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What Is a Stylus Pen and How It Works

Updated: June 08,2022

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In today’s digital age, the use of pen and paper is declining. Screens increasingly replace paper, and the regular pen is upgraded to a more tech-friendly solution. Touch-screen pens enable the user to write on a touch-sensitive device as they would on a piece of paper and much more. Such a pen is called a stylus pen.

What Is a Stylus Pen?

A stylus pen is a device that can interact with touch-screen technology on various devices, eliminating the need to use our fingers. It allows us to write, swipe, sign, draw, etc.

Early portable devices often used pencil styluses for input but were largely replaced by modern touch-screen devices, which allowed consumers to use their fingers. There are still professions where stylus pens outperform any other available device, like the graphic design industry.

How Does a Stylus Work?

To understand how a stylus works, we first need to explain how a touchscreen works.

There are five types of touch-screen technology: resistive, surface capacitive, surface acoustic wave (SAW), infrared (IR), and projected capacitive. The commonly used types are resistive and surface capacitive touchscreens.

The resistive touchscreen has two thin metallic layers separated by a small gap. When the user presses on the touchscreen, the two metallic layers establish a connection resulting in an electrical flow. 

The surface capacitive touchscreen has an electrode layer on the top of the touchscreen that reacts to the static electrical capacity of the human body when pressed. Such touchscreens require passive stylus pens. We’ll get to them in a bit.

A touch-screen pen needs to be capable of transmitting an electrical charge to replace your input on surface capacitive touchscreens. The same pen interacts with a resistive touchscreen without any issues. Resistive touchscreens don’t require anything except the pressure to activate them. Therefore, anything can be a stylus if it doesn’t damage the device. 

Types of Stylus

We can use a touch-screen pen to interact with both of the most common touchscreens today, but the stylus pen can do more than just represent our fingers. 

Stylus pens can be divided into two types: passive and active.

Passive Stylus Pens

A passive stylus, also known as a capacitive stylus, conducts electric charges from your body to the device with a surface capacitive touchscreen with the intent to generate a finger-like touch response. It’s capable of most basic inputs, and it works with a resistive touchscreen as well. A passive/capacitive stylus is also known as a universal stylus pen because it’s compatible with any touch-sensitive device. 

Pros and cons:

+ Compatible with all touchscreen devices

+ Cheap

+ No batteries required

- Incapable of precise work

- No consistent lines without jittering

- No sensitivity adjustment 

- No advanced features

Active Stylus Pens 

Artists use active stylus pens to create graphic designs, 3D models, and more. Unlike a passive stylus pen, most active stylus pens can’t be used with just any touchscreen device. An active pen must be paired with a drawing tablet, usually made by the same manufacturer. 

There are many different graphic tablets, so be sure to get the graphic tablet that best suits your needs. Some stylus pens can be paired with multiple devices using a Bluetooth connection, while a passive stylus doesn’t need to be paired at all.

An active stylus pen is precise, offers multiple sensitivity settings, and has more overall features compared to a passive stylus pen that only imitates touch. It’s also known as a drawing stylus since it’s so prevalent among artists. 

Pros and cons:

+ Precise

+ Multiple sensitivity settings

+ Multiple features 

- Expensive

- Requires a tablet or a software support

- Battery operated

Before moving on, let’s dispel some confusion regarding 3D pens. They are excellent tools for creating accurate 3D models but have nothing in common with a stylus pen. 3D pens are not compatible with any touchscreen as they release heated plastic filament from the tip to create 3D models. 

What Is a Stylus Pen Made Of?

A passive stylus pen is a conductive material with a tip made of rubber, conductive foam, or copper. The body is typically shaped like a metal rod or a barrel that transmits electrical charge between the hand and the tip. Due to their simplicity, passive styluses are cheap to make and can be replaced by DIY pens if needed. 

Active stylus pens are more expensive because they include digital or circuitry components, which allow them to communicate with a device, usually a drawing tablet. For an active stylus to work, it has to match the digital protocol of the device it’s interacting with. It also includes a battery that powers all of the components.  

