Fundamentals of operation

DC brushed motors rotate continuously when voltage is applied to their terminals.

The stepper motor is known by its important property to convert a train of input pulses (typically square wave pulses) into a precisely defined increment in the shaft position. Each pulse moves the shaft through a fixed angle. Stepper motors effectively have multiple "toothed" electromagnets arranged around a central gear-shaped piece of iron. The electromagnets are energized by an external control circuit, such as a microcontroller. To make the motor shaft turn, first, one electromagnet is given power, which magnetically attracts the gear's teeth.

When the gear's teeth are aligned to the first electromagnet, they are slightly offset from the next electromagnet.

So when the next electromagnet is turned on and the first is turned off, the gear rotates slightly to align with the next one, and from there the process is repeated. Each of those rotations is called a "step", with an integer number of steps making a full rotation. In that way, the motor can be turned by a precise angle.