The display usually has four digits and the ability to display a negative sign. A few multimeters have illuminated displays for better viewing in low light situations.
The selection knob allows the user to set the multimeter to read different things such as milliamps (mA) of current, voltage (V) and resistance (Ω).
Two probes are plugged into two of the ports on the front of the unit. COM stands for common and is almost always connected to Ground or ‘-’ of a circuit. The COM probe is conventionally black but there is no difference between the red probe and black probe other than color. 10A is the special port used when measuring large currents (greater than 200mA). mAVΩ is the port that the red probe is conventionally plugged in to. This port allows the measurement of current (up to 200mA), voltage (V), and resistance (Ω). The probes have a banana type connector on the end that plugs into the multimeter. Any probe with a banana plug will work with this meter. This allows for different types of probes to be used.
If you're measuring DC voltage (such as a battery or a sensor hooked up to an Arduino) you want to set the knob where the V has a straight line. AC voltage (like what comes out of the wall) can be dangerous, so we rarely need to use the AC voltage setting (the V with a wavy line next to it). If you're messing with AC, we recommend you get a non-contact tester rather than use a digital multimeter.
What happens if you switch the red and black probes? The reading on the multimeter is simply negative. Nothing bad happens! The multimeter measures voltage in relation to the common probe. How much voltage is there on the ‘+’ of the battery compared to common or the negative pin? 1.5V. If we switch the probes, we define ‘+’ as the common or zero points. How much voltage is there on the ‘-’ of the battery compared to our new zero? -1.5V!
Now let's construct a simple circuit to demonstrate how to measure voltage in a real-world scenario. The circuit is simply a 1kΩ and a Blue super bright LED powered with a SparkFun Breadboard Power Supply Stick. To begin, let's make sure the circuit you are working on is powered up correctly. If your project should be at 5V but is less than 4.5V or greater than 5.5V, this would quickly give you an indication that something is wrong and you may need to check your power connections or the wiring of your circuit.
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