Capacitors store electric charge. They are used with resistors in timing circuits because it takes time for a capacitor to fill with charge. They are used to smooth varying DC supplies by acting as a reservoir of charge. They are also used in filter circuits because capacitors easily pass AC (changing) signals but they block DC (constant) signals.

This is a measure of a capacitor's ability to store charge. A large capacitance means that more charge can be stored. Capacitance is measured in farads, symbol F. However 1F is very large, so prefixes are used to show the smaller values. Three prefixes (multipliers) are used, µ (micro), n (nano) and p (pico):
• • •

µ means 10-6 (millionth), so 1000000µF = 1F n means 10-9 (thousand-millionth), so 1000nF = 1µF p means 10-12 (million-millionth), so 1000pF = 1nF

There are many types of capacitor but they can be split into two groups, polarized and unpolarized. Each group has its own circuit symbol. Polarized capacitors (large values, 1µF +)


Circuit symbol:

Electrolytic Capacitors Electrolytic capacitors are polarized and they must be connected the correct way round, at least one of their leads will be marked + or -. They are not damaged by heat when soldering. There are two designs of electrolytic capacitors; axial where the leads are attached to each end (220µF in picture) and radial where both leads are at the same end (10µF in picture). Radial capacitors tend to be a little smaller and they stand upright on the circuit board. It is easy to find the value of electrolytic capacitors because they are clearly printed with their capacitance and voltage rating. The voltage rating can be quite low (6V for example) and it should always be checked when selecting an electrolytic capacitor. If the project parts list does not specify a voltage, choose a capacitor with a rating which is greater than the project's power supply voltage. 25V is a sensible minimum for most battery circuits.

Unpolarized capacitors (small values, up to 1µF)


Circuit symbol:

Small value capacitors are unpolarised and may be connected either way round. They are not damaged by heat when soldering, except for one unusual type (polystyrene). They have high voltage ratings of at least 50V, usually 250V or so. It can be difficult to find the values of these small capacitors because there are many types of them and several different labelling systems! Many small value capacitors have their value printed but without a multiplier, so you need to use experience to work out what the multiplier should be!

Variable capacitors
Variable capacitors are mostly used in radio tuning circuits and they are sometimes called 'tuning capacitors'. They have very small capacitance values, typically between 100pF and 500pF (100pF = 0.0001µF). The type illustrated usually has trimmers built in (for making small adjustments - see below) as well as the main variable capacitor. Many variable capacitors have very short spindles which are not suitable for the standard knobs used for variable resistors and rotary switches. It would be wise to check that a suitable knob is available before ordering a variable capacitor. Variable capacitors are not normally used in timing circuits because their capacitance is too small to be practical and the range of values available is very limited. Instead timing circuits use a fixed capacitor and a variable resistor if it is necessary to vary the time period.



Circuit symbol:

Diodes allow electricity to flow in only one direction. The arrow of the circuit symbol shows the direction in which the current can flow. Diodes are the electrical version of a valve and early diodes were actually called valves.

Forward Voltage Drop Electricity uses up a little energy pushing its way through the diode, rather like a person pushing through a door with a spring. This means that there is a small voltage across a conducting diode, it is called the forward voltage drop and is about 0.7V for all normal diodes which are made from silicon. The forward voltage drop of a diode is almost constant whatever the current passing through the diode so they have a very steep characteristic (current-voltage graph). Reverse Voltage When a reverse voltage is applied a perfect diode does not conduct, but all real diodes leak a very tiny current of a few µA or less. This can be ignored in most circuits because it will be very much smaller than the current flowing in the forward direction. However, all diodes have a maximum reverse voltage (usually 50V or more) and if this is exceeded the diode will fail and pass a large current in the reverse direction, this is called breakdown. Ordinary diodes can be split into two types: Signal diodes which pass small currents of 100mA or less and Rectifier diodes which can pass large currents. In addition there are LEDs (which have their own page) and Zener diodes (at the bottom of this page).

