Capacitor Types

- each of the different types of capacitors has its own performance parameters and can be used in differnet applications. Check out our list to see the best capacitor type for a given application.

Electronic capacitors are one of the most widely used forms of electronics components. However there are many different types of capacitor including electrolytic, ceramic, tantalum, plastic, sliver mica, and many more. Each capacitor type has its own advantages and disadvantages can be used in different applications.

The choice of the correct capacitor type is of great importance because it can have a major impact on any circuit. The differences between the different types of capacitor can mean that the circuit may not work correctly if the correct type of capacitor is not used.

Accordingly a summary of the different types of capacitor is given below, and further descriptions of a variety of capacitor types can be reached through the related articles menu on the left hand side of the page below the main menu.

Capacitor basics

There are many different types of capacitor, but they all conform to the same basic physical laws. These determine the basic way the capacitor operates, its value, i.e. the amount of charge it will hold and hence its capacitance.

In order to understand some of the reasons why various forms of capacitor are used, it is necessary to look at the basic theory behind capacitance.

Note on Capacitance:

All capacitors conform to the same basic laws. Regardless of the dielectrics and many other new developments made, the same laws apply.

Click on the link for further information about Capacitance

Capacitor types & dielectrics

Although all capacitors work in essentially the same way, key differences in the construction of different capacitor types makes an enormous difference in their properties.

A selection of a variety of different types of capacitor showing the different sizes and styles.

The main element of the capacitor that gives rise to the different properties of the different types of capacitor is the dielectric - the material between the two plates. Its dielectric constant will alter the level of capacitance that can be achieved within a certain volume.

Some types of capacitor may be polarised, i.e. they only tolerate voltages across them in one direction. Other capacitor types are non-polarised and can have voltages of either polarity across them.

Typically the different types of capacitor are named after the type of dielectric they contain. This gives a good indication of the general properties they will exhibit and for what circuit functions they can be used.

Overview of different capacitor types

There are many different types of capacitor that can be used - most of the major types are outlined below:

  • Ceramic capacitor:   The ceramic capacitor is a type of capacitor that is used in many applications from audio to RF. Values range from a few picofarads to around 0.1 microfarads. Ceramic capacitor types are by far the most commonly used type of capacitor being cheap and reliable and their loss factor is particularly low although this is dependent on the exact dielectric in use. In view of their constructional properties, these capacitors are widely used both in leaded and surface mount formats Read more about the ceramic capacitor
  • Electrolytic capacitor:   Electrolytic capacitors are a type of capacitor that is polarised. They are able to offer high capacitance values - typically above 1μF, and are most widely used for low frequency applications - power supplies, decoupling and audio coupling applications as they have a frequency limit if around 100 kHz. Read more about the electrolytic capacitor
  • Tantalum capacitor:   Like electrolytic capacitors, tantalum capacitors are also polarised and offer a very high capacitance level for their volume. However this type of capacitor is very intolerant of being reverse biased, often exploding when placed under stress. This type of capacitor must also not be subject to high ripple currents or voltages above their working voltage. They are available in both leaded and surface mount formats. Read more about the tantalum capacitor
  • Silver Mica Capacitor:   Silver mica capacitors are not as widely used these days, but they still offer very high levels of stability, low loss and accuracy where space is not an issue. They are primarily used for RF applications and and they are limited to maximum values of 1000 pF or so. Read more about the silver mica capacitor
  • Polystyrene Film Capacitor:   Polystyrene capacitors are a relatively cheap form of capacitor but offer a close tolerance capacitor where needed. They are tubular in shape resulting from the fact that the plate / dielectric sandwich is rolled together, but this adds inductance limiting their frequency response to a few hundred kHz. They are generally only available as leaded electronics components.
  • Polyester Film Capacitor:   Polyester film capacitors are used where cost is a consideration as they do not offer a high tolerance. Many polyester film capacitors have a tolerance of 5% or 10%, which is adequate for many applications. They are generally only available as leaded electronics components. Read more about the polyester capacitor
  • Metallised Polyester Film Capacitor:   This type of capacitor is a essentially a form of polyester film capacitor where the polyester films themselves are metallised. The advantage of using this process is that because their electrodes are thin, the overall capacitor can be contained within a relatively small package. The metallised polyester film capacitors are generally only available as leaded electronics components.
  • Polycarbonate capacitor:   The polycarbonate capacitors has been used in applications where reliability and performance are critical. The polycarbonate film is very stable and enables high tolerance capacitors to be made which will hold their capacitance value over time. In addition they have a low dissipation factor, and they remain stable over a wide temperature range, many being specified from -55°C to +125°C. However the manufacture of polycarbonate dielectric has ceased and their production is now very limited. Read more about the polycarbonate capacitor
  • Polypropylene Capacitor:   The polypropylene capacitor is sometimes used when a higher tolerance type of capacitor is necessary than polyester capacitors offer. As the name implies, this capacitor uses a polypropylene film for the dielectric. One of the advantages of the capacitor is that there is very little change of capacitance with time and voltage applied. This type of capacitor is also used for low frequencies, with 100 kHz or so being the upper limit. They are generally only available as leaded electronics components. Read more about the polypropylene capacitor
  • Glass capacitors:   As the name implies, this capacitor type uses glass as the dielectric. Although expensive, these capacitors offer very high levels or performance in terms of extremely low loss, high RF current capability, no piezo-electric noise and other features making them ideal for many performance RF applications. Read more about the glass dielectric capacitor
  • Supercap:   Also known as a supercapacitor or ultracapacitor, as the name implies these capacitors have very large values of capacitance, of up to several thousand Farads. They find uses for providing a memory hold-up supply and also within automotive applications. Read more about the supercapacitor.

These capacitors include some of the main capacitor types, although there are other types that are used for more specialist applications.

Many of these capacitors have their values and other details about them marked on the cases so that they can be easily identified. Codes are often used for these markings to enable the parameters to be dsiplayed in a compact manner. Read more about capacitor markings & codes.

By Ian Poole

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