What’s So Difficult about Diodes?

A diode can be put on a a PCB in one of two ways. It’s only got two pins (usually — see, I already have a caveat). I’ve written about them a few times before. I’ve got a sampling of those posts here. But first,

Good marking:





Bad marking:





The diode schematic symbol is always a good choice. If there isn’t room for that, “A” for anode or “K” for cathode work well too. Why “K”, and not “C”, you may ask? Because “K” kan’t be konfused with a capacitor.

Okay. Enough ranting for now. Just use the diode schematic symbol, “A”, for anode, or “K”, for cathode; and always look at the data sheet for the exact part number.

Duane Benson
1 cricket per chip


How Should You Mark Your Diodes?

Current flows through a diode from the anode to the cathode – it will pass current only when the potential on the anode is greater than the potential on the cathode. This is mostly true, but not always.

For the common barrier diode, or rectifier, it’s a pretty safe bet. However, with a zener diode, or  TVS, it’s not true. And, that is why marking a diode, on your PC board, with the plus sign (+) is not good practice.

Take a look at the schematic clip below.


1 designers nb figure 1






Once you put this circuit on to a PC board, you could legitimately place a plus sign on the anodes of D3 and D4, and another on their cathodes. In the next schematic clip, you could legitimately place both a plus sign, and a minus sign on the anode of D9.

1 designers nb figure 2

We don’t know what you had in mind, and, we don’t have the schematic. If you use the practice of marking diodes with a (+) on the anode, we don’t have any more information than if you didn’t mark it at all. The same holds for using a minus (-) sign. It really doesn’t give us any information.

So how should you mark your diodes? The best method is to put the diode symbol next to the footprint. on the PC board, as shown below. You can also use “K” to indicate the Cathode, of “A”, to indicate the Anode. “K” is used because “C” could be mistaken for “capacitor.”

D5, in the illustration on the right, would be the preferred methodFigure 1. D7 will work as well. If you don’t have enough room on the board due to spacing constraints, you can put the same information in an assembly drawing.

Ambiguity is the enemy of manufacturers everywhere. Read a bit more on the subject here, or here.

Duane Benson
Help stamp out and eliminate redundancy, and maybe ambiguity, or maybe not

Indicating Polarity on Diodes

Everyone knows which way current flows through a diode. Right? Of course they do. Diodes only permit current to flow in one direction.

Well, sort of.

In the case of your garden variety rectifier, barrier diode, or LED, that’s true. That line of thinking leads a lot of people to assume that you can indicate diode polarity by putting a plus sign “+” next to the anode.

Here’s why you can’t.

Zener and TVS diodes have a breakdown voltage. They are put in the circuit with their cathode on the positive side. In that configuration, they don’t conduct unless the voltage rises above their breakdown point. Zeners and TVSs are used for regulation, transient suppression, and things of that sort.

But wait! There’s more!

Regular diodes can be pointed backwards too. Anytime an inductive load is switched, like a solenoid or motor, you need a flyback diode to protect the switching logic. A MOSFET switching a solenoid on and off is a good case to look at.

When the MOSFET turns off, the current in the solenoid coil starts to drop. As it starts to drop, the magnetic field generated by the current flow starts to collapse. The collapsing magnetic field generates an opposite current, referred to as flyback, or back EMF.

To save your silicon switching device, you put a flyback diode across the coil, or motor, terminals, pointing backwards from normal current flow – with the cathode pointed toward +V. Doind so shorts the flyback current back into the coil, preventing damage to the MOSFET. These are typically Schottky diodes, but can be ordinary rectifier diodes.

A “+” plus sign alone, doesn’t tell anyone anything. For more information on what to do, read this post. Just for fun, read this post too.

Duane Benson
Diodes. Not just for breakfast anymore

How NOT to Mark a Diode

A while back, I wrote about ambiguity in the markings on electrolytic capacitors. In doing that, I cobbled together a little image to illustrate how surface mount electrolytics are marked. Take a look at the image below:

Marking capacitors

Note how I have illustrations showing how tantalum and metal can electrolytic capacitors are marked. Further note, that I have the capacitor schematic symbol there too. Finally, note that all three are oriented in the same direction. I have the plus side up and the negative side down.

