Why PCB Designers are Integrating the IPC 2581 Standard and File Format

For so many years, PCBs have been designed on data and computer for PCB production. Over time, the data formats for putting down instructions for photoplotters changed. As the PCB industry experienced some innovations, the IPC standard 2581 replaced the formats for Extended Gerber and Gerber.

Today, IPC 2581 is the standard for PCB manufacturing. It has outperformed its competitor since it is open and neutral. The good old Gerber might need to retire at this point.

What is IPC 2581?

IPC 2581 is a standard that specifies a format for organizing and exporting PCB designs from CAD to CAM systems for the purpose of assembly and fabrication. Also, consortium of suppliers and manufacturers support IPC-2581. However, it isn’t accepted by many manufacturers and developers. The IPC 2581 consolidates all areas of a PCB design.

IPC 2581 standard is open and neutral. The data and transfer methodology will be providing a smoother CAD-to-CAM data exchange without the need for any human intervention.  Also, this standard integrates a single XML-based file that incorporates a good set of board manufacturing data.

The technological drawbacks in the PCB world revealed the challenge when individual companies owned standards for data transmission. Also, these companies defined the standards. ODB++ belongs to a PCB layout provider while a photoplotter manufacturer owned Extended Gerber.

There was a need to transfer new parameters from development tool to automatic placement machines or CAM software. The administrators of these standards didn’t meet the desires of the industry to extend the standards to new technologies. Therefore, many companies came together to create an open and neutral standard for the development of PCB. This standard would be able to meet different requirements.

Furthermore, the IPC was selected as a parent organization. IPC is a global trade and standardization organization that deals with problems of electronics manufacturing. Also,IPC is renowned organization based in the US. The activities of IPC include defining industry criteria and standards for evaluating different goods in the electronics industry.

IPC 2581 is a free and also the usage agreements. Also, all major market participants support this standard. Different companies in Asia and the USA have converted to this standard and transferred their data in this format.

What is IPC 2581 Consortium?

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The IPC 2581 consortium includes several PCB design and supply chain companies. The overall goal of the IPC 2581 consortium is to allow, promote, and drive IPC 2581 use in the industry. Also, this consortium aims to facilitate the integration of IPC 2581 as an open and neutral standard to promote innovation, increase efficiency, and minimize costs.

The IPC 2581 standard facilitates PCB manufacturing and assembly. Also, it will allow the downloading of design data without any interpretation into CAM systems. Therefore, this will save labor and time compared with Gerber projects. Also, the IPC 2581 consortium consists of over 100 members. Furthermore, participating companies from different PCB manufacturing, CAM, and assembly.

All these companies share a common goal which is a data exchange standard for all industries like aerospace, telecom, automotive, and telecom. According to a member of the Consortium, the vision of this standard goes all the way to the machines use and down to the factory floor.

Also, the IPC 2581 is a standard owned by nobody. Therefore, everyone can integrate this standard. This is a major reason it is open. The IPC consortium designed this standard in 2004 with the aim to combine ODD++X and GenCam.

Why the IPC 2581 Standard

The graphical foundation was one of the greatest benefits of the Gerber file format. This basis worked well for PCB designers using software. However, there is a degree of error when combining several image formats. This would further lead to various cycles of design modifications before generating an accurate quote.

Nowadays, the majority of CMs provide a preferred CAD file format option. The IPC 2581 which integrates ODB++ is widely used across the industry. Also, the IPC 2581 standard was specially designed by a consortium comprising different organizations in the industry. This group comprised both developers and CMs and the goal was to create a free PCB design file format that help to increase PCB production and reduced development costs.

Furthermore, this helps to enhance innovation. The IPC 2581 isn’t maintained and defined by a company. A consortium of more than hundred companies maintains this standard. Therefore, this standard is an open standard and the requirements can adapt to new technologies easily. Also, this standard has no licensing rights or commercial advantages.

With IPC 2581 standard, it is easy to output projects from CAD tools and as such prevent having to put a hold due to data uncertainty. Also, this helps customers to get their prototypes on time.

Layer Stack up Using IPC 2581

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It is crucial to specify the layer structure if PCBs are technically demanding. Therefore, developers need to ask for a layer structure from circuit board manufacturers. To ensure impedance controlled PCBs, manufacturers need to adapt material. For instance, they can ensure an impedance of 50 Ohms between layers having specified conductor track widths. Also, several PCB manufacturers integrate software.

The IPC 2581 file already defines layer stackup when the designer reads the file into Allegro or OrCAD. Furthermore, routing separate layers can be stimulated with 50 Ohm layer structure to ensure signal integrity.

Advantages of IPC 2581 Standard

The IPC 2581 standard is one of the most acceptable codes in the electronic industry. Therefore, it offers the following advantages:

Reduces risk of miscommunication

The IPC 2581 offers engineers a more improved method to import PCB designs. Also, engineers from the manufacturing sector import PCB designs such as pick-and-place coordinates and netlist. Therefore, this helps to reduce miscommunication risks.

PCB design and CAM convenience

IPC 2581 file has almost everything you need. Also, this standard comprises the details needed for PCB manufacturing, assembly, and tests. Furthermore, the IPC 2581 format doesn’t require drill files when the PCB design features pick-and-place coordinates and buried/blind vias.


