Dial vs. Vernier vs. Digital Calipers - Pros and Cons

Jun 11, 2021

Dial, vernier, and digital calipers can take accurate outer diameter (O.D.), inner diameter (I.D.), length and depth measurements for metalcraft, woodworking, and other tasks. Hobbyists, machinists, and industrial users use all 3 for various needs.

Used well, these tools help you produce consistent, high quality work. If the wrong tool is used, or the tool is used incorrectly, mistakes and wasted time and materials can result. Of the 3 options, which should you choose and why?

Dial caliper pros and cons

Dial calipers don’t have a digital screen, and thus require no batteries. Batteries in a digital caliper can die at inconvenient times, but a dial caliper will never have a dead battery!

While digital caliper displays can be easier to read than the dial type, there is one exception - bright sunlight, which can make digital LCD displays harder to read. Using a dial caliper can be slower than a digital caliper, which displays the measurement instantly.

Dial calipers use a rack-and-pinion system, which can come out of alignment if the caliper is dropped, so care is important.

You should keep calipers dry whenever possible, but it’s worth noting that due to their mechanical design, dial calipers can continue to work well when wet. This isn’t true of digital calipers, which can malfunction when damp.

Dial calipers generally come in either metric or imperial (but not both), which means you might need two; while a digital caliper can often convert from metric to imperial on-the-fly.

Kept free from debris, dial calipers are very accurate.

Vernier caliper pros and cons

A key benefit of vernier calipers is fewer moving parts - there is less to go out of calibration or break. With no batteries required, the tool will always work and you’ll never have downtime due to a dead battery. Any inaccuracy when using a Vernier caliper typically comes from operator error, not the tool itself.

A downside of Vernier calipers is that use is slower compared with a digital caliper, which displays the result immediately. Reading the values from a Vernier caliper requires a bit more time and thought.

Compared with dial and digital calipers, most Vernier calipers don’t go to the same number of decimal places. Whether this is important depends on the user and the task - this may not be important for woodworking, for example, where a Vernier caliper can be more accurate than what’s possible working with the material.

Some Vernier calipers have metric and imperial units on the same tool, so you need to buy fewer tools if you work in both unit scales.

Digital caliper pros and cons

A key advantage of a digital caliper compared to a dial or Vernier type is the instant digital readout on a built-in LCD display. Large text can be easier to read, especially for users with poor eyesight, and operation is very fast, showing results immediately.

Because digital calipers don’t use a rack-and-pinion system, they are more resistant to knocks.

Some digital calipers can be switched between metric and imperial units via a press of a button, very convenient.

Digital calipers come with some downsides - notably, they include electrical components, so extra care needs to be taken around moisture. They also rely on batteries, which can die at inconvenient times, so make sure to keep spares around if you elect to use a digital caliper.

Because digital calipers can be zeroed at any opening size, you can use them to easily make comparison measurements.

Need help?

If you have questions about which caliper to choose, or how to get the most out of the caliper you already own, contact one of our experts at All Industrial Tool Supply for help.