A Closer Look at Taped Packaging including Cut Tape and Tape and Reels

Taped packaging is very common in the electronics industry. So much so that when anyone really questions what it is, you might receive a dry answer that’s it’s simply a packaging option. But there’s more details and specs to tape packaging, and we’ll investigate all things related in this post.

What is "tape"?

Taped packaging is basically a flat strip with pockets for holding components. The strip may be made out of a cardboard like paper or a black embossed plastic for ESD-sensitive parts and has sprockets along at least one of the side. Tape packaging is used for numerous electronic components including surface mount capacitors, resistors, integrated circuits, diodes and even parts like switches, small power supplies or RF modules.

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Screenshot from Texas Instrument REG102 voltage regulator datasheet

Let’s breakdown the image above.

  • A0, B0 and K0 will all be dependent of the specs of the component.
  • Dimension W represents the tape width with common tape widths as 4mm, 8mm, 12mm, 16mm and 24mm.
  • Dimension P1 represents pitch, or spacing between the parts. Common pitch sizes are 2mm, 4mm, 8mm, 12mm and so on.

A Look at a Factory Reel

The elements of a factory reel include a leader, the strip of components, a trailer, the clear tape that adheres to the plastic carrier and the plastic reel itself. The leader and trailer are simply empty pockets of tape either preceding or following the strip of components. Leaders and trailers vary from manufacturer to manufacturer but are typically 4-18" in length to allow the parts to be fed into a pick and place machine.


SparkFun did an excellent job breaking down the reel attributes of RC0603FR-07470RL. See their “Leader Cheaters” post here: Leader Cheaters - News - SparkFun Electronics

Common reel size diameters are 7" for many small surface mount parts and 13" for large components or large production quantity reels. Other sizes are also available, but the 7" and 13" fits a wide spectrum of common parts.

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Even the winding procedure has a standard with the tape winding clockwise.

Behind the Need for Tape Packaging

Tape packaging solves a handful of issues when considering component handling:
  1. Components can be fed into a Pick And Place Machine for board assembly. See a Pick and Place Machine in action and being loaded with taped products here:
  1. Components are protected during shipment, handling and storage.

  2. It keeps components in the correct orientation, like the example of a voltage regulator in a SOT23-5 package:


Image from International Rectifier IRU1205 datasheet

Let's Talk Cut Tape

Many factory reels having thousands of components on each factory reel. And while this may work for the customer base who purchase in multiples of factory reels, that might not be an ideal option for small quantity buyers, engineers and students who only need smaller quantities.

How Digi-Key solves this problem is by offering a value add service called cut tape: We remove the leader and then count out the quantities requested and cut the factory tape. The taped products are then placed into a blue bag with an appropriate label.

Cut tape products are identified by Digi-Key part numbers ending in -1-ND or CT-ND.

A new innovative cut tape feature that was released Spring 2021 is Part Tracing, where we print order specific information on cut tape strips. Read more about Part Tracing here.
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For customers wanting cut tape quantities but in a mini-reel format with leaders and trailers, we offer Digi-Reels. This is a value add process where we reattach leaders and trailers to cut tape strips.

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