Altium Designer Documentation

Working with a Via Object on a PCB in Altium Designer

Created: December 14, 2017 | Updated: October 9, 2018

Parent page: PCB Objects

A via that spans and connects from the top layer (red) to the bottom layer (blue), and also connects to one internal power plane (green). A via that spans and connects from the top layer (red) to the bottom layer (blue), and also connects to one internal power plane (green).A via that spans and connects from the top layer (red) to the bottom layer (blue), and also connects to one internal power plane (green).

Summary

A via is a primitive design object. It is used to form a vertical electrical connection between two or more electrical layers of a PCB. Vias are a three-dimensional object, having a barrel-shaped body in the Z-plane (vertical) with a flat ring on each (horizontal) copper layer. The barrel-shaped body of the via is formed when the board is drilled and through-plated during fabrication. In the X and Y planes, vias are circular, like round pads. The key difference between a via and a pad is that as well as being able to span all layers of the board (top to bottom), a via can also span from a surface layer to an internal layer or between two internal layers.

Availability

Vias are available for placement in both the PCB editor and the PCB Library editors in the following ways:

  • Click Place » Via from the main menus.
  • Click the  button on the Wiring toolbar.
  • Click the Via button () in the drop-down on the Active Bar located at the top of the workspace. (Click and hold an Active Bar button to access other related commands. Once a command has been used, it will become the topmost item on that section of the Active Bar.)
  • Right-click in the workspace then choose the Place » Via command from the context menu. 

Placement

After launching the command, the cursor will change to a crosshair and you will enter via placement mode:

  1. Position the cursor and click or press Enter to place a via.
  2. Continue placing further vias or right-click or press Esc to exit placement mode.

A via will adopt a net name if it is placed over an object that is already connected to a net. Typically vias are not placed manually; they are placed automatically as part of the interactive routing process.

Auto-placement of Vias During Routing

When a net is being interactively routed, you can cycle through the available signal layers by pressing the * key on the numeric keypad. Alternatively, use the Ctrl+Shift+Roll Mouse Wheel combination to move through the signal layers. When this is done, the software will automatically place a via in accordance with the applicable Routing Via Style design rule. Note that multiple Via Style design rules can be defined allowing different via sizes to be assigned to different nets.

Default Settings versus Design Rules

When a via is placed in free space, it is not possible for the software to apply a routing style design rule during placement. In this situation the default via will be placed.

Graphical Editing

Vias cannot have their properties modified graphically other than their location.

  • To move a via and also move the connected tracks, click and hold then move the via. The connected routing will remain attached to the via as it is moved.
  • To move a via without moving the connected tracks in the PCB Editor or PCB Library Editor, select the Edit » Move » Move command, then click, hold and move the via.

If a via is being moved with the routing to create more routing or component space, it can be more efficient to re-route than move routing. The software includes a feature called Loop Removal. With this feature enabled, you route along a new path (starting and ending somewhere along the original routing), as soon as you right-click to exit the interactive routing mode the old routing (loop) is removed, including any redundant vias.

If attempting to graphically modify an object that has its Locked property enabled, a dialog will appear asking for confirmation to proceed with the edit. If the Protect Locked Objects option is enabled on the Schematic – Graphical Editing page of the Preferences dialog, and the Locked option for that design object is enabled as well, then that object cannot be selected or graphically edited. Click the locked object to select it then disable the Locked property in the List panel or disable the Protect Locked Objects option to graphically edit the object.

Non-Graphical Editing

The following methods of non-graphical editing are available:

Via the Properties Panel

Properties page: Via Properties

The properties of a Via can be edited in the PCB editor's Properties panel, which allows editing of all item(s) currently selected in the workspace.

During placement, the panel can be accessed by pressing the Tab key.

To access the properties of a placed Via :

  • Double-click on the Via.
  • Right-click on the Via then select Properties from the context menu.
  • If the Properties panel is already active, click once on the Via to select it.

Editing Multiple objects

The Properties panel supports editing multiple objects, where the property settings that are identical in all currently selected objects may be modified. When multiples of the same object type are selected manually, via the Find Similar Objects dialog or through a Filter or List panel, a Properties panel field entry that is not shown as an asterisk (*) may be edited for all selected objects.

Quickly change the units of measurement currently used in the panel between metric (mm) and imperial (mil) using the Ctrl+Q shortcut. This affects the panel only and does not change the actual measurement unit employed for the board.

Working with Vias

Vias are a key element of the routing. This section provides valuable information on working with vias.

Thru-hole, Blind and Buried Vias

The default is for a via to span from the Top Layer through to the Bottom Layer; this is known as a thru-hole via. In a multi-layer board, a via can also span other layers. The possible layers that a via can span depends on the fabrication technology used to fabricate the board. The traditional approach to manufacture a multi-layer board is to make it as a set of thin double-sided boards, which are then sandwiched together under heat and pressure to form a multi-layer board.

