How Do You Read Resistor Values?

Resistors range from huge multi-watt giants to sub-miniature surface mount devices (SMDs) and parts with different types of leads in between. The larger varieties do not pose much of a problem as they usually have a big-enough surface for printing the value of the resistance, its tolerance, and other necessary specifications. For smaller sizes, codes are generally used for letting the user know the details of the resistor.

Two common methods are under use for identifying resistors – color coding for resistors with leads and number coding for SMD resistors. Color coding is an easy way to convey a lot of information concisely and effectively. One of the advantages is that specifications of the resistor are visible irrespective of its orientation on the PCB – very useful for overcrowded boards. As SMD resistors have only limited surfaces, number coding is more suitable.

Color coding for resistors

Resistors with color coding come with one of two standard codes – the 4-band code or the 5-band code. The 4-band coding is used more with resistors of low precision with 5, 10, and 20% tolerances. Higher precision resistors with tolerances of 1% and lower are marked with 5-band color codes.

The colors used have their own values. For example, Black represents zero, Brown represents one, Red represents two, Orange represents three, Yellow represents four, Green represents five, Blue represents six, Violet represents seven, Gray represents eight, White represents nine, Gold represents 0.1, and Silver represents 0.01.

For tolerances, Gray represents ±0.05%, Violet represents ±0.1%, Blue represents ±0.25%, Green represents ±0.5%, Brown represents ±1%, Red represents ±2%, Gold represents ±5%, Silver represents ±10%, while an absence of color represents ±20%.

The 4-Band color coding scheme

The 4-band color coding has thee color bands crowded on one side with the fourth band separated from the others. One has to read the code from the left to right beginning with the crowded colors on the left and the separated color band on the extreme right. Starting from the left, the first two color bands represent the most significant digits of the resistance value, while the third band represents the multiplier digit. The isolated fourth band is the tolerance band. As an example, a resistor of 4.7KΩ, 5% value will have the colors bands Yellow, Violet, and Red representing 4700Ω, with a fourth band of Golden color. In cases where there are only three color bands, it means the resistor has a ±20% tolerance.

The 5-band color coding scheme

High quality, high precision resistors with tolerances of 2%, 1% or lower are represented by five color bands, with the first three denoting the three most significant digits of the resistance value. The fourth band represents the multiplier value, while the fifth stripe gives the tolerance. Some resistors have an additional sixth band denoting the reliability or the temperature coefficient.

Number coding for SMD resistors

SMD resistors usually have three or four numbers on them, depending on whether they are of 5% or 1% tolerance. The last number is the multiplier with the others representing the most significant digits of the resistance value. In some cases, an alphabet is used, representing the resistor’s tolerance. However, if the alphabet is an R, it represents a decimal at its position. For more details, refer to this web site.