What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?

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capacitive vs resisitve   What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?It might not fully register, but we all know there are two types of touchscreens. There are those we find on expensive smartphones and tablets, which respond to the slightest touch, allow multi-touch and are generally highly responsive (unless you’re wearing gloves); and then there are those that have slightly longer response time, that require some pressure or a stylus, that don’t have multi-touch abilities but work no matter what you touch them with.

Whether you know what the difference is or not, you’ve probably experienced these differences yourself. When that happened, you might have wondered what causes them; why doesn’t your iPhone work when you’re wearing gloves? Why do touchscreens on feature phones behave differently from those of high-end smartphones? Why can’t you use just any old stylus on your iPad?

All these questions can be answered by two words: resistive and capacitive. The difference between these two touchscreen technologies answers all the above questions. Curious? Read on to find out exactly how it works. Note, however, that this is a simple explanation, and is not meant for engineers. Don’t expect to be able to build one of these by the end of the article!

Touchscreens In A Nutshell

touchscreen 1   What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?

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Although touchscreens are becoming increasingly popular, they are by no means a new invention. The first touchscreen was invented back in the 1960s, and has gone through many changes and iterations to become the touchscreen we use today.

Touchscreens are not limited to smartphones and tablets, they are literally everywhere; from ATM machines, point-of-sale terminals, and navigation systems, to game consoles and even touchpads on laptops. Touchscreens are popping up everywhere, and are slowly taking over our lives, so the least we can do is know a bit more about how they work!

Resistive Touchscreens

The resistive touchscreen is the most common type of touchscreen. Except for modern smartphones, tablets and trackpads, most touchscreens we come in contact with are actually resistive touchscreens. As you’ve probably guessed, the resistive touchscreen relies on resistance. In that respect, it’s pretty intuitive to understand – the pressure you apply causes the screen to respond.

A resistive touchscreen is made out of two thin layers separated by a thin gap. These are not the only layers in the resistive touchscreen, but we’ll focus on them for simplicity. These two layers both have a coating on one side, with the coated sides facing each other inside the gap, just like two pieces of bread in a sandwich. When these two layers of coating touch each other, a voltage is passed, which is in turn processed as a touch in that location.

resistive touchscreen   What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?

So when your finger, stylus, or any other instrument touches a resistive screen, it creates a slight pressure on the top layer, which is then transferred to the adjacent layer, thus starting the cascade of signals. Because of this, you can use anything you want on a resistive touchscreen to make the touch interface work; a gloved finger, a wooden rod, a fingernail – anything that creates enough pressure on the point of impact will activate the mechanism and the touch will be registered.

For this very same reason, resistive touchscreen require slight pressure in order to register the touch, and are not always as quick to respond as capacitive touchscreens such as the iPhone’s. In addition, the resistive touchscreen’s multiple layers cause the display to be less sharp, with lower contrast than we might see on capacitive screens. While most resistive screens don’t allow for multi-touch gestures such as pinch to zoom, they can register a touch by one finger when another finger is already touching a different location on the screen.

nokia n800   What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?

Resistive screens have been improving greatly over the years, and today many lower-end smartphones boast a resistive screen which is no less accurate than high-end devices. Some recent devices using resistive touchscreens are the Nokia N800, the Nokia N97, the HTC Tattoo and the Samsung Jet. Another well-known device using resistive technology is the Nintendo DS, which was the first popular game console to make use of it.

Capacitive Touchscreens

Surprisingly, it was actually the capacitive touchscreen that was invented first; the first one was built almost 10 years before the first resistive touchscreen. Nevertheless, today’s capacitive touchscreens are highly accurate and respond instantly when lightly touched by a human finger. So how does it work?

As opposed to the resistive touchscreen, which relies on the mechanical pressure made by the finger or stylus, the capacitive touchscreen makes use of the electrical properties of the human body. A capacitive screen is usually made of one insulating layer, such as glass, which is coated by a transparent conductive material on the inside. Since the human body is conductive, which means electricity can pass through it, the capacitive screen can use this conductivity as input. When you touch a capacitive touchscreen with your finger, you cause a change in the screen’s electrical field.

capacitive touchscreens   What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?

This change is registered, and the location of the touch is determined by a processor. This can be done by several different technologies , but they all rely on the electrical change caused by a light touch of a finger. This is the reason you cannot use a capacitive screen while wearing gloves – the gloves are not conductive, and the touch does not cause any change in the electrostatic field. Same goes for non-capacitive styluses.

galaxy s 3   What Are The Differences Between Capacitive & Resistive Touchscreens?

Since capacitive screens are made of one main layer, which is constantly getting thinner as technology advances, these screens are not only more sensitive and accurate, the display itself can be much sharper, as seen on devices such as the iPhone 4S. And of course, capacitive touchscreens can also make use of multi-touch gestures, but only by using several fingers at the same time. If one finger is touching one part of the screen, it won’t be able to sense another touch accurately.

