How To Build Your Own Tablet Stylus

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how to make a stylusSteve Jobs was quite right when he said “If you see a stylus, they blew it.” While a good touchscreen should never require you to use a stylus for standard operations, there are tasks when using your fingers is a bit awkward. For example if you want to digitize your signature, take quick handwritten notes or simply draw, a stylus can come in very handy.

You can find a large selection of tablet styluses online and many are very cheap. However, given the fact that the technology hidden inside a capacitive stylus is extremely simple, you can just as well build it yourself.

Building your own stylus is easy, fun, and you must likely have all the materials at home already. All you need is an old pen and conductive material that transports the static electricity of your fingers onto the display. Conductive materials are, for example, most metals and water.

Here is a suggested list of ingredients:

  • old pen
  • wire, e.g. from an old electric cable
  • soft conductive material, e.g. household foam
  • a pair of scissors or a cutter

So here is what I did. I took a household foam and cut off a small piece.

how to make a stylus

Then I disassembled an old plastic pen.

build a stylus

I used wire with about 2.5 times the length of the pen and wrapped it around the foam…

build a stylus

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…and tested the raw stylus on my tablet to make sure it works. You can also test the foam by itself before you combine it with the wire.

build a stylus

Next, I pulled the wire with its end first through the narrow tip of the pen and wrapped the wire around the outside of the pen, all the way to the bottom. If you want you can secure the end with some tape. Just make sure that you will touch the wire when you hold the pen. The screenshot below shows the first test with my self made stylus.

create a stylus

To make it look a little nicer, I trimmed the tip. If your foam is very soft, like mine is, you will mostly be drawing with the side of it. It may be worth playing with different foams, to see which ones give you the best result. Note that if your foam is not super conductive, you can also wet it a little to get better results.

create a stylus

Finally, here is my finished stylus.

how to make a stylus

This is a very simple way to build a stylus with cheap materials and with almost no tools.

You can create a much more stylish and sophisticated stylus, for example by using a metal pen. This eliminates the need for the wire, as the pen itself will transport your hand’s static electricity to the foam, which in turn will conduct it onto the tablet’s touchscreen.

If you don’t have a metal pen, but some more tools, you could drill holes into a plastic pen where you will touch it with your fingers and then let the wire exist the pen and make contact with your skin at these spots.

The video below shows how Collin from Make. made his DIY capacitive stylus.

That was simple, right? We would love to see your homemade stylus! Please share your photos in the comments.

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48 Comments - Write a Comment

Reply

Jon Smith

Why would you want a stylus?
I always thought this was one of the reasons the Palm fell

Tina

For some tasks, such as drawing or taking notes, it just feels much more natural to use something like a pen, rather than your finger. Try writing your signature with your finger for example.

MikeF

Palms were awesome! I loved and now miss my Palm, BECAUSE it had a stylus. I always wished my smart phone (which replaced my old Palm when the screen went bad) had a stylus. I guess I’ll have to give this a try (only with a smaller form factor, since I have a relatively small-sized phone screen).

Ellen

Here here! I miss my Palm as well! I replaced it for exactly the same reason as you did; it began to act up. Some things are very awkward with your finger, plus of course you transfer body oil, dirt, etc. onto the screen when you touch it with your finger.

Vanessa

For some of us that have long fingernails it is very awkward to try and make contact with your fingertips

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Ahmed Khalil

Very nice and simple, thanks

Reply

gpvprasad

If I need to buy this where can I buy?
As I am not that equipped with costly copper wires and scissors and sponge.

Reply

VS Vishnu

will try it someday..

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Martin Patrick

This is brilliant. Steve Jobs clearly never anticipated my chubby fingers and a 7 inch tablet screen.

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Lieschen MĂĽller

Great idea, Tina!
Had to try it out instantly, mine’s not very stylish but does the job, at least when I wet the tip – just have to work at a smaller one ;-)
Would post a photo but have no idea how to…

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Dan

I use Q-tips. :p

Lieschen MĂĽller

hey, that’s it – the cotton combined with an old metal Palm stylus
for more durability a small piece of cloth instead… hmmm, quite ugly :-( maybe a piece of silk? Keep on experimenting…

Tina

Great idea, Dan.

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Vampie C.

This is cool.

Always wanted to know how to do that. :-)
Now I can try with a sharp point :-)

Douglas

Wow!
Sound goood!
i think i am going to try it and impress one of my brother who always looking for a cheap one…hehehe!
Thanks very much Tina! This is genious!

Reply

Bertie

Or you could drill a very small hole through the tip of an empty highlighter pen and feed the wire through that.

Reply

AP

Simple inovation.

Reply

Richard P. Corey

Capacitive touch screens commonly used in pads and phones do not require conductivity to the body. They are unlike the simple touch switches for controlling lights.

They do not work on static electricity nor require capacitance to “ground”.

The conductive foam will work regardless of the material of the handle.

You can prove this yourself by noting that the stylus will work even it is insulated from the body.

Tina

That’s true, Richard. My old HTC works find with my fingernails and I actually quite like that.

