Digital Multimeter Directions

Updated July 13, 2018

Electronics manufacturers pack many features into handheld digital multimeters. With more sophisticated digital electronics, many multimeters now have functions including transistor testing, capacitor measuring and frequency counting. These improvements also simplify basic tasks such as measuring resistance, direct current (DC) and alternating current (AC) voltage, since the meter determines finds and range automatically. To get a basic feel for a digital multimeter, measure a few simple electronic parts.

Switch on the multimeter by turning its function knob to the capacitance setting. Plug the black probe wire into the meter socket labelled "common" or coloured black. Plug the red probe wire into the appropriate socket for capacitance.

Grip the 200-microfarad capacitor's negative lead with two fingers and hold the black probe's metal tip to the lead. Touch the red probe to the capacitor's other lead, but do not touch the red probe tip or positive capacitor lead with your fingers -- it will give you an erroneous measurement. Read the measured value on the multimeter's display.

Measure the .1-microfarad, 50-volt capacitor. This capacitor is unpolarized so it doesn't matter how you connect the leads. Grip one lead with two fingers and hold a meter probe to it. Touch the other meter probe to the other lead. The meter will automatically find the lower range for this component and show the measured value on the display.

Turn the meter's function knob so it measures resistance in ohms. If necessary, move the red probe connector to the meter's resistance socket. Holding the resistor's leads as you held the capacitor's, measure the 1-megohm resistor.

Insert the leads of the 1K-ohm resistor into the breadboard so they end up in different vertical columns. Set the black battery clip wire so it connects to the left resistor lead. Connect the red battery clip wire to the right resistor lead. Put a 9-volt battery into the clip.

Switch the meter's function knob to measure DC volts. Touch each probe tip to a lead on the 1K-ohm resistor. The meter should indicate about 9 volts.

Disconnect one resistor lead and one battery clip wire from the breadboard. Rotate the function knob to measure DC current. If necessary, plug the red probe connector into the meter socket for milliamps. Hold the battery clip wire against one meter probe and touch the other probe to the unconnected resistor lead. The meter should display a measurement of about 10 milliamps of current.


It's common to blow a meter fuse, especially if you're measuring current or resistance. Fix the meter by unscrewing the back cover and replacing the fuse. Find alligator clips that slip on the meter's probe tips. They can make measuring more convenient, since you don't have to hold the probe to the device you're measuring -- just clip it on.


Note any warnings specified in the meter's manual. For example, every meter has a current and voltage limit you should not exceed. When you measure voltages over 50 volts, hold the probes by the plastic body and avoid touching the metal tips to reduce the shock hazard.

Things You'll Need

  • Digital multimeter manual
  • 200-microfarad 35-volt capacitor
  • .1-microfarad 50-volt capacitor
  • 1-megohm 1/4-watt resistor
  • Solderless breadboard
  • 1K-ohm 1/4-watt resistor
  • 9-volt battery clip
  • 9-volt battery
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About the Author

Chicago native John Papiewski has a physics degree and has been writing since 1991. He has contributed to "Foresight Update," a nanotechnology newsletter from the Foresight Institute. He also contributed to the book, "Nanotechnology: Molecular Speculations on Global Abundance."