How to Read a Tape Measure – Simple Tutorial & Free Cheat Sheet

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No more wondering “what are all the markings on a tape measure?!” This simple and detailed tutorial to will teach you exactly how to read a tape measure both accurately and easily. Plus, you can download our free printable cheat sheet to use as a reference while you work!

I have to be honest, even though I use a tape measure fairly often (we’re talking at least twice a week) I still have to think really hard about what measurement I’m looking at.

Reading tape measures is confusing and – let’s be real – tape measures are just simply NOT made with the concept of “easy to read” in mind… There are all sorts of numbers and lines on them, and without some sort of knowledge as to what they mean, it’s really easy to get confused!

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If you’re a beginner, or new to the DIY world, don’t be discouraged if it takes you a bit of time to fully understand how to read a tape measure. You’ll get the hang of it in no time with these detailed explanations and simple tutorial.

Plus, our downloadable cheat sheet will also help you become super confident in reading tape measures!

HOW TO READ A TAPE MEASURE
– A SIMPLE TUTORIAL –

In this tutorial, I am going to show you exactly how to read a tape measure and break down the process into easy to understand steps. We’ll start with looking at the types of measuring tapes you can buy, then discuss how to read the markings on the tape measure, and finish with a look at my printable cheat sheet and how to use it.

It’s my goal that this simple tutorial for how to read a tape measure will make reading measuring tapes so much easier for you going forward!

Types of Tape Measures

While there aren’t a whole lot of variations between tape measures, there are a few different styles you can get. Let’s review the most common ones so you can determine which will work best for you and the measuring you’ll be doing on your projects!

EASY READ TAPE MEASURE

An easy read tape measure has the most dimension details on the tape, making the reading of your measurement easier to recognize and quite possibly quicker. These measuring tapes are often referred to as “quick read” or “speed mark” tape measures and include labels for many of the smaller (1/8″, 1/4″, 1/2″) measurement values along with the larger (1″) marks.

Here’s an example of markings on a quick read or easy read measuring tape:

See how the bottom edge on this image gives you all of the mark labels down to the 1/8″ size?

This type of easy read tape measure can be a great option for a beginner because it makes it easier to recognize the marking dimensions. But, be aware that having all that information on the small tape means the fonts are much smaller and it can be hard to read these measurements from far away. If you’re planning to do primarily close up measuring, you might love a quick read tape measure!

Need one? Here are a few affordable, easy read measuring tapes to check out:

STANDARD TAPE MEASURE

A standard tape measure will have all the same markings as an easy read measuring tape, but will only have labels for the large 1″ marks. This is typically why people new to reading measuring tapes find it hard to know what measurement they’re actually looking at.

We’ve owned and used this standard tape measure for years and have been very happy with it. Once you learn what the markings mean (see our next section!) this type of measuring tape will be easy to read too. The nice thing about them is the 1″ marks are much larger and easier to read than the easy read tape measure option discussed above.

Grab one of these standard tape measures if you like the idea of larger labels:

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OTHER TAPE MEASURE OPTIONS

In addition to the easy read and standard tape measures discussed above, there are a few other non-traditional measuring tapes you can use for projects too.

Flexible, vinyl measuring tapes are typically used for sewing and fabric, but I’ve used them for measuring round objects in our DIY or home improvement projects before as well. Like the standard tape measures, these only label the 1″ marks along the tape and require you to understand how to read a tape measure.

Pocket tape measures are a great option for when you need to take a measuring tape with you on-the-go or want a compact measuring tape. We keep one in our junk drawer and one in my purse for when I’m out shopping or at a client’s house.

These portable tape measures are typically shorter in total length than the other tapes we’ve looked at and still only label the larger (1″) marks.

No matter which type of measuring tape you decide to get, the most important thing is that you get familiar with and become confident in reading the markings on them! Let’s get to the part where I teach you how to do that, shall we?

How to Read a Tape Measure Markings

Before we talk math, I wanted to point out a few things you need to know when learning how to read a tape measure:

  • The numbers are almost always oriented so that the tape measure pulls out to the right (thanks a lot right-handed peeps!) which means you’ll be reading your measurements from left to right.
  • The little metal piece on the end of the tape is for hooking your tape on whatever you’re measuring – it makes it easier to measure when you’re by yourself.
  • The little slide button on top of the tape measure is a locking mechanism. Use it to lock your tape out so you can measure without having to hold the end of the tape.

WHAT ARE THE LINES ON A TAPE MEASURE?

Ok, time to dive into the math! Trust me, it’s not as complicated as it seems… You can do this!

First, note that as the measurement values get smaller, so do the markings. So when you look at the tape measure, the 1″ marks are the largest (going at least halfway down the tape width) and the 1/16″ marks are smallest.

In an effort to make this the least confusing as possible, we’re going to simply start with the largest measurement (1″) and work our way down to the smallest measurement (1/16″).

Think about it like this – each time the bottom of the fraction doubles, the distance between gets cut in half!

Let’s start by looking at the easily-identifiable, large 1″ marks.

The 1″ marks are easy to spot because they are the largest marks on the tape and are labeled by the large numbers.

As I mentioned above, you read the measuring tape from left to right, so the first mark when going to the right is the 1″ mark and then continuing to the right we get to the 2″ mark.

The 1/2″ marks is the next largest and falls halfway between the 1″ marks.


Making our way down, the next smallest measurement is the 1/4″ marks. They’re halfway between the 1″ and 1/2″ marks.

Halfway between the 1/4″ marks and the 1/2″ marks we find the 1/8″ marks.

The 1/16″ marks split the 1/8″ and 1/4″ and the 1/32″ marks are the smallest of all.

I created this diagram to show how the marks break down and match up:

See how there are actually 16 small marks for the 1/16″ measurements, they’re just blended with all the larger markers?

If I’m ever unsure of what mark I’m looking at for my measurement, I just count the smallest marks (1/16″ on my tape measure) and then convert to the larger measurement if necessary.

PRACTICE READING TAPE MEASURES

Ok, now that we have the “theory” out of the way, let’s practice a few!

Start by identifying how many full inches you have. In this one, we are past the 3″ mark so we know it’s 3″ plus some.

Next, find the size of mark it falls on and identify what your extra measurement is. In this case, it’s on the 1/16″ marker size so we know it’s some amount of sixteenth inches.

Counting over from the 3″ mark, we see that it’s 11/16″.

So, our total measurement is 3 11/16″!

You try this one on your own:

Did you get 2 3/8″? If so, then you’ve got this down!

Now, if trying to remember what measurements line up together is difficult for you (it is for me!) then you need to click on the button below and download my printable cheat sheet!

It’s got two simple and easy-to-understand diagrams that will help you quickly identify your measurements when you’re working on your projects!

I hope this simple tutorial on how to read a tape measure has been helpful for you! Please let me know if you have any questions.

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2 thoughts on “How to Read a Tape Measure – Simple Tutorial & Free Cheat Sheet”

  1. Oh my gosh Rachel I was laughing as I was reading the beginning of your post, it sounded like you were describing me!! Thank you so much for this much needed post!

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