Capacitive vs. resistive touch screens: what’s the difference?

collage of resistive and capacitive touch screens representing various industries

Resistive touch screens and capacitive touch screens support the use of touch commands, but they use different mechanisms to detect them. Resistive touch screens identify the origin of touch by pressing two layers together, whereas capacitive devices work by identifying the electrical charge produced by the operator. Today, we’ll take a closer look at capacitive vs. resistive touch screens, highlighting the key differences between them.

Industries relying on resistive or capacitive touch screens:

  • Medical devices and equipment
  • Industrial equipment
  • Consumer electronics
  • Point-of-sales or point-of-service (retail, hospitality & food, gaming)
  • Automotive and other transportation
  • Banking
  • Aerospace and defense

Surface material

While there are always exceptions to this rule, most capacitive touch screen devices are made with a glass surface. Resistive touch screens, on the other hand, are made with a synthetic plastic material. Glass allows for the operator’s electrical charge to pass through and into the device, which of course is essential for the overall function of a capacitive device.

Touch sensitivity

A resistive touch screen has a lower level of touch sensitivity. In other words, you must press your finger against a resistive touch screen harder and more forcefully than a capacitive touch screen. By requiring a more purposeful touch to activate, a resistive touch screen promotes higher input accuracy, makes accidental taps and touches less likely to occur, and lowers the risk of erroneous input commands. The level of touch sensitivity you need is also directly linked to the environment in which the touch screen will be used. For example, a resistive touch screen is the perfect solution on a construction site where water or debris might land on the screen.

Light reflection

While capacitive and resistive touch screens have similar pixel resolution, they have different properties when exposed to light. The many individual layers in resistive touch devices make them susceptible to light glare. Whether indoors or outdoors, light will bounce off the top layers of the device to create a blinding glare.

On the other hand, capacitive touch screens don’t reflect light. Instead, they maintain a neutral surface when exposed to light, so they don’t create any major or otherwise distracting glare.


We’re going to get a little bit more technical here. There are two main types of resistive touch screens (4-wire and 5-wire) and two options of technology for capacitive touch screens (surface capacitive and projected capacitive). Among these four types, only one by default supports multi-touch controls: the projected capacitive touch screen. This is in stark contrast to the other devices, which only support single touch. There is one caveat:avcompany has developed a 2-touch resistive controller that only works on 5-wire resistive touch screens.

The use of multi-touch support allows for greater versatility in terms of control, making it the ideal choice for some industrial and commercial applications. Multi-touch technology can collect multi-point signals at the same time and judge the meaning of each signal, allowing for gesture recognition (like pinching). This is why most smartphones and tablets use projected capacitive screens.


When manufactured by a reputable, trusted company, both capacitive and resistive touch screen devices will last for a very long time. In fact, most have an average lifespan in excess of a million touches. For the average user, that’s a very long time. With that said, capacitive touch screen devices typically last longer than resistive devices simply because they don’t use pressure to identify touch commands. Without pressure being placed against the interface, capacitive devices are less susceptible to wear and tear, resulting in a longer lifespan.


Both resistive and capacitive touch screen devices are accurate. Of the two, however, the former comes out on top. Resistive touch screen devices offer the highest level of accuracy, with the ability to pinpoint the precise location of your touch commands. Projected capacitive devices come in second, followed by surface capacitive in third place.

Water resistance

Resistive touch screen devices are more resistant to water, dust, and debris than capacitive. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re waterproof (unless stated in specifications). However, you can expect a resistive device to hold uplonger in wet/humid conditions when compared to a capacitive device.

Production cost

It typically costs more to produce a capacitive touch screen device than a resistive device. So, if you’re looking for an inexpensive touch screen device, you may want to stick with a resistive model for this very reason.

Summary table: capacitive vs. resistive touch screens 

Resistive 4-wireResistive 5-wireSurface capacitiveProjected capacitive (PCAP)
Activation typePressure activatedLight pressureLight touchProximity of capacitive object
Image clarity/light transmittance70%75%-88%88%-93%>88%
Durability>5 Million>35 Million>50 Million>100 Million
Outdoor operationsBetter resistance to dust and waterBetter resistance to dust and waterGood visibility, even in sunlightGood visibility, even in sunlight
Method of operationFinger; any stylus, glove, or objectFinger; any stylus, glove, or objectFinger or conductive stylus/gloveFinger or conductive stylus/glove
Multi-TouchNoNo but 2-touch possibleNoYes

Choosing the right touch screen

One last word on the size of touch screens: Please note that resistive touch screens don’t exceed 27”; beyond that point, they function poorly.

There isn’t a universal touch screen for every application. You'll need to decide which touch screen is suitable for your project based on your application's requirements. Nelson Miller Group is a leading HMI manufacturer; our group of engineers, in-house manufacturing capabilities, and offshore partners will help you select and design the right touch screen solution for you.

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