Connecting and soldering Diodes must be connected the correct way round, the diagram may be labelled a or + for anode and k or - for cathode (yes, it really is k, not c, for cathode!). The cathode is marked by a line painted on the body. Diodes are labeled with their code in small print, you may need a magnifying glass to read this on small signal diodes! Small signal diodes can be damaged by heat when soldering, but the risk is small unless you are using a germanium diode (codes beginning OA...) in which case you should use a heat sink clipped to the lead between the joint and the diode body. A standard crocodile clip can be used as a heat sink.


There are several ways of connecting diodes to make a rectifier to convert AC to DC. The bridge rectifier is one of them and it is available in special packages containing the four diodes required. Bridge rectifiers are rated by their maximum current and maximum reverse voltage. They have four leads or terminals: the two DC outputs are labelled + and -, the two AC inputs are labelled .

Example: a = anode, k = cathode Circuit symbol:

Zener diodes are used to maintain a fixed voltage. They are designed to 'breakdown' in a reliable and non-destructive way so that they can be used in reverse to maintain a fixed voltage across their terminals. The diagram shows how they are connected, with a resistor in series to limit the current. Zener diodes can be distinguished from ordinary diodes by their code and breakdown voltage which are printed on them. Zener diode codes begin BZX... or BZY... Their breakdown voltage is printed with V in place of a decimal point, so 4V7 means 4.7V for example.

Zener diodes are rated by their breakdown voltage and maximum power:
• •

The minimum voltage available is 2.4V. Power ratings of 400mW and 1.3W are common.

Integrated Circuits are usually called ICs or chips. They are complex circuits which have been etched onto tiny chips of semiconductor (silicon). The chip is packaged in a plastic holder with pins spaced on a 0.1" (2.54mm) grid which will fit the holes on stripboard and breadboards. Very fine wires inside the package link the chip to the pins.

Pin numbers
The pins are numbered anti-clockwise around the IC (chip) starting near the notch or dot. The diagram shows the numbering for 8-pin and 14-pin ICs, but the principle is the same for all sizes.

IC holders (DIL sockets)
ICs (chips) are easily damaged by heat when soldering and their short pins cannot be protected with a heat sink. Instead we use an IC holder, strictly called a DIL socket (DIL = Dual In-Line), which can be safely soldered onto the circuit board. The IC is pushed into the holder when all soldering is complete. IC holders are only needed when soldering so they are not used on breadboards. Commercially produced circuit boards often have ICs soldered directly to the board without an IC holder, usually this is done by a machine which is able to work very quickly. Please don't attempt to do this yourself because you are likely to destroy the IC and it will be difficult to remove without damage by de-soldering.

Function and Construction
Lamps emit light when an electric current passes through them. All of the lamps shown on this page have a thin wire filament which becomes very hot and glows brightly when a current passes through it. The filament is made from a metal with a high melting point such as tungsten and it is usually wound into a small coil. Filament lamps have a shorter lifetime than most electronic components because eventually the filament 'blows' (melts) at a weak point.

Circuit symbols
There are two circuit symbols for a lamp, one for a lamp used to provide illumination and another for a lamp used as an indicator. Small lamps such as torch bulbs can be used for both purposes so either circuit symbol may used in simple educational circuits.

Lamp used for lighting
(for example a car headlamp or torch bulb)

Lamp used as an indicator
(for example a warning light on a car dashboard)

Selecting a Lamp
There are three important features to consider when selecting a lamp:
• • •

Voltage rating - the supply voltage for normal brightness. Power or current rating - small lamps are usually rated by current. Lamp type - please see the table below.

