The Best Digital Calipers For Precision Measurements

Evan Williams
by Evan Williams
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If you need precise measurements, you're going to want digital calipers.
There are cheap calipers, and there are accurate calipers, but you won't find both. Photo credit: David Traver Adolphus / AutoGuide.com.

When it comes to measuring lumber or hanging a photo, a measuring tape or ruler is just fine, but when you need precision, you need one of the best digital calipers. Just try measuring a bolt thread pitch, or the gap in a piston ring, with your trusty tape measure 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 one of the best digital calipers, and get measurements more precise and accurate, more easily, than you ever thought possible.

Even if you’re not doing precision engine assembly, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without a digital caliper. It’s an extremely handy tool when you want to drill the right size hole, or pick out the right washer. All of the traditional Vernier style calipers on our list measure interior and exterior dimensions, as well as including an analog depth gauge for when you need to know the depth of something. They also have printed scales on the sides for a quick estimation. We’ve included a few alternative styles because there are times when you need to measure odd-shaped items.

If you are doing precision work, you probably already know you’ll need to spend some money on a caliper. Fortunately, if you just need one for general measurement, you can get away with a cheaper one and upgrade later on if you need to. Either way, remember that calipers are delicate instruments and should be used carefully and stored when not in use.

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

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—or your battery dies.

Pros

Five-year battery life, well-known brand, coolant and oil proof

Cons

Pricey, measures down to just 0.001-inches

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.

Many users found the battery cover poorly made and difficult to remove and replace; of course, there were complaints about build quality. But we've paid more for a pint of craft beer than these calipers cost, so the quality-to-price ratio is more than acceptable. Most buyers found the Adoric calipers perfectly satisfactory, and they received 87% positive reviews.

Pros

At that price, are there any more pros you need?

Cons

Could be more precise, missing some handy features

Even though it's an affordable option, these calipers offer some serious professional features. They're made from durable stainless steel and have an RS232 data transfer port. With the right software and cable, you can connect them to a PC to view and store your measurements. They can measure to a resolution of 0.0005 inches (0.01 mm), which should suit almost all of your measuring needs.

These calipers have chalked up over 9,000 reviews on Amazon, and 89% are positive. Vinca plainly says that data cables must be purchased separately, but a few buyers still complained that they aren't included, while other buyers cited these calipers for draining batteries quickly.

Pros

Connects to PC, excellent resolution

Cons

Stainless steel construction is heavier, computer cable costs extra

4. iGaging 40-inch Digital Caliper

This recommendation is ideal if you need to measure objects up to 40 inches across with extreme precision. It offers 0.0005-inch resolution and accuracy down to 0.001 inches.iGaging claims a battery life of two years in normal operation, and stored data from the calipers can be uploaded to your PC. However, being a large specialty tool, it is expensive. iGaging offers versions as small as 0.0 - 4.0 inches which are significantly less costly than their 40-inch model.

Customer satisfaction levels are quite high for the iGaging calipers; 92% positive out of nearly 3,000 reviews. Even a model with this kind of glowing customer rating will receive a few criticisms. For instance, iGaging calipers are often compared with Mitutoyo's, but many buyers think iGaging calipers are less well-built.

This model comes with a protective carrying case, which we think is essential for a high-end, precision instrument. iGaging backs it with a two-year warranty.

Pros

Up to 40-inches long, comes with case

Cons

Heavy, doesn't offer fractional inch display

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 measuring up to 6.0 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 and fractional inches. The feeler gauges fit in the same box and covers from 0.0015 inch to 0.035 inches (the feeler gauges include metric measurements as well).

Several buyers cited imperfect accuracy as an issue with these calipers, and at least one considered the thumbwheel action to be "unrefined." Still, these don't occupy a higher-end price point, and overall positive reviews were a respectable 86%.

Pros

High resolution, fractional inches, comes with feeler gauges

Cons

Other brands more accurate

6. 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.

This model's customer reviews are 96% positive, indicating that its accuracy certifications aren't mere hyperbole. A few complaints about ergonomics were noted, and there were problems with batteries discharging as it doesn't have an 'auto-off" feature.

Pros

If you need a certified caliper, you need this

Cons

Certification doesn't come cheap

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.

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.

Recent Updates:

December 19, 2022: Updated product links.

October 21, 2022: Removed Vinca Digital Nylon digital calipers; no longer available, and Fowler vernier digital calipers; insufficient customer reviews.

August 2, 2022: Removed JSANSUI and TACKLIFE digital calipers; both items are no longer available.


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Photo credit: Vladimir Zhupanenko / Shutterstock.com

Evan Williams
Evan Williams

Evan moved from engineering to automotive journalism 10 years ago (it turns out cars are more interesting than fibreglass pipes), but has been following the auto industry for his entire life. Evan is an award-winning automotive writer and photographer and is the current President of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada. You'll find him behind his keyboard, behind the wheel, or complaining that tiny sports cars are too small for his XXXL frame.

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