Simple to use, accurate, and durable, calipers are an ancient tool that’s been around for millennia. Used in many fields from forestry to electrical engineering to medicine, calipers have been the measuring tool of choice even as technology has advanced. Nowadays, calipers aren’t just the tools of professionals, they’re also in the hands of everyday people.
How To Use A Caliper
Calipers are a necessary tool in anyone’s toolbox. Their main purpose is to measure the distance between the opposite sides of an object. Similar to a compass, the tips of the caliper adjust to fit across the ends needing to be measured. Holding the tips at the measured distance, you then take a ruler and measure the distance–at least, that’s the way the classic version of a caliper works.
Types of Calipers
Today’s calipers come in different forms and designs with price points ranging from budget to expensive. Let’s take a look at the different types available and choose the best one for the new user.
- Inside – Manual caliper that measures the internal size of an object.
- Outside – Manual caliper that measures the external size of an object.
- Divider – Manual caliper used to mark out locations like a traditional compass.
- Oddleg – Manual caliper used to create a line a set distance from the edge of an object.
- Vernier – The most popular type of manual caliper, the Vernier has a fixed jaw and a sliding jaw that’s used to measure the object.
- Dial – Manual caliper, similar to the Vernier, that uses a dial for accurate measurement.
- Micrometer – Manual caliper that uses a calibrated screw rather than a sliding scale to measure an object.
- Digital – The most popular type of caliper that replaces the analog data with digital data for accurate measurement. This is the style of caliper recommended for beginners and professionals alike and will be the focus of this buying guide.
Now that we’ve narrowed down our choice of caliper to a digital version, how do you decide which digital caliper is best for you and your needs?
Here is a buying guide to digital calipers followed by a list of the top 10 options available.
Digital Calipers Buying Guide
The fact that calipers haven’t gone out of style or been replaced by a different, more evolved tool is a testament to the engineering that took place thousands of years ago. Everything eventually goes digital and this is no different for calipers. Digital calipers are even more accurate than their manual cousins.
How do you decide whether to buy a brand name version or a generic? What separates an expensive digital caliper from a budget caliper? Let’s answer these questions and more by going deeper into the world of digital calipers.
Generally, you’re going to find only a few types of materials that are used to make digital calipers. These include stainless steel, carbon fiber, composite, and plastic. The price ranges of each of these materials vary greatly with plastic being the cheapest and stainless steel being the most expensive.
- Stainless Steel – The heaviest of the digital calipers for a reason–steel is strong. They’re water, dirt, and oil resistant giving you a durable product that will last years.
- Carbon Fiber – This material is newer to the scene than stainless steel but consistently rated among the top of the pack. They’re accurate, lightweight, but can get quite expensive.
- Composite – A combination of materials make up these types of calipers in order to keep costs down. Composite digital calipers are an excellent mid-range choice for those that want to test out digital calipers without the investment.
- Plastic – The cheapest of the digital calipers will be made from plastic. These are prone to breakage but still sport high accuracy.Looking at these materials, you need to weigh your options. Price, durability, and accuracy are the most important aspects of a digital caliper when considering your purchase. That being said, stainless steel is the hands-down favorite among professionals. They’re accurate to an intensely high degree. They also have a proper weighted feel in the hand of the user, they’re strong, and will last for a long time, if not forever.
There are two main types of displays available on digital calipers. The first is your typical digital caliper with a display that’s readable so that you can write down the measurements that appear on the screen. The second type of display is an electronic digital caliper. These can store measurements allowing you to go hands-free when working on your project. There is a noticeable price difference between the two with electronic display screens costing slightly more due to the advanced technology.
Digital calipers come in many different lengths for use in a variety of projects. The most typical lengths for the home crafter and hobbyist are 4-inch, 6-inch, 8-inch, and 12-inch. When purchasing a digital caliper, think about the sizes of objects that you’ll be measuring. This will guide you in your investment decision.
Professionals will be able to find much larger lengths for their digital calipers. They can purchase any of the aforementioned 4-inch through 12-inch digital calipers but if they want to find something larger a specialist store will be useful. Professional sizes are usually offered in 24-inch, 36-inch, and 48-inch for much larger projects.
