How To Read A Tape Measure


A tape measure or measuring tape is a very important tool to have and use. Measuring things correctly will save you a lot of hassle and time in the long run so learning how to use one is a critical skill!

What Exactly is a Tape Measure?

A tape measure is basically a very long and flexible ruler. They can be made from many different material types but consist of a ribbon of either cloth, plastic, fibre glass, or metal strip with linear-measurement markings.

When referring to a tape measure they generally mean the rolled up, retractable hardware kind that is a metallic strip.

Measuring Units

Tape measures are available in both imperial units (inches and feet) which are commonly used in the USA but you can also buy metric ones (centimeters and meters).

This guide will explain how to read a tape measure with Imperial units.

Measurement Increments on a Tape Measure

1. Designated Inches

All tape measures have large bold numbers starting from 1. These are inches so between 1-2 inches is exactly 1 inch. The number 1 can sometimes be hidden behind the metal on the tape measure but the solid line is still visible.

When you reach 12 inches there will also be a marking saying 1 foot.

2. Designated Foot Markers

Every time you reach 12 inches the 1 foot mark will show up so if you measure out 36inches you will also find a line that says 3 foot and so on.

3. Reading Fractions

This can be the tricky part, for some tape measures will have little lines between the inch lines that represent fractions of an inch. These are important for getting exact measurements.


How to read a measuring Tape
Copyright free image in public domain-Wikimedia Commons

The big, bold  1 and 2 represent inches. The 1/2 is half and inch, and then you have 1/4 and 3/4 on either side. Then even smaller than that are the smaller increments.

So how do you read it when it measures up to the 15/16 line just before the 2 inch mark? You just add the numbers together, so it would be 1 inch plus 15/16 inches so 1 15/16 inches. 

Or again, if what you are measuring goes to the half inch line it would be 1 inch plus the half inch so 1 ½ inches long. 

Some tape measures will also have markings at the 16 inch mark, this is generally the distance between studs which makes it easier to locate them. Alternatively you can read our best stud finder review if you are looking for a tool specific to this!

Other Components of a Tape Measures

Housing and Belt Clip

The housing is generally made from a hard plastic and contains the tape in place. The tape measure is coiled up inside it and held there by the spring mechanism.

Most tape measures also have a belt clip which makes it easy to fasten to your tool belt.

Spring and Stop

Tape measures are retractable and this is because the tape is connected to a metal spring which is coiled around a post.

So when you pull the tape out if you want it to remain extended then you can push down on the sliding plastic knob which locks it in place.

When you are done, slide it back up and it retracts into the housing.

Hooked Tab

This is the metal end of the tape measure and is used to hook onto the end of what you are measuring. It also helps to hold it in place if you need to measure something that is quite long and are alone.

Bottom Line

I hope this will help to to read a tape measure effectively. Learning the increments on a tape can be a little confusing initially but is a very important skill to learn.

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