The IPC 2581 standard has build a complete supply chain and is having more members. Also, this supply chain comprises EDA software, PCB assembly, and electronic design solutions.

Data security

The Gerber file can’t help to re-engineer the PCB design. This is because IPC 2581 comprises all smart data and as such, you may be concerned about data breach. With the IPC 2581 format, you can send just the stack-up data to PCB manufacturers.

Smaller economic risk

The IPC 2581 standard reduces economic risk. With smaller files for PCB assembly, testing, drilling, there won’t be any loss when updating your circuit. Also, you don’t have to worry about the carelessness of DFM/CAM and result in economic losses.

How Does IPC 2581 Impact Industry 4.0?

The IPC 2581 is now a major focus of interest. According to a member of the IPC 2581 consortium, you can’t achieve industry 4.0 unless there is a method of receiving data from design via manufacturing without mistakes.

The data for manufacturing is usually included within a file. There are now different elements that various machines will demand for. Also, the IPC 2581 standard enables the development of a digital product model within a file. Manufacturers can select the configuration line for today and develop the data necessary for these machines.

Prior to this development, there would be different files, drawings, etc.  Also, the IPC 2581 standard integrates a product model into a digital production engineering and then enables you to select the configuration hourly or daily. Therefore, it takes a few minutes to transform digital product data into an SMT line.

How to Export IPC-2581 Files

The IPC 2581 exchange format features all circuit board manufacturing data in a file. This file is very easy to interpret and it is comprehensive. Also, this file is simply and doesn’t have human errors. It doesn’t introduce oversights in the inspection and export process. On several occasions, design files have verification confusion, missing key information, and more as a result of the old standard.

This is one of the reasons engineers and designers prefer to integrate the IPC-2581 files. In this section, we will highlight steps involved in exporting IPC 2581 manufacturing file using the Altium Designer 21 EDA.

How to Export IPC 2581 file from Altium designer

Let’s say you have completed the PCB design and evaluated the design rule. Follow these steps to export IPC 2581 XML files.

  • Choose file-fabrication outputs-IPC 2581
  • A pop-up box may appear indicating the file output destination if it is your first time of exporting the file. Also, this pop-up box will allow you to choose a folder where you can save the file. However, you can select the default location.
  • There are only a few options in the pop-up configuration settings. You will have to verify version A or B of IPC2581 and also the decimal points and units.  You should choose B and click OK to produce the output file.

How to Check Output Content

CAD checking

The XML file can be made easy to read and organized. However, this is not the case since information like stacking and copper layer are in image format. Therefore, we need to integrate CAD reviewing software to detect any mistakes. We will be utilizing a free IPC-2581 viewer known as Vu2581.

What is Vu2581?

DownStream developed a free file viewer, Vu2581, to enhance the IPC-2581 format. Also, Vu2581 is an application primarily developed to view IPC 2581 files. This file viewer can read IPC 2581 file and offer more features. Therefore, it is better than most traditional viewer software. Also, its special features consist of setting colors for layers, pads, and nets, displaying information like layer thickness, and measuring distance between objects.

IPC 2581 uses all kinds of information about a circuit board. Also, it is crucial to understand what the IPC 2581 XML file comprises. This file comprises the following:

  • PCB stack up design
  • Copper layer image for PCB layer etching
  • Parts list for assembling and purchasing materials
  • Netlist for bare PCB and circuit testing
  • Assembly and manufacturing parameters and notes

To use the Vu2581, click on the Vu2581.exe for file execution and click on Open and choose the XXX.CVG file. After you have exported your design and confirmed the file output, check the contents of the output integrating Vu2581. After this, send the whole contents in the folder to the PCB manufacturer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the impact of IPC 2581 in intelligent testing?

All the data needed for testing is in the test data. Anything else linked to the test pads is in IPC 2581. IPC 2581 creates a way to make your intent know. Anything needed to create that intent exists. While some tools make it easy, some tools make it difficult.

Do designers need to follow any guidelines to create their data?

Each tool features different steps designers follow to output data. For instance, consortium members who integrated Allegro to export IPC 2581 were asked to document it.

Can I do editing and maintain traceability with IPC 2581?

Yes, this is very possible. One of the benefits of IPC 2581 standard is its XML format. This means that both humans and system can read it. So, you can see if there is a change and know how this change occurred. Also, manufacturing tools could re-output the IPC 2581 standard and then you could see the version difference.

What happens when a manufacturer changes the data for manufacturing of the original customer?

The challenge here is to ensure the IPC 2581 standard captures the intent of the designer. Also, ay modifications made should be consistent with the intent of the designer. Therefore, if someone is utilizing Gerber and editing manually, there is no reference. So, you don’t know what happened.

You don’t know who is responsible if something goes wrong. You can save time by implementing these changes within manufacturing.


The IPC 2581 is highly preferred among PCB designers. Also, the IPC 2581 format offers more benefits than the Gerber file format. Even when the benefits are evident, the transition to this standard is slow. Regardless, some advanced PCB software developers are integrating both formats. Therefore, this enables you to make a perfect choice for your design.

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