Capacitive vs. Resistive Touchscreens: What Are the Differences?
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Whenever you buy a touchscreen, it isn’t always advertised whether it’s a capacitive or a resistive touchscreen. Yet, touchscreens of both types are used throughout the electronics industry.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice the difference between the two screens. In the case of capacitive touchscreens, such as on very expensive smartphones and tablets, are very responsive to the slightest touch. Meanwhile, resistive touchscreens may require more pressure, or the use of a stylus.

The reason each type of touchscreen responds so differently is the underlying technology.

How Resistive Touchscreens Work

The resistive touchscreen has always been the most common type used in industrial electronics. This is mostly because they’re cheaper to make and are easier to use in difficult environments.

The technology relies on resistance, meaning the pressure that’s applied to the screen itself.

This type of touchscreen is created out of two very thin layers of material, separated by a thin gap. The top layer is typically some type of clear poly-carbonate material, while the bottom layer is made up of a rigid material. Manufacturers typically use PET film and glass for these layers.

resistive touchscreen
Image credit: Szente/Wikimedia Commons

The upper and bottom layers are lined with conducting material like indium tin oxide (ITO). The conducting sides of each layer face one another.

Finally, spacers are placed in the thin gap between the two layers to prevent them from touching when the screen isn’t in use.

The diagram above is a simple guide showing how this technology works.

  • 1: The top, flexible poly-carbonate layer
  • 2 & 3: Thin, conductive, indium tin oxide layers
  • 4: Spacer dots between the conductive layers
  • 5: The rigid bottom layer, typically made of glass
  • 6: Sensors that detect change of voltage when conductive layers touch

When you press your finger or a stylus Apple Pencil vs. Surface Pen: Stylus Over Substance? Apple Pencil vs. Surface Pen: Stylus Over Substance? The lowly stylus has grown up, but should you pick Apple or Microsoft? Read More against the screen, it creates a change in resistance (an increase in voltage). The sensor layer then detects this change, and the tablet or mobile phone processor calculates the coordinates of that change.

The 3 Types of Resistive Touchscreens

Resistive touchscreen technology relies on electrodes that layer a uniform voltage across the entire conductive area. This provides a specific voltage reading when an area of the two years make contact.

The type of resistive layout determines the durability and sensitivity of the entire circuit.

4-Wire Analog

In a 4-wire analog setup, both the top and bottom layers contain two electrodes called “bushbars”.

These electrodes are oriented perpendicular to one another.

4-wire analog sensing

Electrodes on the top sheet are the positive and negative Y axis, while electrodes on the bottom are the positive and negative X axis.

Using this sort of electrical-coordinate setup, the mobile device can sense the coordinates where the two layers have come in contact.

5-Wire Analog

A 5-wire analog setup consists of four electrodes placed at each corner of the bottom layer. There are four wires that connect these electrodes together.

The fifth wire is the “sensing wire” embedded into the top layer.
5-wire analog circuit
When your finger or stylus makes any area of the two layers touch, the sensing wire sends the voltage for the coordinates to the processor.

With fewer components and a simpler design, the 5-wire analog circuit is considered to be a bit more durable than other designs.

8-Wire Analog

The most sensitive resistive screen design is that of the 8-wire sensing circuit.

The layout is similar to the 4-wire analog, but each of the bar electrodes contain two wires. This introduces a bit of redundancy into the circuit.

8-wire analog circuit
This is because even if one of the wire pairs loses resistance over time, the second wire provides a secondary signal to the processor.

This means that a more expensive resistive touchscreen with an 8-wire analog circuit will last longer. It also avoids the “drift” problems older phones used to have when trying to sense the location of your finger or stylus.

The Disadvantages of Resistive Touchscreens

Resistive touchscreens are meant to sense the location of one touch, and early generation touchscreens couldn’t respond to two-finger pinch or zoom actions.

However, later generations saw some mobile device manufacturers introducing new algorithms and other tricks that allowed for two-finger touch features.

Some other limitations include:

  • Less sensitive to light touch
  • In many cases can’t be used with gloves on
  • Thick top layer creates less clarity for the display
  • The screen material is usually more easily scratched or damaged

In most cases such touchscreens are difficult or impossible to repair Insane Tablet and Phone Touchscreen Repair Tips You Should Avoid Insane Tablet and Phone Touchscreen Repair Tips You Should Avoid These crazy-looking tips will just damage your screen even more. Read More .

How Capacitive Touchscreens Work

Capacitive touchscreens were actually invented 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 fact that the human body is naturally conductive.

