Test Indicator Brand Comparison

In Brief: the best dial test indicators are Swiss-made. Take that with a heaping spoonful of salt, however. Even "Swiss" indicators will contain Chinese elements and they may even be assembled in China. As a matter of conjecture, we can suspect that ALL manufacturers now resort to the aid of China in making their gages.

Here's the odd part: The worst dial test indicators are Chinese, and - sorry to say - American. We'll let you figure out the manufacturers in question.

Don't have time to do a lot of reading and research and are willing to trust us for the best choices regardless of their country of origin? Here they are (without any reservations):

  • Single revolution (.0001" or .0005"): BesTest
  • Two revolutions (.0001" or .0005"): Interapid

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Notes on Manufacturers

Accupro vanity dial appears on indicators made in China and Germany. The Chinese indicators are worthless and can not be repaired. The German indicators are the Puppitast series made by Mahr-Federal.
  • Repairs: see Mahr-Federal listing, below
  • Sales: catalogs
  • Parts: from Mahr-Federal for the German made models only
  • Information: see Mahr listing, below
Alina (Switzerland) indicators were made by Compac until the mid-1960's. They are no longer available and spare parts are exhausted. The Alina Model 88 indicator was a superior version of the American-made Last Word indicator.

Baker (China) indicators are cheap throw-aways for which parts are not available. We have been told that they are somewhat longer lived than other Chinese brands. Replacement contact points are not available but Compac points will fit, in a pinch.

Baty (Swiss) indicators are a vanity dial on Girodtast indicators. (see below)

Bestest (Switzerland) has become America's favorite and there are good reasons. They're among the very best available; a great value for the money. Excellent repeatability and quick response make them desirable. If there's a drawback, it's that they're prone to damage because of the light construction. Available in black or white, horizontal, vertical or parallel. Except for the name on the dial and the accessories in the kit, they are identical to Tesatast. Distributed in the US by Brown & Sharpe these are often not available through Amazon and you will have to contact a distributor.


China indicators have now flooded the market, being sold under many different brand names such as Türlen (to make them sound German) or even Amazon (to make them sound like they're produced by the internet giant). They cost a fraction of the European or Japanese-made indicators and must be treated as throw-away gages.

CDI (Chicago) test indicators are identical to Compac (Switzerland). These were made for CDI in the 1980's. CDI no longer sells them but you can buy the Compac replacements.
Compac (Switzerland) a long standing brand originally sold under the name PARVUS, later as Alina, Lufkin and SPI. Because of their high cost, they lost popularity and were slowly phased out starting in 2001. The line was completely discontinued in 2020 only to be resurrected in 2023 due to popular demand, according to TESA, the Swiss manufacturer. The name "Compac" was dropped (injudiciously in our opinion) and the dials now read "TESA" and a rather cryptic "P-Line". For the time being, only metric indicators are available. Rumor has it that inch reading indicators will also become available at some point.


Swiss-made Compac test indicators are thankfully again being manufactured, albeit only in metric models for the time being. Click the image for detail.
Craftsman indicators are sold by Sears but are often times made in the UK in which case they are identical to Verdict indicators. They're not very good (in fact, they're downright awful) but do offer the "pear shaped" contact point which makes them look quite medieval and eliminates the cosine error, in theory.

EMS (Germany) no information available at this time.

Federal Gage made the worst test indicator you could get stuck with. Blobs of solder were used to hold it together. Mercifully these have been discontinued. The last models named Testmaster were made by Tesa in Switzerland and they're identical to Bestest indicators (see above). These are no longer available from Federal, but you can still buy the Bestest equivalent. The newest indicators are called MarTest (see Mahr-Federal).