The image below shows a six layer board, as shown by the layer names on the left side of the image. This board would first be fabricated as three double-sided boards (Top-Plane1, Mid1-Mid2, Plane2-Bottom) as indicated by the hatched core layers.

These double-sided boards can have via sites drilled, if required, forming what are known as blind vias (via number 1) when the via spans from a surface layer to an inner layer; and buried vias, when a via spans from one internal layer to another internal layer (via number 2). After the layers are pressed together into a single multi-layer board, thru-hole vias are drilled (via number 3).

The three types of vias that can be created: blind (1), buried (2) and thru-hole.
The three types of vias that can be created: blind (1), buried (2) and thru-hole.

Another type of multi-layer board fabrication technology is called Build-up technology, where layers are added one after the other, often over a double-sided or traditional multi-layer board. When this technology is used, vias can be drilled with a laser after each layer is added during the build up process, resulting in a large number of possible layer-pairs that can be spanned. The layer-pairs used for each via are defined by the Start Layer and End Layer settings for the via.

If blind, buried or build-up type vias are to be used, the drill pairs must be configured with a drill pair for each layer-pair that a via spans.

Consult your board fabricator if you are designing a multi-layer board that is going to include blind or buried vias to ensure the optimal layer stack up and layer-pairing are achieved.

Configuring the Layer Drill Pairs

When blind, buried or build-up type vias are to be used, the drill pairs must be configured. It is the presence of drill pairs that lets the software know that blind and/or buried vias are in use. This ensures that when the fabrication output files are generated from the completed board, there are suitable drill files for the various drill jobs that must be performed to create the blind or buried vias. Drill Pairs are configured in the Drill-Pair Manager dialog (shown in the image below). The dialog is accessed by clicking the Drill Pairs button in either the Properties region of the Properties panel or in the Layer Stack Manager dialog (Design » Layer Stack Manager).

Use the Drill-Pair Manager to define the required drill pairs.
Use the Drill-Pair Manager to define the required drill pairs.

Once the drill pairs have been defined, suitable blind, buried or thru-hole vias are automatically placed during routing in accordance with the drill pair settings and the applicable Routing Via Style design rule.

Solder Mask Expansions

An opening in the solder mask is automatically created by the software the same shape as the via. This opening can be larger (a positive expansion value) or smaller (a negative expansion value) than the via itself as defined by the Mask Expansion settings. The expansion is measured from the outer edge of the copper. Solder mask openings over a via can be slightly larger than the via copper area, smaller to cover the copper area but not the drill hole, or they can be completely closed, which is called tented. The default is for the via to use the Expansion value from the Solder Mask Expansion rule. This can be overridden and manual values defined directly in the Properties panel, if required.

The term tenting means to close off. If a tenting option is enabled, then the settings in the applicable Solder Mask Expansion design rule will be overridden resulting in no opening in the solder mask on that solder mask layer for this via. 

Solder mask layers are shown in the negative, i.e. when you see an object on a mask layer, it is actually a hole or opening in that layer. The solder mask can also be shown in the positive, more about this below.

Testpoint Settings

Use the Testpoint region to define this via as a testpoint for Fabrication and/or Assembly. A testpoint is a location where a test probe can make contact with the PCB to check for correct function of the board. Any pad or via can be nominated as a testpoint.

Configuring the Display of Vias

There are a number of display features available to help you work with vias.

Via Colors

Via colors are congigured in the View Configuration panel. The copper ring of the via is shown in the current Multi-Layer setting in the Layers section. The via hole color is shown in the Via Holes setting in the System Colors section. You can also disable the display of holes by toggling the  for the desired setting(s).

A thru-hole via is shown on the left. The via on the right is a blind via; the hole is shown in the start and end layer colors. A thru-hole via is shown on the left. The via on the right is a blind via; the hole is shown in the start and end layer colors.A thru-hole via is shown on the left. The via on the right is a blind via; the hole is shown in the start and end layer colors.

Vias and the Solder Mask

The default presentation of layers in the PCB editor is to always show the Multi-Layer as the top most layer. That can make it difficult to accurately view the contents of the solder mask layers especially when a pad or via uses a negative mask expansion since the solder mask layer contents will disappear under the multi-layer object. You can change this by changing the layer drawing order on the PCB Editor — Display page of the Preferences dialog. Set the current layer to be drawn as the top-most layer.

By changing the layer drawing order to show the Current Layer on top, when you make the Top Solder the current layer the mask openings are accurately presented as shown in the image below. The green arrows show the size of the solder mask opening for a via on the left, a pad where the mask opening is contracted in the center, and a pad where the opening is expanded on the right.

Configure the display settings to be able to examine the solder mask openings.
Configure the display settings to be able to examine the solder mask openings.

Other Via Display Settings

To display the via net name, enable the Via Nets option in the Additional Options region on the View Options tab of the View Configuration panel.

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