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HomeTips & GuidesWhat is a Ribbon Cable: A Detailed Guide on The Basics

What is a Ribbon Cable: A Detailed Guide on The Basics

You might be wondering, what is a ribbon cable? Generally, cables come in different sizes, construction, applications, etc.

They can be similar in colors making it hard to distinguish features that make them outstanding.

In today’s topic, we will be discussing ribbon cables. 

As we dive deeper into the article, you’ll understand why it’s outstanding, its difference with flexible flat cable, its advantages, specifications, type, and much more.

Table of Contents

What is a Ribbon Cable?

A multi-wire planar cable, popularly known as a ribbon cable, is an electronic cabling type featuring a  flexible, wide, and flat appearance.

Briefly, ribbon cables utilize side-by-side positioning for conductors.

 It resembles a piece of ribbon with several wiring conductors moving parallelly on one flat plane. The cable is also thin and has finite flexibility.

IDE connectors and ribbon cables

(IDE connectors and ribbon cables)

Ribbon Cable Advantages

The benefits of ribbon cables include the following:

  • They occupy less space compared to other cables and will perfectly fit tiny spots. It is because they’re flat, making them compact and small.
  • Additionally, they’re semi-flexible, thus enabling you to bend them with no breakage. The traditional, non-ribbon cables often break when there’s frequent bending.
  • Then, it allows mass termination in IDC (Insulation-displacement connectors).

Ribbon Cable Specifications

Size

Recognizing a suitable ribbon cable based on the size depends on two factors:

  1. The ways or number of conductors
  2. The spacing/pitch of conductors

A 1.27mm (0.05 inch) spacing is recommendable for most ribbon cables. It can accommodate a 2-row connector having a pin spacing of 2.54mm/0.1 inches.

Often, you will witness the size in custom parallel ATA cables, floppy disk drive cables, and personal computers.

(Multi-wire bus connector on white ribbon cables

(Multi-wire bus connector on white ribbon cables)

Other available sizes are 80, 64, 60, 50, 40, 37, 34, 26, 25, 24, 20, 18, 16, 15, 14, 10, 9, 8, 6, and 4.

Color coding

Manufacturers always color-code the cables to minimize the incidents of reverse connection and help figure out different connector sets. As a rule, the edge of the ribbon cable with a red stripe will connect to the pin1 connector.

Another importance of color coding is installation.

During the process, you easily spot the individual conductors crucial for connection.

Types of Ribbon Cables

They include:

Twisted Flat Ribbon Cable

A twisted ribbon cable compromises pairs of bonded and twisted conductors. Unlike twisted paired cables, twisted flat cables have untwisted parts.

The parts enable you to terminate the PCB headers and connectors using the traditional IDC ribbon cabling technique. 

Rainbow Ribbon Cable

Its structure is similar to a standard ribbon cable except for the color.

As the name suggests, it has rainbow colors to assist in identification and organization.

Sometimes, you can split its ends for individual termination.

Standard Ribbon Cable

It is grey and has a feature of mass termination.

Round To Flat Ribbon Cable

The cable is the most distinctive compared to other ribbon designs.

At its beginning end, a bundled circular construction separates during its usage.

It is ideal for tight spaces, with the ending part continually benefiting from the cable construction.

Bonded Ribbon Cable

A bonded ribbon cable has three other subtypes:

  • Single Hook-Up wire
  • Coaxial cable
Coaxial cable

(Coaxial cable)

  • Multi-Conductor cable

The bonding keeps the cables organized, from one end to the opposite.

However, it can reduce the cable’s flexibility and renders it ineffective in tight spaces.

Mass termination with bonded ribbon cables over several cabling products is relatively simple.

Types of Ribbon Cable Connectors

The types of ribbon cable connectors coming with IDC termination comprise;

  • BT 224 connector/IDC connector

Several standards define the IDC connector, for example, MIL-C-83505, DIN 41651, and BS 9525-F0023. 

Application; it is compatible with the Advanced Technology Attachment cable.

  • D-Subminiature connector
D-Subminiature connector

(D-Subminiature connector)

Not very common compared to solder-bucket and crimp connectors.

Applications; Serial ports and printers.

  • DIN 41612 connector

A common type of ribbon cable connector currently in an internationally standard form of EN60603-2 and IEC 60603-2.

Applications; Tram motherboards, Mutibus 11, VMebus, Futurebus, NuBus, and Euro card bus.

  • PCB transition headers

The PCB transition headers have two pins rolling straight to a Printed Circuit Board. Their advantages are cost-effectiveness, durability, and high-low-contact resistance.

Applications; Dual-in-line devices and wiring connected to the circuit board.

  • Micro Ribbon connector

Its construction has two parallel rows of contacts which aren’t pins but minute metal bands looking like ribbons.