Fowler once relied heavily on English imports such as Verdict indicators. These were about as good as English weather. Nowadays they rely more heavily on Swiss made gages but also offer look-alikes in their effort to remain competitive. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing: they offer a pathetic imitation of the Bestest indicator and an Interapid look-alike is made in China and sold under the name Xtest. The best mechanical test indicator which Fowler offers is the Swiss made Girodtast. Fowler recently introduced Ultra-Tast indicators which are made by Kafer in Germany. It is a respectable manufacturer but has been known to outsource to China. Repairs and spare parts may be hard to come by. A five-year warranty sounds great but it is against manufacturing defects. Any defects would be noticed within the first few weeks of use and not likely after four-and-a-half years. When shopping Fowler, if it doesn't say "Swiss Made" or "German made": Buyer beware.

  • Repairs: limited by parts availability. Ask your preferred repair shop before sending these.
  • Sales: Fowler distributors and online
  • Parts: check with Fowler
The Fred Fowler Company has been in business as long as anyone. They offer quality Swiss gages (Girodtast) as well as these bargain-basement generics. Click the image for detail.
Gem (USA) makes an inferior version of the popular Starrett Last Word Indicator. This would be fine if they were cheaper. There is an odd variation, however: one model has two dial faces, one on each side. This comes in handy in some applications. Some of the newest models have replaceable dove tails. Gem also manufactures a line of indicator clamps and holders.

  • Repairs: not worthwhile
  • Sales: discount catalogs
  • Parts: from the manufacturer or through a dealer

Girodtast (still made in Switzerland) is similar to the old style (1970's) Bestest indicator with considerable improvements to make them sturdier. In the USA these are sold by Fowler. In Switzerland they are also sold with the name SISO-Tast. If you've ever wanted a Bestest indicator with multiple revolutions, Girod offers several models with extended ranges.

  • Repairs: limited by parts availability. Ask us before sending these..
  • Sales: Fowler although frequently out of stock
  • Parts: hard to find

H.G. Jensen
(Waltham, Massachusetts) is an exceptionally basic relic of early test indicator design. If you find one of these, keep it for historical purposes.

Hughes Aircraft Company had a patented modification of the Swiss Compac indicator in the 1980s. This allowed it to measure force. It appears that the only modifications to the 214GA model were a stronger return spring, and a custom counter-clockwise dial without a revolution counter.

Interapid (Switzerland) is the gem of all test indicators. These have the distinctive slanted dial which the other manufacturers have only just begun to copy. Correct readings are obtained when the contact angle is 12°. Undoubtedly this has its advantages as long as the user remembers to take it into account. The revolution counter hand does not have any numbers associated with it. There are just a couple of tick marks showing you that you've gone around once or twice. Dials are balanced and the right side of the dial has a thin black line which will help you determine plus or minus in a mirror set-up. A 4 mm diameter holding stem is permanently attached to the far end of the indicator. Models with 2.8" long contact points tend to have a slower response and should probably only be used to measure .001" (Note: beware of cheap Interapid look-alike ripoffs now being offered in catalogs. They're made in China and they're junk. Insist on the real thing.)


Intnerapid vertical indicator profile
Interapid indicators are made in Switzerland but there are many Chinese rip-offs on the internet. Checking the reviews will tell you that these bargain imitations aren't always the best choice. Click the image for detail.
Johnson Gage test indicators of the 1950's and 1960's were made by Compac, Geneva. They were the same as those sold under the Alina brand name (see Alina, above). They are obviously long obsolete.

Kafer (Germany) (also spelled Käfer and Kaefer) manufactures a complete line of test indicators with one revolution. These are beautifully crafted and come in a box with a clear lid, so you can easily see what you're taking off the shelf. Alas, they do not have identifying serial numbers. An excellent alternative to Swiss-made indicators but model styles are limited. Parts are available from Germany but rarely does anyone stock them.

Kurt (USA) although located in Minneapolis, these are generic made-in-China imports. They're cheap throwaways although Kurt claims they're of better quality than other Chinese indicators. This is possible but we can not verify it.