Keeping digital calipers safe from dust, grime, oil, and water is key to their prolonged usage. You’re buying something that should last a while and want it protected. IP54 protection is enabled in many stainless steel digital calipers. IP54 allows for added protection from foreign objects that could damage or corrode your digital caliper.
The most accurate digital calipers should be calibrated directly from the manufacturer. Not all manufacturers create products the same and some may lead to inaccurate calibration out of the box. The best brands will offer a calibration certificate from
When you purchase a $5,000.00 digital caliper, you should expect it to work forever and never need maintenance. Unfortunately, this isn’t true whether you own a cheap $50 caliper or the more expensive professional ones. There are three common errors and issues that digital calipers often run into and they mostly have to do with the batteries.
- Fixed Digits – Pop the battery out of your digital caliper and replace it after 30 seconds.
- Flashing or Disorderly Digits – Usually the cause of low electric voltage and can be fixed by replacing the battery.
- No Display – Check the battery and the battery connects for corrosion. Replace the battery if necessary.
Ease of Use
Using a digital caliper should be easy. You should be able to look at your device and know exactly how to operate the machine. The numbers should be clear to read to mark exact measurements. The jaws should slide smoothly and the digital readout should be accurate and detailed. It’s always a great idea to head to a brick and mortar store to get a feel for the different types of digital calipers and their usability.
Purchasing a digital caliper means you want a reliable product that will work when you need it and turn off when you don’t. Most of the digital calipers on the market have an auto shut off system to preserve battery life.
When buying your next digital caliper it’s important to take into account battery life. The cheap Chinese knock-offs can come in with a battery life of around 2 years so your budget won’t be an automatic judge of quality.
Can you get a digital caliper that is accurate and built relatively well for under $50? Yes, but will it last forever is another question. What you pay is what you get when it comes to digital calipers. There is a reason that the best quality digital calipers are the most expensive. They’re immaculately engineered and accurate to a high degree. They’re made from the highest quality materials and are tested extensively prior to hitting the market.
Cheap Chinese knock-offs have flooded the market recently and while they work and can do what you want them to, you’re really missing out on all of the capabilities of a well made digital caliper.
Selecting a digital caliper can be a confusing proposition. How do you know which brands are the best? What manufacturing procedures do they use? If you’re investing serious money in a digital caliper, you’ll want to look at the brands that lead the industry. The top brands are listed below and are considered safe to purchase. If the brand you’re looking at is not on this list, it’s important that you perform more research before purchasing.
- Starrett – This manufacturer creates some of the industry’s best carbon fiber and stainless steel digital calipers. Accurate up to the ten-thousandths place.
- Mitutoyo – Offers a 1-year warranty on their stainless steel digital calipers. It’s also the only brand to offer a certificate of calibration from the internationally recognized IOS.
- Carrera Precision – Stainless steel frame with a titanium alloy case to keep costs down. These can do it all at a budget price point.
- Neiko – Large display with a stainless steel construction and affordable price.
10 Best Digital Calipers
The carbon fiber digital caliper from Starrett features an LCD display that provides a zero set as well as a control button for turning the device on and off and selecting the measurement increments in inches or millimeters. Its lightweight construction makes it easy to handle and the titanium coated stainless steel measurement jaws are durable and long-lasting.
- Carbon fiber is lightweight
- Coolant resistant
- Advanced digital display design
- High-end price
- Carbon fiber is not the only construction material (titanium alloy).
The Starrett 798A-8/200 digital caliper is made of hardened stainless steel that is corrosion resistant. The digital interface is easy-to-use and features a slim, but large LCD display screen for easy readings. The caliper is built to resist debris and is durable enough to survive up to 30 minutes of submersion. This caliper can handle tough work environments where exposure to dust, water, dirt, and coolant is not an issue.
