The vernier, dial, and digital calipers give a direct reading of the distance measured with high accuracy and precision. They are functionally identical, with different ways of reading the result. These calipers comprise a calibrated scale with a fixed jaw, and another jaw, with a pointer, that slides along the scale. The distance between the jaws is then read in different ways for the three types.

The simplest method is to read the position of the pointer directly on the scale. When the pointer is between two markings, the user can mentally interpolate to improve the precision of the reading. This would be a simple calibrated caliper; but the addition of a vernier scale allows more accurate interpolation, and is the universal practice; this is the vernier caliper.

Vernier, dial, and digital calipers can measure internal dimensions (using the uppermost jaws in the picture at right), external dimensions using the pictured lower jaws, and in many cases depth by the use of a probe that is attached to the movable head and slides along the centre of the body. This probe is slender and can get into deep grooves that may prove difficult for other measuring tools.

The vernier scales may include metric measurements on the lower part of the scale and inch measurements on the upper, or vice versa, in countries that use inches. Vernier calipers commonly used in industry provide a precision to 0.01 mm (10 micrometres), or one thousandth of an inch. They are available in sizes that can measure up to 1,829 mm (72 in)

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