Now for comparison, look at the LED image below:

Do not mark diode like this

I did not alter this image in any way except to crop it. Look at it. Now look closely. Look at it again. The schematic symbol on the right has cathode up and anode down. The mark on the LED image could be interpreted either way. The bump could be seen as pointing toward the cathode, since it is the cathode mark. Or, The line could be on the side of the cathode. That would make sense because the line on the schematic symbol represents the cathode.

Now here’s one final thing to look at. I have two nearly but not quite identical 0805 SMT LEDs in the following photo. Wait for the punchline:

Backwards markings

The punchline is that the  cathode is on the left on both of these LEDs. I have empirically determined that to be the case, both by putting them on a board and by subjecting them to a diode checker. Punchline number two is that both are correct according to their respective datasheets. One of the LEDs is represented in the data sheet excerpt above. The other has a nearly identical datasheet with the same markings, except the mark is called an “anode mark” and the schematic symbol is reversed in orientation.

And, drum-roll please … The third punchline is that both of these parts are from the same manufacturer!

If your board uses SMT LEDs, send the datasheet with your assembly order. Include it as a PDF in your files set. It would also behoove you to double check your CAD library footprint against your specific part number datasheet. IPC says the cathode is pin-one and pin-one zero degree orientation is with pin-one to the left.

Duane Benson

Forward, the LED pick and place
Was there a machine dismayed?
Not tho’ the engineers knew
Someone had blundered
Cathodes to right of them
Cathodes to left of them
Cathodes behind them
And I cannot reason why



Electrolytic Ambiguity

I’ve written about ambiguity a few times before, like this post about fiducials. But I’m not talking about the PCB today. I’m talking parts. More specifically, I’m talking about silkscreen markings for your parts on the PCB.

Diodes have a lot of opportunity for ambiguity, as you can read here. There are many ways to mark parts, but fewer ways to clearly mark them. Take a typical electrolytic capacitor. It can be through-hole, SMT metal can, tantalum, or a few other form factors. The capacitor manufacturers aren’t doing any of us any favors insofar as “markation” is concerned.

Check out the image at the right. Yikes! In all cases shown here, I’ve oriented positive on the left, which, according to IPC is pin 1. This is also the zero degree rotation for the centroid value. But, isn’t it nice of those component manufacturers to put the identification bar on the positive side for tantalum capacitors and on the negative side for metal can electrolytics? Not!

So, how should you mark this in the silkscreen on your PCB? For an electrolytic capacitor, the best approach is to mark the positive sided with a plus (+) sign. If you mark pin 1 with the number 1, it can easily be mistaken for the minus sign. If you mark the negative side with a minus sign, it can easily be mistaken for pin 1.

For a metal can capacitor, it is also acceptable to put the notched outline in silkscreen. We still recommend that you place the plus (+) sign on there too.

Duane Benson
I’m just positive I put the negative right on the left


Diode Silk Screen Markings

It still happens. In fact, it just happened last night. We had a PCB with plus (+) mark to indicate the polarity of diode. Unfortunately, that doesn’t tell us which way to put the diode. (Read why here.)

You just can’t always tell. If it’s a barrier diode or a zener, the cathode might very well be the positive side. Or, it could be the negative side. An LED will usually have the anode positive, but again, there may be a few scenarios where it’s not. The bottom line is that a plus (+) or minus (-) sign doesn’t give us enough information to orient the diode.

We prefer that you use the actual diode symbol, or an industry standard anode or cathode indicator. “A” orGood markation “C” for anode or cathode can also work. Just make sure you also put the reference designator (D1, D2…) so we know it’s not a capacitor.

In the job last night, the build instructions were conflicting so we called and with the help of the designer, figured it all out, but it’s always best to do it right the first time. So be clear with your silk screen, the PCB you save may be your own.

Duane Benson

Spider or worm?