrip geometry.svg
Cross-section of microstrip geometry. Conductor (A) is separated from ground plane (D) by dielectric substrate (C). Upper dielectric (B) is typically air.

Microstrip is a type of electrical transmission line which can be fabricated using printed circuit board technology, and is used to convey microwave-frequency signals. It consists of a conducting strip separated from a ground plane by a dielectric layer known as the substrate. Microwave components such as antennas, couplers, filters, power dividers etc. can be formed from microstrip, with the entire device existing as the pattern of metallization on the substrate. Microstrip is thus much less expensive than traditional waveguide technology, as well as being far lighter and more compact. Microstrip was developed by ITT laboratories as a competitor to stripline (first published by Grieg and Engelmann in the December 1952 IRE proceedings [1] ).

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

Printed circuit board board to support and connect electronic components

A printed circuit board (PCB) mechanically supports and electrically connects electronic components or electrical components using conductive tracks, pads and other features etched from one or more sheet layers of copper laminated onto and/or between sheet layers of a non-conductive substrate. Components are generally soldered onto the PCB to both electrically connect and mechanically fasten them to it.

Microwave form of electromagnetic radiation

Microwaves are a form of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths ranging from about one meter to one millimeter; with frequencies between 300 MHz (1 m) and 300 GHz (1 mm). Different sources define different frequency ranges as microwaves; the above broad definition includes both UHF and EHF bands. A more common definition in radio engineering is the range between 1 and 100 GHz. In all cases, microwaves include the entire SHF band at minimum. Frequencies in the microwave range are often referred to by their IEEE radar band designations: S, C, X, Ku, K, or Ka band, or by similar NATO or EU designations.


The disadvantages of microstrip compared with waveguide are the generally lower power handling capacity, and higher losses. Also, unlike waveguide, microstrip is not enclosed, and is therefore susceptible to cross-talk and unintentional radiation.

For lowest cost, microstrip devices may be built on an ordinary FR-4 (standard PCB) substrate. However it is often found that the dielectric losses in FR4 are too high at microwave frequencies, and that the dielectric constant is not sufficiently tightly controlled. For these reasons, an alumina substrate is commonly used.

FR-4 is a NEMA grade designation for glass-reinforced epoxy laminate material. FR-4 is a composite material composed of woven fiberglass cloth with an epoxy resin binder that is flame resistant (self-extinguishing).

On a smaller scale, microstrip transmission lines are also built into monolithic microwave integrated circuits.

Monolithic microwave integrated circuit

A Monolithic Microwave Integrated Circuit, or MMIC, is a type of integrated circuit (IC) device that operates at microwave frequencies. These devices typically perform functions such as microwave mixing, power amplification, low-noise amplification, and high-frequency switching. Inputs and outputs on MMIC devices are frequently matched to a characteristic impedance of 50 ohms. This makes them easier to use, as cascading of MMICs does not then require an external matching network. Additionally, most microwave test equipment is designed to operate in a 50-ohm environment.

Microstrip lines are also used in high-speed digital PCB designs, where signals need to be routed from one part of the assembly to another with minimal distortion, and avoiding high cross-talk and radiation.

Microstrip is one of many forms of planar transmission line, others include stripline and coplanar waveguide, and it is possible to integrate all of these on the same substrate.

Planar transmission line Transmission lines with flat ribbon-like conducting or dielectric lines

Planar transmission lines are transmission lines with conductors, or in some cases dielectric (insulating) strips, that are flat, ribbon-shaped lines. They are used to interconnect components on printed circuits and integrated circuits working at microwave frequencies because the planar type fits in well with the manufacturing methods for these components. Transmission lines are more than simply interconnections. With simple interconnections the propagation of the electromagnetic wave along the wire is fast enough to be considered instantaneous, and the voltages at each end of the wire can be considered identical. If the wire is longer than a large fraction of a wavelength these assumptions are no longer true and transmission line theory must be used instead. With transmission lines, the geometry of the line is precisely controlled so that its electrical behaviour is highly predictable. At lower frequencies, these considerations are only necessary for the cables connecting different pieces of equipment, but at microwave frequencies the distance at which transmission line theory becomes necessary is measured in millimetres. Hence, transmission lines are needed within circuits.

Stripline transverse electromagnetic (TEM) transmission line

Stripline is a transverse electromagnetic (TEM) transmission line medium invented by Robert M. Barrett of the Air Force Cambridge Research Centre in the 1950s. Stripline is the earliest form of planar transmission line.

Coplanar waveguide

Coplanar waveguide is a type of electrical planar transmission line which can be fabricated using printed circuit board technology, and is used to convey microwave-frequency signals. On a smaller scale, coplanar waveguide transmission lines are also built into monolithic microwave integrated circuits. Conventional coplanar waveguide (CPW) consists of a single conducting track printed onto a dielectric substrate, together with a pair of return conductors, one to either side of the track. All three conductors are on the same side of the substrate, and hence are coplanar. The return conductors are separated from the central track by a small gap, which has an unvarying width along the length of the line. Away from the cental conductor, the return conductors usually extend to an indefinite but large distance, so that each is notionally a semi-infinite plane.

A differential microstrip—a balanced signal pair of microstrip lines—is often used for high-speed signals such as DDR2 SDRAM clocks, USB Hi-Speed data lines, PCI Express data lines, LVDS data lines, etc., often all on the same PCB. [2] [3] [4] Most PCB design tools support such differential pairs. [5] [6]


DDR2 SDRAM is a double data rate synchronous dynamic random-access memory interface. It superseded the original DDR SDRAM specification, and is superseded by DDR3 SDRAM. DDR2 DIMMs are neither forward compatible with DDR3 nor backward compatible with DDR.

