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The keyboard, whilst indispensible for many electronic devices, is no longer the mainstream way we communicate with our personal technology… touch screens are! With a deft finger press, swipe or pinching motion, we can navigate the pages of the Internet, photo galleries, maps, contacts and other personal information quickly, conveniently and intuitively, making modern touch screen devices easier to master and use than traditional button, keyboard and mouse operated devices.
This technology is becoming incredibly pervasive, with most cell phones, tablets, ticket vending machines, ATM’s, self-service kiosks and even car GPS systems being operated by touch screen technology. What you’re unlikely to know if you’re not involved in the industry is that there are five different kinds of touch screen technologies and each one boasts a unique suite of functions and benefits, which we shall be exploring in this blog.
The questions we will seek to answer are: what are the different types of touch screens? And which one would best suit the demands of your business or application?
An Array Of Touch Screen Technology
5-Wire Resistive, Surface Capacitive, Projected Capacitive, Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) and Infrared are all different kinds of touch screen technology. Let’s take a closer look at each and their defining characteristics and benefits…
5-Wire Resistive Touch Technology
5-Wire resistive is the most common form of touch technology used today. A resistive touch screen consists of a film screen covered by a glass panel, both of which are layered by a thin metallic sheet with a slim gap between them. When you press the screen with your finger, the two metallic sheets come together and in making contact, an electric current is generated telling the device where the point of contact has been made.
The advantage of 5-wire resistive touch technology is that is can be controlled or operated using any object, be it a finger, a pencil, stylus or gloved hand. All that’s needed is a precise point of pressure on the screen. Another benefit of this technology is that it is the least expensive and is low on power consumption. 5-Wire resistive touch screens are also resistant to liquids and surface contaminants, such as moisture, dust, grease and oil.
The only negative things to be said for 5-wire resistive technology are that the touch screens tends to offer a lower image quality and the polyester film that covers the screen can be vulnerable to marring and scratching by sharp objects.
For You? If you prioritize cost over all other considerations, then 5-wire resistive touch technology is an excellent choice for you.
Surface Capacitive is another commonplace touch technology, which consists of a glass panel beneath a transparent electrode layer beneath a protective screen or cover. Surface Capacitive monitors are activated and controlled by naked skin, as they react to the static electrical capacity of the human body. As such, this touch technology can only be operated by a human finger or by an electrically charged stylus pen.
The advantages of Surface Capacitive touch technology is that it offers users a better image quality than 5-wire resistive touch. The screen tends to be more durable and boasts excellent water, grease and dust resistance, as well as a high resistance to scratching.
The potential problem with Surface Capacitive is that it requires a bare finger or capacitive stylus in order to be activated, which can be frustrating in environments where hands need to be gloved, such as in medical healthcare facilities or restaurant kitchens, for example. This particular touch technology also tends to be sensitive to Electromagnetic (or Radio Frequency) Interference (EMI/RFI).
For You? Surface Capacitive is useful for most applications, except perhaps in environments in which users need to have gloved hands or in which there is a lot of EMI/RFI.
Projected Capacitive Touch Technology
Very similar to Surface Capacitive, Projected Capacitive offers two key benefits over and above its sister technology:
A Projected Capacitive touch screen consists of an IC chip and a transparent electrode film, which have been embedded in a sheet of glass. This creates a 3D electrostatic field, which is interfered with when a finger comes into contact with the screen, thereby allowing the device to determine the precise location of the touch points.
The advantage of Projected Capacitive touch technology is that it supports beautiful image clarity, is resistant to liquids and other surface contaminants, and is even more resistant to nicks and scratches than Surface Capacitive screens. One of the greatest benefits of this touch technology, however, is that it boasts multi-touch function.
The only drawbacks is that a Projected Capacitive screen can only be activated by a bare finger, or by fingers clad in surgical gloves or thin cotton gloves. Also it tends to be sensitive to EMI/RFI.
For You? Projected Capacitive touch technology overcomes some of the challenges of Surface Capacitive, enabling it to offer solutions in a greater variety of industries, such as the medical healthcare field. This, together with its crystal image clarity and multi-touch function make it perfect for a great suite of applications.
Surface Acoustic Wave (SAW) Touch Technology
Surface Acoustic Wave or SAW touch technology makes use of a series of piezoelectric transducers (devices that convert variations in pressure into an electrical signal) and receivers along the periphery of the screen. This creates an invisible network of ultrasonic waves on the surface of the panel that, when touched, are absorbed at the contact point. This tells the device where the screen has been touched and this data is sent to the computer.
The great thing about SAW touch technology is that it is easily activated by anything really, whether it’s bare skin or a heavily gloved finger, which is a benefit it offers over all the other touch technologies discussed thus far. Another advantage of Surface Acoustic Wave screens is that they offer high visibility, excellent image clarity and the best scratch resistance of all. SAW monitors are also exceptionally easy to use, which is why this particular technology is so popular with high-end touch monitor manufacturers.
The drawbacks to SAW is that it cannot be operated using hard items such as a fingernail, pen or credit card, although this isn’t much of a disadvantage. Also, the screen has to be kept clean because solid contaminants can create unresponsive areas and water droplets may cause false-triggering, which can be a bit of a pain in moist environments, such as kitchens, restaurants, bars, etc.
For You? If you’re looking for top quality touch technology with fantastic image clarity, an accurate touch response and the ability to be activated with both a gloved or ungloved finger, SAW is the one for you! Just keep your monitor clean.
Infrared (IR) Touch Technology
Infrared (IR) monitors make use of IR receivers and emitters to create an invisible network of light beams across the screen. This negates the need for an additional protective layer or screen over the display and the result is the best possible image clarity and quality. When an object comes close to the screen, the infrared light beams become interrupted and the sensors tell the computer the location of the touch point/s.
The advantage of infrared (IR) touch technology is that it offers unparallelled light transmission and image quality – the best of all the touch technologies, in fact. It boasts unlimited “touch-life” and is totally impervious to surface scratches. There are a few disadvantages to discuss, however. IR touch technology is highly sensitive, so a build-up of grease, dust or oil on the screen can cause it to malfunction. Additionally, coming too close to the screen (unintentially) can cause the technology to activate.
These screens, which are at the top end of the price spectrum, are not water resistant – and in fact won’t operate properly if moisture gets on them – and they may be sensitive to ambient light interference.
For You? If your touch screen application takes place outside or in any exposed environment, IR touch technology wouldn’t be the ideal choice. If, however, you require state-of-the-art optical performance and a gorgeous, crystal clear display, and cost isn’t a major concern, IR touch technology could be a great option for you!
If you’re interested in purchasing touch screen technology we encourage you to take a look at Tactile Technologies’ incredible range of Touch Screen Products. Alternatively, Contact Us with your query and we’ll be more than happy to assist you.