Custom Ribbon Cables: Everything You Should Know

About Custom Ribbon Cables, If you have ever opened your PC, you have seen a host of ribbon cable assemblies connecting various components of your computer.

These uniquely-suited cable assemblies offer a range of possible applications, especially when space constraints are a limited factor.

Therefore, this article discusses everything you need about custom ribbon cables. Keep reading to learn more!

What are flat ribbon cables?

It is a small rectangular cable made of multiple wires running parallel to each other and designed for mass-terminating IDC (Insulation Displacement Contact) connectors.

They have constant geometry and fixed conductor spacing, allowing for consistent electrical characteristics, such as;

  • Attenuation
  • Cross-talk
  • Time delay
  • Capacitance
  • Impedance

Furthermore, the wires used in the ribbon cables are normally stranded copper wire, whose sizes range from 18 AWG to 34 AWG or finer.

Ribbon Cable Specifications

Two numbers normally specify ribbon cables;

  • The number of conductors or ways
  • The pitch or spacing of the conductors

The most common spacing is 0.050 inches.

However, there are also coarser and finer pitch cables, ranging from 0.025-0.156 inches, with a custom spacing available based on the specific applications.

Moreover, some portable electronic equipment can have a cable with a pitch as low as 0.3mm.

Due to standard connectors, the number of conductors or ways is normally restricted to a few values, including 4, 6, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 18, and 20.

Others are 24, 26, 34, 37, 40, 50, 60, 64, and 80.

Features & Benefits of flat ribbon cable assembly

  • Allows the mass termination of particularly designed IDC (Insulation-Displacement Connectors). The IDC termination method lets the conductor of an insulated cable or wire make contact by a connection process that forces a sharpened blade via the insulation, eliminating the need for stripping the insulation cable before connecting. Moreover, it is vital to note that the number of rows, pin spacing, and the number of pins categorize IDC connectors. However, you can terminate ribbon cables using solder-bucket connections or crimp contacts.
  • Reduce wiring errors: Bends fasten easily and seamlessly conform to the mounting area, eliminating common sources of wiring malfunction and errors.
  • EMI protection: Provided in various shielding and other cable designs, it can avoid EMI problems.
  • Perfect in confined spaces: Ribbon cable assemblies are ideal for applications with limited/confined space, such as electronics or computers.

Disadvantages of flat ribbon cable assembly

Older computer systems like the Apple II series and BBC Micro also have external connections.

However, the ribbon-like shape interferes with the computer’s cooling. For instance, it disrupts airflow within the case.

Besides, it makes the cables awkward, particularly since many exist.

So, the round cables have almost entirely replaced the ribbon cables for external connections and are also being used frequently internally.

Flat ribbon cable

Flat ribbon cable

Common Uses for Ribbon Cables

Ribbon cables generally occupy as little space as possible, making them suitable for multiple connections without worrying about tangled wires.

In addition, they can lay flat, which makes it easy to run under carpeting.

Some common uses for ribbon cables are not limited to;

  • Gaming Equipment: Wires and cables assemblies for entertainment and gaming
  • Car LCD Panels: Small TV monitors, often between 4-12 inches wide
  • Instrumentation Equipment: Wires and cables used for sound equipment and musical instruments
  • Data/Communications Equipment: Also referred to as DCE and they include modems and other types of telecommunications devices
  • LCD TV Panels: LCDs (Liquid crystal television displays) use cathode ray tubes and ribbon cables for a thinner design and clearer picture
  • Industrial Equipment: Ribbon cables are used in a range of equipment for every industry
  • Hard Drives: Self-contained, high-capacity storage device containing a mechanism and one or more hard disks inside a sealed unit
  • CD Drives: A device connected using a ribbon cable that digitally reads compact discs
  • DVD Players: A device that plays discs produced under both audio and video technical standards 
  • Robotic: Ribbon cables used for the robotics industry
  • Printers: A device that accepts graphics and text output from a PC and transfers the information to paper
  • Medical Equipment: Ribbon cables used for surgical equipment in the health and medical industry
A ribbon cable for a floppy, hard disk, or another drive

A ribbon cable for a floppy, hard disk, or another drive

Types of Ribbon Cables

Ribbon cables come in a range of variations, each of which is ideal for different applications. 

Standard Ribbon Cable

The standard ribbon cable is compact in design, and you can identify it using its grey color.

In addition, it is popular for its capabilities for mass termination. This quality reduces the labor needed for custom cable assembly and, thus, the overall assembly cost.

Color Coded Ribbon Cables

The color-coded ribbon cables, also known as rainbow ribbon cables, are similar to standard ribbon cables.

However, they use different color patterns to facilitate identification and organization.

Additionally, the ends are sometimes split to allow for individual termination.

Twisted Flat Ribbon Cable

The parts of this type of ribbon cable include pairs of wires twisted and bonded together.

