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Reviewing The Basics Of Microstrip An understanding of the fundamentals of Lines microstrip transmission lines can guide highfrequency designers in the proper application of this venerable circuit technology.

Leo G. Maloratsky

Principal Engineer Rockwell Collins, 2100 West Hibiscus Blvd., Melbourne, FL 32901; (407) 953-1729, e-mail: lgmalora@ mbnotes.collins.rockwell.com.

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RINTED transmission lines are widely used, and for good reason. They are broadband in frequency. They provide circuits that are compact and light in weight. They are generally economical to produce since they are readily adaptable to hybrid and monolithic integrated-circuit (IC) fabrication technologies at RF and microwave frequencies. To better appreciate printed transmission lines, and microstrip in particular, some of the basic principles of microstrip lines will be reviewed here.

with respect to the others. In Fig. 1, it should be noted that the substrate materials are denoted by the dotted areas and the conductors are indicated by the bold lines. The microstrip line is a transmission-line geometry with a single conductor trace on one side of a dielectric substrate and a single ground plane on the opposite side. Since it is an open structure, microstrip line has a major fabrication advantage over stripline. It also features ease of interconnections and adjustments. In a microstrip line, the wavelength, , is given by:

Λ = λ / (ε eff ) 0.5 (1)

A number of different transmission lines are generally used for microwave ICs (MICs) as shown in Fig. 1. Each type has its advantages

Basic lines W h a Microstrip line t W b a Stripline W t b d a Shielded suspended stripline t S h a Shielded high-Q suspended stripline t W h a Slotline S S W b Symmetrical coplanar line h Finline W a Finline b W a Bilateral slotline t b W2 W t b a Shielded suspended double-substrate stripline t W h a Bilateral finline Suspended microstrip line W1 Modifications W h W Inverted microstrip line h H a W h

Microstrip line

t

Shielded microstrip line

Stripline

Double-conductor stripline W h

Suspended stripline

Coplanar waveguide

a Antipodal slotline a H W b

h Shielded coplanar waveguide h b W a Antipodal finline h b W h b a Antipodal overlapping finline

**1. These are commonly used types of printed transmission lines for MICs.
**

MICROWAVES & RF

s

where: eff = the effective dielectric constant, which depends on the dielectric constant of the substrate material and the physical dimensions of the microstrip line, and = the free-space wavelength. In a microstrip line, the electromagnetic (EM) fields exist partly in the air above the dielectric substrate and partly within the substrate itself. Intuitively, the effective dielectric constant of the line is expected to be greater than the dielectric constant

