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3.1.1: Theory Overview

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    The resistor is perhaps the most fundamental of all electrical devices. Its fundamental attribute is the restriction of electrical current flow: The greater the resistance, the greater the restriction of current. Resistance is measured in ohms. The measurement of resistance in unpowered circuits may be performed with a digital multimeter. Like all components, resistors cannot be manufactured to perfection. That is, there will always be some variance of the true value of the component when compared to its nameplate or nominal value. For precision resistors, typically 1% tolerance or better, the nominal value is usually printed directly on the component. Normally, general purpose components, i.e. those worse than 1%, usually use a color code to indicate their value.

    The resistor color code typically uses 4 color bands. The first two bands indicate the precision values (i.e. the mantissa) while the third band indicates the power of ten applied (i.e. the number of zeroes to add). The fourth band indicates the tolerance. It is possible to find resistors with five or six bands but they will not be examined in this exercise. Examples are shown below:


    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    It is important to note that the physical size of the resistor indicates its power dissipation rating, not its ohmic value.

    Each color in the code represents a numeral. It starts with black and finishes with white, going through the rainbow in between:

    0 Black 1 Brown 2 Red 3 Orange 4 Yellow
    5 Green 6 Blue 7 Violet 8 Gray 9 White

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    For the fourth, or tolerance, band:

    5% Gold 10% Silver 20% None

    Table \(\PageIndex{2}\)

    For example, a resistor with the color code brown-red-orange-silver would correspond to 1 2 followed by 3 zeroes, or 12,000 ohms (more conveniently, 12 k ohms). It would have a tolerance of 10% of 12 k ohms or 1200 ohms. This means that the actual value of any particular resistor with this code could be anywhere between 12,000 − 1200=10,800, to 12,000 + 1200=13,200. That is, 10.8 k to 13.2 k ohms. Note, the IEC standard replaces the decimal point with the engineering prefix, thus 1.2 k is alternately written 1k2.

    Similarly, a 470 k 5% resistor would have the color code yellow-violet-yellow-gold. To help remember the color code many mnemonics have been created using the first letter of the colors to create a sentence. One example is the picnic mnemonic Black Bears Robbed Our Yummy Goodies Beating Various Gray Wolves.

    Measurement of resistors with a DMM is a very straight forward process. Simply set the DMM to the resistance function and choose the first scale that is higher than the expected value. Clip the leads to the resistor and record the resulting value.

    This page titled 3.1.1: Theory Overview is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by James M. Fiore.

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