One of the most difficult parts about using a traditional analog caliper is trying to get accurate measurements. Digital calipers solve this issue by giving you ultra-precise readings down to the thousandth of an inch using an easy-to-read electronic display. After spending four days researching different brands and technologies, the iGaging OriginCal has won our vote as the best digital caliper. While many models receive reports of inconsistency from customers, the OriginCal has a fantastic reputation and even won first place in a hands-on accuracy test among several other popular models. Article Summary
Calipers have been around for centuries, used in a number of different fields from woodworking to mechanical engineering. They come in a variety of different styles, but the most commonly used style these days is the vernier caliper. You’re probably familiar with it; this is the kind that uses two jaws (or tips) attached to a ruler to take measurement. One tip is fixed at the start of the ruler, and the other tip slides so that you can fit it to whatever object or space you’re measuring.
While these tools are generally pretty easy to use, one of the most difficult aspects has always been ensuring your measurements are completely accurate. In nearly any profession, even the slightest inaccuracy can lead to major issues, so precision is crucial. With most traditional calipers, the only way to read measurements is by aligning tiny lines on a ruler, or in some cases, reading a scale-style dial. In either case, you can probably see how this can be difficult and lead to mistakes, not to mention it can be time-consuming if you’ve got a lot of things to measure.
Thankfully, technology has allowed us to upgrade this age-old tool in recent years. Calipers are still used in the same fashion, with two jaws attached to a ruler, but now all you have to do to read a measurement is take a quick glance at a digital display. Measurements can be read in any unit system, and manufacturers have gotten accuracy levels down to the thousandth of an inch, eliminating any potential room for error.
Unfortunately, finding the best digital caliper is a bit more of a hassle than we thought. After digging into this category and looking at over 25 models, we found that there is a pretty serious issue with cheap knock-offs being sold under fake names. However, we were able to get to the root of the problem by identifying the few brands that have a concrete reputation for providing quality products. Once we identified these brands, we took a look at what they had to offer and found three digital calipers that are built well and provide consistent, accurate readings.
The best digital caliper overall
The iGaging OriginCal brings the best combination of price, performance and build quality. iGaging has a very loyal following due to the quality of their tools, and this particular caliper was rated #1 during a hands-on test of calipers under $100. This is a tool built by tradesmen, for tradesmen; but of course, it’s perfect for anyone regardless of your actual profession.
As with most digital calipers, the design is pretty much the same one that we described above: a standard caliper, with both an internal and external gauge for measurements. It’s built using a nicely-machined stainless steel for long-term durability, and there is also a tough plastic housing around the digital display (which we’ll get to in a minute). There are a number of different sizes available so you can choose what’s best for your application, from a small 4″ caliper to a 40″ measurement monster.
One quick thing to note is that the ruler doesn’t have all the traditional markings for measurements, only whole centimeters and inches are marked. If you’re unfamiliar with the digital category of calipers, this is how most of them are made; since they have the digital display to read measurements, there’s not really any need to have all the traditional half, quarter, eighth, and sixteenth markings.
The digital display that comes with the OriginCal is pretty impressive considering the price of the tool. The display used to read measurements is large, easy to discern and overall practical. As you would expect, there is a button that allows you to select whether you want to use the imperial or metric scale. However, what is not basic is this caliper’s ability to remember the point of origin. In other words, if you are doing increment measurements, you won’t have to manually reset the zero, the caliper does that for you automatically. The probe and display portion of the caliper are also IP54 certified, meaning that the tool is dust and water resistant
Now, the most important aspect of any caliper is its accuracy and resolution. The OriginCal offers a 0.0005″ (or 0.01mm) resolution with an accuracy of 0.001″ (or 0.02mm), which is about as good as it gets for digital calipers (and certainly better than trying to eyeball it on an old-school analog model). Even models in the $150+ price range aren’t offering any better accuracy than this, which goes to show you the value iGaging is offering here.
A final important feature that is worth mentioning is the USB connectivity. You can hook this caliper to your computer and download all of the measurements you have taken. This makes modeling exact 3D models pretty easy as there is little to no guesswork involved.
Overall, the iGaging OriginCal offers everything one could want from a caliper: a durable build, high precision, and a great price tag. When you compare this model to others that are twice and even triple the price, there’s not much that separates the two other than a different brand name.
