A refinement now popular is the replacement of the analog dial with an electronic digital display on which the reading is displayed as a single value. Some digital calipers can be switched between centimeters or millimeters, and inches. All provide for zeroing the display at any point along the slide, allowing the same sort of differential measurements as with the dial caliper. Digital calipers may contain some sort of "reading hold" feature, allowing the reading of dimensions even in awkward locations where the display cannot be seen. Ordinary 6-in/150-mm digital calipers are made of stainless steel, have a rated accuracy of 0.001 in (0.02 mm) and resolution of 0.0005 in (0.01 mm). The same technology is used to make longer 8-in and 12-in calipers; the accuracy for bigger measurements declines to 0.001 in (0.03 mm) for 100–200 mm and 0.0015 in (0.04 mm) for 200–300 mm.
Many Chinese-made digital calipers are inexpensive and perform reasonably well. One point worth noting is battery current when they are turned off. Many calipers do not stop drawing power when the switch is in the off position; they shut down the display but continue drawing nearly as much current. The current may be as much as 20 microamperes, which is much higher than many established brands. Sometimes calipers may not work properly when the battery voltage has dropped relatively little; silver cells, preferably selected from a datasheet to have a constant voltage for most of their life, may give a much longer usable life than alkaline button cells (e.g., SR44 instead of LR44).
Increasingly, digital calipers offer a serial data output to allow them to be interfaced with a dedicated recorder or a personal computer. The digital interface significantly decreases the time to make and record a series of measurements, and it also improves the reliability of the records. A suitable device to convert the serial data output to common computer interfaces such as RS-232, Universal Serial Bus, or wireless can be built or purchased. With such a converter, measurements can be directly entered into a spreadsheet, a statistical process control program, or similar software.
The serial digital output varies among manufacturers. Common options are
- Mitutoyo's Digimatic interface. This is the dominant name brand interface. Format is 52-bits arranged as 13 nibbles.
- Mahr (appears to offer Digimatic, RS232, and USB)
- Brown & Sharpe, Fowler, Starrett, Tesa, and SPI.
Like dial calipers, the slide of a digital caliper can usually be locked using a lever or thumb-screw.
Some digital calipers contain a capacitive linear encoder. A pattern of bars is etched directly on the printed circuit board in the slider. Under the scale of the caliper another printed circuit board also contains an etched pattern of lines. The combination of these printed circuit boards forms two variable capacitors. The two capacitances are out of phase. As the slider moves the capacitance changes in a linear fashion and in a repeating pattern. The circuitry built into the slider counts the bars as the slider moves and does a linear interpolation based on the magnitudes of the capacitors to find the precise position of the slider. Other digital calipers contain an inductive linear encoder, which allows robust performance in the presence of contamination such as coolants. Magnetic linear encoders are used in yet other digital calipers.