Learning, Multimeter,

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. Often, the most common question with these devices is what the probe types are and why/how they are 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 device when testing electrical or electronic equipment. Multimeter lead combines 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, the red and black wires 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; the final part of the lead 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 connecting to plugs or attachments. They are an excellent choice for conducting long-term tests where you must hold the test probes in place as you work on the circuit.     

alligator clip probes in a man's palm

This clip-on-style probe is the best if the current application demands a hands-free approach. 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 work on smaller integrated circuits, hook probes are an intelligent choice. Their greatest advantage is permitting 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 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 to apply directly to the tester’s body, use classic probes – the stem probe with tip. Classic probes are excellent for attaching to multimeters, 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. You’ll have difficulty getting your measurements right if you get it all wrong. 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 – Target a special connection to the probes when operating with low voltage. Your top priority is a sharp point on the tip and a tip capable of delivering a good connection. You may consider going for gold coating, as it will be useful.
  • 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 a multimeter probe with minimal resistance – a thick, short cable. To achieve low resistance, many people choose a DIY approach in this case. If your probe wires have high resistance, they are made using fairly thin wire.

2. The Material Used

The materials that your test lead probes are made of also play an essential role in the functionality of your digital multimeter. Test lead probes 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. Most of what’s available in the market is designed to meet particular application criteria. You’ll find that they differ in price. Some are expensive, but you needn’t compromise safety and accuracy to save money. 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.

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.


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About Sam Orlovsky

AvatarCertifications: B.E.E.
Education: University Of Denver - Electric Engineering
Lives In: Denver Colorado

Electrical engineering is my passion, and I’ve been in the industry for over 20 years. This gives me a unique ability to give you expert home improvement and DIY recommendations. I’m not only an electrician, but I also like machinery and anything to do with carpentry. One of my career paths started as a general handyman, so I also have a lot of experience with home improvement I love to share.

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