Slotline

MARCH 2000

79

The parasitic modes appear in this resonator if: H = {h[1 − (1 / ε )]R}1(R − 1) (2) Coplanar waveguide 150 Medium Low 20 to 250 where: R = ( λ 0 / 2) 2 [(M / l) 2 + (N / a) 2 ] (2a) Finline 500 None Low 10 to 400 5. solder. difficult for series Easy for series and shunt Fair Stripline Suspended stripline Slotline 400 500 100 Low Low Medium None None High 35 to 250 40 to 150 60 to 200 open to the air and. Si) Q factor Radiaton Dispersion Impedance range Chip mounting 250 Low 100 to 150 High Low 20 to 120 Difficult for shunt.5 mm M = 1. 1).5 1. left) with the following inner dimensions: a is the width. l is the length.0 be apparent that a W/h basic (unshielded) 2.1 0.0 0. easy for series Poor Fair Easy for shunt.0 1. and metallization tape. 3.0 dielectric substrate.0 to Fig. dust. It is function of W/h.5 A comparison of various transmission-line types Transmission line Microstrip (dielectric) (GaAs. The main purposes of the housing or package are to provide mechanical strength.DESIGN FEATURE Microstrip Lines of air (1) and less than that of the = 20 4.6 0. An MIC mounted into a housing may be looked on as a dielectrically loaded cavity resonator (Fig.8 1. and H is the height of the enclosure. MICROWAVES & RF s MARCH 2000 80 . salt spray.0 H Height (H)—mm 4. Also. The effects of unfavorable housing height versus wavelength and different parasitic modes is shown (right). Covering the basic microstrip configuration with metal top plates on the top and on the sides leads to a more realistic circuit configuration. which deviates from reality. The values of effective dielectric constant are shown for microstrip line is not really a practidifferent substrate relative dielectric constants as a cal structure. germetization. 1. In order to protect the circuit. Housing dimensions are selected for microstrip circuits (left) to minimize losses. ( eff)0.0 =4 relative dielectric =3 constant. =2 Referring again = 1.4 0. These dimensions should be selected in a way so that the waveguide modes are below cutoff. gasket materials. it is desirable to have circuits that are covered to protect them from the environment as well as to prevent radiation and EM interference (EMI).0 3. it should 0.0 2. a shielded microstrip line with a housing (Fig. and heat sinking in the case of high-power applications.2 0.5 15 25 35 45 55 Wavelength ( )—mm 2:2 1:2 2:1 H h a a = 24 mm l = 30 mm h = 0. certain methods of sealing can be used: conductive epoxy. in reality. EM shielding. 1 Various = 15 curves for effec= 12 tive dielectric con3. and other environmental contaminants. the microstrip configurations that have been so far discussed are transversally infinite in extent. 2 as a function of physical =6 =5 dimensions and 2.0 2. N = 1 h a l 3. Packaging must protect the circuitry from moisture.0 = 10 stant are shown in =8 Fig. humidity.0 4.

6 Effective dielectric constant 2. parasitic modes can arise.5 W/h = 0. have a negligible effect on the effective dielectric constant.0 λ 0 < 2/)[(M / l) 2 + (N / a) 2 ] 0. The characteristic impedance range of a microstrip line is 20 to 120 .6 W/h = 2 W/h = 1 W/h = 0. In the case of this article.3. 0.3 0.3 = 9.5 W/h = 0. Figure 3 (right) illustrates the resulting graphs of unfavorable H versus 0 for housing dimensions of a = 24 mm. MICROWAVES & RF s MARCH 2000 82 .6 W/h = 0.5 0.1 (a) 0.1 1.3. l = 30 mm.8 and THK of 0. Figure 4 shows the relationship between the effective dielectric constant and the physical dimensions of the shielded microstrip line for different values of the relative dielectric constant of the substrate material.6 W/h = 0.4 0. The characteristic line impedance has been plotted for substrates with high (a) and low (b) dielectric constants.5 2. There are three types of losses that occur in microstrip lines: con- 140 =5 Characteristic impedance— 110 =7 = 10 80 = 16 50 Characteristic impedance— 100 =1 =2 =4 10 0. and dielectric substrate with a dielectric constant of 9. assumed that the side walls are sufficiently spaced so that they only see weak fringing fields and. it has been 1.4.2 0. the enclosure effects can be considered negligible.4 2.2 The top cover tends to reduce the impedance. The top wall enables electric fields in the air above the strip conductor thereby giving the air more influence in determining the propagation characteristics. The characteristic impedance of a microstrip line may be approximately calculated by assuming that the EM field in the line has a quasi transverse-EM (TEM) nature. 2 In these curves. and the height H must be chosen to suppress these modes.1 4. 0. The effective dielectric constant is shown as a function of the relative dielectric constant and physical dimensions for a shielded microstrip line.0 W/h 10.6 W/h 1.5 mm.3 W/h = 0. When the ratio of the distance from the top cover to the dielectric substrate and the substrate thickness [(H – h)/h] is greater than 10.R<1 or 2. 2.0 (b) 5. therefore. 4 is not satisfied. The upper limit is set by production tolerances while the lower limit is set by the appearance of higher-order modes.1.3 = 2.0 20 0. The top cover tends to lower the effective dielectric constant (which is consistent with intuition).6) relative dielectric constants.2 1 2 3 4 5 (H – h)/h 6 7 8 9 W/h = 2 W/h = 1 W/h = 0. 0. 6 illustrates the relationships between characteristic impedance and the physical dimensions of shielded microstrip lines for two examples: substrates with low (2) and high (9. it can also be considered the condition for the absence of parasitic modes in a waveguide of cross-section a H or l H. The characteristic impedance of a microstrip line can be calculated using the Wheeler equations. From eq.4 W/h = 0.4 Figure 5 shows the characteristic impedance of microstrip lines for var- ious geometries and substrates of different relative dielectric constants while Fig. If eq. it is possible to obtain the condition of absence of parasitic modes: R–1<0.2 λ2 < 4 / [(M / l) 2 + (N / a) 2 ] 0 or (3) 1.2 W/h = 0.DESIGN FEATURE Microstrip Lines and M and N = positive integers. The top and side covers essentially redistribute the field of the more theoretical microstrip and understandably have an influence on the effective dielectric constant.5 (4) Equation 4 is known as the condition for wave propagation in a waveguide with dimensions l a.