A great bang for your buck
Vinca calipers are famous for their low profile, no-nonsense performance, which is one of the reasons their DCLA-0605 Digital Caliper landed in our top three. Compared to the iGaging model, there are a few drawbacks which explains its second-place spot, but overall it offers a great bang for your buck.
At first glance, the DCLA-0605 from Vinca looks a whole lot like the OriginCal from iGaging (in terms of both looks and specs). That isn’t all too surprising considering that the design both of these calipers share is pretty much industry-wide standard. The tool itself is made of decent quality stainless steel, making it pretty durable and rust resistant. In terms of resolution and accuracy, you are looking at the exact same values as the Absolute Origin. In other words, the resolution is 0.0005 Inches (or 0.01mm) while the accuracy is well within the 0.001 Inch (or 0.2mm) margin of error. So what is different between the two calipers? The digital display.
The first thing you will notice is that the display is much smaller than the one on the Absolute Origin. Not only that, but the numerals are smaller as well. This might make it harder to discern the measurement under certain conditions. If you choose inches, you will get a fraction type layout, which is perfectly fine from a technical standpoint but can be a bit confusing to those who are used to the decimal layout.
Another big difference is the lack of USB support. Even though this is a somewhat niche feature that only a relatively small portion of the user base will have an actual need for, being able to send those measurements directly to your PC can be pretty handy.
Because of the lack of USB and the somewhat underwhelming display, Vinca’s DCLA-0605 earned the runner-up spot to iGaging. It is a great tool for recreational users, but professionals might need just a bit more versatility. With that said, it is worth noting that this is one of the cheapest models on the market (if price becomes a big deciding factor to you).
A certified professional caliper
Last but not the least, we have the Mitutoyo Absolute AOS Digimatic Caliper. This is one of the more expensive models on the market, but for a good reason. Mitutoyo is a Japanese brand with a long history of producing quality measuring tools, including calipers of all kinds. Everything they sell is thoroughly tested and calibrated before it ever leaves the factory, which guarantees that you get the tool you’ve ordered. This is a tool for true professionals and anyone who needs to be absolutely confident in their measurements.
Despite its larger-than-average price tag, the Mitutoyo is a pretty popular model. On the surface, it doesn’t look too different from the two models we have already shown you. The length of scale is 6 Inches, just like we have seen on both the iGaging and Vinca caliper, and they share the same design. Mitutoyo used a pretty high-quality stainless steel for this caliper, making it as reliable as possible. However, the main reason why this tool costs so much and why that price is fully justified is because of its probe.
Mitutoyo’s Advanced Onsite Sensor is a thing of beauty. In terms of accuracy and resolution, you are looking the same figures we have seen before: 0.001″ accuracy combined with a 0.0005″ resolution. The catch is in two things. First, the sensor is capable of both incremental measuring and absolute measuring. If something gets on the caliper, you will get a scale contamination warning. This way, if there is even the slightest chance of something causing a compromised reading, you will know about it.
The other thing that sets this caliper apart is Mitutoyo Certificate of Calibration. We have already said that all of their tools are tested and calibrated before they leave the factory, however MCC pushed that guarantee of reliability to a whole different level. The type of testing required to get the certificate goes way above the industry’s standard procedure. Who would need something like that? A good number of users, actually.
This caliper is perfect for applications where perfect precision is a must. Take long range enthusiasts as an example. At some point or another, they will have to reload their own ammunition. When doing so, it is imperative that you get to measure how deep the bullet is seated and the overall length of the cartridge. Errors in this process won’t only cause negative effects on the target, but they can be potentially dangerous. Having the MCC is a big plus in such a scenario. This is just one of many examples of applications which aren’t that common but require utmost accuracy nevertheless.
If ultimate precision is your top priority, the Mitutoyo Absolute AOS is the best digital caliper due to its extreme focus on certification and accuracy. However, for most people, spending over $100 on one of these tools is a bit too much. Unless you really need the benefits it has to offer, it is hard to rationalize spending this type of money on a caliper.
How we picked our top three
Believe it or not, finding a decent digital caliper is not an easy task. By adding a digital component to an already existing tool, you are basically adding another factor that can be a weak point. And in most cases, the sensor is the weak point. Then, once you add in the issue of fakes or knock-offs being pushed around online (which is a big issue with this category of tool), it makes the picking even harder. In order to find the best digital caliper, we had to lay down some rules to filter out the models which were unreliable or otherwise unfit for the job. Below are the top criteria we used when grading each model.