The voltage and power (or current) ratings are usually printed or embossed on the body of a lamp. Voltage rating This is the supply voltage required for normal brightness. If a slightly higher voltage is used the lamp will be brighter but its lifetime will be shorter. With a lower supply voltage the lamp will be dimmer and its lifetime will be longer. The light from dim lamps has a yellow-orange colour. Torch lamps pass a relatively large current and this significantly reduces the output voltage of the battery. Some voltage is used up inside the battery driving the large current through the small resistance of the battery itself (its 'internal resistance'). As a result the correct voltage rating for a torch lamp is lower than the normal voltage of the battery which lights it! For example: a lamp rated 3.5V 0.3A is correct for a 4.5V battery (three 1.5V cells) because when the lamp is connected the voltage across the battery falls to about 3.5V.



Circuit symbol:

LEDs emit light when an electric current passes through them.

Connecting and soldering
LEDs must be connected the correct way round, the diagram may be labelled a or + for anode and k or - for cathode (yes, it really is k, not c, for cathode!). The cathode is the short lead and there may be a slight flat on the body of round LEDs. If you can see inside the LED the cathode is the larger electrode (but this is not an official identification method). LEDs can be damaged by heat when soldering, but the risk is small unless you are very slow. No special precautions are needed for soldering most LEDs.

Testing an LED
Never connect an LED directly to a battery or power supply! It will be destroyed almost instantly because too much current will pass through and burn it out. LEDs must have a resistor in series to limit the current to a safe value, for quick testing purposes a 1k resistor is suitable for most LEDs if your supply voltage is 12V or less. Remember to connect the LED the correct way round! Colours of LEDs LEDs are available in red, orange, amber, yellow, green, blue and white. Blue and white LEDs are much more expensive than the other colours. The colour of an LED is determined by the semiconductor material, not by the colouring of the 'package' (the plastic body). LEDs of all colours are available in uncoloured packages which may be diffused (milky) or clear (often described as 'water clear'). The coloured packages are also available as diffused (the standard type) or transparent.

LED Displays
LED displays are packages of many LEDs arranged in a pattern, the most familiar pattern being the 7-segment displays for showing numbers (digits 0-9). The pictures below illustrate some of the popular designs:

A relay is an electrical switch that opens and closes under the control of another electrical circuit. In the original form, the switch is operated by an electromagnet to open or close one or many sets of contacts. It was invented by Joseph Henry in 1835. Because a relay is able to control an output circuit of higher power than the input circuit, it can be considered to be, in a broad sense, a form of an electrical amplifier.

Example: Circuit symbol:

The Resistor Colour Code Colour Number


Black Resistors restrict the flow of electric current, for example a resistor is placed in series with a light-emitting diode (LED) to limit the current passing Brown through the LED. Red

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Connecting and soldering


Resistors may be connected either way round. They are not damaged by heat Yellow when soldering.

Resistor values - the resistor colour code
Resistance is measured in ohms, the symbol for ohm is an omega . 1 is quite small so resistor values are often given in k and M . 1 k = 1000 1 M = 1000000 . Resistor values are normally shown using coloured bands. Each colour represents a number as shown in the table. Most resistors have 4 bands:
• • • •

Green Blue Violet Grey White

The first band gives the first digit. The second band gives the second digit. The third band indicates the number of zeros. The fourth band is used to shows the tolerance (precision) of the resistor, this may be ignored for almost all circuits but further details are given below.

This resistor has red (2), violet (7), yellow (4 zeros) and gold bands. So its value is 270000 = 270 k . On circuit diagrams the is usually omitted and the value is written 270K. Small value resistors (less than 10 ohm) The standard colour code cannot show values of less than 10 . To show these small values two special colours are used for the third band: gold which means × 0.1 and silver which means × 0.01. The first and second bands represent the digits as normal.

Tolerance of resistors (fourth band of colour code) The tolerance of a resistor is shown by the fourth band of the colour code. Tolerance is the precision of the resistor and it is given as a percentage. For example a 390 resistor with a tolerance of ±10% will have a value within 10% of 390 , between 390 - 39 = 351 and 390 + 39 = 429 (39 is 10% of 390). A special colour code is used for the fourth band tolerance: silver ±10%, gold ±5%, red ±2%, brown ±1%. If no fourth band is shown the tolerance is ±20%. Tolerance may be ignored for almost all circuits because precise resistor values are rarely required.