Last Word (USA) Starrett makes this stalwart and ubiquitous test indicator without resorting to toothed gears. Although usually accurate we've seen enough of them that compare poorly with the better built, gear driven indicators to warrant skepticism. The body on older models, being made of iron, rusts easily and will become magnetic (and sticky as a result). Newer models are black anodized.

  • Last Word Repairs: Starrett's service department and other independent repair shops
  • Sales & Information
  • Parts: available directly from the manufacturer

Image
American-made Starrett indicators have been around for 100 years and they still remain a favorite among student machinists. Click the image for detail.
Lufkin never manufactured any of their own indicators. In the 1960's they had a vanity dial on the Alina indicator. These tended to have model numbers such as V60X. It was never clear how they managed to usurp Alina's exclusive rights to these gages and that may have been the reason the line was finally dropped. Repairs are no longer possible due to the obsolete parts.

MarTest possibly manufactured in Czech Republic by Mahr but some gages do not show a country of origin which is a pretty sure sign that they come from China. These are modeled after the Mitutoyo design but the bezel is made of metal and less likely to be damaged. These test indicators have the contact point length conveniently inscribed on the side of the case. We find that the .0001" indicators may be too sensitive for some users. The contact point swivels very easily and this can cause problems with repeatabiltiy. The bezel turns on a rubber o-ring and this has sometimes dried out on us creating much too much friction for comfort.
  • Repairs: independent repair shops but their low price may make it uneconomical.
  • Parts: if available, can be bought directly from the manufacturer
Mahr indicators are well made but their country of origin is dubious. Click the image for detail.
Mahr (Puppitast) manufactured in Germany, part of the pre-Mahr-Federal conglomeration. These are structurally similar to Bestest, Tesatast and Girodtast indicators. The handsome bodies are somewhat sturdier and have textured sides which might, under some circumstances, keep them from slipping out of your hands. The crystal can rather easily be replaced without tools and this is an advantage over Bestest and Tesatast. Discontinued.

Mercer manufactured in Switzerland and are identical to Compac indicators. All models are discontinued. Previous models were made in England. They are also discontinued.


MHC Industrial Supply made in China. Whenever the country of origin is not printed on the indicator dial, you can be assured it's Chinese. For some reason they can get away with that.

Mitutoyo
new models, completely redesigned in 2017, are manufactured in Japan. Some models are available with optically scannable serial numbers on the dial face. The proper contact point length is now shown on the dial of each indicator. The new "pocket" models 513-512 and 513-518 are a major improvement in design and construction over the old models and can be recommended. The multi-revolution slanted dials which mimic the Swiss Interapid indicator have one significant difference: they are accurate when the contact point is used at an angle of 0°. This could be a source of confusion—and error—in a shop which uses both brands. Because of their often low list price, these are best considered "throw-away" indicators. Repair are likely to be uneconomical. To prove the point, the manufacturer uses epoxy on some of the assemblies, making them virtually impossible to disassemble. Mitutoyo has frequent model updates.

Mitutoyo is a leader in precision gaging. They will cost more than generic brands but spare parts, repairs, and manufacturer support will be available. Click the image for detail.
Mueller old models were made in England. Repairs are no longer possible.

Nork
indicators were manufactured in Manhattan of all places, by General Howe Mfg Co., Inc. They're a dreadful imitation of the Starrett Last Word indicator although they did have a much more functional reversing lever. Repairs: not possible

P-Line
(Switzerland) newly branded by TESA, they are identical to the old COMPAC models, even keeping the same model numbers. The only difference is a redesigned dial face. For the time being, only metric indicators are available. Rumor has it that inch reading indicators will also become available at some point.


Newly designed dials are the only change on these P-Line indicators. Click the image for details.
Parvus indicators were manufactured in Switzerland during the 1940-50's and sold in the US with the Alina name on the dial. These were later transformed into the Compac models. You may see the word Parvus stamped on some of the old bodies. Long obsolete (1950's), there are no parts or repair service available. Repairs: not possible.