Capacitive screens are made of a transparent, conductive material—usually ITO—coated onto a glass material. It’s the glass material that you touch with your finger.

using a capacitive touchscreen
Image credit: Mercury13/Wikimedia Commons

Surface Capacitive

In a surface capacitive setup, there are four electrodes placed at each corner of the touchscreen, which maintain a level voltage over the entire conductive layer.

When your conductive finger comes in contact with any part of the screen, it initiates current flow between those electrodes and your finger. Sensors positioned under the screen sense the change in voltage, and the location of that change.

Projected Capacitive

In a device that uses a projected capacitive setup, transparent electrodes are placed along the protective glass coating in a matrix formation.

One line of electrodes (vertical) maintain a constant level of current when the screen isn’t in use. Another line (horizontal) are triggered when your finger touches the screen and initiates current flow in that area of the screen.

The matrix formation creates an electrostatic field where the two lines intersect. This is one of the most sensitive types of touchscreens, and is how some phones can sense a finger touch even before you make contact with the screen itself.

Projected capacitive technology also allows you to use the touchscreen even when you’re wearing thin gloves.

Resistive vs. Capacitive Touchscreens

Resistive touchscreen advantages include:

Capacitive touchscreen advantages include:

The choice to use a capacitive or resistive touchscreen depends largely on the application for the device.

How Touchscreens Are Used

Most devices with resistive screens are used in manufacturing, ATMs and kiosks, and medical devices. This is because in most industries the users need to wear gloves when using the touchscreens.

Capacitive screens are typically used in most consumer products like tablets, laptops, and smartphones.

If it weren’t for cutting edge touchscreen technologies, we could never enjoy cool new applications like Opera’s one-handed browsing for Android Opera Touch for Android Makes One-Handed Browsing on Larger Screens Easier Opera Touch for Android Makes One-Handed Browsing on Larger Screens Easier The Opera Touch browser for Android is the best app for one-handed mobile browsing, and here's why. Read More . The applications are only going to expand as the technology continues to be refined.

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  1. john hubble
    May 29, 2019 at 3:00 am

    Resistive Touchscreens Some other limitations include:

    Less sensitive to light touch
    In many cases can’t be used with gloves on
    Thick top layer creates less clarity for the display
    The screen material is usually more easily scratched or damaged

    I agree with all these but you are wrong concerning the gloves, this is a limitation of capacitive touchscreens not resistive.

  2. Fasil
    November 29, 2018 at 1:05 pm

    does external graphics card work with internal graphics

    I have msi gs65 with 6gb of
    gtx 1060 ,16gb ram and i7-8750 processor

    If I install 8gb of gtx 1080 externally will it deliver a power of 8*(gtx1060+gtx1080) simultaneously .if they work together how much lose of graphics could I expect.........?

  3. Gaurav Khurana
    December 1, 2016 at 2:24 am

    Is it not good for health capacitive since we are getting in touch with some radiation ?

    • Mike Hunt
      February 20, 2017 at 8:01 pm

      No radiation... just a super small electrical current IMHO. Through your body's natural state. Just like touching a tiny capacitor's leads.. Unnoticeable.

  4. Gaurav Khurana
    November 25, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Capacitive are best. Do the capacitive touch has some health problems since as you are playing with electrical field in this case ?

  5. Chad Wood
    May 4, 2016 at 9:41 pm

    If a resistive touchscreen cracks, youre screwed. And for the gloves aspect, all you need for a capasitive touchscreen to recognize that youre touching it, is leather tipped gloves.

  6. Adam
    April 27, 2016 at 5:34 pm

    Resistive is cheaper and more flexible and accurate. Capacitive styluses are always squishy and broad, and you can't rest your hands on the display while drawing or typing.

    But capacitive may lend itself better to pressure sensitivity, because you can detect the area of electrical resistance more easily, and a tiny dot versus a large blob means more finger area and thus more pressure is being applied. As far as I know this isn't as feasible with resistive displays.

  7. Maya
    December 10, 2015 at 12:42 am

    thank you for this I am doing a project on touch screens and this helped more than you know! Thank you so much! Oh and I would chose capacitive

  8. lb
    December 31, 2012 at 3:03 am

    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
      January 1, 2013 at 4:28 pm

      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!

  9. Ben Leverett
    December 5, 2012 at 5:22 pm

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

  10. Destiny Bell
    November 27, 2012 at 2:47 am

    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
      November 28, 2012 at 7:34 am

      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!

