Weighing scale

Even with all the advances in weighing scale design and development, all scales until the seventeenth century AD were variations on the balance scale. The standardization of the weights used – and ensuring traders used the correct weights – was a considerable preoccupation of governments throughout this time.

Finely crafted pan balance or scales, with boxed set of standardized gram masses

To reduce the need for large reference masses, an off-center beam can be used. A balance with an off-center beam can be almost as accurate as a scale with a center beam, but the off-center beam requires special reference masses and cannot be intrinsically checked for accuracy by simply swapping the contents of the pans as a center-beam balance can. To reduce the need for small graduated reference masses, a sliding weight called a poise can be installed so that it can be positioned along a calibrated scale. A poise adds further intricacies to the calibration procedure, since the exact mass of the poise must be adjusted to the exact lever ratio of the beam.

One still sees this design in portable beam balances of 500 kg capacity which are commonly used in harsh environments without electricity, as well as in the lighter duty mechanical bathroom scale (which actually uses a spring scale, internally). The additional pivots and bearings all reduce the accuracy and complicate calibration; the float system must be corrected for corner errors before the span is corrected by adjusting the balance beam and poise.

In 1669 the Frenchman Gilles Personne de Roberval presented a new kind of balance scale to the French Academy of Sciences. This scale consisted of a pair of vertical columns separated by a pair of equal-length arms and pivoting in the center of each arm from a central vertical column, creating a parallelogram. From the side of each vertical column a peg extended. To the amazement of observers, no matter where Roberval hung two equal weight along the peg, the scale still balanced. In this sense, the scale was revolutionary: it evolved into the more-commonly encountered form consisting of two pans placed on vertical column located above the fulcrum and the parallelogram below them. The advantage of the Roberval design is that no matter where equal weights are placed in the pans, the scale will still balance.

Further developments have included a in which the parallelogram is replaced by any odd number of interlocking gears greater than one, with alternating gears of the same size and with the central gear fixed to a stand and the outside gears fixed to pans, as well as the "sprocket gear balance" consisting of a bicycle-type chain looped around an odd number of sprockets with the central one fixed and the outermost two free to pivot and attached to a pan.

Because it has more moving joints which add friction, the Roberval balance is consistently less accurate than the traditional beam balance, but for many purposes this is compensated for by its usability.

A microbalance (also called an ultramicrobalance, or nanobalance) is an instrument capable of making precise measurements of the mass of objects of relatively small mass: on the order of a million parts of a gram and below.

"Lady Justice" holding a 2-pan balance beam scale, and a sword: Statue of Justice, Central Criminal Court, London, UK

Spring scales have two sources of error that balances do not: the measured mass varies with the strength of the local gravitational force (by as much as 0.5% at different locations on Earth), and the elasticity of the measurement spring can vary slightly with temperature. With proper manufacturing and setup, however, spring scales can be rated as legal for commerce. To remove the temperature error, a commerce-legal spring scale must either have temperature-compensated springs or be used at a fairly constant temperature. To eliminate the effect of gravity variations, a commerce-legal spring scale must be calibrated where it is used.

A mechanical bathroom scale. Pressure on the internal springs rotates a disc displaying the user's weight in pounds.

A digital bathroom scale is a scale on the floor which a person stands on. The weight is shown on an LED or LCD display. The digital electronics may do more than just display weight, it may calculate body fat, BMI, lean mass, muscle mass, and water ratio. Some modern bathroom scales are wirelessly or cellularly connected and have features like smartphone integration, cloud storage, and fitness tracking. They are usually powered by a button cell, or battery of AA or AAA size.

Digital kitchen scales are used for weighing food in a kitchen during cooking. These are usually lightweight and compact.