DIY Touchscreen Stylus

I know this isn’t directly photography related, but it’s good info to share.

I’ve bought many touchscreen styluses (styli?) over the years.

  • Hand Stylus on Kickstarter – love it, but you need extra tips for when they wear out
  • Wacom Bamboo Solo Gen1 – not too shabby, but don’t often use it
  • Interesting generic double-headed stylus from eBay
    • Half knock-off Adonit Jot Touch (not the new one “with pixelpoint”) – rubber joint instead of ball joint – won’t last long
    • Half conductive fabric head – fraying
  • As well as dozens of cheap styluses on eBay – my parents loves these for writing in mandarin. So do my kids, but not to write in mandarin.

And sooner or later, I will probably get one of Apple’s Pencils for my iPad Pro, maybe a Pencil by FiftyThree and maybe a Wacom Omni which looks pretty interesting.

But the stylus that I reach for when I just want to reduce the repetitive stress on my fingers are the ones that I made myself because, as many do-it-yourselfers will tell you, when you use something you made and know how to repair, there’s some confidence and pride in this.

What you will need:

Some conductive material for the point — most of my DIY styluses are made with conductive foam which I got from a local radio shop that got components shipped in conductive foam (then the foam went to the trash)! Firmer foam works better for me.

Some material for the body — large markers and highlighters work very well.

If the body was non-conductive (mostly plastic), then you will also need some conductive material to connect you to the point. I used thin copper wire and aluminum tape.

First: let’s backtrack a little. Here are a few early styluses made with the materials I had available.

20120522 074503 ipad3 diy stylus_Crop_DCE

Starting from the left, this first one was just an old tabletop tripod leg with the conductive sleeve that computer components come in taped to it. It’s surprisingly effective and nice that the length could be changed.

The 2nd from left is soft, conductive foam wrapped around a q-tip head and jammed into an old tabletop tripod leg.

The last two on the right are just a small piece of soft, conductive foam held in the tip of a 2mm (clutch) mechanical pencil. You would think that the metal head would try to scratch the touchscreen surface, but in reality, you would really have to try to do something odd to get this to happen. The real danger is that the body is metal and the metal grip is often textured.

After these first experiments, I really wanted something with a plastic body so that it was less likely to scratch the screen, and I really wanted a pen cap. This lead me to emptying plastic pens of various sizes and modifying them.

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As you can see, I tried highlighters, permanent markers and art pens. The conductive foam that I used this time was firmer and could be used by itself on the touchscreens, but this firmer foam also had more drag.

To complete the contact from the screen to the foam to your hand, I used some copper wire from scrap cords (3-4 strands seems to be the minimum), tied them to the foam, fished them through a hold that I made in the plastic pen…

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…then flattened the wire to the pen with aluminum repair tape (not duct tape) which, surprisingly maintained conductivity. (I fanned the wire to make it look interesting.)

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Trim the extra foam at the tip to get a rounded tip, and viola! A working stylus.

Because I chose bodies with caps, I can carry the markers/styluses in my pocket without a problem. The small sharpie is tougher to use due to its smaller contact surface, but not too bad, but the giant red marker fits best in my hand.

I occasionally have to smooth out the aluminum tape covering the copper wires. I do this with the plastic pen cap. This is only cosmetic as it works just fine.

Surprisingly, the foam has lasted over 7 years to date. A little bit flakes off once in a while, but not so badly that the tips are worn out.

I’ve seen sheets of conductive foam sold on eBay, and I’ve read about how you can make your own conductive foam, but if you politely ask some electronic repair shops around your area if they have any conductive foam in their trash that you can have, they might just give it to you. (You can tell right away if it is conductive by using it on your smartphone — don’t forget to hold it with your bare hands. Conductive foam doesn’t work through gloves (easily).)

I’ve also experimented with what little you need to make a working stylus. A thin PVC tube (1/4 – 1/2″), aluminum tape and conductive foam is all you need. (You can even use a slightly damp regular sponge, but that’s not practical.)

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None of these DIY styluses compete against bluetooth styluses like Apple’s Pencil and FiftyThree’s Pencil for precision and creative work, but these simple DIY ones work fine for checking email, playing games, surfing the Internet, etc.

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