Reply

MaurĂ­cio

Ok, very nice (though I don’t have a tablet). But “Conductive materials are, for example, most metals and water.”, oh common – “everybody” knows water is NOT a good conductor… salted water is, if you want to mention… graphite would be a better example.

Tina

Mauricio,

You’re right. Pure water, i.e. distilled water is not conductive at all because it doesn’t contain free ions that can transfer the electric energy. Salty water or ‘contaminated’ water, is a good conductor. Hence, regular tab water, which typically isn’t distilled, does conduct electricity. While it may not do it very well, throwing a running fan into a bathtub you’re sitting in, is a bad idea.

MaurĂ­cio

Dear Tina, I have just tested it: 220 volts AC on a cup of tap water – no eletric shock, no mensurable current (I’m leaving on a trip, so I can’t post the photo right now). I wouldn’t do the fan on the bathtub test, but I bet it would harm the fan more than the person. Cinema is fiction (mostly) and nobody has a bath on salted water.
I did measure, at college, an eletrical field mostly between the poles, a faint one, even with 10 volts DC, but none in regions on opposite directions.
At most places on the Earth, people uses electric shower with no insulation (probably not allowed in the USA, but I do here) and I’ve heard not a word about accidents. (Electric resistance directly in water flow).

Sorry to disturb your topic, I was just making some fun to myself on being annoying to evereone else (bad days happen :).

MaurĂ­cio

“common” reads “come on”

Reply

Maryline Latorre

This is super! Thank you for sharing!

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Vipul Jain

can you recommend some changes to make it more pointy. since i dont own a tab, i would like one for my 3.2 inch screen phone. But the big foam edge wont suffice.

any ideas?

Tina

To make it more pointy, you would have to use a foam that is more rigid and can be cut into shape. Or maybe a different material altogether. It just has to be conductive and it shouldn’t scratch your screen. Other than that you can be creative.

Shakirah Faleh Lai

What about cotton ear bud for babies? They’re small enough for your screen.

Vipul Jain

that might work. will try :)

Reply

Shakirah Faleh Lai

Chocolate wrapper works too. Use a coin like chocolate wrapper.

Tina

With metal I would be concerned whether it damages the screen.

Shakirah Faleh Lai

It would not damage your screen if it got wrapped carefully.

Reply

albert abraham

i think i’m going to build my own classic stylus,i never new it was so simple to build one thanks to M.U.O

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Ruben Marrero

someday…

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tony lurie

Everyone with a workshop has at some time bought cheap exacto knives which eventually break-up .. most of them have a lovely aluminium shaft into which you can stick in a tuft of carpet,old dishcloth or any pliable material.. shape a point, give it a lick and you’re drawing!!!!
OR if you have a bought stylus put a dot of sexy red nail polish at the spot to focus on which directly relates to the line that appears on the screen …. this will keep you alligned all the time!

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Oussama Oufdil

Hi Thanks for the efforts
I have built one but it seems that it is not working on my Samsung Galaxy S
this is the pen’s picture
http://imageshack.us/f/24/20120824235244.jpg/

Tina

Oussama,

Is the wire connected to the tip and do you touch the wire with your hand when trying to write?

Does it not work at all or just not well?

You might have to try a different material for the tip. Make sure the tip works by itself, i.e. is conductive.

Reply

Justin Freid

I prefer using a banana, but thanks for the how to.

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sanjay_addya

supercheap diy way for a stylus

Reply

Deborah Herrick

I thought looking at your making of a stylus was kind of funny. I got a coupon for a free one from Best Buy – it was a one time offer thing online. I use it a lot because I’ve had hand surgery and don’t have my strength back yet. Anyway, styluses are actually pretty cheap and I think I’m up to spending a little bit for one I don’t have to go to the trouble of making. It’s more fun spending time playing a game or working on my genealogy!

Reply

Rob Bell

I would be terrified of scratching my screen with one of these, wish I didn’t keep losing my bought stylus!

Reply

Gerwell Taroma

in my place, most if not all tablets or smartphones that use stylus have resistive touchscreens, which is kind of lower class entries…that’s why its kinda awkward to use…

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shubham

nice article.
but old technique.
i read it 1 year before on http://www.labnol.org

Reply

Stay See Kate

I’m going to make one! :D I have a collection of apps for drawing and trying to paint with my fingers for too long hurts because it gets hot.

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jj

And Steve Jobs created the iphone with an onscreen keyboard to this day my fingertips are just too big to use at all. It took me 25 minutes to put in my wi-fi password for my niece because my fingertips are as large as two letters.

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Kao Vang

Didn’t like the fact that water gets on my tablet. Maybe it was due to the material I used.

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Victor Ong

What software is that?

Tina

What do you mean? The app I used to write on the screen?

It’s a random drawing app for Android. I didn’t pick it with intention, but in case you really want to know, it’s called Draw & Share. It’s actually not optimized for tablets, but works OK.

Reply

tdubya

This looks like the most ghetto piece of crap ive ever seen.

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