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What is resistance color code?

The resistance color code is a way to determine the value of a resistor based on the colors of bands or dots printed on the resistor. Resistors are electrical components that resist the flow of electrical current. Each resistor has a specific resistance value, measured in ohms. The resistance color code allows you to quickly identify the value of a resistor without having to measure it with a multimeter.

How the Resistance Color Code Works

The resistance color code uses a series of colored bands or dots printed on the resistor to denote the resistor’s value. Here is how it works:

  • Most resistors have 4 bands – 3 color bands to denote the value, and 1 band for the tolerance.
  • The first 2 or 3 bands (depending on the resistor) denote the first two or three digits of the resistor value.
  • The third band indicates the multiplier or number of zeroes to add.
  • The fourth band indicates the tolerance or accuracy of the resistor value.

Each color represents a different number or multiplier:

Color Digit Multiplier
Black 0 1
Brown 1 10
Red 2 100
Orange 3 1,000
Yellow 4 10,000
Green 5 100,000
Blue 6 1,000,000
Violet 7 10,000,000
Gray 8 100,000,000
White 9 1,000,000,000

For example, a resistor with bands colored yellow, violet, red, gold would have a value of:

  • Yellow = 4
  • Violet = 7
  • Red = multiply by 100

So the resistor value would be 4700 ohms. The gold band indicates a 5% tolerance.

4-Band Resistor Color Code

The most common resistor has 4 color bands:

  • 1st and 2nd bands – Digits
  • 3rd band – Multiplier
  • 4th band – Tolerance

Here are the steps to read a 4-band resistor:

  1. Determine the values for the first and second color bands.
  2. Determine the multiplier value from the third color band.
  3. Combine the digit values and multiplier to determine the resistor value.
  4. The fourth band indicates the tolerance.

For example, a resistor with the following color bands:

  • Brown
  • Black
  • Orange
  • Gold

Would have these values:

  • Brown – 1
  • Black – 0
  • Orange – multiply by 1,000
  • Gold – 5% tolerance

The resistor value would be 10 x 1,000 = 10,000 ohms with a 5% tolerance.

5-Band Resistor Color Code

Some resistors have 5 bands:

  • 1st, 2nd and 3rd bands – Digits
  • 4th band – Multiplier
  • 5th band – Tolerance

Reading a 5-band resistor involves an extra digit band:

  1. Determine the values for the first, second, and third color bands.
  2. Determine the multiplier from the fourth band.
  3. Combine the 3 digit values and multiplier to determine resistance.
  4. The fifth band indicates tolerance.

For example, a 5-band resistor with:

  • Green
  • Blue
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Gold

Has the following values:

  • Green – 5
  • Blue – 6
  • Yellow – 4
  • Red – multiply by 100
  • Gold – 5% tolerance

The resistor value is 564 x 100 = 56,400 ohms with 5% tolerance.

Resistor Tolerance Bands

The tolerance band indicates the accuracy or precision of the resistor value. Common tolerance band colors include:

Color Tolerance
Gold ±5%
Silver ±10%
No band ±20%

For example, a 10,000 ohm resistor with a gold band has a tolerance of ±5%, meaning its actual value should be between 9,500 – 10,500 ohms. A silver band would indicate ±10% tolerance.

Resistor Tables and Charts

For quick reference, you can use resistor color code tables or calculators to determine resistance values:

  • Tables – Match the color bands to the resistance value
  • Calculators – Input the colors to calculate the value
  • Apps – Mobile apps to decode resistor colors

Here is an example resistor color code table:

Band 1 Band 2 Band 3 Resistance Value
Red Yellow Orange 2,400 Ohms
Brown Green Orange 1,500,000 Ohms
Blue Grey Black 68 Ohms

These tables or calculators make it easy to quickly identify resistance values.

Variable Resistors

Variable resistors, also called potentiometers, have 3 terminals and a sliding contact that can vary the resistance. Common types include:

  • Rotary potentiometer – Dial that rotates through resistances
  • Slider potentiometer – Slider that adjusts resistance
  • Rheostat – Adjustable resistor that can act as a variable resistor or fixed resistor

Potentiometers may have the resistor value and tolerance marked on them, but the resistance depends on the adjustment of the dial or slider. To determine the resistance, you need to measure it with a multimeter.

Specialized Resistors

There are many other specialized types of resistors beyond the standard cylindrical ones:

  • Surface Mount Resistors – Tiny rectangular resistors for circuit boards
  • Chip Resistors – Tiny rectangular blocks
  • Wirewound Resistors – Coils of wire act as the resistor
  • Foil Resistors – Resistive metallic foil
  • Power Resistors – Large resistors to handle high power

These types of resistors may have unstandardized color coding or none at all. Again, a multimeter would be needed to measure the resistance.


The resistor color code is a simple and efficient way to identify the value of resistors without measuring them. Using the color bands, you can quickly determine the resistance and tolerance to understand the performance of a resistor. With a basic knowledge of the color code, you can easily read 4-band and 5-band through-hole resistors by matching the colors to the standard values. For variable, specialty, or surface mount resistors, you may need additional details from markings or to take multimeter readings. Whether you are a hobbyist, electrician, or engineer, familiarity with the resistor color code is essential for working with this common electrical component.