Which type of screen do you prefer? Do you like being able to use your touchscreen with any type of stylus or instrument, or do you value speed and accuracy over anything else? Share your opinions in the comments.

Image credit: Touch number pad image via Shutterstock, Finger on touchscreen image via Shutterstock, Hand image via Shutterstock

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64 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Joel Lee

As a trivia junkie, I really enjoy simple but educational posts like this. Thanks Yaara!

TechGeek Mouslim

So Do I :)

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Arkajyoti Jana

Very useful stuff to know. Thanks a lot MUO!!!

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ferdinan Sitohang

it is a best article to everyone can decide which technology they want to use.

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shiva pradhan

this is nice sharing about new tecnology

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Alexis

Capacitive, of course. I think you can’t be comfortable with the inaccuracy that presents tiny resistive screens. I also hate to apply pressure. I think someday my device (a chinese ps vita rip-off) is going to break because of that :P

Yaara Lancet

It’s especially bad when you get annoyed at it for not responding. I find myself banging on ATM machines when they’re really slow to respond. The really tiny ones just work better with a stylus, I think.

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dvous

It’s not strictly true that capacitive touch screens don’t respond to gloved fingers – it may depend on the type of glove.

I commonly consult apps on my iPhone 4S in my job as a paramedic – often while wearing medical examination gloves.

It works just fine.

Achraf Almouloudi

For more information Capacitive devices can respond even if there’s a thin layer between your finger and the surface such as medical gloves, it rely on electrical capacitance created by an Human body, not actually the conductivity itself .

Yaara Lancet

Yes, medical gloves do work sometimes, I was referring to wool gloves etc. that people wear in cold weather.

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Joses Lemmuela

Too bad that capacitive touch screens are more costly, if not, most screens will likely use capacitive.

Just a little tip if anyone is reading this: If you are using a capacitive touch screen, cut your nails if you want to use it easily and want to type like a pro. Applies vice versa, if you are using a resistive touch screen, you will want to use sharp-pointed nails, because you can register pressure with less effort, and it will be much more accurate :D

Yaara Lancet

Good tip. :) Using a fingernail as a sort of stylus with resistive screen does work well. I have a friend who types text messages strictly with her fingernail. It’s just totally inaccurate otherwise.

Joses Lemmuela

Yeah, once I used a low-end smartphone with resistive touchscreen. I really really needed my nails for that, because the screen wasn’t smooth and annoying to touch.

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vineedcool

nyc article vey informative,,,njoyed reading it from begining till end :)

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Vipul Jain

in a line difference between resistive & capacitive touchscreen is the exact same difference between Window Vista & Windows 7.. :D
Both have the same function of providing windows UI, its just that vista i.e. resistive does so with hassles and 7 i.e. capacitive does so with ease :)

Humza Aamir

Very well said :D

Yaara Lancet

Excellent comparison! :)

K

I would disagree. Analogy is good save this: vista simply sucks.

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Wouter Ruelens

I use an old resistive touch with a hard upper layer so it is hard to type accurately. Capacitive is definetly the way to go!

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Francisco de GusmĂŁo

I thought the capacitive touchscreen relied on our fingers’ heat :p
So many thanks to show me the truth and helping this future engineer not look like a fool!

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Sean Heckaman

very informative, thanks

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Rigoberto Garcia

Thank you very much for your article Yaara, interesting, enlightening and educational. I particularly prefer the capacitive usability, but require more care than resistive. The article is so good that I also read all the comments, very successful by the way …

Yaara Lancet

That’s great! Thanks!

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Rigoberto Garcia

Yaara thank you very much for your excellent article interesting, enlightening and educational. I particularly prefer the capacitive usability, but require more care than resistive. All comments are also interesting and very successful, by the way …

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Moath Akkad

thank you

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Shakirah Faleh Lai

Use stylus only when want to draw something on screen because it will make drawing easier.

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Steve C

There is an earlier type of touchscreen, the IR. Doesn’t matter if you use gloves or how hard you tap the screen. The only thing I know that uses it is the Nook Simple Touch E-Reader

Yaara Lancet

There are actually many more touchscreen technologies than these two, I was surprised. There were some I’ve never heard of before, like surface acoustic wave.

I didn’t know the Nook uses IR touchscreens. Interesting!

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ReĂ˝ Aetar

the weather here is hot and humid and the real problem with capacitive screen is after a call when the screen gets moist due to sweat the phone starts acting crazy :/

Yaara Lancet

Oh yeah, I’m familiar with that problem. Very annoying. Best solution I’ve found is to simply turn the screen off and wipe it on my pants. :)

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Erik Gribbin

Are there styluses for capacitive screens? I’m going crazy trying to type on my android phone.

