Main photo credit: Vladimir Zhupanenko / Shutterstock.com

When it comes to measuring lumber or hanging a photo, a measuring tape or ruler is just fine. When you need precision though, you need something that does a much better job. Just try measuring a bolt thread pitch or the gap in a piston ring with your trusty tape and see how it plays out.

So what do you do? You could use an old fashioned micrometer and line up the various lines or strain your eyes on the dial and try and remember how on earth to read the things. Or you could move to the 21st century. It’s time to pick up a set of digital calipers and get measurements more precise and accurate more easily than you ever thought possible.

For more information on the best digital calipers, refer to our table of contents.

1. Editor's Pick: Mitutoyo Digimatic Caliper

mitutoyo digimatic caliper

Mitutoyo is one of the biggest names in measurements, and its digital calipers are some of the best you’ll find. Of course, that means they aren’t cheap, either, but when it comes to precision and accuracy, that’s little surprise. Resistant to coolant, water, and oil, these are designed for commercial machine shop use. Accurate to +/- 0.001-inches or 0.02 mm, they also have a large printed scale if you’re more old school.

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2. TACKLIFE Digital Vernier Caliper

tacklife digital vernier caliper

Offering an IP54 waterproof battery holder, this digital caliper offers some liquid and dust resistant. It has a large screen for easy-to-read results. It also shows you inches in fractional form in the screen as well as decimal. Professionals might laugh, but if you need fractional inches and aren’t good at making the conversion in your head, this option is a lifesaver.

3. Adoric Digital Caliper

adoric digital calipers

This recommendation isn’t the most precise in the world, measuring down to just 0.1 mm or 0.01 inches, but that’s enough for most users and they have one big advantage. That price. These are some of the most affordable digital calipers you’ll find anywhere, but they are missing the tension thumb screw found on more expensive designs. But if all you need is the occasional tiny measurement, this should be more than enough.

4. Vinca Digital Vernier Caliper

vinca digital vernier caliper

Even though it’s an affordable option, these calipers offer some serious professional features. Made from stainless steel for durability, they come with an RS232 data transfer port. With the right software and cable, that means you can connect to a PC to help view and store your measurements. Able to measure to a resolution of 0.0005 inches (0.01 mm), these should suit almost all of your measuring needs.

5. iGaging 40" Digital Caliper

igaging 40" digital caliper

Great if you need to measure bigger things with that same precision, this recommendation offers double the length of most calipers. If that’s not enough, a model with up to 40 inches of measurement is available. This 12-inch model has a resolution of 0.0005 inches (0.01mm) and an accuracy of 0.001 inches. A two-year warranty and carrying case offer protection and durability for the long distance.

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6. JSANSUI Micrometer Digital Caliper

jsansui micrometer digital caliper

Because you can’t always measure things in a brightly lit shop, JSANSUI offers this caliper with a backlit screen for easy reading. The product shows water resistance and has a thumbscrew for holding it in place, as well as a clamp screw for ease of use. It also shows a person standing on the tool, something we’d not recommend.

7. Fowler Electronic Caliper Gage

fowler electronic caliper gage

Vernier-style calipers are great for measuring blocks of metal, bolts, and other smaller items, but sometimes you need to measure an item that doesn’t fit well into those square jobs. Maybe because of its size or shape, or maybe just because of its location. This digital caliper uses curved arms that can give you the clearance and maneuverability you need to get the measurement from just the right spot. It also offers a digital readout that will show you fractional inches or mm.

8. eSynic Digital Vernier Caliper

esynic digital vernier caliper

If you’re using a digital caliper, you’ve probably tried the outside measurement, not just the bit inside the clamps. And if you’re using that, you’re probably not far away from needing feeler gauges too. So why not get them both in one convenient set? This caliper has inner, outer, and depth gauges, able to measure up to 6 inches or 150 mm, and with a resolution of 0.0005 inches or 0.01 mm. The digital display will show inches and mm in decimal as well as fractional inches. The feeler gauges fit in the same box and covers from 0.0015 inch to 0.035 inch.

9. Mitutoyo Absolute Advanced Onsite Sensor Digital Caliper

mitutoyo absolute advanced onsite sensor digital caliper

If you need to do some really serious measuring, you know that certified calibration is essential. This model from Mitutoyo offers that, starting with a traceability certificate from the National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce. It comes calibrated and the certificate shows that it meets ISO/IEC 17025 international standards for testing and calibration labs. This is a brand known for durability, founded in Tokyo. It measures accurately to 0.001 inches, and backs that accuracy up with paperwork.

10. Vinca Digital Nylon Vernier Caliper

vinca electronic digital nylon vernier caliper

No, you’re not seeing the Vinca from the top of the list over again. This one is made of nylon instead of stainless steel like most of the list. The advantages of nylon include not needing to worry about corrosion (if you’re planning on dumping it into a toolbox when you’re done). The downsides are that it has a bit less accuracy, and in extreme conditions, the material will expand and contract more than stainless steel. Still, for an occasional use bargain, this stands out.

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Why Do I Need a Digital Caliper?

Using a measuring tape is fine for a board, but when you’re doing construction work or digging a flower bed, anything less than an eighth of an inch doesn’t really matter. When you’re measuring the inside of a bushing, the thread pitch of a mangled bolt, or any one of hundreds of other small and precise parts of your vehicle, the number after the zero is much more important. So instead of trying to figure out the tiny fractions of a tape measure, a caliper grabs the part tightly. That makes it not just easier to measure, but makes the measurement more useful. When you’ve finished putting your engine back together, or don’t have to grind out a rubber bushing, you’ll be happy you had your trusty caliper.

What to Look For in a Digital Caliper

The most important part of a digital caliper is its accuracy, precision, and resolution, but how important those are to you depends on what you do. Building NASCAR engines at a machine shop? Spend big and get all the certifications. For normal home use, something with less resolution and that measures to 0.1 mm instead of 0.001 is probably just fine. Stainless steel is more durable, but nylon is affordable and convenient for occasional use.

For usability, a thumb screw for resistance is a feature you need, as is a dial underneath to tighten the jaws. If you’re not great at keeping extra batteries around, a clear, easy to read analog scale might be a must for you. A storage case is always handy, but if you have a good set of tool drawers, that case might not matter to you.

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How to Use a Digital Caliper

Unlike their analog counterparts, digital calipers are extremely user-friendly. Step one is to turn them on, close the jaws, and make sure that the display reads zero. If it doesn’t, don’t be alarmed. There should be a button you can press marked Zero or Origin that you can press to reset the scale. Then there are three ways to measure.

Put an object inside the jaws of the caliper and you’ve got the exterior dimensions of that object. For measuring inside dimensions, like the inside of a bushing carrier or machine nut, close the caliper jaws and place the inside measurement tips (on the top side of the caliper) inside the object and open them as far as possible. To measure the depth of an object, like a hole, place the flat end of the caliper on the edge of the hole and open the jaws. The depth measurement thumb comes out until it hits the bottom of the hole and that’s your measurement.

If the jaws are moving too freely, making it difficult to hold the number, tighten the thumbscrew gently to increase friction. A small dial on the bottom side of some digital caliper models lets you roll the jaws instead of just pushing them with your hands.

After use, make sure to remove any liquids, dust, or other debris from the caliper. These are sensitive instruments, and improper care can make their measurements useless. If a case isn’t included, you might want to buy one.


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