Its female connector consists of a bail lock, essential for a secure connection to the male connector.

Applications; Computers with many contacts and telecommunication equipment.

  • DIL Headers

The header has pins with a pitch similar to standard DIL ICs, which can connect two PCBs.

Moreover, it operates perfectly in DIL sockets by forming a socket and plugs pair.

Applications; PCB transition header on stripboards and switching a connected IC to any external gadget.

Common Applications for Ribbon Cables

Usually, multi-wire planar cables are ideal for internal and not external applications in electronics.

You’ll find them in applications such as;

  • Disk drives such as DVDs and CDs connect to motherboards via a ribbon cable.
  • A ribbon cable connects a computer storage drive to a motherboard.
  • Laptop and desktop computers apply the cables in the hardware.
  • Pick and place equipment.
  • Robotics
  • Automated termination equipment 
  • Test and measuring equipment

How to Choose Ribbon Cable

Yes, you can recognize a ribbon cable when you see one, but what more should you consider when buying it? Below are a few tips:

  • Fire resistant

A fire-resistant ribbon cable offers more security and guarantees safety.

Ensure the cable meets fire safety standards and is EU RoHS compliant (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directives).

  • Long Life

Longevity is a factor almost every user looks for in electrical equipment, and a ribbon cable is no exception.

Your cable choice should be able to sustain you for a long time. Reviews and tests from professionals should kickstart the search.

  • Flexibility

Undoubtedly, a flexible cable performs a better job than its inflexible counterpart.

If your project needs a flexible cable or there’s a limited type, always go for the most flexible option.

  • Extreme temperatures

Fortunately, ribbon cables can handle both friendly and harsh weather conditions.

For extra protection in unfavorable temperatures, settle for a cable with a silicon jacket. 

  • Ribbon cable pitch VS connector pitch

There is a distinction between the pitch of the connector versus the one in the ribbon cable.

The ribbon cable’s pitch is half the size of a connector’s in the presence of a two-row connector pitch.

Alternatively, you can establish the cable’s pitch by;

Measurement of the outside of the edge of the cable total no. of connectors

  • Pitch

Lastly, consider the space between the cable’s conductors (pitch). Depending on your specifications and requirements, it can range from 2mm, 1.25mm, to 0.5mm.

Ribbon Cable VS FFC (Flexible Flat Cable)

What is the flexible flat cable?

A flexible flat cable is a smaller ribbon cable type with a tensile material and flat.

Further, they have no extra components and connect directly to applications like high-density electronics.

Flexible flat cable

(Flexible flat cable)

Their structure constitute numerous conductors on the surface and a plastic film base that’s flexible and flat.

Application

FFC is ideal for:

  • Plate board connections
  • Signal transmission
  • Offering a printer connection between a motherboard and head in modern equipment.
  • Electrical products like LCD appliances, DVD stereos, fax machines, copiers, scanners, and printers.
  • In the management of cables in high-flex surroundings.

Advantages of flexible flat cable

  •  It is more flexible and lighter, enabling you to easily safeguard each wire.
  • Secondly, unlike round cables, FFCs don’t fill many spaces.
  • Furthermore, it reduces wire coupling challenges by offering a complex FRI/EMI suspension.
  • Its ends are also thick.

Comparison between FFC and Ribbon cables

Inarguably, both cables play different roles in particular fields. Nonetheless, one still has heightened merits over the other.

Ribbon cables often eliminate electronic noise, have packaging efficiency, are flexible, and have superior quality.

The features benefit application like robotics, military, aerospace, and computing.

However, the cables can’t effectively handle termination techniques and usually experience frictional heat when repetitive motion cycles occur.

Flat ribbon cable

(Flat ribbon cable)

  • Contrarily, flexible flat cables have conductors with similar electrical and physical strengths. Additionally, the conductors provide stability since manufacturers isolate them. They also have more flexibility than ribbon cables and maintain their electrical qualities and properties by staying intact in the jacket.

Flexible flat cables perform better than multi-wire planar cables in signal considerations, volume efficiencies, weight, and heat.

Despite flexible flat cables having better features than ribbon cables, note that they both possess different capabilities that suit specific applications.

Conclusion

In summary, a quality ribbon cable is a worthwhile investment for its recommended applications.

It offers some flexibility, has color codes, numerous sizes and types, and can perform mass termination.

I am Lillian Yang, having been a sales manager for over 10 years.

I have received many positive reviews from customers. They have praised our excellent service, on-time delivery, and high-quality cable assemblies.

For your projects, please provide cable assembly files/images/smples, etc., so that I can send you a quotation within 24 hours.

Contact me now and let’s get started on building your wire harnesses!

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