Power Ratings of Resistors
Electrical energy is converted to heat when current flows through a resistor. Usually the effect is negligible, but if the resistance is low (or the voltage across the resistor high) a large current may pass making the resistor become noticeably warm. The resistor must be able to withstand the heating effect and resistors have power ratings to show this. Power ratings of resistors are rarely quoted in parts lists because for most circuits the standard power ratings of 0.25W or 0.5W are suitable. For the rare cases where a higher power is required it should be clearly specified in the parts list, these will be circuits using low value resistors (less than about 300 ) or high voltages (more than 15V).

SWIT CHES Selecting a Switch
There are three important features to consider when selecting a switch:
• • •

Contacts (e.g. single pole, double throw) Ratings (maximum voltage and current) Method of Operation (toggle, slide, key etc.)

Switch Contacts
Several terms are used to describe switch contacts:
• • • • • •

Pole - number of switch contact sets. Throw - number of conducting positions, single or double. Way - number of conducting positions, three or more. Momentary - switch returns to its normal position when released. Open - off position, contacts not conducting. Closed - on position, contacts conducting, there may be several on positions.

For example: the simplest on-off switch has one set of contacts (single pole) and one switching position which conducts (single throw). The switch mechanism has two positions: open (off) and closed (on), but it is called 'single throw' because only one position conducts. Switch Contact Ratings Switch contacts are rated with a maximum voltage and current, and there may be different ratings for AC and DC. The AC values are higher because the current falls to zero many times each second and an arc is less likely to form across the switch contacts. For low voltage electronics projects the voltage rating will not matter, but you may need to check the current rating. The maximum current is less for inductive loads (coils and motors) because they cause more sparking at the contacts when switched off.

Transistors amplify current, for example they can be used to amplify the small output current from a logic IC so that it can operate a lamp, relay or other high current device. In many circuits a resistor is used to convert the changing current to a changing voltage, so the transistor is being used to amplify voltage. A transistor may be used as a switch (either fully on with maximum current, or fully off with no current) and as an amplifier (always partly on).

The amount of current amplification is called the current gain, symbol hFE. For further information please see the Transistor Circuits page.

Types of transistor
There are two types of standard transistors, NPN and PNP, with different circuit symbols. The letters refer to the layers of semiconductor material used to make the transistor. Most transistors used today are NPN because this is the easiest type to make from silicon. If you are new to electronics it is best to start by

Transistor circuit symbols

learning how to use NPN transistors. The leads are labelled base (B), collector (C) and emitter (E). These terms refer to the internal operation of a transistor but they are not much help in understanding how a transistor is used, so just treat them as labels! In addition to standard (bipolar junction) transistors, there are field-effect transistors which are usually referred to as FETs. They have different circuit symbols and properties and

Transistor leads for some common case styles.

they are not (yet) covered by this page.

Transistors have three leads which must be connected the correct way round. Please take care with this because a wrongly connected transistor may be damaged instantly when you switch on. If you are lucky the orientation of the transistor will be clear from the PCB or stripboard layout diagram, otherwise you will need to refer to a supplier's catalogue to identify the leads. The drawings on the right show the leads for some of the most common case styles. Please note that transistor lead diagrams show the view from below with the leads towards you. This is the opposite of IC (chip) pin diagrams which show the view from above.

This is the simplest way of using a variable resistor. Two terminals are used: one connected to an end of the track, the other to the moveable wiper. Turning the spindle changes the resistance between the two terminals from zero up to the maximum resistance.

Rheostat Symbol

Rheostats are often used to vary current, for example to control the brightness of a lamp or the rate at which a capacitor charges.

If the rheostat is mounted on a printed circuit board you may find that all three terminals are connected! However, one of them will be linked to the wiper terminal. This improves the mechanical strength of the mounting but it serves no function electrically.