- Large LCD screen displays 0.310” tall characters
- Smooth movement
- Easy to switch between measurement units
- Long lasting battery
- Stainless steel construction is slightly heavy
- Small for the price point
This Mitutoyo digital caliper is made of stainless steel. The LCD display provides a zero set and On/Off as well as inch/mm control buttons that make calibrating a breeze. Mitutoyo is known to produce some of the best digital calipers on the market and this is the professional choice.
- Large measuring range of up to 80-inches.
- Highly accurate and durable
- Excellent customer service response from Mitutoyo
- High-end price
- Difficult to store due to the size
- High learning curve to maneuver and measure with one person
This digital caliper from Mitutoyo is priced affordably and features everything you need for measurement accuracy. This dependable caliper is the perfect choice for someone looking to upgrade their workbench tools and take a home workshop to the next level. The advanced onsite sensor helps to keep your tool clean for the most precise readings up to ten-thousandths.
- Absolute Measurement and Incremental Measurement
- Long-lasting Battery-Life
- Excellent customer service response from Mitutoyo
- Beware of counterfeit models
- Jaws can have some play affecting accuracy and stability.
- Does not have an “auto-off” feature
The 500-193CAL Absolute Digimatic Caliper from Mitutoyo is ready to perform in harsh workshop environments. Able to measure inside, outside, diameter, depth, and step–with a range 0 to 12″ (0 to 300mm). The LCD screen displays both inches and metric for fast error-free measuring.
Pros and Cons
- Heavy duty construction with stainless steel jaws for durability
- Long-lasting battery
- Works in almost any environment.
- Slide action is not always smooth
- Expensive for the size.
Offering an ergonomic design in a surprisingly lightweight body. The Starrett caliper offers an electronic LCD screen that allows for storage of measurements. Comes with a protective case to keep the tool safe and secure. This measuring device is one of the few that offer a certificate of calibration for accuracy.
- Offers a certificate of calibration out of the box.
- Accurate up to 0.0005”
- Easily fits in a tool box at 6 inches.
- Expensive for the size
- Buttons are easy to push causing the battery to die if accidentally pressed for a while.
The Mitutoyo Absolute Digimatic Caliper with Calibration is a highly accurate tool with a wide measuring range of up to two feet. The Certificate of Calibration that comes with each Mitutoyo digital caliper is a testament to the quality of the device. A stainless steel construction allows the device to operate smoothly and accurately.
- Stainless steel jaw construction allows for high usability.
- A professional tool that is easy to use for the beginner.
- Offers Mitutoyo Certificate of Calibration for perfect accuracy out of the box.
- Knock-offs have flooded the market.
Offers a 0-1000mm range with a resolution that reads to the ten-thousandth decimal place. Made from strong and lightweight carbon fiber for efficiency and ease of use. Coated in a strong stainless steel and titanium alloy for extended durability.
- High degree of accuracy.
- 40-inch measuring range allowing you to tackle any project.
- Prone to effects of dirt and grime.
The stainless steel frame of the Tcisa Electronic Digital Caliper makes it a durable product at its price point. A high degree of accuracy and a wide range of measurement provide an excellent tool for the toolbox. Small in size but big in features including a battery saving auto-off function.
- Convenient auto-off function to save battery life.
- Comes with a carrying case for protection.
- Offers IP54 protection making the device waterproof.
- The device has a clunky sliding mechanism.
- Temperature can affect battery life.
- Poor instruction manual for operation.
Offering three measuring modes, the Neiko Electronic Digital Caliper can switch between inches, fractions, and millimeter readings with ease. A large LCD screen displays measurements in easily readable type. The device can measure the inside, outside, depth, and step of any object.
- Budget friendly.
- Easily hackable to make adjustments.
- Comes with a spare battery and case.
- Gap between jaws affects accuracy.
- Jaws don’t move smoothly.
- Build quality leaves a lot to be desired.
Choosing a great digital caliper shouldn’t be a difficult proposition. These accurate measuring devices have seen a lot of changes throughout the years but have stood the test of time. Technology has only allowed digital calipers to advance in quality. Use this guide to assist you in your purchasing decisions and you’ll be glad you did.