Resistor symbols (US and Japan)

Resistor symbols (US and Japan)

Resistor symbols (Europe, IEC)

Resistor symbols (Europe, IEC)
A pack of resistors

A resistor is a two-terminal electrical or electronic component that resists an electric current by producing a voltage drop between its terminals in accordance with Ohm’s law. (Certain ultra-precise resistors have 2 extra terminals, for a total of 4.)

The electrical resistance is equal to the voltage drop across the resistor divided by the current through the resistor. Resistors are used as part of electrical networks and electronic circuits.


• In general, a resistor is used to create a known voltage-to-current ratio in an electric circuit. If the current in a circuit is known, then a resistor can be used to create a known potential difference proportional to that current. Conversely, if the potential difference between two points in a circuit is known, a resistor can be used to create a known current proportional to that difference.
• Current-limiting. By placing a resistor in series with another component, such as a light-emitting diode, the current through that component is reduced to a known safe value.
• A series resistor can be used for speed regulation of DC motors, such as used on locomotives and trainsets.
• An attenuator is a network of two or more resistors (a voltage divider) used to reduce the voltage of a signal.
• A line terminator is a resistor at the end of a transmission line or daisy chain bus (such as in SCSI), designed to match impedance and hence minimize reflections of the signal.
• All resistors dissipate heat. This is the principle behind electric heaters.

The ideal resistor

The SI unit of electrical resistance is the ohm (Ω). A component has a resistance of 1 Ω if a voltage of 1 volt across the component results in a current of 1 ampere, or amp, which is equivalent to a flow of one coulomb of electrical charge (approximately 6.241506 × 10^18 electrons) per second. The multiples kiloohm (1 kΩ = 1000 Ω) and megaohm (1 MΩ = 10^6Ω) are also commonly used.

In an ideal resistor, the resistance remains constant regardless of the applied voltage or current through the device or the rate of change of the current. While real resistors cannot attain this goal, they are designed to present little variation in electrical resistance when subjected to these changes, or to changing temperature and other environmental factors.

Nonideal characteristics

A resistor has a maximum working voltage and current above which the resistance may change (drastically, in some cases) or the resistor may be physically damaged (overheat or burn up, for instance). Although some resistors have specified voltage and current ratings, most are rated with a maximum power which is determined by the physical size. Common power ratings for carbon composition and metal-film resistors are 1/8 watt, ¼ watt, and ½ watt. Metal-film and carbon film resistors are more stable than carbon resistors against temperature changes and age. Larger resistors are able to dissipate more heat because of their larger surface area. Wire-wound and resistors embedded in sand (ceramic) are used when a high power rating is required.

Furthermore, all real resistors also introduce some inductance and a small amount of capacitance, which change the dynamic behavior of the resistor from the ideal.

Types of resistor

A few types of resistors
A few types of resistors

Fixed resistors

Some resistors are cylindrical, with the actual resistive material in the centre (composition resistors, now obsolete) or on the surface of the cylinder (film) resistors, and a conducting metal lead projecting along the axis of the cylinder at each end(axial lead). There are carbon film and metal film resistors. The photo above right shows a row of common resistors. Power resistors come in larger packages designed to dissipate heat efficiently. At high power levels, resistors tend to be wire wound types. Resistors used in computers and other devices are typically much smaller, often in surface-mount packages without wire leads. Resistors can also be built into integrated circuits as part of the fabrication process, using the semiconductor material as a resistor. But resistors made in this way are difficult to fabricate and may take up a lot of valuable chip area, so IC designers alternatively use a transistor-transistor or resistor-transistor configuration to simulate the resistor they require.

Variable resistors

Construction of a wire-wound variable resistor. The effective length of the resistive element (1) varies as the wiper turns, adjusting resistance.

This 2 kW rheostat is used for the dynamic braking of a wind turbine.
This 2 kW rheostat is used for the dynamic braking of a wind turbine.

The variable resistor is a resistor whose value can be adjusted by turning a shaft or sliding a control. They are also called potentiometers or rheostats and allow the resistance of the device to be altered by hand. The term rheostat is usually reserved for higherpowered devices, above about ½ watt. Variable resistors can be inexpensive single-turn types or multi-turn types with a helical element. Some variable resistors can be fitted with a mechanical display to count the turns. Variable resistors can sometimes be unreliable, because the wire or metal can corrode or wear. Some modern variable resistors use plastic materials that do not corrode and have better wear characteristics.