Variable resistors used as potentiometers have all three terminals connected.
Potentiometer Symbol

This arrangement is normally used to vary voltage, for example to set the switching point of a circuit with a sensor, or control the volume (loudness) in an amplifier circuit. If the terminals at the ends of the track are connected across the power supply then the wiper terminal will provide a voltage which can be varied from zero up to the maximum of the supply.

These are miniature versions of the standard variable resistor. They are designed to be mounted directly onto the circuit board and adjusted only when the circuit is built. For example to set the frequency of an alarm tone or the sensitivity of a light-sensitive circuit. A small screwdriver or similar tool is required to adjust presets.

Preset Symbol

Presets are much cheaper than standard variable resistors so they are sometimes used in projects where a standard variable resistor would normally be used.

(open style)

(closed style)

Multiturn preset


Light Dependent Resistor (LDR)
An LDR is an input transducer (sensor) which converts brightness (light) to resistance. It is made from cadmium sulphide (CdS) and the resistance decreases as the brightness of light falling on the LDR increases. A multimeter can be used to find the resistance in darkness and bright light, these are the typical results for a standard LDR:
• •

Darkness: maximum resistance, about 1M . Very bright light: minimum resistance, about 100 .

Photograph © Rapid Electronics

For many years the standard LDR has been the ORP12, now the NORPS12, which is about 13mm diameter. Miniature LDRs are also available and their diameter is about 5mm.

An LDR may be connected either way round and no special precautions are required when soldering.

circuit symbol


A thermistor is an input transducer (sensor) which converts temperature (heat) to resistance. Almost all thermistors have a negative temperature coefficient (NTC) which means their resistance decreases as their temperature increases. It is possible to make thermistors with a positive temperature coefficient (resistance increases as temperature increases) but these are rarely used. Always assume NTC if no information is given. A multimeter can be used to find the resistance at various temperatures, these are some typical readings for example:
• • •

Icy water 0°C: high resistance, about 12k . Room temperature 25°C: medium resistance, about 5k . Boiling water 100°C: low resistance, about 400 .

Photograph © Rapid Electronics

Suppliers usually specify thermistors by their resistance at 25°C (room temperature). Thermistors take several seconds to respond to a sudden temperature change, small thermistors respond more rapidly.

circuit symbol

Inductor (coil)
An inductor is a coil of wire which may have a core of air, iron or ferrite (a brittle material made from iron). Its electrical property is called inductance and the unit for this is the henry, symbol H. 1H is very large so mH and µH are used, 1000µH = 1mH and 1000mH = 1H. Iron and ferrite cores increase the inductance. Inductors are mainly used in tuned circuits and to block high frequency AC signals (they are sometimes called chokes). They pass DC easily, but block AC signals, this is the opposite of capacitors. Inductors are rarely found in simple projects, but one exception is the tuning coil of a radio receiver. This is an inductor which you may have to make yourself by neatly winding enamelled copper wire around a ferrite rod. Enamelled copper wire has very thin insulation, allowing the turns of the coil to be close together, but this makes it impossible to strip in the usual way the best method is to gently pull the ends of the wire through folded emery paper. Warning: a ferrite rod is brittle so treat it like glass, not iron!

Inductor (miniature)

Ferrite rod
Photographs © Rapid Electronics

circuit symbol

Di gi tal Mu lt imeter
Multimeters are designed and mass produced for electronics engineers. Even the simplest and cheapest types may include features which you are not likely to use. Digital meters give an output in numbers, usually on a liquid crystal display. The diagram below shows a switched range multimeter:

Switched range multimeter

The central knob has lots of positions and you must choose which one is appropriate for the measurement you want to make. If the meter is switched to 20 V DC, for example, then 20 V is the maximum voltage which can be measured, This is sometimes called 20 V fsd, where fsd is short for full scale deflection. For circuits with power supplies of up to 20 V, which includes all the circuits you are likely to build, the 20 V DC voltage range is the most useful. DC ranges are indicated by on the meter. Sometimes, you will want to measure smaller voltages, and in this case, the 2 V or 200 mV ranges are used.