What Is a Stylus Pen Used For?

So, what can you do with a stylus pen? After all, they aren’t meant only for artists. They have multiple uses, even in everyday life.

Drawing

Various artists are the targeted audience for most stylus pens and graphic tablet manufacturers, and for a good reason. Creating art can be expensive as the materials and equipment don’t come cheap, not to mention the hassle of packing and carrying all the materials when on the go. Now you can replace all of it with a portable device and a drawing stylus pen that goes along with it.

Whether you want to create an oil painting or a graphic design for a brand, you can do it all on one device. That being said, you don’t have to consider yourself an artist to create art. It doesn't have to be all work, as art can be quite therapeutic. 

Writing

Always dreamt about being a digital nomad? Some of the most common jobs for digital nomads include blogging, affiliate marketing, and content writing, all of which involve writing. 

Whether you prefer to write on a mobile phone or a tablet, the touch-screen pen can increase the accuracy and speed of your writing, especially when paired with a swipe keyboard. 

Emails

Faster writing will come in handy when writing emails. We are now used to checking our emails on our phones, and replaying from tiny screens can be annoying. Having a stylus pen for Android or an iPhone can be a game-changer.

Games

Not everything should be work-related. Playing mobile games using a touchscreen pen does make a difference. You won’t continue dying or losing troops due to a misclick on the phone anymore.

Hygiene

Many users don’t clean their cellphones or tablets regularly, and they can be a real hotbed for bacteria. Using touchscreen pens can drastically reduce any potential bacterial or germ infection, plus it keeps all the oil stains away. All that is required is to sanitize the stylus pen tip from time to time. 

Weather

Using a wet hand to interact with any touchscreen device often doesn’t produce the desired response, and it’s even worse when we have gloves on. Yes, the touchscreen-compatible winter gloves exist, but their use still results in misclicking. The solution to both problems is simple: a touchscreen pen.

Wrapping Up

There are 5.32 billion mobile phone users today, and most mobile devices have a touchscreen. This is without counting tablets, drawing tablets, and other touch-screen devices. All of them allow for the universal stylus pen. 

While it is true that most of us don’t need a stylus pen, it’s still a helpful accessory to have on hand. It is small enough to be carried around and versatile to be used when needed. 

Instead of asking, “what is a stylus pen?” we should ask, “what is the purpose of a stylus pen?” To some, a stylus pen presents nothing more than a work tool. But for others, it’s a way of making digital life more manageable.

FAQ

Do stylus pens work on all touch screens?

One of the key benefits of a passive stylus pen is that it works on all touchscreen devices, but it doesn’t offer any additional functions as an active pen does.

Can you use a normal pen as a stylus?

If the device has a resistive touchscreen, you could interact with it with a regular pen, but we wouldn’t advise it because it is highly likely to damage your screen. Most mobile devices use a surface capacitive touchscreen, and you can’t use a regular pen to interact with them. 

If in need, you can create a DIY touch screen pen. Remove the ink, insert a part of a moist cotton swab stick on a tip, and wrap the pen in aluminum foil.

What does a stylus pen do?

A stylus pen is a tool used to interact with touchscreen devices, and as such, it can mimic everything we can do with our fingers on the screen. Its most basic use would be to navigate phones and tablets, but you can also use an active stylus pen for artistic jobs like 3D modeling and graphic design. 

What is a stylus pen?

A stylus pen is a type of pen that has a pointed end made of plastic, metal, or other materials. It is used to write on touch screen devices such as smartphones and tablets. The purpose of a digital pen is to allow the user to write on a touch screen device in the same way they would write on paper with a regular pen. 

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Jovan
ABOUT AUTHOR
Jovan

With a degree in humanities and a knack for the history of tech, Jovan was always interested in how technology shapes both us as human beings and our social landscapes. When he isn't binging on news and trying to predict the latest tech fads, you may find him trapped within the covers of a generic 80s cyberpunk thriller.

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