In this paper, the design and simulation of a tactile display that is based on a capacitive micromachined ultrasonic transducer (CMUT) array is presented. The array implements a ‘pixel’ of the display and is used to focus airborne ultrasound energy on the skin surface. The pressure field generated by the focused ultrasound waves excites the mechanoreceptors under the skin and transmits tactile information. The geometry of the individual transducer and the array are optimized so that the medium presents maximum impedance and the membrane oscillates with maximum deflection. Optimization is achieved using an electrical equivalent circuit model and the Berkeley Simulation Program with Integrated Circuit Emphasis (SPICE) code. Finite element analysis of the CMUT and the CMUT phased array is used to verify the SPICE results. The pressure at focal point is compared with the pressure threshold required for mechanoreceptor excitation in order to verify the feasibility of the design. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.