Analytical Balance vs. Precision Balance—Which Is Right for Your Lab?

Several kinds of lab balances are available in different shapes and sizes. Used in scientific research and experiments, lab balances measure small amounts of material. Depending on the type of scale you get, you can obtain extremely accurate results for smaller quantities or less precise results for heavier materials. 

To determine which scale or balance is best for your work, you must consider several factors, such as what type of material (and how much of it) will be measured, the level of accuracy required, the type of units you will employ, etc.

American Scale is proud to carry a wide selection of scale-related services and products, including excellent analytical balance and precision balance products. Still, what are the exact differences between these two types, and which is best for you?

What’s the Difference Between a Balance and a Scale?

Before we look at analytical and precision balances, it’s important to understand the difference between balances and scales. While these words are often used interchangeably, as both measure the weight of an object, some subtle distinctions should be noted. 

Lab balances typically measure in milligrams or micrograms, whereas scales usually measure only in whole grams. Balances typically have a smaller weighing capacity, whereas scales have a larger weighing capacity. 

When considering weighing equipment, know what materials you will be using and how they need to be weighed.

Precision Balance

Precision balances (also referred to as top-loading balances) are considered semi-analytical balances because they are less accurate than standard analytical balances. Precision balances have a readability of up to three decimal places and can measure up to 200 g.

These balances are often used to obtain preliminary measurements of samples of materials that will then be weighed and processed on balances with more specialized readabilities. These balances are often used in medical fields.

Ohaus Adventurer™ Precision Balance
Ohaus Adventurer™ Precision Balance

Precision balances have several pros and cons.

Pros

  • Less Expensive – Precision balances typically cost less than analytical balances.
  • Can Measure Larger Quantities– A precision balance is designed to weigh larger and heavier quantities than an analytical balance. As a result, precision are usually sturdier than analytical.
  • Fast and Easy To Use – Precision balances typically have digital weight indicators that are easier to read.

Cons

  • Less Accuracy – Precision balances do not weigh with as much accuracy as other scales. If your facility or industry requires extremely accurate measurements, an analytical balance is a superior option.

Analytical Balance

Analytical balances are designed to measure small masses with high precision. Typically capable of measuring at least four decimal places to the right of the decimal point, these balances are so sensitive that even air currents can affect measurements. To prevent inaccurate readings, analytical balances come with a draft shield.

Analytical balances require frequent calibration, as well as dedicated space to prevent environmental interference. As the most common lab scale, analytical balances are widely used in pharmaceutical settings.

A&D Weighing AD-4212A Series Analytical Balance
A&D Weighing AD-4212A Series Analytical Balance

Analytical balances also have several pros and cons.

  • Pros
    • Extreme Accuracy – Analytical balances are designed to provide extremely accurate measurements. Available with a variety of capacities and levels of readability, you can choose the option that is best for your facility’s needs.
    • Reliable – As long as you regularly calibrate, analytical balances can detect the slightest fluctuations in weight.
    • Display – Most analytical balances are electronic and have a digital display that is easy to read, especially in low-light conditions.

Cons

  • Not Intended as Portable Equipment – An analytical balance performs best when it is left in place. Any movements or vibrations can negatively affect its accuracy.
  • Sensitive to Environmental Interference – While the accuracy of any weighing equipment can be adversely affected by environmental conditions, an analytical balance is even more sensitive to such factors. Air pressure, dust, temperature, and more can all affect the devices accuracy. 

Fully assess your needs and the intended location to help determine if an analytical balance or a precision balance is best for you.

Factors To Consider When Choosing a Lab Scale or Balance

When choosing a scale or balance, consider several factors to help you determine which weighing equipment is best for your facility.

Your Industry

Adhere to any specifications your industry sets concerning how materials and objects are weighed and recorded. For example, each industry may have different guidelines regulating levels of accuracy and preferred units of measurement.

Know What You’re Measuring

Know exactly what material(s) need to be measured, as well as the quantity. Also, account for the size of the objects you will be weighing, as whatever is weighed needs to fit on the weighing platform or pan. Samples that extend over the weighing pan can lead to inaccurate readings.

Weighing Location and Environment

Consider the environment in which you need a scale or balance. Is it a lab with a controlled environment or a project site that is more exposed to the elements? How will environmental elements such as wind, temperature, and humidity affect measurements? 

Even dust and dirt can affect results, so it’s crucial to keep your lab scale clean.

Required Weighing Capacity

The total load (what is placed on a scale) must be within the device’s rated capacity to provide an accurate measurement. Also, factor in the weight and size of containers or scoops (to help with this, many electronic scales factor in a tare weight separate from rated capacity.)

Special Features

Considering the application(s) the scale is being used for can help you decide which special features the scale will need. For example, will the scale or balance need to be portable or have some form of environmental and overload protection?

Precision vs. Analytical Balance: Which Is Best for Your Lab?

Precision and analytical balances both measure the weight of materials and objects. Which type is best for your lab or another work environment will depend on several factors: industry requirements, what is being measured, required weighing capacity, weighing location, environmental factors, special features, etc. Once you know this information, you can select the scale or balance that will provide the type of measurements required.

To recap, analytical balances measure small masses with highly accurate results.  If your field requires highly accurate measurements (like the healthcare industry does, for instance), analytical balances are ideal. As these provide such precise measurements, though, analytical balances are highly sensitive to environmental factors.

Precision balances weigh larger quantities but with less precision and tend to be sturdier, easier to use, and more affordable than its analytical counterpart.

American Scale Has a Wide Selection of Precision and Analytical Balances

American Scale is here for all your scale needs. Our balances are lab-tested, and we offer consultations to help you choose which balance is best for your business, as well as scale maintenance and calibration servicesReach out to us today!