Interactive Signage: Four Main Touchscreen Types


Today, almost everyone is pretty comfortable using touchscreen technology. Consumer life is shaped by screens and Interactivity, from using the office computer and watching TV at home, to using the cell phone and tablet for online shopping and entertainment. Consumers also encounter it almost daily at gas stations, restaurants, retail stores, ATMs, airports, checkout lines, hotels, etc. Retailers are now incorporating Interactivity into their digital signage and are using it for many benefits.

Just what is a touchscreen? It is a replacement for a mouse, and a person uses their finger to make the selection directly on the screen. Interactive signage engages shoppers one-on-one, and gives them a fast way to get information. Customers can use touchscreens to compare products, select colors or product options, apply for credit or to make transactions. You can use touchscreens for just about any application today.

Interactive Signage: Four Main Touchscreen TypesTouchscreens can also be a tool to free up live salespeople from answering repeated questions. By prepping buyers, interactive screens can speed purchases. They also deliver a unique customer experience. Interactive displays allow you to move beyond the basic looping screens and engage your customers through interactive menus, allowing them to control what information is important to them.

Many touchscreens are enclosed in stand-alone kiosks. Some use touchscreen desktop displays, tablets, and all-in-one computers that could easily be places on a sales counter or on a department’s table. Touchscreens can range from 5 inches up to 90 inches. A big benefit in using touchscreens for digital signage is that they engage shoppers and give them a fast way to get straightforward and consistent information.

There are more than a dozen different types of touchscreen technologies on the market today. Don’t worry , it is not necessary for you to understand all the types. Just be aware that they exist. I only focus on the more common interactive technologies used for retail applications. This piece of writing is meant to give you an overview of this technology and how it applies to the retail industry.

Some CMS programs incorporate interactive-programming tools to create content for touchscreens. But, if you haven’t had experience in interactivity previously, you should seek out a professional. The main goal with interaction is to design an easy-to-use user interface (UI). The customer standing in front of an interactive display has limited time. The UI should be designed to be used without any learning curve. A complex UI could actually frustrate the user and result in a negative experience.

The four most common touchscreen technologies used with digital signage are:

  • Resistive
  • Capacitive
  • Surface acoustic wave, and
  • Optical


Resistive touchscreens are currently the most popular technology, and work a bit like a “transparent keyboard” overlaid on top of the screen. There’s a flexible upper layer of conducting polyester plastic bonded to a rigid lower layer of conducting glass, separated by an insulating membrane. When you press on the screen, you force the polyester to touch the glass and complete the circuit—just like pressing the key on a keyboard. A chip inside the screen figures out the coordinates of the place you touched.


These screens are made from multiple layers of glass. The inner layer conducts electricity, and so does the outer layer, so the screen effectively behaves like two electrical conductors separated by an insulator—in other words, a capacitor. When you bring your finger up to the screen, you alter the electrical field by a certain amount, which varies according to where your finger is.

Capacitive screens can be touched in more than one place at once. These screens don’t work if you touch them with a plastic stylus. Some of the advantages in using capacitive screens are their high-touch resolution, high image clarity, and their resilience to dirt, grease or moisture.

Surface Acoustic Wave

Surface acoustic wave (SAW) is based on sending acoustic waves across a clear glass panel with a series of transducers and reflectors. When a finger touches the screen, the waves are absorbed, causing a touch event to be detected at that point.

Because it is all glass, there are no layers that can be worn, offering the highest durability factor as well as the highest clarity. This technology is recommended for public-information kiosks or other high-traffic indoor environments.


Optical touchscreen technology uses two-line scanning cameras located at the corners of the screen. The cameras track the movement of any object close to the surface by detecting the interruption of an infrared light source. The light is emitted in a plane across the surface of the screen and can be either active (infrared LED) or passive (special reflective surfaces).

This technology is growing in popularity due to its scalability, versatility and affordability, especially for larger units. Some of the advantages are that is can be used with a finger, gloved hand or stylus, and that it produces 100 percent light transmission, not an overlay in front of the display screen. 

Keep an eye out for the next installment in which we’ll discuss more options including the various kinds of user-touch types.

About Author

David Bawarsky, DSCE, is the author of Digital Signage Made Simple for Retailers. He has more than 35 years of experience in helping thousands of companies use technology to effectively communicate their unique marketing messages. He is currently the CEO of mySignageNow, a leading provider of digital signage solutions. He has been a technology entrepreneur throughout his career, creating and managing successful media companies. His companies have won many awards, including an “OBIE” (outdoor advertising’s Oscar) and has been featured in more than 1,900 newspapers, magazines and TV shows worldwide, including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, CNN, BBC, NBC’s “Today Show,” and ABC’s “World News Tonight.” For more information, visit

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