For instance, they have alternating twisted and parallel wire sections.

The parallel pairs allow for the termination of the PCB headers and connectors using the traditional IDC ribbon cabling technique.

On the other hand, the twisted pairs help in reducing the cross-talk risks.

Round To Flat Ribbon Cable

This type is unique among ribbon cable constructions.

For instance, it starts with a circular bundle of wires and then splits apart for individual application use.

The round-to-flat ribbon cable construction is ideal for use in tight spaces.

Moreover, the ending section reaps the benefits offered by the ribbon construction.

Bonded Ribbon Cable

The bonded ribbon cables keep an organized wire construction from end to end.

The bonding process takes away much of the assembly’s flexibility.

However, it makes mass termination with various cabling products significantly easier.

Like the other constructions, bonding is perfect for mass termination, identification, and organization.

The bonded ribbon cables are available in three different cable types, including;

  • Multi-conductor cable
  • Coaxial cable
  • Single hook-up wire

Folded Flat Ribbon Cable Assemblies

They are folding flat ribbon cables into a custom configuration. The spacing constraints are limiting design factors.

For instance, the cable is pre-creased to limit the stress that the ribbon cable usually endures from the standard folding processes.

Folding ribbon cable requires specific equipment and tooling to ensure the folds are permanent and complete.

Color-coded ribbon cable

Color-coded ribbon cable

Types of Ribbon Cable Connectors

The primary point of any ribbon cable is to allow for mass termination, particularly for IDC connectors.

Therefore, ribbon cable connectors are rows of sharp contacts applied on both sides of the ribbon cable.

However, one end may have a solder-bucket connection in some special circumstances.

The most common connector types available for ribbon cables include;

  • BT224
  • DIL headers
  • D-Subminiature
  • DIN 41612
  • Micro ribbon
  • PCB transition header
IDE ribbon cable connector

IDE ribbon cable connector

Build your Standard ribbon cables

Here is a guide to building your standard ribbon cable;

Buying ribbon cable wire

There are many critical factors you need to consider while buying a ribbon cable wire, and they include the following;


When figuring out the needed length, take the length measurements between the boards the ribbon cable will cover, add a certain bends length, and leave a certain slack.

However, we recommend doubling the patent distance to ensure you have enough.


It is the distance across the cable between two conductors. Hence, all expansion board connectors need a 1.27mm pitch wire.

In addition, the pitch of a ribbon cable is typically half that of the pin header it connects to.

Number of conductors

A connection’s connector count must correspond to the number of header pins it connects to.

For instance, the primary expansion board’s JP2 (plunger connector) has a 2×4-pin (8) header. Thus, you require an eight-conductor cable.

Purchasing ribbon cable connectors

Connections measuring 0.1″ are standardized. As a result, you can combine and match parts from various vendors.

Moreover, the Pinscape parts list uses components from the series indicated below.

Hence, use the series name as a search key to find the corresponding parts.

The series includes the same parts for multiple numbers of conductors/pins if you want to build cables for pin headers of different widths.

  • Wurth Elektronik WR-BHD series: It is available in different sizes from 6-64 pins
  • Kobiconn 164-9000 series: It is available in different sizes from 10-50 pins

How to assemble a ribbon cable

Follow these steps to assemble a ribbon cable;

Step 1: Get the connector ready

To keep connectors apart until you are ready to assemble them, new connectors typically come in two pieces that are loosely put together but not yet connected.

As a result, you should take them out of the separating strip and prepare them for installation.

Alternatively, you can separate the two pieces to release them. Moreover, you can gently pull them apart to separate them.

If you have disassembled the connector, loosely put it together once it is free. However, you shouldn’t lock the two parts together before doing so.

Instead, keep as much space as you can between the two parts. As an illustration, the ribbon cable needs to fit into the gap.

Step 2: Set the connector in place

Loosely insert it into the pin header, where you will finally plug in the cable.

The slot and bump are essential for preventing the connector from being plugged in reverse.

Step 3: Cut your cable into the appropriate length and width

The number of conductors in the ribbon cable must match the number of pins on the connector you are attaching if you use the “zip” method to divide a wide ribbon cable into narrower ones.

You can easily cut most ribbon cables using a pair of scissors.

Step 4: Put a “pin 1” mark on your cable

Regular water-based ink won’t adhere to the plastic insulation, so you must use an oil-based marker, such as a red Sharpie, to label one edge of the ribbon cable as the “pin 1” side.

The ribbon cable is symmetrical, so it doesn’t matter which side you choose; nonetheless, you should mark down the length of the wire to help with connection orientation by providing a visual cue for where pin 1 is located on the cable.

Step 5: Align the connector with the ribbon cable

Place the ribbon cable so that the pin 1 arrow is on the same side as the red stripe marked on it.

For instance, affix the connector close to the cable’s end. As a result, place the ribbon cable appropriately.

