Multimeter Probe Types (Benefits, Pros, and Cons)

Digital multimeters are great when used as a testing tool to measure two or more electrical values, primarily current, voltage, and resistance. A lot of the time the most common question with these devices is what are the probe types and why/how are they used.

In this article, you will learn about one essential aspect of the multimeter – the test probes. Continue reading to learn everything you need to know about multimeter probe types.

What is a Multimeter Probe/Lead?

Multimeters have leads – an essential part of the device when testing electrical or electronic equipment. A Multimeter lead is a combination of plugs, wires, insulation, and probes.

The multimeter leads must be made of conducting material that permits current to pass through for the device to measure the various electrical values. Manufacturers use copper because it is a great conductor. The manufacturers cover the wires with insulation material to keep you safe from the current which are the red and black wires that you see.

Now that we know a probe is part of a multimeter lead, what exactly is it? What is its role?

It’s an integral part of the multimeter lead that touches wires, components, and various parts of a circuit, it is the final part of the lead that is metal. There are many types of multimeter probes in the market for different applications – and that’s our primary focus.

Types of Multimeter Probes

There are many multimeter probe types in the market. Below are some of them;

1. Alligator Clip Probes

Alligator clip probes are synonymous with large cables for connecting to plugs or attachments. They are an excellent choice for conducting long-term tests where you need to hold the test probes in place as you work on the circuit.     

alligator clip probes in a man's palm

If the current application demands a hands-free approach, this clip-on style probe is the best. They are referred to as alligator clips because the clip looks like the mouth of an alligator with rows of ‘teeth’ intended to prevent the probes from disconnecting when carrying out tests.

2. Hook Probes 

If you are working on smaller integrated circuits, hook probes are an intelligent choice. Their greatest advantage is that they permit a hands-free connection of test equipment to IC pins and other electronic components.

hook probes in a man's palm

3. Tweezer Probes 

Are you testing a small component? If yes, consider using tweezer probes. If you’ve been using multimeters, you must have realized that testing surface-mount components with the regular multimeter test leads isn’t easy. People handle things differently. For instance, some people look for someone to hold the probes for them as they test components. Others utilize some chopstick-like method.       

man holding a multimeter tweezer probes 

However, the best approach by far is to use tweezer probes. The shrouded banana connectors touch your instrument, allowing you to test small components easily using one hand. You’ll love the big plastic tweezers because they are easy to grip, besides bearing polarity labels. So, if you mostly perform surface-mount tests, tweezer probes are a must-have!

4. Classic Probes 

When you need probes that you can apply directly to the tester’s body, you should go for classic probes – the stem probe with tip. Classic probes are excellent for attaching to multimeters and function generators, power supplies, and oscilloscopes. They make an excellent replacement for any multimeter probes you’ve been using but are worn out or damaged. Other than that, they are perfect for testing your SMD components. The cables come in red/black colors and caps for protecting the needle tip leads.

multimeter's classic probes

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Multimeter Probe

You can only make the most out of your multimeter if you choose a suitable multimeter probe for the task at hand. If you get it all wrong, you’ll have difficulty getting your measurements right. Getting readings using a digital multimeter shouldn’t be a grueling task seeing that a multimeter is one of the easiest-to-use test devices. So, make your work easy by choosing the most suitable multimeter probe.

How Do You Get it Right?

1. The Task at Hand

The first step is ensuring that you know what your task entails. How do you intend to use the probes?

  • Low voltage tasks – When operating with low voltage, targetting a special connection to the probes. Your top priority is a sharp point on the tip and a tip capable of delivering a good connection. You may want to consider going for gold coating as it will come in handy.
  • Higher voltage – When working with higher voltage measurements, you’ll barely experience connection problems. However, isolation next to the probe tip is something worth considering.
  • Current – When measuring current, you’ll want to ensure that you have a multimeter probe with minimal resistance – which means a thick short cable. To achieve low resistance, many people choose a DIY approach in this case. If your probe wires have high resistance, it’s made using fairly thin wire. (1)

2. The Material Used

The materials that your test leads probes are made of also play an essential role in the functionality of your digital multimeter. Test lead probes made from low-quality material will negatively interfere with the multimeter readings. For instance, if a given probe set was made using dissimilar metals, they will undoubtedly, generate hard-to-trace errors when measuring low voltage or low resistance. When different metals connect, they act as a thermocouple. They develop their voltage which means messy readings on your end.

The good news is that the market doesn’t have a shortage of test lead probes. The majority of what’s available in the market is specially designed to meet the criteria of particular applications. You’ll find that they differ in price. Some are pretty expensive, but you needn’t compromise safety and accuracy so you can save money. If you want to get the best readings safely, resist the urge to look at the price.

Nevertheless, you can still get beautiful probe choices at good bargains. Just don’t rush your shopping process. Take your time. (2)

3. Need for Additional Insulation

Does your present application require additional insulation? Some probes have extra insulation in case the application needs it. You’ll be aware of any existing accessories, such as optional test probes. It will go a long way in ensuring compatibility. In any case, the best multimeter probe is the one that fits your multimeter. While many input plugs are interchangeable, it’s advisable to research before buying to avoid wasted investment on a multimeter probe that won’t serve the intended purpose.

Wrapping Up

The marketplace is full of multimeter test probes for varying uses. If you cannot use the standard multimeter probe that came with your digital multimeter, you can always source a suitable one. Of the utmost importance is to understand the nature of the application (and everything associated with it, including the level of voltage and resistance involved). Also, pay close attention to your safety and the importance of obtaining accurate readings.

Take a look at some of our related articles below.

(1) DIY approach –
(2) bargains –

About Sam Orlovsky

b1d87d2ee85af3e51479df87928bdc88?s=90&d=mm&r=gI realized early on carpentry was a huge passion for me and I’ve stayed in the industry for over 20 years now. This gives me a unique ability to really be able to tell you what the best tools and recommendations are. I’m not only a carpenter but I also like machinery and anything to do with electrics. One of my career paths starting off was as an apprentice electrician so I also have a lot of experience with electrical products and anything related.