How To Read A Tape Measure The Right Way? – Expert Advice!

Ready to take your DIY projects to the next level?

Learning how to read a tape measure is an essential skill for any do-it-yourselfer. Besides, reading a tape measure can often be the bane of many people’s existence.

Whether you’re an experienced DIYer, a seasoned carpenter, or a complete novice when it comes to measuring accurately, understanding how to read a tape measure can sometimes seem daunting.

So if you always feel lost when trying to decipher those tiny lines on your measuring tape, don’t worry – we’ll start from the basics.

How To Read An Imperial & Metric Tape?

The first step in learning how to read a measuring tape is understanding the different types of tape measures that are available.

Imperial Tape Measure

tape measure with imperial units

We’ve all been there – staring at a massive imperial tape measure, trying to make sense of the different units of measurement that are printed on it.

It can seem like a daunting task but trust me – you CAN easily read an Imperial tape measure!

Here’s how:

  • First off, let’s begin with identifying what all those little numbers and symbols mean.
  • The biggest number is always going to be your main unit of measurement, which is usually inches or feet.
  • Then you’ll see smaller numbers spaced out in order with fractions next to some of them.
  • Those fractions represent “parts” of one inch and are expressed as 1/16th, 1/8th, 1/4th, and so on.
  • Finally, the other symbols you’ll see on a tape measure are an arrow (to indicate the start of the measurement) and pica marks (which represent 12 inches – so that’s one foot).

Now that you’ve mastered how to read imperial units, let’s talk about how to use a tape measure with the imperial system.

To measure something with an Imperial tape measure –

  • Just place it along the object and wrap it around until the arrow points back at your starting point.
  • Then read off what number it lands on.
  • For example, if you started at 0 inches and ended at 5 1/8th inches, your total measurement would be 5 1/8 inches.
  • So, don’t stress over trying to figure out the imperial measurement system – with a few simple steps you can be an expert in no time.

Metric Tape Measure

tape measure with metric units

Using a metric tape measure can be intimidating, especially if you’re used to imperial measurements.

It’s easier than it looks though – all the units are in multiples of ten and there are only three types: millimeters (mm), centimeters (cm), and meters (m).

Now, let us first understand how to read mm on a tape measure.

To read millimeters,

  • Look for the numbers on the ruler which have no decimal point after them.
  • These will usually run up to 10mm but may go higher depending on the size of your ruler.
  • To make reading easier, many metric rulers have larger lines for every tenth of an mm or cm.
  • So, if you see a line with a large number 5 next to it, that means it is 50mm long.

Centimeters are easy to identify – 

  • They will have a decimal point after them, with the number before the decimal being your centimeter measurement.
  • To make it easy to read, many metric rulers also have long lines for every cm or half-cm.
  • So if you see a line with a large number 2 next to it, that means it is 20cm long.

Reading meters on a metric ruler is just as simple –

  • Look for the numbers which are followed by two zeros (00).
  • These represent your meter measurements and should be fairly easy to pick out amongst all the other markings on the ruler.
  • Just like millimeters and centimeters, you may find thicker lines indicating every half or full-meter measurement.

Common Tape Measure Markings & Symbols

Measuring tapes have all sorts of symbols and marks that can seem confusing. But never fear, I’m here to break down what they all mean!


The most common mark on a measuring tape is the triangle at the very start of the measurement.

This is known as the “zero point” and it marks where you should measure from. The zero point can also be a hole or an arrow depending on which type of measuring tape you are using.

Numbers, Lines & Tick Marks

Next up are numbers, lines, and tick marks. These come in several sizes and indicate different measurements (depending on your metric system).

  • On imperial measuring tapes, each inch is divided into 8 segments, giving 16 divisions per foot. 
  • On metric measuring tapes, each centimeter is divided into 10 divisions, and each millimeter is divided into 5.


You may also see a two-headed arrow at the end of the tape. This indicates that you have reached the end of your measurement!

Black Diamond

Finally, there’s a black diamond at the 16-inch mark on imperial measuring tapes.

This is known as the “stud mark” and it indicates where standard wall studs are located in most buildings. If you’re hanging a picture or shelf, this can be very helpful!

So next time you pick up a tape measure, don’t be intimidated by all the numbers and symbols! Now, let’s use our tape measure.

Tape Measure Tips – Get Accurate Measurements

tips to take accurate measurements

Here are the steps to help you master the art of measuring and tape reading –

  1. Start at the beginning of the tape measure and locate the 1-inch mark.
  2. The numbers that are written on top indicate inches and those on the bottom represent fractions of inches, for example, a quarter inch is marked as ¼, a half-inch is marked as ½, etc.
  3. Remember to read from left to right when measuring the length or width of any object or space.
  4. To measure any shorter distance use the numbers on top and then convert them into fractions for more precise measurement if needed.
  5. If you need to measure longer distances, start at 0” (or 1”) and count up in inches until you reach your desired measurement point, noting down every inch you pass.
  6. To measure multiple objects, start at the same point with each measurement and make sure to hold the tape with a steady hand when measuring to get an accurate result.
  7. Once your measurements have been taken, it’s time to record them for future reference. 
    • This can be done by either writing them down on paper or noting them in a spreadsheet program like Excel.
    • By doing this you will know exactly what your measurements are every time you need them again!

By following these steps, you’ll be able to take accurate measurements each and every time with a tape measure! Now get out there and start measuring like a pro!

FAQs – How To Read A Tape Measure

How do you read cm and mm on a tape measure?

To read cm, look for the centimeter marks which are usually the larger of the two sets of numbers. To read mm, look for the millimeter marks which are smaller than the centimeter marks.

How do you read a tape measure to the 16th?

To read a tape measure to the 16th, look for 1/16 increments. This will typically be marked with small lines between each inch mark.

Which side is CM on a measuring tape?

Usually, centimeters are found on one side of the measuring tape, and inches are found on the other side. Check both sides of your measuring tape to see which units you have.

How do you read a tape measure in inches and feet?

To read a tape measure in both feet and inches, look for the inch marks (they are usually the larger of the two sets of numbers). Then, count each mark as an inch up to 12 inches, which is equal to one foot.

How do you read a tape for dummies?

The best way to read a tape measure for dummies –
Start by looking at the markings on the ruler.
These markings correspond with different units of measurement (cm, mm, inches).
Once you know what unit of measurement you’re using, make sure that the 0 mark lines up with one end of the object.
Then, count each marking as it corresponds to that unit until you reach the other side of your object.

Is a measuring tape in cm or M?

A measuring tape usually measures either a centimeter (cm) or meters (m). Be sure to check and read the markings on your measuring tape before using it.

Are tape measures 2 inches off?

Tape measures are not typically two inches off; however, errors can occur if the tape measure is stretched too tightly or too loosely.
To be sure you get accurate measurements, use a flat and level surface and keep the tape as straight as possible.

What is 1 foot on a tape measure?

On a tape measure, 1 foot will appear as 12-inch marks (or 12 smaller lines between each inch mark). It should also have an accompanying “ft” label above or below it.

Reading A Tape Measure Is As Easy As Cakewalk Now!

Congratulations! You’re all done with your tape measure tutorial. Now, you know how to read a tape measure correctly in both Metric and Imperial systems.

Don’t worry if it takes some practice – it’ll get easier the more you do it. If you’ve got any measurements that need taking, now’s the time to grab that tape measure and get going.

And don’t forget – always double-check your work so you don’t end up with miscalculations or costly mistakes.

With that said, grab your measuring tool and start practicing! Who knows? Maybe one day you’ll become an expert like me!

Leave a Comment