  11. Abidhusain Momin
    November 26, 2012 at 6:56 am

    Capacitive Touch..

  12. Carolyn Finch
    November 17, 2012 at 10:37 pm

    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.

  13. Tim Jacobs
    October 22, 2012 at 1:52 am

    That's for the information

  14. Kaashif Haja
    August 15, 2012 at 11:19 am

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

  15. Rishabh Arora
    July 27, 2012 at 11:14 pm

    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 :)

  16. Ale Bendersky
    July 27, 2012 at 5:22 pm

    Simple and Clear, thanks!

  17. Âdil Farôôq
    July 27, 2012 at 7:32 am

    very informative post

  18. DonLefler
    July 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm

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

  19. jimlee
    July 26, 2012 at 8:39 pm

    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.

  20. Shanterra Bland
    July 26, 2012 at 5:18 pm

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

  21. TechGeek Mouslim
    July 26, 2012 at 4:20 am

    thank you easy explained ^^

  22. Ibrahim Mezouar
    July 26, 2012 at 4:01 am

    Great post! thanks

  23. Adjei Kofi
    July 25, 2012 at 10:24 pm

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

  24. m.h
    July 25, 2012 at 8:05 pm

    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
      July 25, 2012 at 8:33 pm

      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

  25. tarzan2001
    July 25, 2012 at 7:48 pm

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

  26. Fayz
    July 25, 2012 at 3:23 pm

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

  27. Âdil Farôôq
    July 25, 2012 at 9:57 am

    very informative post thanks

  28. Suku
    July 25, 2012 at 9:45 am

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

  29. Kyle Zhou
    July 24, 2012 at 7:03 pm

    wow I didn't know that capacitive touchscreens were invented first...

  30. Darryl Park
    July 24, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Was always curious about that.

  31. denny Gl
    July 24, 2012 at 11:42 am

    imagine pinch to zoom with resistive display

  32. denny Gl
    July 24, 2012 at 11:41 am

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

    • Yaara Lancet
      July 24, 2012 at 7:01 pm

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

  33. rajesh
    July 24, 2012 at 11:02 am

    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..

  34. Gerwell Taroma
    July 24, 2012 at 1:40 am

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

  35. Erik Gribbin
    July 23, 2012 at 7:47 pm

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

    • Yaara Lancet
      July 24, 2012 at 4:04 am

      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
        July 24, 2012 at 5:49 am

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

  36. Reý Aetar
    July 21, 2012 at 6:40 am

    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
      July 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm

      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. :)

  37. Steve C
    July 21, 2012 at 1:52 am

    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
      July 21, 2012 at 3:38 am

      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!

  38. Shakirah Faleh Lai
    July 20, 2012 at 11:31 pm

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

  39. Moath Akkad
    July 20, 2012 at 7:11 pm

    thank you

  40. Rigoberto Garcia
    July 20, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    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 ...

  41. Rigoberto Garcia
    July 20, 2012 at 1:44 pm

    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
      July 21, 2012 at 7:23 pm

      That's great! Thanks!

  42. Sean Heckaman
    July 20, 2012 at 1:10 pm

    very informative, thanks

  43. Francisco de Gusmão
    July 20, 2012 at 10:16 am

    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!

  44. Wouter Ruelens
    July 20, 2012 at 10:03 am

    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!

  45. Vipul Jain
    July 20, 2012 at 8:40 am

    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
      July 20, 2012 at 9:46 am

      Very well said :D

    • Yaara Lancet
      July 20, 2012 at 4:29 pm

      Excellent comparison! :)

    • K
      July 24, 2012 at 8:21 pm

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

  46. vineedcool
    July 20, 2012 at 6:39 am

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

  47. Joses Lemmuela
    July 20, 2012 at 5:08 am

    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
      July 20, 2012 at 4:28 pm

      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
        July 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm

        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.

  48. dvous
    July 20, 2012 at 4:47 am

    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
      July 20, 2012 at 9:44 am

      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
      July 20, 2012 at 4:27 pm

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

  49. Alexis
    July 20, 2012 at 3:41 am

    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
      July 20, 2012 at 3:48 am

      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.

  50. shiva pradhan
    July 20, 2012 at 3:03 am

    this is nice sharing about new tecnology

  51. ferdinan Sitohang
    July 20, 2012 at 2:11 am

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

  52. Arkajyoti Jana
    July 20, 2012 at 12:54 am

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

  53. Joel Lee
    July 20, 2012 at 12:47 am

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

    • TechGeek Mouslim
      July 26, 2012 at 4:21 am

      So Do I :)