When you hear the word “conductor” your immediate thought might be a musical conductor.

Concert Violin GIF by Valparaiso University

However, there’s another type of conductor — an electrical material that works with an insulator to support items like your laptop computer, television, or smartphone. 

Conductors and insulators work together but perform different roles. Each has an important function and purpose as they interact with power sources.

Knowing the difference between conductors and insulators will give you a better understanding of how energy transfers from one material to another in the world around you.

What's a Conductor?

Switch on a table lamp, turn on a gas stove, or plug in your laptop and you’ve used a conductor. It's material that transfers electrical power or thermal heat to your appliances, devices, and other items that need an energy source.

Sets of multi-colored coated, insulated copper electrical conductor wires

Key elements of a conductor:

  • A “metal” wire with high levels of conductivity that transfers energy

  • Electrical wires, which are connected to electronics and other appliances

  • Materials such as copper, silver, gold, nickel, iron, chromium, and steel that easily transmit electricity or thermal heat through them without resistance

Example of a conductor:

A gas cooker acts as a thermal heat conductor.

It transmits heat to a metal pan on a stovetop for the purpose of cooking the items in the pan.

Woman's black-sleeved hand pouring cooking oil into a frying pan on a gas heated stovetop.

What's an Insulator?

The insulator performs the opposite role of a conductor. It stops the flow of energy sources.  An insulator insulates electrical energy and thermal heat to keep it from escaping — for example, a Styrofoam disposable cup keeps your coffee warm.

Young woman with brown hair wearing yellow rain coat, turtleneck sweater holding red Styrofoam-paper cup with plastic lid

Key elements of an insulator:

  • A “non-metal” material with high levels of resistance that blocks the flow of energy

  • Covers wires that transmit electricity or heat to prevent electrocution and burns

  • Materials such as rubber, plastic, wood, glass, air, and paper

Example of an insulator:

A rubber-insulated thermos container is an insulator.

The rubber acts as an insulator to retain the heat of a hot beverage inside the thermos and prevent it from escaping.

Hands holding an insulated thermos flask pouring tea or coffee into a rubber insulated metal cup against a snow background

Is it a Conductor or an Insulator?

Diagram of copper electric wiring of conductor material and rubber insulator materials (colored brown, red, blue and yellow)

Here's an easy way to understand and remember the difference between conductors and insulators:

  • A conductor easily transfers energy that produces electricity and heat that quickly flows through it.

  • An insulator stops the transfer of energyand protects you from the dangers of electricity and heat when you touch it.

Different Uses and Applications

You can see multiple uses and applications of conductors and insulators in your home, school, office and other buildings, including outdoors.


  • Power lines transmit electricity to homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses.

  • Plugs transfer power from wall sockets to connected electrical items.

Two separate images - a hand inserting a plug in a electric wall socket and one towers of electric pylon power lines

Collage of three images - red frying pan, white extension strip with plug, and Styrofoam coffee cup with plastic lid.


  • Insulated cable extension cords isolate and protect electric conductor wires.

  • Styrofoam cups keep heat inside and the outside surface cool.

  • Plastic handles on a hot pan prevent the transfer of heat.

Knowledge Check ⚡

Flaticon Icon Mollie is doing her homework, but finds it difficult to identify the difference between conductors and insulators from these examples:

A: Elijah eats lunch and looks at a field of huge towers of high voltage, electric power pylon lines.

B: Vance plugs the charger of his new smartphone and his desktop computer cable into a wall socket.

C: Dexter cooks Italian pasta and vegetables for supper in stainless-steel pans with metal handles on a gas stove.

D: Alexis exits her local coffee shop holding her favorite hot beverage in a Styrofoam cup and an onion bagel in a napkin.


Which examples refer ONLY to conductors? Select all that apply:

Take Action

Recharging smartphone from power strip on top of a diary laying on a white office desk

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