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ELECTRONIC CIRCUIT


SYMBOLS & NOTATIONS by Ray Marston

— been editor or technical editor of major industrial countries have Now magazine, and Figure 2
four different electronics maga- their own individual preferred styles shows the same diagram drawn in
zines, have written about 2,000 for electronic circuit symbols and the house style of the German
Ray Marston technical articles, and have written notations, but these styles are not electronics magazine Elrad, which
looks at some 31 electronics engineering books.
Many of my magazine articles are
too rigidly applied and often vary
considerably between one techni-
uses a simple rectangular symbol
(rather than a zig-zag) to represent
controversial published internationally, and — in
various periods — have appeared
cal publisher and another, accord-
ing to the ‘house style’ of the indi-
a resistor.
Regarding the German capaci-
aspects of regularly in magazines in the UK,
Germany, Holland, Australia,
vidual publishing company. In the
USA, for example, the so-called
tor symbols, the two parallel lines
used to represent C1 and C3 indi-
modern circuit Canada and the USA. ‘US Customary’ system is normally cate that these are ordinary non-

symbology in
Of my 31 books, two were first used, but the precise details of the electrolytic components, and the
published in Germany, and the rest system vary significantly between black and white rectangles used to
this special in the UK; several were later pub-
lished in the USA. Between them,
different electronics magazines.
Figures 1 to 5 show examples
represent C2 and C4 indicate that
these are electrolytic capacitors;
feature article. these books have been translated
into about a dozen different lan-
of how exactly the same circuit dia-
gram can vary when published by
the ‘+’ signs associated with C2 and
C4 indicate that the capacitors are
guages (often with suitably modi- particular electronics magazines in polarized types, and that the white
fied circuit dia-
grams), including
INTRODUCTION Russian, Hindus-
tani, and most
Back in May ’97, I started writ- major European
ing regular ‘circuit application’ fea- tongues.
ture articles for Nuts & Volts maga- Throughout
zine. All of these articles are specif- the past five years,
ically aimed at experienced design I have produced
engineers and competent electron- most of the art-
ics enthusiasts (rather than at work and circuit
novices or complete beginners), diagrams that ac-
and are unusual in two special company my
respects. books and maga- Figure 1. Circuit in the house style of Figure 2. Circuit in the house style of
They are unusual, first, zine articles Electronics Now magazine (USA). Elrad magazine (Germany).
because most of them carry (on (including those
average) about 20 illustrations or used in Nuts &
practical circuit diagrams, and sec- Volts), using a
ond, because all of the circuit dia- Corel DRAW 3 art-
grams use International style — work/CAD pack-
rather than US Customary — circuit age and my private
symbols and component notations. symbols library. I
All of these articles have been generate an aver-
well received by most Nuts & Volts age of about 350
fans, but some readers (who admit diagrams a year,
to being electronics novices) have and have thus pro-
complained that they are quite duced about 1,750
bemused by the component nota- technical illustra-
tions that I use in these articles. I tions and diagrams
suspect that quite a few other Nuts in the past five Figure 3. Circuit in the house style
of Electronics Today International Figure 4. Circuit in the house style of
& Volts fans may feel the same way years. Electronics World magazine (UK).
so, in this special article, I aim to As a conse- magazine (UK).
explain the operation of the quence of all the
International style electronic circuit above, I have lots of professional particular parts of the
diagram system, and to explain the experience in the technical publish- western world. The circuit
system’s advantages over the US ing business and in generating is that of a simple LM386
Customary system. This is a fairly modern circuit diagrams, and am audio power amplifier,
controversial subject and may familiar with many of the different with its voltage gain set at
annoy some readers, so I will start electronic circuit symbol and nota- x200 by C4 and with its
off by presenting my qualifications tion systems that are used in vari- output protected by the
for writing about it, as follows: ous parts of the world and with their C3-R1 Zobel network and
specific advantages and disadvan- loaded by an eight-ohm
MY QUALIFICATIONS tages compared to other systems. speaker.