In most conventional microstrip designs with high substrate dielectric constant. The real benefit in having a higher dielectric constant is that the package size decreases by approximately the square root of the dielectric constant. being open to a semi-infinite air space. the substrate thickness. or 37 percent of its value at the surface of the conductor.05 mil Cu x Au = 0. In a microstrip line. Conductor losses are a result of several factors related to the metallic material composing the ground plane and walls. . acts similar to an antenna and tends to radiate energy.24 mil (f = 1. With finite conductivity.2 mil plane Au = 0. Conductor losses follow a trend which is opposite to radiation loss with respect to W/h.5 W/h = 0.3 W/h = 0. conductor losses in the strip conductor and the ground plane dominate over dielectric and radiation losses. The fabrication process of real microstrip devices creates scratches and bumps on the metal surfaces. The use of high-dielectric-constant substrate materials reduces radiation losses because most of the EM field is concentrated in the dielectric between the conductive strip and the Bottom of strip Top of strip t 0 Au Ni I(t) I max (1/e)I max Substrate I(t) I max (1/e)I max Cu Cu Ni Au I(x) Ground plane 0 x Cu = 0.6 W/h = 0. The current. concentrated in the metal surface next to the substrate. conductor losses increase with increasing characteristic impedance due to the greater resistance of narrow strips.05 mil Microstrip Ni = 0. dielectric losses. there is a non-uniform current density starting at the surface and exponentially decaying into the bulk of the conductive metal. right) dielectric constants. left) and low (2. hence. This is an advantage at lower frequencies but may be a problem at higher frequencies. 7. To minimize conductor loss while simultaneously minimizing the amount of metallic material flanking the dielectric. the conductor thickness should be greater than approximately three to five times the skin depth. MICROWAVES & RF s MARCH 2000 84 .2 W/h = 0.4 W/h = 0. However.5 W/h = 0. The skin depth of a conductor is defined as the distance to the conductor (Fig.DESIGN FEATURE Microstrip Lines ground plane. The inside surfaces of the strip conductor and the ground plane facing the substrate repeat the shape of the substrate. the less the concentration of energy is in the substrate region and. 7) where the current density drops to 1/e from a maximum current density of Imax. This is the alleged skin effect and its effects can be visualized by an approximation consisting of a uniform current density flowing in a layer near the surface of the metallic elements to a uniform skin depth. the more are the radiation losses. and radiation losses. ductor (or ohmic) losses.6 W/h = 1 Characteristic impedance— 90 W/h = 0. An idealized microstrip line.1 = 9.3 W/h = 0.05 – 0. skin effects. This cross-sectional view shows the current distribution across a microstrip conductor and its ground plane.0 GHz) conductor 7. These plots show the relationship between the characteristic impedance and the physical dimensions of microstrip lines using substrates with high (9. A cross-section of a microstrip line is shown in Fig.0.05 – 0.6 30 10 W/h = 2 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (H – h)/h 6. and the circuit geometry.1 190 160 130 100 W/h = 1 70 W/h = 2 40 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 (H – h)/h =2 W/h = 0. follows the uneven surface of the substrate and encounters a greater resistance com- Characteristic impedance— 70 50 W/h = 0.2 mil Cu = 0. the lower the I(x) dielectric constant.2 W/h = 0.4 W/h = 0. among which are conductivity.01 – 0. Similar materials are also used at millimeter-wave frequencies to avoid excessively tight mechanical tolerances.6.01 – 0. Radiation losses depend on the dielectric constant. Substrate materials with low dielectric constants (5 or less) are used when cost reduction is the priority.24 mil Ground Ni = 0. and surface roughness.

