# Voltage divider

21-03-2012 12:04

A voltage divider is a special circuit that is used to output a fraction of the input voltage. For example, if you have a 5V battery and you need a 3V voltage. The voltage divider is one of the simplest and common circuits used in electronics.

Below it is possible to use this simple tool to compute the output voltage or to compute the resistance values. In order to compute one of the values, click on the its label (e.g., R1, Vin, etc.) and insert the remaining values. Initially, the tool computes the value of the output voltage Vout.

This tool can also compute the output voltage, when this is connected to a load (i.e., the resistance RL): when the field RL is empty (as it is when the page is initially loaded), the voltage Vout is computed in open-circuit (i.e., as RL would be ∞).

R1: kΩ
R2: kΩ
RL: kΩ

Let's see how the voltage divider works. The input voltage is applied to the two resistances R1 and R2 in series, while the output voltage is the one that can be measured through the resistance R2 alone. Ohm's Law states that the current through a conductor between two points is directly proportional to the potential difference across the two points, and thus that:

Let's apply this formula to the circuit on the left, that is formed by Vin, R1 and R2:

and then to the circuit on the right:
Since the currents I1 and I2 represent the same current (that flowing through R2, that is the same that flows also through R1), we have:

The previous formula holds in the case of absence of the load RL. When this is present, it is easy to follow the same computation and obtain:

where R2||RL is:

Since the output voltage depends only on the ratio between R1 and R2, it is possible to use different values of resistance to obtain the same Vout (e.g., if R1 = R2, the value of Vout will always be one half of the input, whether R1 and R2 are 1 Ω, or they are 1 MΩ). For the great part of electronic uses, the sum of R1 and R2 should be always within 1 kΩ and 10 kΩ, as the SparkFun website advices (see the box to the right), because using lower values, the circuit would waste a lot of power (for the current flowing through R1 and R2), while using higher values, Vout could be unable to obtain enough current.