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I am trying to build a dimmable LED circuit that consists of 4 SMD LED lights (datasheet: https://download.luminus.com/datasheets/Luminus_SST-10-UV_Datasheet.pdf). I am new to working with PCBs and came across a video of someone soldering some similarly small components onto a PCB using a solder gun by applying heat directly from the bottom (link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADrIWwEWF44 , start at 2:20) which looks incredibly convenient and efficient compared to most tutorials I've read/watched which either involves tools I do not have (I only have a solder gun, no oven or a hot air gun) or adding a via in the middle of the pad. I am uncertain what exactly he did to the PCB from watching the video, and have some questions pertaining to how his technique can work for a 2-layer PCB where only the top layer needs to be electrically conductive (have to get 2 layers instead of 1 as it is the manufacturer's default):

  1. It appears as though he removed the solder mask and added a paste mask to the bottom layer. From what I understand, there is a thick layer of substrate that typically is made of FR4 which results in low heat conductivity between the top and bottom layers. Assuming his substrate is FR4, Is it possible to heat the paste mask of the top layer through the FR4? Or did he do something else to the layers?

  2. The thermal pad of the LED is supposed to be connected to a relatively large pad on the top layer. Is that so that the copper can conduct the heat away from the LED? From my understanding, the copper sits atop the substrate - how does the heat escape if the substrate has low thermal conductivity?

  3. If I added a via in the middle of the mask, and there is nothing in the bottom layer which connects to the via, is there a chance of shorting the circuit? I imagine that since the copper plate in the bottom layer is surrounded by insulators, the resistance will be very high and no current will flow, is that right?

Thank you in advance for helping me understand how PCB/electronics works.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ google sand soldering \$\endgroup\$
    – jsotola
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 3:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ There are soldering irons and soldering guns. Don't soldering guns like the one in the link on electronics. They can generate a high voltage when you release the trigger. That can kill your electronics. \$\endgroup\$
    – JRE
    Commented Dec 1, 2020 at 9:49

3 Answers 3

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It appears as though he removed the solder mask and added a paste mask to the bottom layer. From what I understand, there is a thick layer of substrate that typically is made of FR4 which results in low heat conductivity between the top and bottom layers. Assuming his substrate is FR4, Is it possible to heat the paste mask of the top layer through the FR4? Or did he do something else to the layers?

I would not rate it as very likely that one could directly heat the top side solder paste from the bottom going through only FR4. It looks like he used two techniques in the video.

  1. In one case he designed his board to have a large hole in it under the thermal pad. In that case he just soldered the thermal pad through the hole. He points to the holes at time code 1:13.

  2. In the other case he made a pad on the bottom side that connected to the top using a bunch of thermal vias. You can see the vias when you look at the thermal pads on his board. They are filled but you can still see little circles.

At time code 3:27 you can see the pad for the IC (just above the big capacitor, on the bottom, just right of center). In the pad you can see four dimples for the thermal vias.

If you are designing your own board and can put in the thermal vias, then go for it.

If you can't do that then your best bet is going to be to use a small heat gun. You can get one for under $20. For example...
https://www.amazon.com/TruePower-01-0712-Mini-Heat-Blue/dp/B00GVMFV6O

One issue with hot air guns (as mentioned in your linked video) is that they can put a lot of heat onto areas of the board that you don't want, which can de-solder other parts. The way I usually solve this is to take a piece of scrap sheet metal (say 6" x 6" or larger) and drill a hole in it that is a little bigger than the IC (say 1/4" or 1/2"). Place the metal over the PCB with the hole over your component. Aim the heat gun at the hole from about an inch away. The sheet metal will mostly shield the board from any stray heat, except where the hole is of course.

The thermal pad of the LED is supposed to be connected to a relatively large pad on the top layer. Is that so that the copper can conduct the heat away from the LED?

Yes it is.

From my understanding, the copper sits atop the substrate - how does the heat escape if the substrate has low thermal conductivity?

Your LED part appears to make around 1W of waste heat + 0.8W of light with 1.8W of input power. If you have a copper thermal pad on your board, there are two heat paths.

  1. Heat can move through the board to a heat-sink on the back side.

The thermal conductivity of FR4 is about 1000X worse than copper. But if you have a wide thin slice it can still conduct useful amounts of heat. FR4 has a thermal conductivity of about 0.3W/m-k. For example a 1 inch square that is 60 mils thick has a thermal conductivity of 0.127 W / K. So 1W / (0.127 W/K) = 7.9 Kelvin temperature rise from front to back of board with the LED running at full power.

Using a grid of thermal vias located in the thermal pad of the LED you can substantially increase the flow of heat. By filling the thermal vias with thermally conductive epoxy it can be increased even more.

  1. Heat can move directly from the thermal pad into the surrounding air (without going through the board). Typical numbers would be around 40 K/W for a 1 inch square in "still" air that only has natural convection.

If I added a via in the middle of the mask, and there is nothing in the bottom layer which connects to the via, is there a chance of shorting the circuit?

There is always some chance of shorting the circuit. But as long as there is no metal connecting between the via and the plane then there will be no short. You can of course make a bottom side thermal pad as long as you keep it isolated from everything else.

I imagine that since the copper plate in the bottom layer is surrounded by insulators, the resistance will be very high and no current will flow, is that right?

FR4 has a very high (but not infinite) resistance. Some current will flow but its going to be below the pico-amp range, so it probably won't affect your application.

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You are probably looking for whats called "thermal vias".

https://www.pcb-investigator.com/en/blog/thermal-vias-benefits-and-limitations

https://www.electronics-cooling.com/2004/08/thermal-vias-a-packaging-engineers-best-friend/

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I am uncertain what exactly he did to the PCB from watching the video, and have some questions pertaining to how his technique can work for a 2-layer PCB where only the top layer needs to be electrically conductive

He put vias through the bottom of the pad and then touched the vias from below with the soldering iron. The heat goes up through the via and melts the solder. You can do this on any board, but soldering like that looks incredibly annoying.

Hot air rework stations are very cheap. A basic 858D clone goes for $40 shipped on Amazon, which is less than a temperature controlled soldering iron + chisel tip. They're not amazing, but if you only want to put on LEDs they're fine.

The thermal pad of the LED is supposed to be connected to a relatively large pad on the top layer. Is that so that the copper can conduct the heat away from the LED? From my understanding, the copper sits atop the substrate - how does the heat escape if the substrate has low thermal conductivity?

You either extend the pad out to the sides or run thermal vias down to a heatsink below as in that video (or do both). Typically LED manufacturers have tech notes with recommendations for how to do this for their products. Worth looking into.

If I added a via in the middle of the mask, and there is nothing in the bottom layer which connects to the via, is there a chance of shorting the circuit? I imagine that since the copper plate in the bottom layer is surrounded by insulators, the resistance will be very high and no current will flow, is that right?

Usually you run the via down to another copper layer below. Otherwise there is no where for the heat to go.

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