8 cr/ c0 1. therefore. is: ML 1 l SS α cr / α co = 1 + arccos [1 − (4ra / D)] −2{[(2ra / D)[1 − (2ra / D)]} 0. and microstrip to coplanar waveguide (d). microstrip to slotted line (c).DESIGN FEATURE Microstrip Lines overall EM wave propagation and. face increases. respectively. Q d . and rent path increases and. consequently. the length of the sidered the individual contributions order modes. For example. For most microstrip lines. For an idealThe preceding sections have con. coincides with tric losses. remember. and Q r are the ra quality factors corre(b) (a) sponding to the conductor. are typically used in hybrid CHOOSING DIMENSIONS the losses increase. low-loss dielectric sub. cr/ c0 can be plotted as a function of ra for D1 = 1 m and D 2 = 3 m (Fig. It is important to current path AB is: IAB = Dn to losses in microstrip by radiation. Analysis of the resulting functions shows that for smaller diameters.5 (5) Ground plane (a) Slot s ML Ground Housing S (b) ML Via Dielectric substrate Using eq. high. The normalized conductor losses (b).4 1. To do so. ICs. conFor all circuit considerations. for example. microstrip to suspended stripline (b).that.sions. the length of the cur. Following substrate.04 dB/mm). and radiation 8. as well as to suppress higherly smooth surface. unloaded Q factor of the pared to the case of a smooth subTo minimize dielectric losses. such as alumina.quality. These strip width leads to higher losses. 8a) is ly 0.2 0. The profile of a substrate’s uneven surface (a) shows how surface roughness affects losses. it is convenient to consider the total Q factor. however. which can be expressed by: 1/Q = (1/Q c) + (1/Q d) + (1/Q r) b c d B D 1. The ratio of conductor losses in the case of an uneven surface. MICROWAVES & RF s MARCH 2000 86 . and dielectric effects.6 D2 = 3 m a A D1 = 1 m 2 where: Q c . consider a copper (Cu) microstrip line with sapphire substrate where typically the roughness is 1 m. dielectric.basic approach involves starting with which. conductor losses in the microstrip line are more dependent on the unevenness of the substrate roughness because the extra path length a surface (or skin) current sees is less. 8b). can be combined linearly. in monolithic the particular ranges of dimension the shape of the diamond abrasive microwave ICs (MMICs). that a smaller ohmic. where: Factors that affect the choice of subn = the number of diamond abra.2 0. silicon (Si) ratios required to achieve a desired material that is used to polish the or GaAs substrates result in much characteristic impedance.6 1. quartz. 5. The path of the current in larger dielectric losses (approximate.4 ra— m 0. c0). Various transitions between microstrip and other circuit structures are possible: microstrip to microstrip (a). the strip width should be miniconductor segment a-d (Fig.order of 250.individual loss components are at most first-order perturbations in the strate thickness are the most controsives within segment AB. cr.strates.5 mized to decrease the overall dimenshown by the line abcd. to lossML 2 Cover es in the case of a perfectly smooth 2 surface. As the roughness of the sur. a Consider a substrate surface ductor losses greatly exceed dielec. ML Vias Overlap (c) SLL (d) CPW 9.5 The skin depth at a few gigahertz is 1 m and the loss is increased approximately 60 percent when the surface roughness is taken into account.microstrip line is typically on the strate. sapphire. However.