Some examples include:
• a rheostata variable resistor with two terminals, one fixed and one sliding. It is used with high currents.
• a potentiometera common type of variable resistor. One common use is as volume controls on audio amplifiers and other forms of amplifiers.

Other types of resistors

• A metal oxide varistor (MOV) is a special type of resistor that changes its resistance with rise in voltagea very high resistance at low voltage (below the trigger voltage) and very low resistance at high voltage (above the trigger voltage). It acts as a switch. It is usually used for short circuit protection in power strips or lightning bolt “arrestors” on street power poles, or as a “snubber” in inductive circuits.
• A thermistor is a temperature-dependent resistor. There are two kinds, classified according to the sign of their temperature coefficients

  • A Positive Temperature Coefficient (PTC) resistor is a resistor with a positive temperature coefficient. When the temperature rises the resistance of the PTC increases. PTCs are often found in televisions in series with the demagnetizing coil where they are used to provide a short-duration current burst through the coil when the TV is turned on. One specialized version of a PTC is the polyswitch which acts as a self-repairing fuse.
  • A Negative Temperature Coefficient (NTC) resistor is also a temperaturedependent resistor, but with a negative temperature coefficient. When the temperature rises the resistance of the NTC drops. NTCs are often used in simple temperature detectors and measuring instruments.

• A sensistor is a semiconductor-based resistor with a negative temperature coefficient, useful in compensating for temperature-induced effects in electronic circuits.
• Light-sensitive resistors are discussed in the photoresistor article.
• All wire except superconducting wire has some resistance, depending on its crosssectional area and the conductivity of the material it is made of. Resistance wire has an accurately known resistance per unit length, and is used to make wirewound resistors.

Identifying resistors

Most axial resistors use a pattern of colored stripes to indicate resistance. SMT ones follow a numerical pattern. Cases are usually brown, blue, or green, though other colors are occasionally found like dark red or dark gray. One can use a multimeter to test the values of a resistor.

Resistor Standards

• MIL-R-11
• MIL-R-39008
• MIL-R-39017
• BS 1852
• EIA-RS-279

There are other MIL-R- standards.

Four-band axial resistors

Electronic color code 

Four-band identification is the most commonly used color coding scheme on all resistors. It consists of four colored bands that are painted around the body of the resistor. The scheme is simpleThe first two numbers are the first two significant digits of the resistance value, the third is a multiplier, and the fourth is the tolerance of the value. Each color corresponds to a certain number, shown in the chart below. The tolerance for a 4-band resistor will be 2%, 5%, or 10%.

The Standard EIA Color Code Table per EIA-RS-279 is as follows:

The Standard EIA Color Code Table per EIA-RS-279 is as follows:

The Standard EIA Color Code Table per EIA-RS-279 is as follows

Note red to violet are the colors of the rainbow where red is low energy and violet is higher energy.

Resistors use specific values, which are determined by their tolerance. These values repeat for every exponent; 6.8, 68, 680, etc. This is useful because the digits, and hence the first two or three stripes, will always be similar patterns of colors, which make them easier to recognize.

Preferred values

Resistors are manufactured in values from a few milliohms to about a gigaohm; only a limited range of values from the IEC 60063 preferred number series are commonly available. These series are called E6, E12, E24, E96 and E192. The number tells how many standarized values exist in each decade (e.g. between 10 and 100, or between 100 and 1000). So resistors confirming to the E12 series, can have 12 distinct values between 10 and 100; while those confirming to the E24 series would have 24 distinct values. In practice, the discrete component sold as a “resistor” is not a perfect resistance, as defined above. Resistors are often marked with their tolerance (maximum expected variation from the marked resistance). On color coded resistors the color of the rightmost band denotes the tolerance:

silver 10%
gold 5%
red 2%
brown 1%
green 0.5%.

