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Tutorial: Arduino and the DS touch screen

Use inexpensive touch-screens with Arduino in chapter twenty-three of a series originally titled “Getting Started/Moving Forward with Arduino!” by John Boxall – A tutorial on the Arduino universe.  The first chapter is here, the complete series is detailed here.

[Updated 19/01/2013]

Today we are going to spend some time with a touch screen very similar to the ones found in a Nintendo DS gaming unit. In doing so, we can take advantage of a more interesting and somewhat futuristic way of gathering user input. Please note that in order to use the screen without going completely insane, you will need the matching breakout board, as shown in the following image:


The flimsy flexible PCB runner is inserted into the plastic socket on the breakout board – be careful not to crease the PCB nor damage it as it can be rather easy to do so. (The screen can be easy to break as well…) However don’t let that put you off. You will most likely want to solder in some header pins for breadboard use, or sockets to insert wires. For this article it is being used with pins for a breadboard.

Before we start to use the screen, let’s have a quick investigation into how they actually work. Instead of me trying to paraphrase something else, there is a very good explanation in the manufacturer’s data sheet. So please read the data sheet then return. Theoretically we can consider the X and Y axes to be two potentiometers (variable resistors) that can be read with the analogRead() function. So all we need to do is use two analog inputs, one to read the X-axis value and one for the Y-axis value.

However, as always, life isn’t that simple. Although there are only four wires to the screen, the wires’ purpose alters depending on whether we are measuring the X- or Y-axis. Which sounds complex but is not. Using the following example, we can see how it all works.

Example 23.1

In this example, we will read the X- and Y-axis values returned from the touch screen and display them on an LCD module. (Or you could easily send the values to the serial monitor window instead). From a hardware perspective, you will need:

  • Arduino Uno or 100% compatible board
  • DS touch screen and breakout board ready for use
  • Solderless breadboard and some jumper wires
  • Arduino-ready LCD setup. If you are unsure about using LCDs, please revisit chapter 24 of my tutorials.

Connection of the touch screen to the Arduino board is simple, Arduino analog (yes, analog – more on this later) pins A0 to Y1, A1 to X2, A2 to Y2 and A3 to X1 – as below:


Mounting the rest for demonstration purposes is also a simple job. Hopefully by now you have a test LCD module for easy mounting 🙂


I have mounted  the touch screen onto the breadboard with some spare header pins, they hold it in nicely for testing purposes. Also notice that the touch screen has been flipped over, the sensitive side is now facing up. Furthermore, don’t forget to remove the protective plastic coating from the screen before use.

From a software (sketch) perspective we have to do three things – read the X-axis value, the Y-axis value, then display them on the LCD. As we (should) know from the data sheet, to read the X-axis value, we need to set X1 as 5V, X2 as 0V (that is, GND) and read the value from Y2. As described above, we use the analog pins to do this. (You can use analog pins as input/output lines in a similar method to digital pins – more information here. Pin numbering continues from 13, so analog 0 is considered to be pin 14, and so on). In our sketch (below) we have created a function to do this and then return the X-axis value.

The Y-axis reading is generated in the same method, and is quite self-explanatory. The delay in each function is necessary to allow time for the analog I/O pins to adjust to their new roles as inputs or outputs or analog to digital converters. Here is our sketch:

Next, let’s have a look at this example in action. The numbers on the LCD may be not what you expected…

The accuracy of the screen is not all that great – however first take into account the price of the hardware before being too critical. Note that there are values returned even when the screen is not being pressed, we could perhaps call these “idle values”. Later on you will learn tell your sketch to ignore these values if waiting for user input, as they will note that nothing has been pressed. Furthermore, the extremities of the screen will return odd values, so remember to take this into account when designing bezels or mounting hardware for your screen.

Each touch screen will have different values for each X and Y position, and that is why most consumer hardware with touch screens has calibration functions to improve accuracy. We can now use the X and Y values in sketches to determine which part of the screen is being touched, and act on that touch.

In order to program our sketches to understand which part of the screen is being touched, it will help to create a “map” of the possible values available. You can determine the values using the sketch from example 23.1, then use the returned values as a reference for designing the layout of your touch interface. For example, the following is a map of my touch screen:


Example 23.2

For the next example, I would like to have four “zones” on my touch screen, to use as virtual buttons for various things. The first thing to do is draw a numerical “map” of my touch screen, in order to know the minimum and maximum values for both axes for each zone on the screen:


At this point in the article I must admit to breaking the screen. Upon receiving the new one I remeasured the X and Y points for this example and followed the  process for defining the numerical boundaries for each zone is completed by finding average mid-points along the axes and allowing some tolerance for zone boundaries.

Now that the values are known, it is a simple matter of using mathematical comparison and Boolean operators (such as >, <, &&, etc)  in a sketch to determine which zone a touch falls into, and to act accordingly. So for this example, we will monitor the screen and display on the LCD screen which area has been pressed. The hardware is identical to example 23.1, and our touch screen map will be the one above. So now we just have to create the sketch.

After reading the values of the touch screen and storing them into variables x and y, a long if…then…else if loop occurs to determine the location of the touch. Upon determining the zone, the sketch calls a function to display the zone type on the LCD. Or if the screen is returning the idle values, the display is cleared. So have a look for yourself with the example sketch:

And see it in operation:

So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it. Now you should have the ability to use a touch screen in many situations – you just need to decide how to work with the resulting values from the screen and go from there.


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Posted in arduino, BOB-09170, education, hardware hacking, LCD-08977, lesson, microcontrollers, nintendo ds, touch screen, tutorialComments (14)

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