PCI Express computer expansion bus standard

PCI Express, officially abbreviated as PCIe or PCI-e, is a high-speed serial computer expansion bus standard, designed to replace the older PCI, PCI-X and AGP bus standards. PCIe has numerous improvements over the older standards, including higher maximum system bus throughput, lower I/O pin count and smaller physical footprint, better performance scaling for bus devices, a more detailed error detection and reporting mechanism, and native hot-swap functionality. More recent revisions of the PCIe standard provide hardware support for I/O virtualization.


The electromagnetic wave carried by a microstrip line exists partly in the dielectric substrate, and partly in the air above it. In general, the dielectric constant of the substrate will be different (and greater) than that of the air, so that the wave is travelling in an inhomogeneous medium. In consequence, the propagation velocity is somewhere between the speed of radio waves in the substrate, and the speed of radio waves in air. This behaviour is commonly described by stating the effective dielectric constant (or effective relative permittivity) of the microstrip; this being the dielectric constant of an equivalent homogeneous medium (i.e., one resulting in the same propagation velocity).

Dielectric electrically poorly conducting or non-conducting, non-metallic substance of which charge carriers are generally not free to move

A dielectric is an electrical insulator that can be polarized by an applied electric field. When a dielectric is placed in an electric field, electric charges do not flow through the material as they do in an electrical conductor but only slightly shift from their average equilibrium positions causing dielectric polarization. Because of dielectric polarization, positive charges are displaced in the direction of the field and negative charges shift in the opposite direction. This creates an internal electric field that reduces the overall field within the dielectric itself. If a dielectric is composed of weakly bonded molecules, those molecules not only become polarized, but also reorient so that their symmetry axes align to the field.

Further consequences of an inhomogeneous medium include:

Characteristic impedance

A closed-form approximate expression for the quasi-static characteristic impedance of a microstrip line was developed by Wheeler: [12] [13] [14]

where is the effective width, which is the actual width of the strip, plus a correction to account for the non-zero thickness of the metallization:

Here Z0 is the impedance of free space, εr is the relative permittivity of substrate, w is the width of the strip, h is the thickness ("height") of substrate, and t is the thickness of the strip metallization.

This formula is asymptotic to an exact solution in three different cases

  1. , any (parallel plate transmission line),
  2. , (wire above a ground-plane) and
  3. ,

It is claimed that for most other cases, the error in impedance is less than 1%, and is always less than 2%. [14] By covering all aspect-ratios in one formula, Wheeler 1977 improves on Wheeler 1965 [13] which gives one formula for and another for (thus introducing a discontinuity in the result at ).

Curiously, Harold Wheeler disliked both the terms 'microstrip' and 'characteristic impedance', and avoided using them in his papers.

A number of other approximate formulae for the characteristic impedance have been advanced by other authors. However, most of these are applicable to only a limited range of aspect-ratios, or else cover the entire range piecewise.

In particular, the set of equations proposed by Hammerstad, [15] who modifies on Wheeler, [12] [13] are perhaps the most often cited:

where is the effective dielectric constant, approximated as:


In order to build a complete circuit in microstrip, it is often necessary for the path of a strip to turn through a large angle. An abrupt 90° bend in a microstrip will cause a significant portion of the signal on the strip to be reflected back towards its source, with only part of the signal transmitted on around the bend. One means of effecting a low-reflection bend, is to curve the path of the strip in an arc of radius at least 3 times the strip-width. [16] However, a far more common technique, and one which consumes a smaller area of substrate, is to use a mitred bend.

Microstrip 90° mitred bend. The percentage mitre is 100x/d Microstrip-bend.svg
Microstrip 90° mitred bend. The percentage mitre is 100x/d

To a first approximation, an abrupt un-mitred bend behaves as a shunt capacitance placed between the ground plane and the bend in the strip. Mitring the bend reduces the area of metallization, and so removes the excess capacitance. The percentage mitre is the cut-away fraction of the diagonal between the inner and outer corners of the un-mitred bend.

The optimum mitre for a wide range of microstrip geometries has been determined experimentally by Douville and James. [17] They find that a good fit for the optimum percentage mitre is given by

subject to and with the substrate dielectric constant . This formula is entirely independent of . The actual range of parameters for which Douville and James present evidence is and . They report a VSWR of better than 1.1 (i.e., a return loss better than 26 dB) for any percentage mitre within 4% (of the original ) of that given by the formula. At the minimum of 0.25, the percentage mitre is 98.4%, so that the strip is very nearly cut through.

For both the curved and mitred bends, the electrical length is somewhat shorter than the physical path-length of the strip.

See also

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  2. Olney, Barry. "Differential Pair Routing" (PDF). p. 51.
  3. Texas Instruments (2015). "High-Speed Interface Layout Guidelines" (PDF). p. 10. SPRAAR7E. When possible, route high-speed differential pair signals on the top or bottom layer of the PCB with an adjacent GND layer. TI does not recommend stripline routing of the high-speed differential signals.
  4. Intel (2000). "High Speed USB Platform Design Guidelines" (PDF). p. 7.
  5. Silicon Labs. "USB Hardware Design Guide" (PDF). p. 9. AN0046.
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