Microstrip antennas are also relatively inexpensive to manufacture and design because of the simple 2-dimensional physical geometry. They are usually employed at UHF and higher frequencies because the size of the antenna is directly tied to the wavelength at the resonance frequency. A single patch antenna provides a maximum directive gain of around 6-9 dBi. It is relatively easy to print an array of patches on a single (large) substrate using lithographic techniques. Patch arrays can provide much higher gains than a single patch at little additional cost; matching and phase adjustment can be performed with printed microstrip feed structures, again in the same operations that form the radiating patches. The ability to create high gain arrays in a low-profile antenna is one reason that patch arrays are common on airplanes and in other military applications.
The most commonly employed microstrip antenna is a rectangular patch. The rectangular patch antenna is approximately a one-half wavelength long section of rectangular microstrip transmission line. When air is the antenna substrate, the length of the rectangular microstrip antenna is approximately one-half of a free-space wavelength. As the antenna is loaded with a dielectric as its substrate, the length of the antenna decreases as the relative dielectric constant of the substrate increases. The resonant length of the antenna is slightly shorter because of the extended electric "fringing fields" which increase the electrical length of the antenna slightly. An early model of the microstrip antenna is a section of microstrip transmission line with equivalent loads on either end to represent the radiation loss.
The dielectric loading of a microstrip antenna affects both its radiation pattern and impedance bandwidth. As the dielectric constant of the substrate increases, the antenna bandwidth decreases which increases the Q factor of the antenna and therefore decreases the impedance bandwidth. This relationship did not immediately follow when using the transmission line model of the antenna, but is apparent when using the cavity model which was introduced in the late 1970s by Lo et al. The radiation from a rectangular microstrip antenna may be understood as a pair of equivalent slots. These slots act as an array and have the highest directivity when the antenna has an air dielectric and decreases as the antenna is loaded by material with increasing relative dielectric constant.
An advantage inherent to patch antennas is the ability to have polarization diversity. Patch antennas can easily be designed to have Vertical, Horizontal, Right Hand Circular (RHCP) or Left Hand Circular (LHCP) Polarizations, using multiple feed points, or a single feedpoint with asymmetric patch structures. This unique property allows patch antennas to be used in many types of communications links that may have varied requirements.
The half-wave rectangular microstrip antenna has a virtual shorting plane along it's center. This may be replaced with a physical shorting plane to create a quarter-wavelength microstrip antenna. This is sometimes called a half-patch. The antenna only has a single radiation edge (equivalent slot) which lowers the directivity/gain of the antenna. The impedance bandwidth is slightly lower than a half-wavelength full patch as the coupling between radiating edges has been eliminated.
Another type of patch antenna is the Planar Inverted F Antenna (PIFA) common in cellular phones with built-in antennas. These antennas are derived from a quarter-wave half-patch antenna. The shorting plane of the half-patch is reduced in length which decreases the resonance frequency. Often PIFA antennas have multiple branches to resonate at the various cellular bands. On some phones, grounded parasitic elements are used to enhance the radiation bandwidth characteristics.
The Folded Inverted Conformal Antenna (FICA) has some advantages with respect to the PIFA, because it allows a better volume reuse.