What does DC mean? DC means direct current. In any circuit which operates from a steady voltage source, such as a battery, current flow is always in the same direction. Every constructional project described in Design Electronics works in this way. AC means alternating current. In an electric lamp connected to the domestic mains electricity, current flows first one way, then the other. That is, the current reverses, or alternates, in direction. With UK mains, the current reverses 50 times per second.

Auto ranging multimeter

The central knob has fewer positions and all you need to do is to switch it to the quantity you want to measure. Once switched to V, the meter automatically adjusts its range to give a meaningful reading, and the display includes the unit of measurement, V or mV. This type of meter is more expensive, but obviously much easier to use. Where are the two meter probes connected? The black lead is always connected into the socket marked COM, short for COMMON. The red lead is connected into the socket labeled V mA. The 10A socket is very rarely used.

Voltage measurements:

Using the multimeter as a voltmeter, measure the power supply voltage and then measure the voltages at points A, B and C. What do you notice about your results? The four resistors are connected in series, making a chain known as a potential divider, or voltage divider. The total voltage is shared between the four resistors and, allowing for tolerance, each resistor receives an equal share. Modify the circuit, replacing one or more of the 10 Are the results as you expect? resistors with 1 or 100 values.

The diagram below shows a light sensor circuit built in a similar way:

The circuit uses an LDR, or light dependent resistor. The resistance of the LDR changes with illumination. In the dark, the resistance is high, up to 1 M or more. When light shines on the LDR, the light energy increases the number of charge carriers available to transfer current, and the resistance falls. In bright light, the resistance can be as little as 100 . What happens to the output voltage of the light sensor circuit when you cover the LDR with you hand? Is the output voltage HIGH or LOW in the dark? Resistance measurements: Remove the LDR from the circuit and measure its resistance, as follows:

To get the multimeter to function as an ohmmeter, you will need to select a resistance range. With a switched range meter, the 200 k position is usually suitable. You will see the resistance measurement change as the light level changes. Covering the LDR with your hand increases the resistance of the LDR. If the meter reads this means that the resistance is more than the maximum which can be measured on this range and you may need to switch to a new position, 2000 k, to take a reading. (How many megohms is 2000 k?) You can check the value of any fixed value resistor in the same way, and confirm that you have worked out the colour code correctly.

Current measurements:
The diagram below shows a prototype board set up for the measurement of current:

Note that the current must flow through the ammeter in order to reach the circuit. As the resistance is reduced, current increases. Calculate the current expected in each case using the formula:

Small variations, up to ±5%, can be attributed to the tolerance of the resistors.

PCB Fabrication Process Details
The first step is to transfer the schematic from the magazine to the schematic capture part of the layout program. I even try to use the same reference designators where possible so that I can reference back to the original article to make post-construction troubleshooting and parts correlation easier, if I have to.

After the schematic is entered, the PCB layout program is used to place the parts on the board and route the copper traces. After the first few parts are rounted, the "ratsnest" begins to clear up. If you're lucky, you get a PCB that requires no external jumper wires.

When the layout is done, the board layers are printed onto special toner transfer paper with a laser printer. This board "image" is transferred to the bare copper board with a laminating machine, or a hot clothes iron.

After laminating, the board with the paper stuck to it is soaked to remove the paper, leaving only the toner behind.

Below is a photo of the raw copper board with toner remaining, after the transfer paper has been soaked off.

Inside the etch tank, two aquarium pumps circulate etchant (FeCl3) over the copper boards while two aquarium heaters keep the solution at 110F.This process can take anywhere from 10-30 minutes depending on the freshness of the solution and thickness of the copper.

After etching, the toner is removed with solvent and the board is tinned using a soldering iron and a small piece of tinned solderwick. Tinning isn't absolutely necessary but it improves the appearance of the board, and prevents the copper from oxidizing before it's time to solder the parts to the board.

At this point, holes are drilled for any leaded components and mounting holes.

Here is the completed board ready to be populated

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