What good is a measuring instrument if it’s not accurate and reliable?
Or if it lacks in durability?
Starrett and Mitutoyo (pronounced “stare-et” and “mitt-oo-toy-oh”) have come highly recommended for decades.
Let’s jump in and find the best tool for your job.
Digital, Dial, or Vernier Calipers?
There’s been some debate over which type of measuring tool is better.
In most cases, I recommend digital. This goes double if you haven’t already learned to read a dial or vernier tool.
Digital measuring tools are very accurate, quick to read, and durable.
They’re a great choice for machinists, for woodworking, for reloading ammunition, or any other use where fast, accurate measurements are needed.
Still, some people prefer a fully mechanical tool.
Especially if you’ve learned to read a certain type of tool – you may want to stick with what works. Nothing wrong with that.
Here’s a list of pluses and minuses for each type.
- Large display is fast to read, even at a distance
- Durable and drop resistant
- Zero button for easy size comparisons
- Button to switch between imperial (inches) or metric (mm)
- Optional USB input with a computer
- Battery changes occasionally needed
- Some parts are plastic and more prone to scratches
- No batteries needed
- Fairly easy to read
- All metal construction
- Has the most moving parts; most prone to drop damage
- Imperial or metric only, not both
- Takes a bit longer than digital to add up measurements
- All metal and the most durable
- Has both imperial and metric measurements
- Slowest to read and calculate
- Requires good eyesight and lighting to read
If you didn’t already have you mind set on digital, dial, or vernier, hopefully that helps.
Moving on, I’ll compare brands.
Starrett vs Mitutoyo Digital Calipers
Starrett products used to be exclusively manufactured in the USA. That is no longer the case.
Their current line of digital calipers is made in China. I think it’s important to point out for those that associate Starrett with USA-made.
Mitutoyo is a Japanese company. Some of their tools are made in Brazil, but all caliper products are made in Japan.
Quality & Accuracy
Most agree the quality of Starrett’s measuring tools has declined since their move to Chinese factories.
They’re still good, and better than you’d find in lower price ranges. However, many calipers are not what they used to be.
Mitutoyo, on the other hand, has remained as good or better than ever in terms of quality.
I find that the thumb screw feels more solid on the Mitutoyo.
Accuracy is very good with either brand.
If accuracy is down to the thousandth is critical, I recommend keeping a set of gauge blocks on hand. This allows you to verify accuracy ahead of any measurement requiring a tight tolerance.
Readability and Ease of Use
Both Starrett and Mitutoyo use LCD displays. They’re both easily readable at various angles and in low light.
The numbers on the displays are nearly identical in size. They both have a resolution of 0.0005″ or 0.01mm.
The Mitutoyo display does have an advantage in how fast it updates. The readout is nearly instantaneous when moving along the slide.
On the Starrett, there is a delay. It’s brief, but it’s noticeable.
Otherwise, I find the two brands to be equally easy to use and to read.
Both brands include a plastic case. They’re both very basic, and perhaps not what you’d expect along with a high-quality tool.
Chances are, a caliper will find a home in your tool chest. If you do need to travel and use a case regularly, don’t expect much out of the included one.
On the instruments themselves, you’ll find power buttons, standard/metric toggles, and a zero button.
Both have fine adjustment knobs and lock screws. I find the placement and feel of the Mitu’s knobs to be a bit better.
Both have a depth probe at the end.
So, feature-wise, they’re nearly identical.
One big reason to step up from cheap, low-quality calipers is for better battery life. $20-40 calipers eat batteries fast, in my experience.
Starrett uses a CR 2032 button cell battery. Though the battery life is much better than cheapo calipers, I’d describe it as “okay.”
Mitutoyos, on the other hand, have excellent battery life. You can expect to get at least a couple of years out of the battery, even if you often forget to power it off.
Important note: Mitutoyos include an SR44 silver oxide battery. LR44 batteries fit, and will function, but won’t provide nearly the same battery life. Be sure to get an SR44 if you’re replacing the battery.
Pricing is similar on both brands. Mitutoyo does come in at about 10% less for the most popular models.
If you go with Mitutoyo, be sure to purchase from a trusted seller. There are a lot of knockoffs sold on eBay and Alibaba. As you’d expect, the knockoffs don’t match the quality of the real deal.
Which brand is a better value? Between the lower price, higher quality construction, and improved battery life, I think Mitutoyo is easily better for the money.