Figure 1 shows the
I have been an electronics TYPICAL CIRCUIT diagram drawn using the
design engineer and writer/author DIAGRAMS familiar US Customary
Figure 5. Circuit drawn in typical
for over 30 years. During that peri- system, using the basic
International style.
od, I have — amongst other things In the western world, most house style of Electronics
Reprinted from December 1998 Nuts & Volts Magazine. All rights reserved. No duplication permitted without permission from T & L Publications, Inc. 1
ELECTRONIC CIRCUIT SYMBOLS & NOTATIONS
terminal is positive. simplified European style, and com- For most American readers, the was first specified, it was required
In the UK, British electronics ponent values are given in formal only problems presented by the to be designed as a simple easily-
magazine sales are dominated by ‘International’ style, which is non-US Figure 2 to 5 diagrams printed code that indicates an elec-
six popular titles. Half of these use explained in a later major section of relate to the International compo- tronic component’s value clearly,
the zig-zag resistor symbol in their this article. nent value notation systems that briefly, without ambiguity, and with a
circuit diagrams, and half use the Note in Figures 1 to 5 that all they use, which all notate the 10 minimum loss of clarity if poorly
simple rectangular symbol. Figure 3 five basic diagrams are quite easy resistor as 10R, and notate printed.
shows the Figure 1 diagram to understand, in spite of the varia- 0.047µF capacitor C3 as 47n (the This last requirement immedi-
redrawn in the house style of one of tions in the styles of the symbols odd 220u — rather than 220µ — ately ruled out the use of decimal
the most popular British electronics used to represent resistors, capaci- notation used on C4 in Figure 3 is points in the new code system, and
magazines, Electronics Today tors, ground points, and loudspeak- simply a house style peculiarity the requirement for brevity called
International, which uses the simple ers. Also note that the variable used by one UK magazine). Before for (1) the elimination of all super-
rectangle to represent a resistor, resistor is notated by RV (Resistor, explaining how the International fluous information from the code,
and uses two black rectangles to Variable) in the four non-US dia- notation system works, I will explain and (2) for sensible compression of
represent an ordinary non-elec- grams, but by a simple R in Figure why it was developed. the remaining data.
trolytic capacitor. 1. Finally, note that the Figure 2 to 5 Regarding point (1) in the
The most prestigious British diagrams use a plain R instead of EVOLUTION OF THE ‘brevity’ requirement, note that in
electronics magazine is Electronics the symbol to indicate a resistor’s ‘INTERNATIONAL’ circuit diagrams, when indicating
World, which is aimed directly at value in ohms, and (in Figures 2 the value of a symbolic resistor,
professional engineers and man- and 4) use the symbol only to indi-
SYSTEM capacitor, or inductor, it is self-evi-
agers; it has its own basic house cate the loudspeaker’s nominal Prior to the mid 1970s, the dent that the component’s value is
style for circuit diagrams, but varies impedance value. electronic component notation sys- expressed in basic units of ohms,
the style slightly from article to arti- The easily-understood Figure 1 tems used by most European coun- Farads, or Henrys, and the new
cle. Figure 4 shows Figure 1 to 5 circuits are analog designs. tries were similar to the present US code’s design specification thus
redrawn in this magazine’s basic Foreign digital designs can be far Customary system and were loose- demanded the elimination of this
house style; note the awkward mix- harder to understand. Figure 6, for ly based on the metric scientific superfluous ‘postscript’ data from
ture of upper-case and subscript example, shows some of the crazy notation system that — in 1960 — the printed code when used in cir-
characters used to denote compo- official symbols used to represent became officially known as SI cuit diagrams (but not necessarily in
nent numbers, etc. simple logic gates in Europe. In (Système Internationale d’Unités). normal printed text).