No matter how modern a caliper gets, its build quality is still going to be the number one factor when it comes to its value. You can put the most advanced sensor on it, but it won’t do you much good if the caliper itself is flimsy and simply unreliable. We wanted only proven models which have shown to be sturdy enough to endure normal and abnormal use. That means stainless steel or any other kind of quality steel, and tight tolerances. All of the calipers on our list meet those requirements.
When you are dealing with measuring tools, accuracy is one of the most obvious requirements aside from build quality. A measuring tool is defined by its accuracy. There are several margins of error brackets out there, but we went for the most commercially viable one (accuracy within 0.001″). By doing so means that our top picks are suitable for both casual users and professionals who need repeatable, consistent performance.
Ease of use
Any tool you lay your hands on needs to be easy to use. Normally, that is going to be defined by the nature of the tool. However, no matter what specific kind of tool we are talking about, there will be designs which are easier to use and those which are not. We were interested in the former. For our picks, we wanted something that had a decent size display, which makes measurements easier to read. On top of that, sensor controls also played a big part. All of our picks come with a very intuitive layout of controls, which allows you to configure the tool in any way feel necessary at the moment. If you’re new to using calipers, check out these tips to help you become familiar with the basic functions.
Lastly, there is the matter of price. With digital calipers, expensive is not necessarily going to be better – and trust us, these tools can definitely get expensive (in the $100+ and $200+ range). There is a certain point where the quality of its core performance hits a ceiling, and every extra dollar you invest goes into some additional features. These may or may not be necessary depending on what kind of application you have in mind for the tool. We could have listed the most expensive and advanced digital calipers on the market, but that would alienate the majority of the user base. Instead, we have chosen two affordable models based on their value, as well as one high tier unit.
Things to consider before buying
Calipers all perform the same basic measurements, but as we’ve mentioned a few times above, certain models offer easier use, more functionality, and other aspects. To help you choose the best digital caliper for your personal needs, we’ve listed a couple of key questions you should ask yourself before hitting that ‘order’ button online.
How do you plan to use your caliper?
What type of work you are doing, or are planning on doing, will significantly impact your decision. Put it this way: if you are a carpenter, do you really need the clinically-accurate digital caliper that costs several times the average price? The answer is most likely going to be a simple ‘no’. This argument has another side to it as well. Depending on what you are doing, cheaping out on a digital caliper might be the biggest mistake you make and potentially a dangerous one. Defining the intended application will narrow down suitable choices to a number that you can work with, not to mention that you can save yourself a whole lot of money by doing this portion of the prep work. Otherwise, it is easy to get lost in all kinds of different models and their advanced features.
What size do you need?
As you probably know, digital calipers come in various sizes. This is another aspect where the type of work you plan on doing comes into play. Figuring out which size you need should among the first things on your list of priorities. Maybe one, standard 0-6″ will do just fine, but there is also a pretty reasonable chance that you may need something longer. Make sure to include this factor in your decision-making process. If you do find yourself needing something longer than average, the iGaging OriginCal is available in the widest range of sizes, so you should have no problem finding one that fits your needs.
Is certification important to you?
When you are dealing with precision measuring tools such as calipers, certification is one aspect that can definitely be a game changer. We have mentioned before that having a certificate of calibration is not a necessity and that a rather small, niche group of people will actually benefit from them. However, some applications simply require this additional guarantee. If you do not need a certificate, spending all that extra money on a model that comes with one is absurd. On the other hand, if you do need it and instead you decide to cheap out, you will experience the consequences of such a decision sooner rather than later.
Do you want or need additional functionality?
For most people, all you’ll need is the basic caliper measuring functions. With that said, if measurements are an important part of your work, additional measuring functions are worth the consideration so you can make the most out of a single tool. The type and importance of these features will vary from model to model. In most cases, you are looking at what the sensor is capable of delivering. Whether it is an alternative mode of measuring or being able to reset the point of origin automatically, you need to ask yourself do you need any of that?
For example, the iGaging model offers a great deal of versatility thanks to the fact that you can download all of your measurements to your computer using its USB input. As cool as it may be, you need to ask yourself will you ever really need such a feature, or can you properly finish the task without it.
Wrapping it up
Combining digital technology into calipers was one of the best advancements yet for quick and precise measurements. However, once you become dependent on electronics, you need to be sure those electronics are actually worth trusting. Although we found that a majority of digital calipers are cheaply made foreign products with inconsistent and inaccurate readings, we were able to identify a small number of models that offer true quality and precise readings every single time.