RTD vs. Thermocouple

What's the Difference?

RTD (Resistance Temperature Detector) and Thermocouple are both types of temperature sensors used in various industries. However, they differ in terms of their working principles and characteristics. RTDs are based on the principle that the electrical resistance of a metal changes with temperature. They provide accurate and stable temperature measurements, making them suitable for precise applications. On the other hand, thermocouples generate a voltage proportional to the temperature difference between two junctions made of different metals. They are known for their wide temperature range, fast response time, and durability. While RTDs offer higher accuracy, thermocouples are more versatile and can withstand harsh environments. Ultimately, the choice between the two depends on the specific requirements of the application.


Measurement PrincipleResistance change with temperatureVoltage change with temperature
Temperature Range-200°C to 850°C-200°C to 2300°C
AccuracyHighMedium to High
Response TimeSlowFast

Further Detail


Temperature measurement is a critical aspect in various industries, including manufacturing, energy, and research. Two commonly used temperature sensors are Resistance Temperature Detectors (RTDs) and Thermocouples. While both sensors serve the same purpose of measuring temperature, they differ in terms of construction, accuracy, temperature range, and response time. In this article, we will explore the attributes of RTDs and Thermocouples, highlighting their strengths and limitations.


RTDs are made of a pure metal element, typically platinum, wound around a ceramic or glass core. The metal element's resistance changes linearly with temperature, allowing for precise temperature measurements. On the other hand, Thermocouples consist of two different metal wires joined at one end, forming a junction. This junction generates a voltage proportional to the temperature difference between the junction and the other end of the wires. The materials used in Thermocouples vary depending on the desired temperature range.


When it comes to accuracy, RTDs have the advantage. They offer higher accuracy and repeatability compared to Thermocouples. RTDs can achieve accuracies within 0.1°C, making them suitable for applications that require precise temperature control. Thermocouples, on the other hand, have lower accuracy, typically within 1-2°C. However, it's important to note that both sensors can be calibrated to improve their accuracy.

Temperature Range

Thermocouples have a wider temperature range compared to RTDs. They can measure temperatures ranging from -200°C to 2300°C, depending on the type of Thermocouple used. This wide temperature range makes Thermocouples suitable for high-temperature applications such as furnaces and gas turbines. RTDs, on the other hand, have a more limited temperature range, typically from -200°C to 600°C. Beyond this range, the resistance change in RTDs becomes non-linear, affecting the accuracy of temperature measurements.

Response Time

When it comes to response time, Thermocouples have the advantage. Due to their small size and low thermal mass, Thermocouples respond quickly to temperature changes. They can provide real-time temperature readings, making them suitable for applications that require fast response times. RTDs, on the other hand, have a slower response time due to their larger size and higher thermal mass. They are better suited for applications where a slower response time is acceptable.

Stability and Longevity

RTDs offer better long-term stability compared to Thermocouples. The resistance of RTDs remains relatively stable over time, ensuring consistent and accurate temperature measurements. Thermocouples, on the other hand, are prone to drift and require periodic calibration to maintain accuracy. Additionally, RTDs have a longer lifespan compared to Thermocouples. With proper care and maintenance, RTDs can last for many years, while Thermocouples may need more frequent replacement due to wear and tear.


Cost is an important factor to consider when choosing between RTDs and Thermocouples. Generally, Thermocouples are more cost-effective compared to RTDs. Thermocouples are relatively inexpensive to manufacture and replace, making them a popular choice for applications where cost is a significant consideration. RTDs, on the other hand, are more expensive due to the higher cost of platinum and the precision manufacturing required. However, it's important to weigh the cost against the required accuracy and temperature range for the specific application.

Environmental Considerations

Both RTDs and Thermocouples have different environmental considerations. RTDs are more sensitive to vibration and mechanical stress due to their fragile construction. They are also susceptible to contamination from corrosive substances, which can affect their accuracy. Thermocouples, on the other hand, are more robust and can withstand harsh environments, including high vibration and mechanical stress. They are also less affected by contamination, making them suitable for applications in challenging industrial environments.


In conclusion, RTDs and Thermocouples are both valuable temperature sensors with their own unique attributes. RTDs offer higher accuracy, better stability, and longevity, making them suitable for applications that require precise temperature control. Thermocouples, on the other hand, have a wider temperature range, faster response time, and are more cost-effective, making them ideal for high-temperature applications and situations where real-time temperature readings are crucial. When selecting between RTDs and Thermocouples, it's essential to consider the specific requirements of the application, including temperature range, accuracy, response time, and environmental conditions, to make an informed decision.

Comparisons may contain inaccurate information about people, places, or facts. Please report any issues.