If you’re looking to buy a new touchscreen device, you’ll need to choose the right type of technology. Not all touchscreen devices use the same technology. Some of them use infrared (IR) technology to detect touch commands, for instance, whereas others use capacitive technology. What’s the difference between IR and capacitive touchscreens exactly?

What Is an IR Touchscreen?

An IR touchscreen is a type of touchscreen device that uses IR light to detect touch commands. IR light, of course, consists of electromagnetic radiation with longer-than-average wavelengths. Basically, IR light features a different wavelength than that of visible light, so you typically can’t see it. IR touchscreens work by using this invisible IR light to detect touch commands.

Most IR touchscreens are designed with light-projecting diodes around the perimeter. On the opposite side of these diodes are sensors that pick up the projected IR light. As a diode beams IR light across the touchscreen’s display interface, it will land on a sensor. The sensor reads the IR light to ensure it’s stable. If you touch the display interface, however, you’ll block the IR light in the area of your touch command. The corresponding sensor will notice that the IR light was disrupted, so it will register that area as a touch command.

What Is a Capacitive Touchscreen?

A capacitive touchscreen, on the other hand, is a type of touchscreen device that uses capacitance to detect touch commands. Capacitive touchscreens still feature lighting — in the form of backlighting — but they don’t use it to detect touch commands. They only produce standard light, and they use it strictly for illuminating the display.

Capacitive touchscreens leverage the body’s conductive properties to detect touch commands. Since the human body conducts electricity, touching an electrically charged surface will draw some of the surface’s electricity. Capacitive touchscreens measure a uniform electrostatic charge while looking for changes that indicate a touch command.

Other Touchscreen Technologies

While IR and capacitive are popular, there are other touchscreen technologies available. Resistive touchscreens, for instance, are frequently used in commercial settings like restaurants, retail stores and even manufacturing facilities. They offer an exceptional level of protection against wear and tear, making them ideal for heavy commercial usage.

In addition to resistive, there are surface acoustic wave (SAW) touchscreens. SAW touchscreens are relatively new, but they’ve quickly gained momentum thanks to their high level of accuracy and responsiveness. SAW touchscreens work in a similar way as IR touchscreens, except they project and sense sound waves rather than IR light.