Touchscreen devices are often sold with a small pen-like accessory that’s used for performing touch commands. Known as a stylus, it’s become synonymous with touchscreen devices. Smartphones and tablet computers, for instance, often feature a stylus. You can use the stylus to perform touch commands just like a bare finger. To learn more about touchscreen styluses and how they work, keep reading.

What Is a Stylus?

A stylus is an input accessory for touchscreen devices that allows a user to perform touch commands. Touchscreen devices, of course, require physical contact for input. While all touchscreen devices support the use of a bare finger for input, many also support the use of a stylus. You can tap icons on the touchscreen device’s interface with the tip of the stylus, with some devices supporting drawing as well.

Styluses offer a familiar design that’s easy to use. As you may know already, they are shaped like a pen. From afar, in fact, most people can’t tell the difference between a stylus and a conventional pen. With this familiar design and ergonomic design, styluses are easy to use.

How Does a Stylus Work?

The way in which a stylus works varies depending on the type of touchscreen devices for which it’s designed. Most styluses work using pressure, so they are supported by resistive touchscreen devices. Resistive touchscreen devices detect touch commands using pressure. If you press down on the display — whether using a bare finger or a stylus — it will trigger a touch command. The resistive touchscreen’s top layer and bottom layer will press together in response to your touch command, thereby completing a circuit.

Capacitive touchscreen devices, however, require a special type of stylus. The most common type of touchscreen technology, capacitive works in a different way than resistive technology. Capacitive touchscreen devices don’t use pressure to detect touch commands, but instead, they use capacitance. Touching a capacitive device will change its electrostatic field, which it will detect and register as a touch command.

Most styluses are made of an electrically resistive material, such as plastic or polymer, so they aren’t supported by capacitive touchscreen devices. The good news is that some styluses are designed specifically for capacitive touchscreen devices. Known as capacitive styluses, they are designed with an electrically conductive material that mimics human body’s naturally conductive properties. Capacitive styluses generally work with all touchscreen devices, including both resistive and capacitive devices.