Linear actuators are much more common than many people realize. In fact, many motion-enabled products these days contain linear actuators. From consumer products to robotics, automotive and aviation, we’re surrounded by actuators all the time.

Just a modern vehicle alone can have dozens of actuators. Many functions that are controlled by the simple push of a button, are actually being driven by an actuator behind the dashboard or under the hood.

What is a linear actuator?

A linear actuator is simply a device that uses energy to create motion in a straight line. That energy can be compressed air, electricity, vacuum or pressurized hydraulic oil. Many applications require a device that can move things straight in and out, and that’s how linear actuators became popular.

Electric linear actuators take the rotary motion created by a standard electric motor and convert it to linear motion. This makes it simple to make objects slide,

There are several different types of linear actuators that you will find on the market. Each has their own merits and drawbacks. I’m going to walk you through the different types of actuators available and look into which types of use are appropriate for which product.


Electric actuators are very common. They come in a variety of different styles and designs, shapes, sizes and price points. In fact, just navigating electric linear actuators can be a daunting task. The most common types of electric linear actuator are lead-screw, belt-drive and rack and pinion.

Benefits of electric linear actuators

Electric linear actuators (both large and micro) are well-suited to applications that require relatively slow, steady and precise movement. They tend to be more cost-effective than other types of actuators as well.

Another benefit to using electric actuators is you have a wide variety of control options, ranging from simple switches to remote control, arduino-powered and even IOT wifi enabled. If you want the widest array of options regarding control, electric is probably the best way to go.

Additionally, installation of electric actuators is relatively simple when compared to other types of motion devices. Some actuator manufacturers even provide a mounting hardware kit with their devices to make installation a breeze.


Pneumatic actuators use compressed air, rather than an electric motor, to enable motion. Pneumatic actuators are less precise than electric, and are best suited to applications that require only two positions, rather than a range of positioning options.

Pneumatic actuators range in price but are generally inexpensive. Pneumatic actuators can be found mostly in industrial settings where access to compressed air is readily available.


Hydraulic actuators use pressurized hydraulic oil to create movement. They can be counted on for precise, powerful movement but do not tend to be fast. Hydraulic actuators can be found in commercial environments that require a great deal of force such as heavy equipment, fabrication, and manufacturing.

Next time you pass an excavator or backhoe, have a look at the big cylinders that lift the boom. Those are just large hydraulic actuators!


Vacuum actuators are similar to pneumatic actuators, but rather than using compressed air to create the motion, they use vacuum created by a vacuum pump.

Vacuum actuators are common in automobiles as engines create vacuum that can be easily utilized to create motion. They can also be found in HVAC, industrial and other applications. Vacuum actuators are generally not used at the hobbyist level.

How to choose a linear actuator

When it’s time to decide on a linear actuator for your application, it’s important to first have a look at what you need the actuator to do. For example:

  • How far do you need the actuator to travel?
  • What is the expected load on the actuator?
  • How long do you need the actuator to last?
  • What is your price range?

Also consider what type of movement you’re looking for. Do you need something that will quickly move from one point to the next, or are you looking for consistent, steady movement?

If you’ve answered these questions, and still aren’t sure what type of actuator you need, you can feel free to send an email to our sales team. They would be happy to help you find a motion device that’s right for your needs. If we don’t have the product, we can direct you to somebody who will.

You can also check our product descriptions and datasheets on our product pages to help guide your decision.

At Actuonix, we carry the largest selection of micro linear actuators available anywhere. Every single one of our products was designed by our team of engineers just outside of Victoria, BC, in Western Canada. We don’t rebrand actuators that can be found on Chinese websites. Everything that we sell, we designed from the ground up. Head over to our website to check out our full product offerings.