Closer tolerance resistors, called precision resistors, are also available. Manufacturers will measure the actual resistance of new resistors and sort them by tolerance according to how close they were to the intended value. Subsequently, if you buy 100 resistors of the same value with a tolerance of +/- 10%, you won’t get some resistors with the correct value, some off by a little and the worst off by 10%… what you’ll probably find if you measure them, is that about half of the resistors are between 5% and 10% too low in value, and the other half are between 5% and 10% too high in value. Those off by less than 5%, would’ve been marked and sold as more expensive 5% resistors. This is something to consider when calculating specifications on the components for a project, that all resistors will be “off” by the specified tolerance, and not just the “worse” of them.

E12 preferred values 10, 12, 15, 18, 22, 27, 33, 39, 47, 56, 68, 82 Multiples of 10 of these values are used, eg. 0.47Ω, 4.7Ω, 47Ω, 470Ω, 4.7k, 47k, 470k etc. E24 preferred values, includes E12 values and 11, 13, 16, 20, 24, 30, 36, 43, 51, 62, 75, 91

5-band axial resistors

5-band identification is used for higher tolerance resistors (1%, 0.5%, 0.25%, 0.1%), to notate the extra digit. The first three bands represent the significant digits, the fourth is the multiplier, and the fifth is the tolerance. 5-band standard tolerance resistors are sometimes encountered, generally on older or specialized resistors. They can be identified by noting a standard tolerance color in the 4th band. The 5th band in this case is the temperature coefficient.

Mnemonic phrases for remembering codes

There are many mnemonic phrases used to remember the order of the colors. They are, but are not limited to, and variations of:

• Bad Boys Ravish Our Young Girls But Violet Gives Willingly
• Bad Beer Rots Our Young Guts But Vodka Goes Well. Get Some Now!
• B.B. ROY of Great Britain had a Very Good Wife
• Buffalo Bill Roamed Over Yellow Grass Because Vistas Grand Were God’s Sanctuary
• Bully Brown Ran Over a Yodeling Goat, Because Violet’s Granny Was Gone Snorkeling
• Buy Better Resistance Or Your Grid Bias May Go Wrong
Black Brown Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Violet Gray White (Gold Silver)

SMD resistors

SMD resistor

This image shows some surface mosunt resistors, including two zero-ohm resistors. Zero-ohm links are often used instead of wire links, so that they can be inserted by a resistorinserting machine.

Surface mounted resistors are printed with numerical values in a code related to that used on axial resistors. Standard-tolerance SMD resistors are marked with a three-digit code, in which the first two digits are the first two significant digits of the value and the third digit is the power of ten (the number of zeroes). For example:

“334” = 33 × 10,000 ohms = 330 kiloohms
“222” = 22 × 100 ohms = 2.2 kiloohms
“473” = 47 × 1,000 ohms = 47 kiloohms
“105” = 10 × 100,000 ohms = 1 megaohm

Resistances less than 100 ohms are written100, 220, 470. The final zero represents ten to the power zero, which is 1. For example:

“100” = 10 × 1 ohm = 10 ohms
“220” = 22 × 1 ohm = 22 ohms

Sometimes these values are marked as “10” or “22” to prevent a mistake.  Resistances less than 10 ohms have ‘R’ to indicate the position of the decimal point. For example:

“4R7” = 4.7 ohms
“0R22” = 0.22 ohms
“0R01” = 0.01 ohms

Precision resistors are marked with a four-digit code, in which the first three digits are the significant figures and the fourth is the power of ten. For example:

“1001” = 100 × 10 ohms = 1 kiloohm
“4992” = 499 × 100 ohms = 49.9 kiloohm
“1000” = 100 × 1 ohm = 100 ohms

“000” and “0000” sometimes appear as values on surface-mount zero-ohm links, since these have (approximately) zero resistance.

Industrial type designation

Format[two letters]<space>[resistance value (three digit)]<nospace>[tolerance code(numerical – one digit)]

Power Rating at 70°C

The operational temperature range distinguishes commercial grade, industrial grade and military grade components.

• Commercial grade0°C to 70°C
• Industrial grade−40°C to 85°C (sometimes −25°C to 85°C)
• Military grade−55°C to 125°C

Ohm’s law

The relationship between voltage, current, and resistance through a metal wire, and some other materials, is given by a simple equation called Ohm’s Law:

V = IR

where V (or U in some languages) is the voltage (or potential difference) across the wire in volts, I is the current through the wire in amperes, and R, in ohms, is a constant called the resistance. (In fact this is only a simplification of the original Ohm’s law – see the article on that law for further details.) Materials that obey this law over a certain voltage or current range are said to be ohmic over that range. An ideal resistor obeys the law across all frequencies and amplitudes of voltage or current.