Finally, Figure 5 shows Figure 1 practice, most European electron- In the 1960s, however, major Regarding point (2) in the
drawn in my own particular version ics book and magazine publishers developments in the semiconductor ‘brevity’ requirement, this was to be
of the International circuit diagram sensibly adhere to the American industry resulted in a great increase aided by using a fixed three-
style (which I use in my Nuts & Volts MIL/ANSI symbol system, which is in the complexity of practical circuit decade spacing between the deci-
articles), in which resistors are also used in the normal designs, and industry and com- mal ‘multiplier’ units used to indi-
drawn as zig-zags, capacitors are in ‘International’ diagram system. merce began looking for ways of cate a component’s value.
producing the result- Figure 7 lists the range of dec-
ingly complex circuit imal multiplier units — using basic
diagrams and literature SI scientific notation and three-
with greater efficiency. decade spacing — that are normal-
Matters reached a ly used in electronics, together with
historic peak in 1975 their normal prefixes, etc., and
when the British Figure 8 shows how they are
Standards Institute applied in the modern US
(BSI) published — Customary notation system (which
after a very long period was also widely used in pre-1975
of study and consulta- Europe).
tion — a list of recom- Note in Figure 8 that the US
mendations concern- Customary system uses three-
ing this subject. decade multiplier spacing when
Many of the 1975 notating values of resistance,
BSI recommendations inductance, frequency, and time,
— particularly those but inexplicably uses six-decade
relating to the use of spacing (between µF and pF) when
new digital circuit sym- notating values of capacitance.
bols — were pretty stu- This six-decade spacing is a major
pid, and were rejected cause of the cumbersome capaci-
by most of the elec- tance-value notations (such as
tronics industry, but 0.001µF) that often appear in US
those relating to an circuit diagrams.
international system of These, then, were the basic
electronic component- ideas behind the creation and
value notation were development of the 1975 BSI com-
excellent, and were ponent notation system, which
soon adopted by most today is known as the ‘International’
of the world’s industrial system. Let’s now look at the
nations, with the details of the modern version of this
notable exception of system.
the USA.
This new notation THE ‘INTERNATIONAL’
system was, in effect, SYSTEM
an improved and
streamlined version of RESISTANCE NOTATION
the existing SI-based
system, and was thus The standard unit of resistance
quite easy to learn. is the ohm, named after a Bavarian,
Figure 6. A selection of widely used logic symbols. When its basic form George Simon Ohm who, in 1827,
Reprinted from December 1998 Nuts & Volts Magazine. All rights reserved. No duplication permitted without permission from T & L Publications, Inc. 2
ELECTRONIC CIRCUIT SYMBOLS & NOTATIONS
published the results of his
research into electrical resis-
tance and whose name is com-
memorated by the symbol Ω
(omega), which is the Greek
equivalent of the Bavarian letter
Ö. In 1975 (prior to the advent of
the wordprocessor and CAD
drawing), the symbol Ω was not
carried on normal typewriters
and was time-consuming to pro-
duce using normal drawing tech-
niques. Figure 7. Decimal
Consequently, in 1975, the multiplier scientific Figure 8. Multiplier symbols used in Figure 9. Multiplier symbols used in
BSI recommended that the sym- notations. the US Customary notation system. the International notation system.
bol Ω should no longer be used
on circuit diagrams as a postscript an inductor, it is
when denoting resistance values, self-evident
that units of resistance should be that the com-
notated by the capital letter R, that ponent’s value
thousands of units be notated by is expressed in
the lower-case letter k (for kilohm), Henrys, and it
and millions of units be notated by is thus super-
the upper-case letter M (for fluous to re-
megohms). Thus, in this system, state the fact in
47Ω, 47kΩ, and 47MΩ become the diagram.