March 1965. more producible). 8. the fabrication tolerances become more severe. Cohn.A. 1969. and via holes drilled through the dielectric substrate will contribute smaller parasitic inductances to the overall performance. Yook. Narrowing W leads to higher conductor losses along with a lower Q. 17. No. 3. Izadian.B. Vol. 1976. W. 59. 4. Soviet Radio. August 1977. Acknowledgment References MICROWAVES & RF s MARCH 2000 88 . The positive effects of decreasing substrate thickness are compact circuits. Wheeler. T. less tendency to launch higher-order modes or radiation. 1971.A. tan . Also. 9c. Herrick. Miniaturization of Microwave Elements and Devices. J. Moscow. H. Izadian and S. pp. H. lower dielectric constants are preferred since losses are reduced. Losses then usually increase because higher dielectric constant materials usually have higher loss tangents. 25.7. This is a typical conflicting situation between the necessary requirements for small dimensions and low loss. 3. therefore. For many applications. 1979. No. H. Wheeler. ease of integration.” Proceedings of the IEEE. Jackson. must be accompanied by a narrowing of the conductor width. 1. 5. 8.10 •• The author would like to thank Dr. 9d). 9. 2. Edwards. Norwood. “Surface-to-Surface Transition via Electromagnetic Coupling of Microstrip and Coplanar Waveguide.” IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory & Techniques. March 1989. a decrease in the substrate thickness (h) while maintaining a constant characteristic impedance. A transition between two microstrip lines (Fig. pp.J. Vol.9. A transition between a microstrip line and a suspended stripline circuit is shown in Fig.DESIGN FEATURE Microstrip Lines versial.8 An overlay transition between a microstrip line and coplanar waveguide (CPW) is shown (Fig. Vol. 3. pp. especially for multilayer circuits. However. 9a) can be realized through a slot in the ground plane. Microstrip circuit dimensions decrease with increasing substrate dielectric constant.” IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory & Techniques. 9b. Sobol.M. Vol. Aury.” IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory & Techniques. reduced conductor line widths have higher ohmic losses. Burke and R. conductor geometries are larger (and.G.S. Foundations for Microstrip Circuit Design.C. Z0. 1200-1211. “Application of Integrated Circuit Technology to Microwave Frequencies. pp. M. New York. Vol. 1981. 37. 631-647. Artech House. Hougart and C. L. 3. and also because for the same characteristic impedance. Katehi. 46. and the cutoff frequency of the circuit increases. J. and P. “Transmission-Line Properties of a Strip on a Dielectric Sheet on a Plane. for smaller W and h. Microwave Transition Design. MA. “Microtechnology in the Development of Three-Dimensional Circuits. Careless handing of thin substrates can cause stress and strain which can modify the performance of the substrate. No. “Slot-Line on a Dielectric Substrate. 519525. 768-778. Maloratsky. 11. Wiley. Paul Chorney who reviewed these materials and provided valuable suggestions. 7. Vol. November 1998. Consider useful transitions from microstrip to other printed transition lines.W. 10. 1988. K.” IEEE MTT-S International Microwave Symposium Digest. pp. “Transmission-Line Properties of Parallel Strips Separated by a Dielectric Sheet.” IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory & Techniques. A transition between a slotline and a microstrip line can be seen in Fig. 172-185. “Various Excitation of Coplanar Waveguides. 6. MICROSTRIP TRANSITIONS The rapid development of highdensity modules requires the design of interconnects and transitions.B.” IEEE Transactions on Microwave Theory & Techniques. J. No. S.G.

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