The existence and properties of photonic band gaps was investigated for a square lattice of dielectric cylinders in air. Band structure calculations were performed using the transfer matrix method as function of the dielectric constant of the cylinders and the cylinder radius-to-pitch ratio r/a. It was found that band gaps exist only for transverse magnetic polarization for a dielectric contrast larger then 3.8 (index contrast >1.95). The optimum r/a ratio is 0.25 for the smallest index contrast. For silicon cylinders (n = 3.45) the widest gap is observed for r/a = 0.18. Band structure calculations as function of r/a show that up to four gaps open for the silicon structure. The effective index was obtained from the band structure calculations and compared with Maxwell–Garnett effective medium theory. Using the band structure calculations we obtained design parameters for silicon based photonic crystal waveguides. The possibility and limitations of amorphous silicon, silicon germanium and silicon-on-insulator structures to achieve index guiding in the third dimensionis discussed.