47R, 47k, and 47M. Consequently,
in 1975, the
CAPACITANCE NOTATION BSI recom-
mended that —
The standard unit of electrical on circuit dia-
capacitance is the Farad, repre- grams — the
sented by the symbol F. In elec- capital letter H
tronics, the Farad is too large a should only be
unit for general use and, prior to used to notate
1975, most capacitors had values actual units of
that were expressed in units of a inductance,
millionth of a Farad (µF) or a mil- that thou-
lionth of a millionth of a Farad (pF). sandths of
Thus, 1µF equals 1,000,000pF. units be notat-
This six-decade space between ed by the
basic multiplier units obviously lower-case let-
results in excessively long compo- ter m (= milli- Figure 10. A selection of US Customary notations and their International system equiv-
nent notations, and BSI recom- henry), and alents, reproduced at 100%, 77%, 66%, and 50% scales.
mended that this problem be elim- millionths of
inated by reducing the spacing units be notated by the symbol µ (= plete bitmap was then printed out the BSI recommended that, for
between multiplier units to three microhenry). Thus, in this system, on high quality paper using a component/parameter value nota-
decades, by introducing a unit 47H, 47mH, and 47µH become Laserjet printer and mailed off to tion purposes, the decimal point
known as the nanofarad (fully 47H, 47m, and 47µ. Nuts & Volts. should no longer be used and
notated as nF), and equal to On receipt of my artwork, Nuts should be replaced by the basic
1000pF. Thus, 1nF equals 0.001µF, DECIMAL POINTS & Volts scanned my bitmap into the component/parameter multiplier
and 1000nF equals 1µF. magazine’s printer, which then symbol (such as V, k, n, µ, etc.)
In circuit diagrams, when indi- Decimal points sometimes transferred the diagram to the print- applicable to that value. Thus, in
cating the value of a capacitor, it is become so severely degraded dur- ed page, where the decimal point this system, values such as 4.7V,
self-evident that the component’s ing the printing process that they probably measures 2 x 2 pixels, 4.7kΩ, and 4700pF (= 0.0047µF or
value is expressed in Farads, and cease to have a final practical i.e., its size has fallen from 16 pix- 4.7nF) become 4V7, 4k7, and 4n7.
it is thus superfluous to re-state value. As an example of this els to 4 pixels in the production
the fact in the diagram. process, take the case of the deci- process. AN OVERVIEW
Consequently, the BSI recom- mal point associated with C1 in Thus, this minimum-cost art-
mended that, for component nota- Figure 1. I originally generated this work production process results in There are four major differ-
tion purposes, the symbol F should diagram in Corel DRAW vector for- severe loss of the decimal point’s ences between the International
no longer be used on circuit dia- mat, with the C1 notations set in definition. This problem can be and US Customary notation sys-
grams as a postscript when denot- Arial text at 10-point size, under reduced, at a much increased cost, tems, and two of these are illus-
ing capacitance values, and that the which conditions the decimal point by supplying the publisher with a trated in Figure 9, which shows
scientific symbols µ, n, and p be takes the form of a 0.3mm x 0.3mm disk copy of the full-scale Tiff 5.0 the multiplier symbols that are
used as basic multiplier units. Thus, square. bitmap, which can then be fed — at used in the International system;
in this system, 4,700µF, 47µF, To prepare this vector diagram an appropriate scale — directly into compare this diagram with that of
0.047uF, and 47pF become 4,700µ, for minimum-cost publishing, I then the publisher’s printer, but even this Figure 8, and note that the
47µ, 47n, and 47p. converted the drawing to Tiff 5.0 process results in a final decimal International system uses the
bitmap format at 300 dpi (in which point size of no more than 9 pixels symbol R to indicate basic resis-
INDUCTANCE NOTATION the decimal point measures 4 x 4 at 77% scale. tance units, and uses the symbol
pixels), and then scaled the bitmap The important thing to note n to indicate ‘thousandths of a µF’
The standard unit of electrical to the ‘77% of original’ size at which from the above is that decimal capacitance units.
