A Comprehensive Guide To Dial Indicators

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you needed to measure something accurately, but your regular measuring tools just couldn't cut it?

Maybe you were working on a project that required precise measurements or troubleshooting a mechanical issue that required pinpoint accuracy.

Whatever the case may be, you needed a tool that could deliver the accuracy and precision you required.

That's where dial indicators come in.

These powerful tools are designed to provide incredibly accurate measurements, making them a must-have for anyone who wants to get the job done right the first time.

In this article, I'll take a closer look at what dial indicators are, how they work, and why they're so essential for anyone who needs to measure with precision.

A dial indicator, also known as a dial gauge, dial test indicator, or simply an indicator, is a mechanical device used to sense and indicate the dimensional variation in a workpiece or manufactured part.

These precise instruments have been around since the early 1900s and are widely used as basic gauges for measuring linear dimensions.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore how dial indicators work, the different types available, their applications, factors affecting accuracy, advantages and disadvantages, how to properly use and read them, tips for maintenance and calibration, and how to select the right dial indicator for specific measurement tasks.

How Does a Dial Indicator Work?

A dial indicator consists of a spindle, a plunger, and a dial face with markings for measurements. Here's how it works:

  1. The dial indicator is attached to a fixed base or stand so that the tip of the spindle is at a specific height against either a master or reference part.
  2. The operator lifts the spindle with a lever, slides the part to be measured under the spindle, and lowers the spindle back down.
  3. Variations in the part's surface height cause internal movement of the plunger, which is translated into dial readings.
  4. The dial indicator has a measuring range, which defines the maximum distance it can measure, and a resolution, which is the smallest distance it can measure.
  5. The operator reads the dial indicator by looking at the pointer, which points to the measured number on the dial.

Dial indicators come in various sizes, ranges, and resolutions. They can have balanced or continuous dials, and some types can even work backward based on the particular application. The shape of contact points and the material they are made from make them more suited for different applications.

Types of Dial Indicators

There are different types of dial indicators available for dimensional measurement. Here are the types mentioned:

  1. Type A Dial Gauge
  2. Type B Dial Gauge
  3. Type C Dial Gauge
  4. Micrometer dial gauge
  5. Lever type dial gauge
  6. Digital Indicator Type A Dial Gauge

Each type of dial indicator is suited for different applications and has its own unique features and advantages.

Applications of Dial Indicators

Dial indicators are widely used in dimensional measurement for various applications. Here are some common applications:

  • Repetitive, comparative measurements: Dial indicators excel at repetitive, comparative measurements. When mounted in a fixture gage, the straight, vertical motion of the dial indicator ensures accurate and consistent readings.
  • Measuring linear dimensional variations: Dial indicators are often built in with other measuring systems as a read-out device. They are widely used to measure the linear dimensional variations of a workpiece.
  • Amplifying dimensional tolerance: Dial indicators are used for amplifying dimensional tolerance. The height difference is transmitted to the measuring head of the dial indicator for measurement.
  • Measuring small dimensional variations: Dial indicators can indicate dimensional variations as small as 0.00005". They are highly sensitive mechanisms that must be handled with care.

These are just a few examples of the many applications of dial indicators in dimensional measurement.

Why Precision Instruments Matter in Dimensional Measurement

When it comes to measuring dimensions, accuracy is everything. That's why precision instruments are crucial to ensuring that measurements are as close to perfect as possible.

Dial indicators, for example, are a type of precision instrument that can measure small distances with incredible accuracy.

These instruments are designed to provide precise readings that can help engineers and machinists ensure that their products meet the required specifications.

Without precision instruments, it would be impossible to achieve the level of accuracy needed for many manufacturing processes.

Whether you're building a car engine or a computer chip, precision instruments are essential tools that help ensure that everything fits together perfectly.

For more information:

Exploring Precision Instruments for Dimensional Measurement

Factors Affecting Accuracy

Several factors can affect the accuracy of dial indicators. It is fundamental to consider these factors to ensure precise measurements. Here are some factors to keep in mind:

  • Zero setting: Zero setting is important as it eliminates errors in both the dial indicator and the workpiece.
  • Human factors: Measurement differences caused by human factors can reduce the accuracy of tooth depth size measurements.
  • Engine vibration: Dial indicator accuracy can be reduced by engine vibration.
  • Parallax error: Parallax error is a common error factor in dial indicators. It occurs when the reading is affected by the position of the observer's eye.
  • Permissible indication errors: Dial test indicators have permissible indication errors based on their graduation and measuring range.

Understanding and mitigating these factors can help ensure accurate measurements with dial indicators.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Dial Indicators

Like any measuring tool, dial indicators have their advantages and disadvantages. Here's a look at both:

Advantages of Dial Indicators:

  • Very accurate and can measure small distances
  • Easy to use and do not require training
  • Simple and intuitive to use
  • Versatile and can be used for many different measurements
  • Relatively inexpensive compared to other indicator devices

Disadvantages of Dial Indicators:

  • Not very durable and may break down after a few uses
  • Expensive compared to other measuring instruments
  • Can lose accuracy due to machine vibration
  • Parallax effect can affect readings
  • Not suitable for measuring irregular objects

Considering these advantages and disadvantages can help you determine if a dial indicator is the right tool for your specific measurement needs.

