Picofarad Unit

Picofarad units are crucial in understanding and measuring capacitance in electronic components. This small unit is commonly used with Phase Locked Loops (PLLs) and other sensitive circuitry. As a unit of capacitance, the picofarad (pF) belongs to the International System of Units (SI). It is a submultiple of the farad (F), where one picofarad equals 10^-12 farads. It is very similar to the nanofarad, which is 10^-9 farads. Capacitors, essential components in electronic circuits, store electrical energy, and their performance is quantified with these units.

Electronic engineers and technicians commonly encounter picofarad units when working with capacitors in various applications such as filtering, power regulation, and timing circuits. Knowledge of picofarad units allows professionals to select capacitors with the appropriate attributes, ensuring better performance and efficiency for the overall system.

Picofarad Units Fundamentals

Unit Definition

The picofarad (pF) is a unit of capacitance, representing one trillionth (10-12) of a farad (F). Capacitance measures a component’s ability to store an electrical charge. In the International System of Units (SI), the prefixes “pico” and “micro” signify the scaling of smaller units: picofarads for smaller capacitors and microfarads (μF) for larger ones.

A capacitor’s capacitance is expressed in picofarads when its value is relatively small. The relationship between the voltage (V), charge (Q), and capacitance (C) can be described using the equation:

$$C = \frac{Q}{V}$$

  • C is the capacitance, measured in farads (F)
  • Q is the charge, measured in coulombs (C)
  • V is the voltage, measured in volts (V)


Picofarad capacitors have various applications across different fields, including:

  • Electronics: In electronic circuits, picofarad capacitors are commonly used for filtering, coupling, and decoupling applications. They help stabilize voltages, filter out high-frequency noise, and allow AC signals to pass between stages of a circuit while blocking DC signals.
  • Telecommunication: In telecommunication systems, they play crucial roles in tuning and impedance matching of antennas. For instance, picofarad capacitors can adjust the resonant frequency of an antenna, ensuring optimal performance and minimizing signal loss.
  • Timing Circuits: These capacitors are essential components in oscillator and timing circuits. They help set specific time intervals and maintain the stability of oscillations in various electronic devices, such as analog watches, GPS systems, and microcontrollers.

Overall, picofarad capacitors are vital components in many daily-use electronic devices and systems. Their small capacitance values make them highly suitable for precise applications requiring finely tuned adjustments and high-frequency filtering.

Measurement Techniques

Direct Method

The direct method uses a capacitance meter to measure the picofarad capacitor’s value accurately. Capacitance meters are designed to provide precise measurements and can handle small capacitance values in the picofarad range.

To use this method, connect the capacitor to the capacitance meter, ensuring that the capacitor leads are as short as possible to minimize any inductance and resistance effects. The device will display the measured capacitance value after setting the meter to the appropriate range, initialization, and calibration.

Bridge Method

The bridge method utilizes a capacitance bridge, a more advanced instrument, to determine the value of unknown capacitors, including those in the picofarad range. These bridges work on the principle of balancing two arms of a four-arm bridge circuit. One arm contains the unknown capacitor, while the other three have known values.

Two common types of capacitance bridges are:

  • Wien Bridge: This type of bridge is ideal for measuring small capacitances. It uses a known resistor and capacitor network along with a variable resistor to match the impedance of the unknown capacitor. Once the bridge is balanced, the capacitance value can be calculated.
  • Schering Bridge: This bridge is employed for highly accurate measurements, especially for capacitors with a high power factor. It consists of three arms with known capacitances and resistances, while the fourth arm houses the unknown capacitor. Adjusting arm ratios and using phase-sensitive detectors accurately measures capacitance values, including picofarads.

These measurement techniques can efficiently determine picofarad capacitance values with high accuracy and precision and are widely used in research and calibration labs.

Something to note, capacitors in general really make the most sense when thinking in the frequency domain. This article dives into that more in-depth, if interested.

Conversion to Other Units

When working with capacitance values, it is important to know how to convert picofarads (pF) to other units. This section will explore the conversion of picofarads to nanofarads, microfarads, millifarads, and farads.


To convert picofarads to nanofarads (nF), one simply needs to divide the value in picofarads by 1,000. This conversion is based on the fact that 1 nanofarad equals 1,000 picofarads.

For example:

  • 10 pF = 10 / 1000 = 0.01 nF
  • 150 pF = 150 / 1000 = 0.15 nF


Converting picofarads to microfarads (µF) requires dividing the value in picofarads by 1,000,000 since 1 microfarad is equivalent to 1,000,000 picofarads.

For example:

  • 1,000 pF = 1,000 / 1,000,000 = 0.001 µF
  • 20,000 pF = 20,000 / 1,000,000 = 0.02 µF


A millifarad (mF) equals 1,000,000,000 picofarads. To convert picofarad values into millifarads, divide the value in picofarads by 1,000,000,000.

For example:

  • 1,000,000 pF = 1,000,000 / 1,000,000,000 = 0.001 mF
  • 500,000,000 pF = 500,000,000 / 1,000,000,000 = 0.5 mF


Lastly, to convert picofarads to farads (F), divide the value in picofarads by 1,000,000,000,000 because 1 farad is equal to 1,000,000,000,000 picofarads.

For example:

  • 1,000,000,000 pF = 1,000,000,000 / 1,000,000,000,000 = 0.001 F
  • 10,000,000,000,000 pF = 10,000,000,000,000 / 1,000,000,000,000 = 10 F

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