inductance is the Henry, represent- it is meant to be printed in Nuts & points often become severely Of the remaining two differ-
ed by the symbol H. In circuit dia- Volts (at which scale the point size degraded during the printing ences, one is that — in circuit dia-
grams, when indicating the value of reduces to 3 x 3 pixels). The com- process and, in their 1975 report, grams — the International system
Reprinted from December 1998 Nuts & Volts Magazine. All rights reserved. No duplication permitted without permission from T & L Publications, Inc. 3
ELECTRONIC CIRCUIT SYMBOLS & NOTATIONS
does not use basic component component notation codes consist world. degrade in the smaller-scale US
‘type’ symbols (such as Ω, F, or L) of two or more digits plus one sym- Regarding the second test, Customary notations.
as component postscript notations, bolic ‘multiplier’ notation; thus, in you can make a quick decision on I think the International nota-
and the other is that the Figure 5, resistance values of 10k this with the help of Figure 10, tion system is the best of the two,
International system used the and 10R and capacitance values of which shows a matching selection and to help novice readers get
component’s multiplier symbol in 100n, 10µ, and 220µ are used. of International and US Customary used to it, future articles will, when
place of a decimal point in the When below-unity values such as component notations reproduced appropriate, carry a small
actual component-value notation. 0.1 or 0.5µH occur, they are notat- in extra-high-quality at 100% scale ‘Beginner’s Guide’ box, giving a
ed 0R1 or 0µ5 in the International (full size), at 77% scale (the normal concise explanation of the
SPECIAL NOTES system. Note that the use of a two- Nuts & Volts size), at 66% scale International notation system (see
digit code loosely implies a two- (the normal paperback handbook Figure 11). If lots of readers contin-
Note that, although the BSI digit degree of component preci- size), and at 50% scale (the nor- ue to have problems, I will revert to
‘International’ style of parameter- sion; thus, if an 8Ω resistor is to be mal small pocketbook size). Note the US Customary notation system
value notation was originally devel- used in a semi-precision applica- the way in which the decimal points in a future series. NV
oped in the days when text was tion, its value should be notated
typewritten and circuit diagrams 8R0, but if it is only a very approxi- Beginner’s Guide to Component Notations
were hand-drawn, it still has great mate value (such as a speaker
validity today, when text is generat- impedance value), it can legiti- In this article, the values of resistors and capacitors, etc., are notated in
International — rather than US Customary — style.
ed on a wordprocessor and draw- mately be simply notated as 8R.
ings are generated via a CAD The most important real-life In resistance notation, the symbol R represents units of resistance, k represents
package. tests regarding ‘International’ ver- thousands of units, and M represents millions of units. Thus, 10R = 10Ω, 47k =
The US Customary notation sus ‘US Customary’ component 47kΩ, 47M = 47MΩ.
‘0.0047µF,’ for example, looks value notation systems are those In capacitance notation, the symbols µ, n (= 1000pF), and p are used as basic
clumsy, takes up lots of valuable relating to ease-of-use and final multiplier units. Thus, 47µ = 47µF, 47n = 0.047µF, 10n = 0.01µF, and 47p = 47pF.
text or drawing space, and takes appearance on the printed page. In the International notation system, decimal points are not used in notations and
10 keystrokes to produce; the You can only pass a fair comment are replaced by the multiplier symbol (such as V, k, n µ, etc.) applicable to the
equivalent ‘4n7’ International nota- on the first of these tests by mak- individual component value. Thus, 4V7 = 4.7V, 4k7 = 4.7kΩ, 4n7 = 4.7nF, and
tion is, on the other hand, crystal ing a genuine effort to get used to 1n0 = 1.0n.
clear, takes up a minimum of the International system, which is
space, and takes only three key- used by most engineers and elec- Figure 11. ‘Beginner’s Guide’ box, giving a concise explanation of
strokes to produce. tronics hobbyists throughout the International notation system.
Most real-life International Europe and much of the rest of the

Reprinted from December 1998 Nuts & Volts Magazine. All rights reserved. No duplication permitted without permission from T & L Publications, Inc. 4