Characteristics of linear resistors

Linear resistors exhibit several key characteristics that make them essential components in electronic circuits:

  1. Ohm’s Law: Linear resistors obey Ohm’s Law, which states that the voltage across a resistor is directly proportional to the current flowing through it. The relationship between voltage (V), current (I), and resistance (R) is given by the equation: V = I × R.

  2. Constant Resistance: The resistance value of a linear resistor remains constant regardless of the applied voltage or current. This property allows linear resistors to maintain a predictable and stable behavior in electronic circuits.

  3. Power Rating: Linear resistors have a specified power rating, which indicates the maximum amount of power the resistor can dissipate without being damaged. It is important to choose a resistor with an appropriate power rating based on the circuit requirements.

  4. Tolerance: Resistors have a tolerance value, which represents the allowed deviation from the nominal resistance value. Common tolerance values include ±1%, ±5%, and ±10%. Tighter tolerances provide more precise resistance values but come at a higher cost.

Types of Linear Resistors

Linear resistors come in various types, each with specific characteristics and applications:

Carbon Composition Resistors

Carbon composition resistors are made of a mixture of carbon and ceramic materials. They are inexpensive and have a wide resistance range, typically from a few ohms to several megohms. However, they have relatively high tolerance values (±5% or ±10%) and limited power ratings.

Carbon Film Resistors

Carbon film resistors consist of a ceramic core coated with a thin carbon film. They offer better stability and lower noise compared to carbon composition resistors. Carbon film resistors have tolerance values of ±5% or ±10% and are suitable for general-purpose applications.

Metal Film Resistors

Metal film resistors are made by depositing a thin metal film onto a ceramic substrate. They provide excellent stability, low noise, and tight tolerance values (±1% or ±0.1%). Metal film resistors are commonly used in precision circuits and applications requiring high accuracy.

Wirewound Resistors

Wirewound resistors are constructed by winding a resistive wire around a ceramic or fiberglass core. They can handle high power dissipation and have low temperature coefficients. Wirewound resistors are available in a wide range of resistance values and are often used in power circuits and high-current applications.

Applications of Linear Resistors

Linear resistors find extensive use in various electronic applications:

  1. Voltage Division: Resistors are used in voltage divider circuits to produce a desired output voltage by dividing the input voltage according to the ratio of resistor values.

  2. Current Limiting: Resistors are employed to limit the current flowing through a circuit, protecting sensitive components from excessive current.

  3. Signal Attenuation: Resistors are used to attenuate or reduce the amplitude of electrical signals, allowing for signal conditioning and level adjustment.

  4. Pull-up and Pull-down Resistors: Resistors are used as pull-up or pull-down resistors to ensure a defined logic level on a digital input or output pin.

  5. Filtering: Resistors, in combination with capacitors, form RC filters that can shape the frequency response of a circuit, removing unwanted noise or specific frequency components.

Resistor Color Code

Linear resistors often use a color code system to indicate their resistance value and tolerance. The color code consists of colored bands printed on the resistor body. Each color corresponds to a specific digit or multiplier.

Color Digit Multiplier
Black 0 ×1
Brown 1 ×10
Red 2 ×100
Orange 3 ×1k
Yellow 4 ×10k
Green 5 ×100k
Blue 6 ×1M
Violet 7 ×10M
Gray 8 ×100M
White 9 ×1G

The first two bands represent the first two digits of the resistance value, while the third band indicates the multiplier. A fourth band, if present, denotes the tolerance value.

For example, a resistor with the color code “yellow-violet-red-gold” has a resistance value of 4700 Ω (yellow = 4, violet = 7, red = ×100) with a tolerance of ±5% (gold).

Resistor Series and Parallel Combinations

Resistors can be connected in series or parallel to achieve desired resistance values or to distribute power dissipation.

Series Connection

When resistors are connected in series, the total resistance is the sum of the individual resistor values:

R_total = R1 + R2 + R3 + …

In a series connection, the current flowing through each resistor is the same, while the voltage across each resistor is proportional to its resistance value.

Parallel Connection

When resistors are connected in parallel, the reciprocal of the total resistance is equal to the sum of the reciprocals of the individual resistor values:

1/R_total = 1/R1 + 1/R2 + 1/R3 + …

In a parallel connection, the voltage across each resistor is the same, while the current through each resistor is inversely proportional to its resistance value.

Resistor Power Dissipation

Resistors dissipate power in the form of heat when current flows through them. The power dissipated by a resistor can be calculated using the following formulas:

P = V × I
P = I^2 × R
P = V^2 / R

where P is the power in watts (W), V is the voltage across the resistor in volts (V), I is the current through the resistor in amperes (A), and R is the resistance in ohms (Ω).

It is essential to select a resistor with a power rating higher than the expected power dissipation to prevent overheating and damage to the component.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

  1. What is the difference between a linear resistor and a non-linear resistor?
    A linear resistor maintains a constant resistance value regardless of the applied voltage or current, while a non-linear resistor’s resistance varies with changes in voltage or current. Examples of non-linear resistors include thermistors and varistors.

  2. How do I determine the appropriate power rating for a resistor?
    To determine the appropriate power rating, calculate the expected power dissipation using the formulas mentioned earlier. Choose a resistor with a power rating higher than the calculated value to provide a safety margin. It is recommended to select a resistor with a power rating at least 2-3 times the expected power dissipation.

  3. Can I connect resistors of different values in series or parallel?
    Yes, resistors of different values can be connected in series or parallel. In a series connection, the total resistance is the sum of the individual resistor values. In a parallel connection, the total resistance is lower than the smallest individual resistor value.

  4. What happens if I use a resistor with a lower power rating than required?
    Using a resistor with a lower power rating than required can lead to overheating and potential damage to the resistor and surrounding components. The resistor may fail, causing an open circuit or changes in its resistance value. Always use resistors with appropriate power ratings to ensure reliable operation and prevent damage.

  5. How do I read the resistance value of a surface-mount device (SMD) resistor?
    SMD resistors often use a numerical code instead of the color band system. The code typically consists of three or four digits. For three-digit codes, the first two digits represent the significant figures, and the third digit represents the multiplier (number of zeros). For four-digit codes, the first three digits are the significant figures, and the fourth digit is the multiplier. The resistance value is given in ohms.


Linear resistors are fundamental components in electronic circuits, providing a constant resistance to control current flow, voltage division, and signal attenuation. They come in various types, such as carbon composition, carbon film, metal film, and wirewound resistors, each with specific characteristics and applications.

When working with linear resistors, it is essential to consider factors such as resistance value, tolerance, power rating, and the appropriate series or parallel connections. By understanding the properties and behavior of linear resistors, designers and engineers can effectively utilize them in their electronic projects to achieve desired circuit functions and ensure reliable operation.

As technology continues to advance, linear resistors remain indispensable in the realm of electronics, enabling the development of innovative and robust electronic systems across a wide range of industries.

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