Back when I published the video on the aquarium controller I built, someone asked how are these high voltage isolation slots or cutouts done in Kicad and I thought I’d do a short video to explain how you can design these into your next project but first, let’s talk about their purpose and whether or not you need them.
There is a common confusion between the terms creepage and clearance, myself I’m guilty of sometimes making this confusion but to give you a clear view on this, I found this picture online which shows everything very clear. Spacing between conductive elements through air is clearance while Creepage is spacing between conductive elements over an insulating surface.
By adding these cutouts in the PCB we are only increasing creepage distance, but if you would also like to increase clearance you will need to add some kind of barrier, and this is usually built into the enclosure and it will slide through the slot creating a barrier to prevent any potential high voltage arc to jump over the barrier by increasing the length.
There are also secondary purposes for putting cutouts into your PCB, I have used them in the past to create a thermal barrier or to accommodate various enclosure walls and features but I won’t talk about those today, those applications tend to vary a lot on a case by case basis.
But if you are using them as high voltage isolation you need to be aware of some aspects: first and most important remember to make the slot at least 1mm wide, if possible go with 2mm as this is required by some standards. There is a min width required by the fab house anyway because they are going to use a router bit on a CNC machine to cut that slot into the PCB and this may vary from one board house to another but I’ve seen 0.8mm mentioned by most PCB manufacturers. For example PCBway which is the sponsor of the channel, gives a min value of 0.8mm non plated slot and 0.5mm for plated ones. For isolation purposes you only want non plated ones.
There might also be other limitations on the size of the corner radius, I’ve not hit any of those so far myself but just imagine that router bit going around, it will not be possible to create very small features at your request.