Yaara Lancet

Sure there are, but I’m not sure they will help you with typing as most of them don’t have a very small tip. We’re giving away 5 sets of 3 styluses right now, could be a good place to start reading about them. :)

Erik Gribbin

Thanks! They look to be smaller than my fingertips (and my finger tips aren’t that fat!).

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Gerwell Taroma

i’d rather pay for the capacitive touchscreen than compromising accuracy and speed with that of resistive…

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rajesh

yes, capacitive touch is best than resistive touch because last one year i had used resistive touch phone samsung champ known iam using sony experia mobile i can find the difference between them..

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denny Gl

is it true that capacitive have more life cycles than resistive.will capacitive lasts longer

Yaara Lancet

I haven’t read anything about that, it might be true.

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denny Gl

imagine pinch to zoom with resistive display

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Darryl Park

Was always curious about that.

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Kyle Zhou

wow I didn’t know that capacitive touchscreens were invented first…

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Suku

I like capacitive the most… But didn’t knew all the causes. Thanks for sharing..

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Ă‚dil FarĂ´Ă´q

very informative post thanks

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Fayz

An informative article. Thanks for clearing a few doubts I had between resistive and capacitative touchscreens. c:

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tarzan2001

This was a great article! I really learned a lot! Thanks so much! :)

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m.h

but i think that there is more things about these technologies . you can’t work with a conductive thing like a nail on iphone or ipad ?!! there is something more serious…

Yaara Lancet

You’re right, it’s not as simple as that, I simplified it for the sake of the article. It’s not exactly conductivity the screen users but something called electrical capacitance. You can read more about it here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Body_capacitance

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Adjei Kofi

capacitive touchscreens are better though. maybe cos the iPhone adapts it :)

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Ibrahim Mezouar

Great post! thanks

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TechGeek Mouslim

thank you easy explained ^^

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Shanterra Bland

Very informative post…almost everything I have is touchscreen including my computer monitor

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jimlee

It would be really great if certain touch screens for public use (like photo centers) would let you know what the best type of touch is for the task you are trying to accomplish.

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DonLefler

wow, i had no idea. thanks for the education!

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Ă‚dil FarĂ´Ă´q

very informative post

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Ale Bendersky

Simple and Clear, thanks!

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Rishabh Arora

This is very, very informative. I always used to wonder about my iPhone not responding to my nails, or anything similar to my finger’s touch. And, it responds to my silver bracelet, though.
Now, I got the answer.

Thanks :)

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Kaashif Haja

i didn’t know that there were two types of touch screens.
I’m glad i read this article!

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Tim Jacobs

That’s for the information

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Carolyn Finch

Thanks for your electrific information. As a Body Language Expert and one who speaks about the electricity of the body, I can now send people to your site for great backup information. It is difficult for my audience members to understand that the body is a conductor of electricity to their smart phones. I speak about being electrific and that means when all the electricity is flowing properly and one feels terrific. That is the way people feel when their smart phone is fast and accurate. Talk about being connected WOW! Electrific is also an abbreviation for an electrification project in the construction world. Therefore, electrific also means to put light where light has not been before. That is what your electrific site does. Thanks for helping so many people in so many ways.

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Abidhusain Momin

Capacitive Touch..

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Destiny Bell

I do happen to enjoy capacitive screens. However, my mother has to use resistive. Why? Because her fingers will not hardly register on capacitive. My phone? She can’t select an app or for me or even unlock it if I need something yelled to me from wherever I’ve left my phone lay. My Acer’s trackpad? Once in ten tries will it put the cursor where she’s attempting to put it, and even then it’s likely to accidentally click something in the process. Might anyone know why this is?
PS. I’m only assuming my Acer’s trackpad is capacitive. I could be wrong.

Yaara Lancet

That’s the first I’ve heard of something like this. It’s really interesting. You could try asking about it on MakeUseOf Answers. Someone there might have an idea!

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Ben Leverett

Couldn’t CTS’s philosphically work just as well if they were used with a stylus made, so that it’s tipped with metal?

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lb

At present I don’t see any major difference between both types of touchscreens. Particularily I prefer using resistive screens as they let me use a stylus instead of my thick finger, and with the new technologies they are also multitouch and are enabled for handwriting.

See for instance
http://www.stantum.com/en/medias/videos-demos

Yaara Lancet

That’s a pretty impressive demo, but most devices with resistive screens aren’t as responsive, at least current ones.

Also, you can clearly see in the video that the demonstrator has to use his fingernails to get the screen to register the touch, and it just doesn’t seem as convenient to me, but it’s a matter of personal preference.

Thanks for sharing the video!

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