Overall Winner: Mitutoyo Digital Caliper
Starrett vs Mitutoyo Dial Calipers
I mentioned above that Starrett’s digital calipers are no longer USA-made. The country of manufacture varies for dial calipers.
The Starrett 120 series, such as the 120A-6, is USA-made. Expect to pay closer to $200 for these models.
Mitutoyo’s dial calipers are made in Japan.
For the sake of comparison, I’ll stick with detailing the models that sell in the $100 price range.
Quality & Accuracy
Dial calipers from both brands are made of hardened stainless steel. They have a good, solid feel, and smooth slide.
Where they differ is the internals. The gears on the more reasonably-priced Starrett models just don’t appear as durable as older models… or those found in Mitutoyos.
While this doesn’t seem to affect the movement or accuracy, it could speak to the durability or longevity of the Starretts.
Readability and Ease of Use
The dial indicators and slides are easy to read on both brands.
The numbers are slightly larger on Mitu’s, so I find them slightly easier to read from arm’s length.
Mitu’s have added measurements in millimeters at the top of the slide, while Starrett’s are labeled in inches only.
Both measure down to 0.001″ graduation with up to a 6″ range.
A basic plastic case is included with both brands. They’ll protect the instruments pretty well, but they don’t look especially nice.
Personally, I’m okay with a cheap, simple case. It keeps the cost of the tool down, and I store my tools in a chest anyway. Consider something nicer if you’ll be moving between different sites often.
Street prices are nearly identical for both brands.
For less than $100, you can get the Starrett 3202-6 or Mitutoyo 505-742.
Both are a good value, but the quality of the Mitutoyos are a bit better at this price level.
Overall Winner: Mitutoyo Dial Caliper
Starrett vs Mitutoyo Vernier Calipers
Maybe you’re used to reading vernier calipers and want to stick with what you know.
Or, you like them for their durability. They’ll handle drops and grime better than any other calipers.
They also give both standard and metric measurements.
Is Starrett or Mitutoyo better for vernier calipers?
Quality & Accuracy
The battery life and the gears are a weak point in many of Starrett’s digital and dial calipers, but vernier calipers contain neither.
As with digital and dial, Starrett calipers are made in China while Mitutoyo produces theirs in Japan.
In the case of the vernier calipers, both brands are of very good quality for this price range.
Be sure to buy from a reputable seller, as counterfeits do exist.
Readability and Ease of Use
Gradations are identical between the two brands, except the inch/mm marks are on opposite sides.
On Starrett tools, inches are read at the bottom while on Mitutoyo they’re at the top. Take a look at the photos and see if you have a preference.
I find the font that Mitu uses a bit easier to read at a distance, though it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
There’s a learning curve to reading vernier calipers. If you’re new to this type of tool, watch some YouTube videos to get you up to speed on reading them.
Both brands function the same when it comes to reading measurements, using the fine adjustment or lock dials, and using the depth rod.
Street prices are simply better on Mitutoyos.
Mitutoyo’s vernier calipers are priced lower than both their digital and dial models, but the same can’t be said for Starrett.
If you don’t already favor one brand, Mitutoyo is a better value.
Overall Winner: Mitutoyo Vernier Caliper
When the highest level of precision is needed, micrometers are used over calipers.
Calipers are more versatile, being able to take inside, outside, and depth measurements. Outside measurements of greater length are also possible.
Starrett and Mitutoyo calipers measure to 0.001″ (thousandths) or 0.0005″ accuracy.
Micrometers improve on this by measuring down to 0.0001″ (ten-thousandths) or even 0.00005″ accuracy.
In addition to the highest accuracy, micrometers tend to be more durable.
Digital or Analog Micrometers?
As with calipers, I recommend choosing digital in most cases.
The cost is similar, but the resolution is higher on Starrett and Mitutoyo digital micrometers (0.00005″) than on their analog models (0.0001″).
You can also zero out digital micrometers. This allows you to measure the difference between two objects or sections and display it on the DRO (digital readout).
Starrett vs Mitutoyo Digital Micrometers
Just the same as when comparing calipers, Mitutoyos have better electronics.
The battery life is typically a few years on Mitutoyos compared to about half on the Starretts.
The display updates faster on Mitutoyos, so you get your reading a little quicker.
Prices are again lower on Mitutoyo’s models, so I think they’re the better buy.
Overall Winner: Mitutoyo Digital Micrometer