Holes through a PCB are typically drilled with drill bits made of solid coated tungsten carbide. Coated tungsten carbide is used because board materials are abrasive. High-speed-steel bits would dull quickly, tearing the copper and ruining the board. Drilling is done by computer-controlled drilling machines, using a drill file or Excellon file that describes the location and size of each drilled hole.
Holes may be made conductive, by electroplating or inserting hollow metal eyelets, to connect board layers. Some conductive holes are intended for the insertion of through-hole-component leads. Others used to connect board layers, are called vias.
When very small vias are required, drilling with mechanical bits is costly because of high rates of wear and breakage. In this case, the vias may be laser drilled—evaporated by lasers. Laser-drilled vias typically have an inferior surface finish inside the hole. These holes are called micro vias. It is also possible with controlled-depth drilling, laser drilling, or by pre-drilling the individual sheets of the PCB before lamination, to produce holes that connect only some of the copper layers, rather than passing through the entire board. These holes are called blind vias when they connect an internal copper layer to an outer layer, or buried vias when they connect two or more internal copper layers and no outer layers.
The hole walls for boards with two or more layers can be made conductive and then electroplated with copper to form plated-through holes. These holes electrically connect the conducting layers of the PCB. For multi-layer boards, those with three layers or more, drilling typically produces a smear of the high temperature decomposition products of bonding agent in the laminate system. Before the holes can be plated through, this smear must be removed by a chemical de-smear process, or by plasma-etch. The de-smear process ensures that a good connection is made to the copper layers when the hole is plated through. On high reliability boards a process called etch-back is performed chemically with a potassium permanganate based etchant or plasma. The etch-back removes resin and the glass fibers so that the copper layers extend into the hole and as the hole is plated become integral with the deposited copper.