Peacock (Pic-Test) manufactured in Japan. This is a meager entry in the test indicator market, designed along the lines of the old model Bestest. Comparison ends there, however. Calibration often has to be fudged by changing the contact point angle on the .0001" model. Newer models contain plastic gears. They are available from some catalog houses but parts are generally unavailable.
  • Sales: various catalogs
  • Parts: generally unavailable

Scherr Tumico (S-T Industries) carries some test indicators made in England and others from China.
  • Sales: various catalogs
  • Parts: generally unavailable
  • Information: see their web site
Shars generic indicator made in China

There is no shortage of economically-priced test indicators available at Amazon like this China-made Shars gage. Click the image for detail.
Sisotast manufactured in Switzerland. This is a vanity dial for the Girodtast indicator. The indicators are identical with the exception of the dial.

SPI (China) manufactured for SPI. These are generally the same Chinese indicators you can buy under any number of other "brand" names. The cheap price gives them away. SPI stands for Swiss Precision Instruments. Don't let this fool you. These are not Swiss and their precision is short lived. (SPI used to offer genuine Swiss indicators with the SPI name. They were made by Compac and you can still get them. See Compac above.)

  • Repairs: not possible
  • Sales: any SPI distributor
  • Parts: not available.

Spot-On made in England, looks for all the world like an old Verdict indicator. These are obsolete and may date back to the 1940-50's if not earlier. Starrett Last Word would be an acceptable replacement if you like this style.

Standard Check-Master manufactured in Poughkeepsie, a long time ago. This indicator was like the Federal TestMaster design only much better. It was elegant and beautiful in comparison. Parts and service are no longer available on this long obsolete item.

Starrett
(USA) would like us to believe that they are products of the USA. Recently released models 3808 and 3809 do not claim to be made in USA and rumor has it that these are of Chinese origin. Models 708 and 709 are "American Made". We have found these to be surprisingly accurate. Construction-wise, none of the Starrett test indicators are in the same league as their European made counterparts.

  • Repairs: the manufacturer or independent repair shops
  • Sales: Starrett test indicator available from Amazon
  • Parts: can be bought directly from Starrett or a distributor
There are two kinds of Starrett indicators: those that are "American Made" and those without a country of origin. Their bargain prices should tell you where they come from. Click the image for detaisl.
Teclock (Japan) You can often buy European-made models for less, and you'll get better quality. Spare parts are not commonly available. These indicators are heftier but feature an inferior execution of the Bestest-style mechanism. The newest models seem to come with plastic bezels. When the crystals are scratched, or the bezel breaks (it will) you won't be able to replace them.

  • Repairs: generally not possible
  • Sales: various catalogs
  • Parts: not available

Tesatast (Switzerland but models since 2018 may have Chinese origins) manufactured by Tesa are identical to Bestest with all the same good features. The accessories that come with the indicator are different. We have all parts in stock.


Testmaster (USA) an indicator made by Federal Gage and discontinued, mercifully, in the 1970's. This was one of the worst designs and executions of all time. Blobs of solder were used to keep the return spring in place. Unbelievable.

Türlen an inexpensive generic test indicator with a fancy German-sounding name made in China by the looks of it.

  • Repairs: not worth it
  • Sales: widely available in discount catalogs
  • Parts: not available

Valueline an inexpensive generic test indicator sold by Brown & Sharpe. Made in China by the looks of it

  • Repairs: parts not available
  • Sales: they seem to be chronically unavailable.

XTest (China) manufactured for Fowler as a rip-off on the high-quality Interapid indicator. They look so much alike in the advertisements that many people are fooled into thinking they're getting a terrific deal on the Swiss indicator. You get what you pay for. In this case, a pathetic imitation.

GIROD-TAST
The "other" Swiss indicator still made in Switzerland.

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