Though it might look like it at first, multimeter symbols aren’t hieroglyphics.
In fact, they’re pretty simple to understand once you master the basics of reading them. Multimeters are an affordable way to make sure you’re getting the most exact measurements possible.
In this post, we’re going to give you a quick rundown of how to read multimeter symbols, so you can measure and master your next project with ease!
What Is A Multimeter?
Current is measured in amps, resistance is measured in ohms, and voltage is measured in volts.
There are two main types of multimeters: analog meters and digital meters. Though analog meters use a needle to render measurements, today most people use digital multimeters.
Digital multimeters are usually more accurate and offer more consistent readings.
These days, multimeters are used for lots of different purposes. Some hackers have even found ways to turn them into clocks!
Before we get into more detail about how to read multimeter symbols, first we want to make sure you know the four main parts of the multimeter itself. They are:
1) The Display: This is the screen where your measurements will be displayed
2) Buttons: Depending on the type of multimeter you choose, you’ll have different options and positionings.
3) Dial/Rotary Switch: This is where you choose what unit of measurement you need.
4) Input Jacks/Ports: These are the places that you put your test leads inside. Test leads are insulated wires that conduct the multimeter to the object you’re testing and measuring.
Finally, remember that counts and digits tell you the resolution of your multimeter.
OK, So How Can I Read My Multimeter Symbols?
Note: On some multimeter models, you’ll notice that there are additional, yellow symbols around your rotary switch/dial. If you need to access and read these, make sure you press the Shift Button. This is just like you would on a computer keyboard.
Without further ado, let’s break down and decode the most important multimeter symbols!
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Button 1: The Hold Button. Usually located in the top left-hand corner of multimeters, this button locks your meter reading/measurement into place after you’ve taken it.
This is especially helpful if you’re doing a project that requires you to keep an exact measurement at your fingertips. It’s also a great feature if, during a testing of the probes, you can’t read your multimeter in full.
Button 2: AC Voltage. This multimeter symbol is identified as a capital “V” with a wavy line above it, that looks a bit like an accent mark in the Spanish language.
Likely, this will be the setting you use to take electronic measurements most often. It measures the voltage of your objects, no matter the setting or object that you’re working in and with.
Usually, you should expect to see readings between about 100-240 Volts.
Button 3: Shift:Herz. This is usually the shifted reading above the AC Voltage option, marked “Hz.” This multimeter symbol will tell you your circuit’s or equipment’s frequency.
Since most will operate at either a variable or fixed frequency, you need to make sure you know which one you’ll be working with before starting your measurement.
Button 4: DC Voltage. This button is also a lone capital “V,” and it has three hyphens (- – -) above it, then a single straight line on top of that. It kind of looks like a V with a road drawing on top of it!
This is the setting you’ll use when you’re measuring smaller circuits, batteries, and even indicator lights!
If you get a measurement that’s above 30 Volts, it’s usually not a good sign.
Button 5: Continuity. This button looks like a bunch of closed-end parenthesis in a row, like the symbol that indicates sound.
Maybe that’s because it actually puts out a sounds itself! When two points have continuity, you’ll get a beeping noise. It’s an easy and awesome way to see if you have any open or short circuits.
Button 6: Direct Current. This button has the same features as your Alternating Current button (we’ll get to that in a minute) but measures Direct Current instead. It looks like an “A” with the “road” on top of it. Three hyphens ( – – -) with a single line on top of them.
Button 7: Current Jack. OK, so this isn’t technically a multimeter symbol. But, it’s still crucial that you know what it does. This is a red jack with an “A” above it. This should only be used to measure currents with clamp attachments, or with a red lead.
Button 8: Common Jack. This is the black jack with “COM” above it, usually located in the center between two black jacks. It is compatible with all measurements, but should only be used with black test leads.
Button 9: Range Button. This button will usually be found across the top of your multimeter, and has a “Lo/Hi” symbol above it. This will help you “click through” different meter ranges.
While today, a great majority of multimeters have auto-ranging, you can also choose a specific range on some models – like switching from Ohms to mega-Ohms.
Button 10: Brightness Indicator. Just like on an iPhone, this is the button that can let you darken or lighten your screen, making it easier to read if you’re taking measurements outdoors.
It’s recognized by – you guessed it! – a small drawing of the sun.
Button 11: AC Millivolts. Now, we’re back to serious multimeter symbols. This one is an “mV” with a squiggly line on top of the V. It is used to test smaller circuits using the AC Voltage setting that are especially low.
Switching to Millivolts will help you to get a better, more accurate reading.
Button 12: Shift DC Millivolts. This is usually right next to the AC Millivolts button. It is another “road” symbol – three hyphens with a straight line over them. It has the exact same function as AC Millivolts, but uses DC Voltage.
Button 13: Ohms. No, you’re not chanting this is a yoga mantra. At least, not when you’re reading multimeter symbols. This looks like an Omega letter, and it helps you to get the most accurate resistance reading possible.
Even better? This button can also help you to figure out whether or not a fuse has blown. If your meter displays “OL,” then the fuse blew out, and you can get rid of it.
As a note, make sure you’ve taken fuses out of the circuit when you’re using the ohms setting on your multimeter. Whether you’re working on your own or with a team, about 143 electricians die every year from electrocution. Better safe than sorry!
Button 14: Diode Test. This has an arrow pointing to the right, with a plus sign right next to it. As you might have guessed, this tells you if you’re dealing with good or bad diodes.
Though some people use the ohm setting to test them, this is more accurate.
Button 15: Shift Capacitance. This is usually the shift option on your Diode Test button and looks like two “T” letters facing each other. This measures your capacitance.
Button 16: Alternating Current. This button is a capital “A” with a squiggly line above it (again, think about accent marks in Spanish.)
Though you’ll usually need a clamp attachment to perform functions associated with this option, it’s a great way to make sure you know the amount of load an object is using.
Button 17: Red Jack. This is the other red jack, usually on the right-hand side of your multimeter. It will have a variety of symbols of measurement above it. There’s a reason for this!
That’s because your red jack measures pretty much everything except for current. That means it can help read temperature, duty cycle, frequency, resistance, and voltage, among others.
We know understanding multimeter symbols can feel like a chore at times, but thanks to this handy guide, hopefully you’ve realized the process isn’t as stressful as you once imagined it was!
Figuring Out Multimeter Symbols Isn’t Rocket Science
Now that you’re an expert on how to figure out these symbols, you’re probably ready to buy a tool of your own.
For reviews on some of the best multimeters out there, check out our website, and feel free to contact us with any questions. We also review a variety of other tools for your convenience.
Don’t make a mistake when it comes to your next home improvement project, and stop losing time making returns on poor-quality projects. Visit and read through our website to make sure you make the right choice of tool the first time around!