DIY: Capacitive Stylus

When I finally caved and bought a smartphone a few months ago, I was so thrilled that I could use it for sketching (and finally get to play Angry Birds). I bought a stylus on the spot that seemed decent enough. But I learned that not all styluses are created equal.

Although it looked slender and elegant in the box, it was really just a metal tube with a big, hollow, rubber ball on the end. I mean, it was effective and slightly more comfortable than using my fingers to slice fruit and toss pigs around, but it was wide enough that it didn’t really allow me to see where I was tapping and was less precise than my clumsy fingers.

So I thought, OK, let’s up the ante–I got the Hex3 Jaja, an expensive but super-awesome-looking stylus that was pressure sensitive and had a clear disc instead of the rubber ball so you could see where you were drawing (or slicing fruit or tossing pigs). The problem? The plastic they used for the tip carved–not scratched, carved–deep gashes into the screen protector on my phone, no matter how many times I cleaned the phone or the pen. I returned it in frustration and gave up on finding the “perfect” stylus. I decided to just make one instead.

I figured it would be cheaper than buying a bunch of styluses until I found one I liked, and I could make it exactly how I wanted.  I found this incredible article on making a capacitive stylus and what types of materials you need. It turns out, pretty much anything made of metal will do (or fresh leaves–who’d have thunk?).

The key, without getting into too much techno babble, is that there has to be something capacitive (metal, leaves) that connects your hand to the capacitive piece that will touch the screen. So, the bottom of a spoon works (tried it!), but not a pencil with some tinfoil at the bottom. The current between the tip and your hand needs to be continuous and connected.

I tried batteries and a lot of miscellaneous household items just for kicks, but then remembered a pair of gloves that I had gotten for Christmas. They were the kind with the pointer finger and thumb made of some fancy material so that they could be used with touch screens, and they were too small for my hands. I decided to put the old stylus to good use and made a new one in less than 5 minutes.

All it takes is a metal handle of some sort–an old metal pen or mechanical pencil will do, or you can wrap a pencil in tin foil–and duct tape. You can use tin foil for the tip, but I folded up the fabric from the glove into a tiny cone (not wanting to risk scratching my poor phone any worse) and taped it to the end of the stylus, ultimately narrowing the unseemly rubber ball down to a delicate, soft tip that works perfectly for drawing.

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It’s not the prettiest pen, but I love it. It glides on the screen smoothly and accurately, and if I ever wear out the fabric–well, I have three more fingers from those gloves and a lot more duct tape!

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