Superconducting materials at very low temperatures have zero resistance. Insulators (such as air, diamond, or other non-conducting materials) may have extremely high (but not infinite) resistance, but break down and admit a larger flow of current under sufficiently high voltage.

Power dissipation

The power dissipated by a resistor is the voltage across the resistor multiplied by the current through the resistor:

Power dissipation

All three equations are equivalent. The first is derived from Joule’s law, and other two are derived from that by Ohm’s Law.

The total amount of heat energy released is the integral of the power over time:

All three equations are equivalent. The first is derived from Joule's law, and other two are derived from that by Ohm's Law.  The total amount of heat energy released is the integral of the power over time:

If the average power dissipated exceeds the power rating of the resistor, then the resistor will first depart from its nominal resistance, and will then be destroyed by overheating.

Series and parallel circuits

Series and parallel circuits

Resistors in a parallel configuration each have the same potential difference (voltage). To find their total equivalent resistance (Req):

Series and parallel circuits

The parallel property can be represented in equations by two vertical lines “||” (as in geometry) to simplify equations. For two resistors,

Series and parallel circuits

The current through resistors in series stays the same, but the voltage across each resistor can be different. The sum of the potential differences (voltage) is equal to the total voltage. To find their total resistance:

Series and parallel circuits

A resistor network that is a combination of parallel and series can sometimes be broken up into smaller parts that are either one or the other. For instance,

Series and parallel circuits

Series and parallel circuits

However, many resistor networks cannot be split up in this way. Consider a cube, each edge of which has been replaced by a resistor. For example, determining the resistance between two opposite vertices requires matrix methods for the general case. However, if all twelve resistors are equal, the corner-to-corner resistance is 5/6 of any one of them.


Carbon composition resistors consist of a solid cylindrical resistive element with embedded wire leadouts or metal end caps to which the leadout wires are attached, which is protected with paint or plastic. The solid cylindrical resistive element is made from a mixture of small particles of carbon and an insulating material (usually ceramic), the resistance is determined by the ratio of these, higher concentrations of carbon result in a lower resistance. Carbon composition resistors were commonly used in the 1960’s and earlier, but are not so popular for general use now as other types have better specifications, such as tolerance.

The film resistors consist of a cylindrical ceramic body to which a carbon or metal oxide (eg. tin oxide) film is deposited. A spiral of the film is removed, leaving a spiral of film around the cylinder. A spiral is used to increase the length and decrease the width of the film which increases the resistance. The spiral trimming of the film is used to accurately set the value of the resistor and many different values can be made from the same film composition by altering the pitch of the spiral. Metal end caps with the leadout wires are attached to the ends of the cylinder. Or for surface mount types a nickel termination is  deposited at either end of the rectangular chip. The film is protected with paint, enamel,  epoxy or plastic. Wirewound resistors are commonly made by winding a metal wire around a ceramic,

plastic, or fiberglass core. The ends of the wire are soldered or welded to two caps, attached to the ends of the core. The assembly is protected with a layer of paint, molded plastic, or an enamel coating baked at high temperature. The wire leads are usually between 0.6 and 0.8 mm in diameter and tinned for ease of soldering. For higher power wirewound resistors either a ceramic outer case or an aluminium outer case ontop of an insulating layer is used. The aluminium cased types are designed to be attached to a heatsink to dissipate the heat, the rated power is dependant on being used with a suitable  heatsink. eg. a 50W power rated resistor will overheat at around one fifth of the power dissipation if not used with a heatsink. Types of resistors:

• Carbon composition
• Carbon film
• Metal film
• Metal oxide
• Wirewound (usually has higher parasitic inductance)
• Cermet
• Phenolic
• Tantalum

Foil resistor

Foil resistors have had the best precision and stability ever since they were introduced in 1958 by Berahard F. Telkamp. One of the important parameters influencing stability is the temperature coefficient of resistance (TCR). Although the TCR of foil resistors is considered extremely low, this characteristic has been further refined over the years.

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