Let us start by defining what a stylus is. A stylus is a device that looks like a pen and is designed to work on touchscreen devices. It can be used on any such devices e.g. smartphones or tablets. In principle, a stylus is an input device. Normally, using a touchscreen device entails using your fingers. What your fingers do is what the stylus simply comes in to do. The history of stylus stems from as far back as more than 60 years ago. The tip of the stylus is made from conductive material (rubber) that enables precise operation. Some types of stylus are for just selecting and clicking on-screen whereas some are exclusively for writing or drawing on-screen. In this article we look at the various stylus types out there.

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Active Stylus

One of the types of stylus is the active stylus. This type of stylus is also known as resistive stylus. Their end or tip resembles that of an actual pen. This means the tip is actually small and firm. Inside its frame there are electronic parts which constitute various components. Some of those components are pressure sensors, erasers, memory units and so on. By design, active stylus are bigger in size than passive stylus. This stems from the fact that active stylus house a number of electronic parts inside them.

As for the active stylus, the touch screens involved have what is called a digitizer screen. A unique type of sensor, called a digitizer, is fitted into the screen. It is that sensor that detects whenever a stylus interacts with the touch screen. Operationally, an active stylus can cause reactions that do not occur with the passive stylus types. One example is how that an active stylus can cause a cursor to appear just by being in close proximity to the touch screen surface.


Advantages Of Active Stylus

  • One of the conveniences of the active stylus is that even if you place your fingers or palm on the screen it does not affect the smooth operation of the stylus.
  • Active stylus are generally very accurate. This stems from the above point coupled with the absence of parallax errors (discussing more on this later on).
  • They usually have additional features than the basic ones e.g. an eraser mode.
  • Pressure sensitivity is there which is sought after for drawing operations.


Disadvantages Of Active Stylus

  • Active stylus requires batteries in order to operate plus they are generally quite expensive.

Passive Stylus

The other type of stylus is the passive stylus. This type of stylus is also known as capacitive stylus. The way they operate is more or less the same as the active stylus but there are some differences. Passive stylus are not touch sensitive per se. This is because passive stylus do not have electronic parts inside. No wonder they are physically smaller than active stylus. How do they work then? Well, the passive stylus conducts and then transmits an electrical charge from your fingers to the touch screen.

This stylus type works on a capacitive touch screen. This touch screen has an electrostatic field which when tapped on gets distorted. When that happens, the gadget’s processing unit will figure out where the distortion has occurred. In that way the input is registered and the corresponding action is executed as should be. That way it will be as if it is actually your fingers having contact with the touch screen. Tips of passive stylus are normally made from soft rubber.


Advantages Of Passive Stylus

  • The way passive stylus operates makes it work on virtually any touch screen. This basically means that it does not matter that it is an Android device, an iOS device, or a Windows device. It is worth mentioning here that passive types of stylus can be used on any Apple devices. This is because Apple devices e.g. tablets are designed to have capacitive touch screens.
  • It is also noteworthy that a passive stylus is the most low cost type of stylus on the market. Remember how that we earlier on spoke of the absence of electronic components inside. This leads to a minimalistic design requiring very little in terms of production costs.
  • It is also very convenient in that it requires no batteries to operate. This also marginally contributes to low operating costs since you do not need to buy batteries.


Disadvantages Of Passive Stylus

  • Pressure sensitivity is at core of some people’s work involving stylus. The downside of the passive stylus is that it cannot offer that. This produces inaccuracies at times which can be very inconvenient.
  • Again, another downside is that placing your fingers or palm on the screen affects the smooth operation of the stylus. There are certain activities e.g. drawing that might require one to place their palm on the screen. Thus this makes the passive stylus types unsuitable for use in some activities.
  • There can be what is called parallax errors. Passive types of stylus are so sensitive to how they are held or positioned when in use. These errors emanate from the fact that the posture of your hand leads to different angles. So, when operating in portrait mode parallax errors can be prevalent.


Which Type of Stylus to Choose

The touch screens react differently to the different types of stylus. How then can you determine to know which type of stylus your touch screen will need? Well, there are a few practical things you can do to find out. One, you can use a pen cap or any soft plastic object that has a considerably tiny tip. Run it or press it on a touch screen and if there is a reaction that means your touch screen is a resistive one. Virtually any type of stylus can be used on resistive touch screens. If you try a pencil eraser on the touch screen and there is a reaction then it is a surface acoustic wave. In the event that none of the preceding tests work then your touch screen is a capacitive touch screen.