How to Use and Read a Dial Indicator

Properly using and reading a dial indicator is crucial for accurate measurements. Here are the steps to follow:

Calibrating Your Dial Indicator:

  1. Mount your dial indicator on a stand to stabilize it.
  2. Turn the outer face until the hand points to 0 to calibrate the dial.

Using a Dial Indicator to Measure:

  1. Align the base of the spindle with the item to be measured.
  2. Press the spindle on the bottom against the item you're measuring.
  3. Slowly turn the spindle by hand to find either the highest or lowest point.
  4. Set the zero to that point.
  5. Turn the spindle again to see the largest reading. The result is called Total Indicator Runout (TIR).

Basic Dial Indicator Reading Terms:

  • Measuring Range: The maximum distance the indicator can measure.
  • Resolution: The smallest distance the indicator can measure.

Reading a dial indicator is relatively straightforward. Most dial indicators are used in a comparative mode using a balanced dial, with minus (-) readings on the left of 0 and plus (+) readings on the right of 0. The user can simply see if the indicator's needle is within tolerance bands or lies within red sections highlighted on the dial. No interpretation is necessary.

It is fundamental to handle dial indicators with care, securely fasten them in the proper location, and protect the spindle by keeping it clean. Using accessories can also enhance the efficiency, accuracy, and ease of use of dial indicators.

Maintenance and Calibration Tips

To ensure accurate measurements and prolong the lifespan of your dial indicator, here are some maintenance and calibration tips:


  • Keep the indicator spindle and point clean using a soft, lint-free cloth.
  • Use diamond, tungsten carbide, or hard chromium-tipped indicator points for heavy wear.
  • Store your dial indicators in a safe, dry place and cover them to keep dust and moisture out.
  • Test your indicators under gaging conditions at intervals during the operating day.
  • Hold the dial gauge firmly and use a magnetic base for stability.
  • Pre-load the dial gauge to ensure consistent pressure on the workpiece.
  • Take note of the inner revolutions before and after measurement.
  • Clean the dials with soap and water, benzene, or a soft eraser.


  • Don't use an indicator that has been dropped or struck until you have it tested thoroughly.
  • Don't overtighten the micrometer's spindle, as it can cause measurement errors.
  • Don't rely solely on the dial indicator; use it in conjunction with a fixed base or stand.

Following these maintenance and calibration tips will help ensure accurate measurements and extend the lifespan of your dial indicators.

Selecting the Right Dial Indicator

When selecting a dial indicator for a specific measurement task, consider the following tips:

  1. Determine the range that allows the tolerance spread to occupy 1/10 to 1/4 of the dial.
  2. Consider the dial face and its markings for easier reading.
  3. Ensure stability by using a stable and rigid mounting system.
  4. Consider the size, range, and resolution of the dial indicator.
  5. Handle the dial indicator with care and test it thoroughly before use.

By considering these tips, you can select the right dial indicator for your specific measurement needs.

Using Dial Indicators with Other Measuring Tools

Dial indicators can be used in conjunction with other measuring tools to provide more comprehensive dimensional measurement. Here are some ways to use dial indicators with other measuring tools:

  1. Use a magnetic base to firmly mount the dial indicator for stability.
  2. Use a micrometer to calibrate the dial indicator.
  3. Change the measuring head of the dial indicator for different types of measurements.
  4. Utilize displacement measuring devices for less demanding precision requirements.
  5. Incorporate dial indicators into large-diameter shallow hole measuring tools for accurate and reliable measurements.

These are just a few examples of how dial indicators can be used in conjunction with other measuring tools for more accurate and comprehensive dimensional measurement.

Dial indicators are versatile and precise mechanical devices used for dimensional measurement. They are widely used in various industries and applications. By understanding how dial indicators work, their types, applications, factors affecting accuracy, advantages and disadvantages, proper usage and reading techniques, maintenance and calibration tips, and selecting the right dial indicator for specific tasks, you can effectively utilize dial indicators for accurate dimensional measurements.

Remember to handle dial indicators with care, follow proper maintenance procedures, and use them in conjunction with other measuring tools when necessary for more comprehensive measurements.

Closing remarks and recommendations

So, we've covered a lot about dial indicators in this post. We've talked about their applications, advantages, disadvantages, common mistakes, maintenance, and even how to select and use them. But, let me ask you this - have you ever stopped to think about the impact that dimensional measurement has had on our world?

Think about it - without precise measurements, we wouldn't have the technology we have today. From the cars we drive to the phones we use, everything is designed and manufactured with dimensional measurement in mind. And, at the heart of all that, are tools like dial indicators.

But, as much as we rely on these tools, it's important to remember that they are just that - tools. They are only as good as the person using them. So, while it's great to have access to the latest and greatest equipment, it's even more important to have skilled and knowledgeable operators.

In the end, dial indicators are just one small piece of a much larger puzzle. They are a tool that allows us to measure and quantify the world around us. But, it's up to us to use that information to create something meaningful and impactful. So, the next time you're using a dial indicator, take a moment to appreciate the power and potential that comes with accurate dimensional measurement. Who knows what you might create next?

Understanding Metrology Measurement Units

Tip: Turn on the caption button if you need it. Choose 'automatic translation' in the settings button if you are not familiar with the english language. You may need to click on the language of the video first before your favorite language becomes available for translation.

Links and references

  1. mitutoyo.co.jp
  2. mmsonline.com

Note for my reference: (Article status: preliminary)

Share on…