2 Types of Touchscreens to Know

By Faithe Wempen

Have you ever used a touchscreen that didn’t seem to want to recognize your touch unless you used your bare finger? But then other touchscreens seem to work just fine with a gloved hand or a stylus? That’s because touchscreens are not all alike — far from it. There are actually several kinds of touchscreens, each with its own properties and limitations. Here’s a look at the two most common types:

  • A resistive touchscreen is the most basic kind of touchscreen. This type of screen consists of two flexible plastic sheets, with a gap between them. When you press on the top sheet, it comes in contact with the bottom sheet, completing an electrical circuit. The screen is pressure-sensitive; it relies on the pressure you place on the screen. If you were to glide your finger across the screen with no pressure, the touch wouldn’t register. (That’s harder to do than you think, though; most resistive touchscreens are extremely sensitive.)

    The nice thing about a resistive touchscreen is that it doesn’t care what is causing the pressure. You can use a stylus, a gloved finger, a chopstick: pretty much anything with a blunt end (so you don’t tear up the screen with a pointed end). This type of screen is commonly used in places such as ATMs and mall kiosks.

  • A capacitive touchscreen is the other major type of touchscreen. This kind of screen doesn’t work by sensing pressure; instead, it works by using the electrical properties of the human body to change an electrostatic field on the screen. That means you can’t use a gloved hand or an object such as a pencil eraser as a stylus. However, you can buy special styluses that contain conductive material that makes them work on a capacitive screen.

    If you’ve ever wondered why a touchscreen stylus is so much more expensive than you would expect a plain old inkless pen cylinder to be, it’s because they have to contain special material that tricks the screen into thinking it’s a human finger. This type of screen is more durable because its top surface is glass; most touch-sensitive mobile devices use this type of screen.