Step 6: Plug the ribbon cable

Place the ribbon cable’s end into the connector’s gap while maintaining the cable and connector’s current orientation.

Make sure the cable stretches over the opening precisely.

Step 7: Interlock the connector

The connection and cable parts can remain original when the pin header is removed.

Press the connector’s two halves together using a set of pliers or an IDC crimp tool.

Apply a uniform pressure across the connector’s entire width.

We advise pressing it down to ensure the teeth properly align with each wire in the ribbon cable when they pierce the insulation.

Keep pressing till both halves of the connector snap into place.

Step 8: Repeat the whole procedure on the other end

While doing this, ensure you align the ribbon cable so the side marked with the red stripe for “pin 1” aligns properly with the circuit board marking for pin 1 on the opposite end of the cable.

Multiple connectors on the same ribbon cable

The IDC plugs on a ribbon cable are not limited to its ends.

You can attach them along the ribbon cable wherever you like, allowing you to construct a single cable connecting 3+ boards.

When using this functionality on your pin cab, you can use one 16-pin ribbon cable to connect two (2) flasher panels.

For instance;

  • You can connect the flasher on the top of the backbox to the connector at the cable’s end.
  • You can connect the output controller by an IDC connection on the ribbon cable’s other end.
  • You can connect the flasher panel at the back of the main cabinet with a connector in the middle of the ribbon cable.

Choose Cloom as Your Custom Ribbon Cable Manufacturer

Cloom has a team of experienced and knowledgeable engineers who work with customers to design and construct ribbon cable assemblies that meet the needs of the toughest applications.

Any Connector

Custom ribbon cable assemblies manufactured by Cloom are available with virtually any connector, including;

  • Circular connectors, industrial and mil-spec
  • Nano, micro ‘D,’ and ‘D’ sub connectors for small gauge wire
  • Lightweight fiberglass header connector

Custom Shapes – Formed Cables

Cloom’s custom ribbon cables have complex-formed shapes possible as we construct them using 3D modeling software.

They also fit precisely into compact spaces. Besides, the formed ribbon cables retail all their performance characteristics, such as flexibility.


Our vacuum/space cables meet ASTM E-595 and NASA Low Outgassing Requirements of <0.1% CVCM (Collected Volatile Condensable Material) and <1% TML (Total Material Loss).

They are also 100% certified and tested to be low outgassing.

Moreover, our cables meet Class 1 Clean Room conditions, with zero particulates.


Tubing can easily be incorporated into any custom ribbon cable.

And the available tubing options come in standard sizes of up to 375-inch diameter, and they include;

  • Tygon® tubing
  • Polyurethane tubing
  • PVC tubing
  • Teflon® tubing

We also have flat ‘tubing only’ ribbon cables, with a mix of any tyning sizes and types.

Moreover, we have tubing assemblies with Luer Adapters, Barbed connectors, or Tri-Clamp Fittings.


Cloom’s custom ribbon cables have complex molding capabilities, including;

  • Insulated junctions
  • Metal plates
  • PCBs

Besides, our molded connector backshells are made from flexible and rigid Mil-Spec materials.

Moreover, our tooling is designed and manufactured in-house, allowing fast prototyping.

Engineered Systems

Cloom designs and builds complete systems from start to finish (modeling and prototype to testing and complete production) in collaboration with our experienced engineers.

Therefore, we deliver reliability and world-class quality from our ISO9001 (AS9100) approved engineered systems.

High-Performance Flat-Ribbon Cable

Signal failures have been prevalent in harsh environments for a long time because of the limited options of TPE and PVC cables.

Therefore, it is necessary to procure a high-performance flat-ribbon cable to survive exposure to flexure, abrasion, high temperatures, and chemicals.

Consequently, Cloom’s custom ribbon cables are designed particularly for harsh environments where TPE and PVC often fail.

Hybrid Ribbon Cable

A single application or use often requires coaxial, data, and power cables in various industries, such as medicine, industrial automation, and commercial aviation.

However, they are constrained by environmental and space limitations.

Therefore, Temp-flex hybrid ribbon cables from Cloom combine wires of various types and sizes, including shielded and coaxial parallel pairs, into one compact cable construction.

Intermittent-Bonding Ribbon Cable

Our flat, intermittent-bonding ribbon cables allow for ease of termination, organized wire placement, 180-degree cable rotation at discrete sections, and increased flexibility.

They also allow for semi-automated and fully-automated termination, which saves much time during mass termination, reduces termination errors, and improves termination efficiency.

A person holding a flat cable

A person holding a flat cable


Today’s needs to build custom ribbon cable assemblies are more demanding.

The next question is where to get reliable, high-quality custom ribbon cables.

If you are having challenges finding one, contact Cloom.

We will assist you in getting superior ribbon cable assemblies. Reach out to us, and our technical experts will assist you.

Leave a Comment