Types of Resistors

By R.W. Hurst, Editor

Types of Resistors

Understanding the different types of resistors and their unique properties is essential for anyone working with electronic circuits. By considering the advantages and disadvantages of each resistor type, you can select the most suitable option for your project, ensuring optimal performance and reliability. The key to successful electronic design lies in knowing the capabilities and limitations of the resistors at your disposal and choosing the appropriate one based on your specific requirements.

Resistors are integral components in electronic circuits that manage the flow of current by offering resistance. Their primary function is converting electrical energy into heat, limiting the current flowing through the circuit. There are two main categories of resistors: fixed and variable resistors. As the name suggests, fixed resistors have a constant resistance value, while variable resistors allow users to adjust the resistance according to their requirements.

Fixed resistors are subdivided into several types of fixed resistors, each with distinct properties and applications. Carbon composition and carbon film resistors are among the most common types, offering affordable and reliable solutions for various electronic devices. However, while carbon composition resistors were once widely used, their popularity has declined in favour of more precise and stable carbon film resistors.

Metal film resistors, another variety of fixed resistors, provide better accuracy, stability, and tolerance than their carbon counterparts. They are created by depositing a thin metal alloy layer onto a ceramic substrate. These resistors are suitable for high-frequency applications and are often preferred in situations that demand greater precision and minimal noise.

Wire wound resistors are made by winding a metal wire around a ceramic core, resulting in high power handling capabilities and superior temperature coefficients. These properties make them ideal for high-power applications and environments with high temperatures. Conversely, thick film and thin film resistors are created through different deposition techniques, resulting in a wide range of resistance values and applications. Thick film resistors are used for power electronics and automotive applications, while thin film resistors are suitable for precision and high-frequency applications.

In addition to these fixed resistors, surface mount devices (SMD) are another widely used resistor type, offering a compact and lightweight solution for modern electronic devices. These surface mount resistors are directly mounted onto a printed circuit board (PCB), enabling more efficient and space-saving designs.

Variable resistors, on the other hand, allow users to control the variable resistance value within a specific range. One popular example is the light-dependent resistor (LDR), which changes its resistance based on the intensity of light it is exposed to. Another variable resistor is the positive temperature coefficient (PTC) resistor. It increases its resistance value as the temperature rises, making it a valuable component in over-current protection and temperature-sensing circuits.

When selecting a resistor, some important factors are the required resistance value, power rating, and tolerance. The resistance value and tolerance determine the accuracy and precision of the resistor, while the power rating indicates the maximum power that can be dissipated without causing damage. Therefore, choosing a resistor with a power rating higher than the expected power dissipation is crucial to ensure safety and reliability.

Resistive Materials

Resistive materials are the core components of resistors responsible for their electrical resistance. These materials range from conductive metals to carbon-based materials and even semiconductors. The choice of resistive material depends on the desired characteristics of the resistor, such as its resistance range, temperature coefficient, power dissipation, and overall stability. Common resistive materials include carbon, metal films, metal oxides, and metal alloys.

Metal Film Resistors

Metal film resistors are made by depositing a thin layer of metal (usually nickel-chromium or a similar alloy) onto an insulating substrate, such as ceramic. The thickness and length of the metal layer determine the resistance value. Metal film resistors are known for their accuracy, stability, and low noise, making them popular for precision applications.


  • High accuracy and tolerance (as low as 0.1%)
  • Low-temperature coefficient
  • Good long-term stability
  • Low noise


  • Limited power dissipation compared to wire wound resistors
  • Can be susceptible to damage from high voltage or power surges

Wire wound Resistors

Wire wound resistors consist of a conductive wire, often made from a metal alloy like nickel-chromium or tungsten, wound around a non-conductive core, such as ceramic or fibreglass. The wire's diameter, length, and number of turns determine the resistance value. Wire wound resistors are known for dissipating heat and handling high-power loads, making them suitable for high-power applications.


  • High power dissipation capabilities
  • Excellent stability
  • Can handle high temperatures
  • Suitable for high-precision and high-power applications


  • Larger and bulkier than other resistor types
  • Inductive properties may cause issues in high-frequency applications

Metal Oxide Resistors

Metal oxide resistors are made by depositing a thin layer of metal oxides, such as tin oxide or ruthenium oxide, onto a ceramic substrate. The resistance value depends on the thickness and composition of the metal oxide layer. Metal oxide resistors are known for their high stability and ability to handle high voltage surges, making them popular choices for applications where voltage spikes are a concern.


  • High stability and reliability
  • Good tolerance (usually between 1% and 5%)
  • Ability to handle high voltage surges
  • Better temperature coefficient than carbon resistors


  • Limited power dissipation compared to wire wound resistors
  • Not as precise as metal film resistors

Metal Strip Resistors

Metal strip resistors, or metal foil resistors, consist of a thin conductive metal bonded to an insulating substrate, such as copper, nickel, or an alloy. The length, width, and thickness of the metal strip determine the resistance value. Metal strip resistors are known for their excellent precision and low-temperature coefficient, making them ideal for high-precision applications.


  • Extremely high accuracy and tolerance (as low as 0.005%)
  • Excellent long-term stability
  • Low-temperature coefficient
  • Low noise


  • Limited power dissipation capabilities
  • Expensive compared to other resistor types


Carbon Film Resistors

Carbon film resistors are made by depositing a carbon film layer onto a ceramic substrate. The thickness and length of the carbon film determine the resistance value. These resistors are among the most common and inexpensive types, suitable for general-purpose applications where high precision is not required.


  • Cost-effective and widely available
  • Suitable for general-purpose applications
  • Moderate temperature coefficient


  • Lower accuracy and tolerance (usually between 5% and 10%)
  • Not suitable for high-precision or high-power applications
  • It may generate more noise compared to metal film or metal strip resistors

Carbon Composition Resistors

Carbon composition resistors consist of a mixture of finely ground carbon particles and an insulating binder, usually a ceramic material, pressed into the desired shape. The proportion of carbon particles in the mixture determines the resistance value. While not as popular as they once were due to advances in other resistor technologies, carbon composition resistors still find use in some specific applications where their unique properties are required.


  • High pulse load capacity
  • Non-inductive, suitable for high-frequency applications
  • Can handle voltage surges


  • Lower accuracy and tolerance (typically around 5%)
  • High-temperature coefficient
  • Poor long-term stability and reliability compared to other resistor types

There are various types of resistors. Each resistor type has unique properties and characteristics, making them suitable for specific applications in electronic circuits. Selecting the right resistor for a particular job requires careful consideration of various factors, such as the value of resistance needed, power rating, tolerance, temperature coefficient, and operating environment.

Resistors come in various types, each with its unique characteristics, advantages and disadvantages. Understanding the properties of different resistor types and their ideal applications is crucial for selecting the right component for your electronic circuits. Whether you require precision and stability with metal film or metal strip resistors, high power handling with wire wound resistors, or general-purpose use with carbon film resistors, there is a suitable resistor type for every need.

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