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Current Limiting Circuits: A Complete Guide

Posted:05:37 PM April 23, 2023 writer: ​NextPCB

Introduction to Current Limiting Circuit

Electronic circuits called current limiting circuits restrict the flow of current through specific components or loads. They safeguard vulnerable components from harm caused by too much current and support the circuit in working safely and dependably.

To avoid permanent damage to components and ensure safety, limiting the current flowing through a component or load in electronic circuits is crucial. Excessive current can cause overheating of the component and lead to failures in other circuit components, posing a potential safety hazard.

current control circuitry

Current-limiting circuits protect circuits from overcurrent by detecting and regulating current flow. There are many different types of current-limiting circuits, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of the circuit depends on the specific needs of the application.

Different Current Limiting Circuits

There are different categories of current-limiting circuits available for restricting the flow of current through a specific circuit board component or load. These categories include:

Current Limiting Resistors: A current limiting resistor restricts the current flow through a load by placing a resistor in series with it. The efficacy of the circuit while safeguarding against the excessive current flow depends on the precise selection of resistor value.

Current Limiting Diodes: Inserting a diode, known as a current-limiting diode, in the circuit along with the load helps limit the current flow through the circuit. When the current surpasses a specific threshold, the diode starts conducting, which puts a limitation on the current.

Current limiting diode

Current Limiting Transistors: Placing current-limiting transistors in series with the load is a way to help control the amount of current that flows through a circuit. It limits the current by controlling the voltage across the load.

Current limiting transistor

Current Limiting ICs: The designers made what is called a current-limiting integrated circuit (IC), which limits the flow of electricity through a circuit.
These ICs use different techniques like sensing the current passing through the load and adjusting the load's voltage to restrict the current.

There are different types of current limiting circuits that have their own pros and cons. For instance, current limiting resistors are cost-effective and straightforward but might not be efficient and may generate extra heat. On the contrary, current limiting ICs are more precise and efficient, albeit more complicated and expensive.

How Does the Current Limiting Circuit Work?

Current limiting circuits identify the quantity of current flowing through a specific component or load and decrease the load's voltage to maintain the current within the limit. The technique used to restrict the current will vary based on the particular kind of current-limiting circuit in use.

The circuit connects the current-limiting resistor in series with the load. We choose the resistance value to restrict the current to a safe level by limiting the voltage drop across the resistor. Ohm's law states that a resistor's voltage drop is proportional to its current.

A current-limiting diode circuit includes a diode in series with the load. Instead of a fixed resistance, the diode conducts when the current exceeds a threshold. This increases the voltage drop across the diode, thereby limiting the current flowing through the load.

A transistor in these circuits regulates the voltage across a load to keep the current safe. The transistor conducts when the current surpasses a certain quantity, reducing load voltage and current.

A current-limiting IC circuit uses various techniques to sense the amount of current flowing through the load and then adjust the voltage across the load to limit the current. These techniques include sensing the voltage drop across a sense resistor, employing feedback control circuits, or adopting other specialized methods.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Current Limiting Circuit

Damaged PCB due to high currents

The use of these circuits comes with both advantages and disadvantages that depend on the particular circuit type and the application requirements. Here are some pros and cons of using current limiting circuits.

Advantages of Current Limiting Circuits

  • Protection of Circuit: these circuits provide protection for sensitive components by controlling the amount of current flowing through them. This prevents damage due to overcurrent and extends the lifespan of the components.
  • Safety of Circuit: By controlling the amount of current that can flow through a circuit, current-limiting circuits can help prevent electrical hazards and reduce the risk of fires or other accidents.
  • The efficiency of Circuit: Limiting circuit current increases efficiency and reduces energy waste.
  • The flexibility of Circuit: A wide range of applications can benefit from these circuits designed to work with different load types and configurations.

Disadvantages of Current Limiting Circuits

  • The complexity of Circuit: Due to their complexity and extra components, current limiting circuits are harder and more expensive to design and build.
  • Heat dissipation of Circuit: Circuits that use resistors or transistors as current-controlling mechanisms may produce excessive heat. As a result, the components may experience thermal stress and the circuit's overall efficiency may decrease.
  • Inefficiency: Circuits that utilize resistors or diodes for current limiting can be inefficient, leading to energy waste and decreased efficiency.
  • Cost of Circuit: The cost of current limiting circuits may vary depending on the circuit type and specific application requirements. They could be more expensive than non-current limiting circuits in some cases.

Applications of Current Limiting Circuit

Current limiting circuits are applicable in electronic circuits to restrict the flow of current through a load. They have various applications, including the following:

  • Power Supplies: Power supply circuits often use current limiting circuits to safeguard their components from overcurrent situations. This means that in case of a circuit fault or a short load, the current limiting circuit will prevent any excess current from passing through the system and causing damage.
  • LED Drivers: LED drivers employ current-limiting circuits to provide a stable current to the LED, despite any variations in input voltage or load resistance. This guarantees that the LED operates safely within its allowed range while maintaining a steady level of brightness. 
  • Battery Chargers: Battery chargers often use current limiting circuits to protect the battery from damage or reduced lifespan caused by overcharging. These circuits regulate the current flow into the battery, ensuring that the charging process is optimized for safety and efficiency.
  • Motor Control: Current limiting circuits are used in motor control applications to prevent damage to the motor and driver circuit caused by overcurrent conditions that can arise due to stall or other operating conditions. This ensures the safe and reliable operation of the system while protecting its components.
  • Audio Amplifiers: Audio amplifiers can benefit from the use of current-limiting circuits to safeguard both the amplifier and speaker against excessive current caused by overload or short circuits. This helps prevent component damage and ensures safe and reliable operation.

Design Considerations for Current Limiting Circuit

Design Considerations for Current Limiting Circuit

To ensure that the current limiting circuit functions properly various factors must be taken into account during the design process. Here are some relevant factors to consider when designing a current limiting circuit: 

  • Load Type: The current limiting circuit that should be used depends on the type of load being used. For instance, resistive loads may need a different current limiting circuit than inductive or capacitive loads.
  • Current Rating: When designing a current limiting circuit, it's important to consider both the load's current rating and the maximum allowable current. The circuit must be designed in a way that ensures the current is limited to a safe level without harming the load or any components of the circuit.
  • Voltage Rating: Consider the voltage rating of both the circuit components and the load to ensure that the current limiting circuit can handle the highest possible voltage in the circuit.
  • Response Time: For adequate protection against overcurrent conditions, it is important that the response time of the current limiting circuit is fast. If the response time is slow, it can result in damaging the circuit components or the load.
  • Efficiency: To reduce energy waste and heat dissipation, it's important to consider the efficiency of the current limiting circuit. By using low-loss components and optimizing for maximum efficiency, high-efficiency current-limiting circuits can be designed.
  • Temperature Range: While designing a current limiting circuit, consider its operating temperature. Make sure to choose and design circuit components that can function reliably within the specified temperature range.
  • Cost: When designing a current limiting circuit, it is important to take into account the cost of the circuit components and overall design. High-performance circuits cost more but provide superior protection and longevity.


To sum up, current limiting circuits are crucial in protecting electronic circuits from overcurrent conditions that could harm the load or circuit components. They are available in various types, each intended for particular applications, and they function by restraining the flow of current passing through the load.

Current limiting circuits are an essential element of electronics, protecting high-performance components while improving the reliability and efficiency of their operations. To maximize performance, careful selection must be made to weigh factors like load type, current/voltage ratings, response time temperature range and cost - thus ensuring reliable protection for your circuit's most valuable assets.

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