Below you will find how to help and information for the process of reading a tape measure. Knowing how to use a tape measure is a necessary skill prior to painting the walls.

Having a rooms square footage will assist with the amount of product purchased for the job at hand.

Also, being able to subtract garage door size from a walls square footage saves you from having to buy more paint than is needed.

Color blocking or wall striping are other painting projects that require the use of a tape measure and applying chair rail, crown molding or baseboard wouldn't be possible without your trusty measuring tool.


Tape measures come in a number of variations, from ones made for engineers to fabric measuring strips. A tape measure can also be digital, wooden, metal or plastic. As the old saying goes only a good quality un-worn tape measure will let you measure twice and cut once.


Most of your measuring would be done using a metal retractable tape. Such tape measures usually have a lock situated at the front or bottom of the tapes housing. Pushing down on the lock (thumb or otherwise) will stop the tape from retracting when trying to measure a wall or other type surface.

On the side of most retractable tapes is a number that represents the length of the tape in feet e.g., 16 ft, 25ft, 35ft etc,. Keep in mind that just because a tape says it's 24 feet long doesn't mean that it will extend that far. Most good quality tapes do extend as far as the tape says it will and work well for most projects people have.

You may also see the width of the tape measure itself in smaller numbers at the bottom of the tape. Showing the width is for measuring inside cabinets or drawers etc. I have found that using the tapes outside housing for an inside measurement isn't always accurate. Below you will find better ways to measure inside corners.

Retractile tapes tend to have a hook at the end to hold onto whatever you are measuring. The metal hook moves back and forth (in and out) so that your measurement is more curate. Over time the hook can become bent or move more freely than it should. Be sure to keep an eye on the condition of your measuring device.

Contractors who measure a lot will do what they call burn an inch. Burning an inch means not to use the hook end and starting a measurement at the two inch mark. Once you have your measurement add an inch to it to make up for the inch you took off. Measuring in this fashion deals with any excess sloppiness there might be at the hook.

Another thing to keep in mind is to always be careful with your retractable tape as some tapes can snap back toward you at a fairly high rate of speed.


Smaller tapes like 16 or 24 footers work best for me as they are less bulky and heavy. I will bring a larger tape though if I'm going to measure a commercial building for an estimate.

Your tape should have inches (broken down into 16ths) and be marked off at one foot increments. Other fractional numbers on the tape are not necessary and tend to make the process of measuring more confusing.

Metric measurements aren't in most cases needed unless you live in a place like Canada where a tape measurer has to have both imperial and metric measurements on it.


First we will start with these two symbols that are in brackets (') and (“) the first symbol ' means a foot and the other symbol “ stands for inches. As an example if you see 12' 6” it means twelve feet six inches etc.

For those who have a tape measurer with black diamonds on it diamonds represents the spots where a framer would need to place a truss (19.5”). Most retractable tapes no longer have the diamonds on them as a 19.5” truss would be against code in the majority of areas.

Some tapes have diamonds at the stud marks or the stud references might be red numbers such as 16", 32", 48". Stud marks are of course where a framer (carpenter) would place 2x4/6 studs (or joists) when building walls and floors. Markings at the one foot increments (every 12") are usually red but that of course depends on the tape measurer itself.


Your retractable tape is not only divided up into feet it also has inches, 12" per foot to be exact. A 16 foot tape would be 192" long and marked off every 12" with an [F] to represent where a foot would be. At every16" mark the number is usual red showing the position of studs or joists.

Each black line on the tape is a hash mark and the longest (vertical) hash marks separate the tape into inches. Inches are then segmented into fractions of an inch.

Tapes with inches that are broken down to 32 hash marks are for building things like stairs. A stairs needs to be very accurate because a 32th of an inch error at one end of the stairs could result in a one inch mistake at the other.

Your tape, for most projects, need only to be broken down into 16 hash marks or lines every one 16th of an inch.


Each hash mark (line) is 1 16th of an inch. The second longest hash mark at the middle of the inch mark is 1/2 and half of the half inch is 1/4 and half of the quarter of an inch is 1/8th of an inch and half of 1/8th of an inch is a 16th of an inch. By using such small measurements you will end up with a more precise scribed, cut or (painters) taped line.


The easiest way to measure is in 16ths of an inch. What I mean by that is, when measuring you would say one inch (at the first hash mark), then four 16ths (at the fourth hash mark), eight 16ths, (at the eighth hash mark) twelve 16ths (at the twelfth hash mark) and so on and so on.

As oppose to one inch, a quarter of an inch, half an inch, then three quarters of an inch, finishing with two inches.

Counting back from 16 will also make your measuring easer. What I mean by that is if you know that an inch has 16 little hash marks and you need to make a pencil mark 3 hash marks behind the inch mark, then 16 minus 3 is 13/16ths.


For those who want to sound like a carpenter you would need to remember each 16th of an inch hash mark incremental. 1/16th, 1/8th, 3/16ths, [1/4], 5/16ths, 3/8ths, 7/16ths, [1/2], 9/16ths, 5/8ths, 11/16ths, [3/4], 13/16ths, 7/8ths, 15/16ths, and finally your 1 inch.

The before mentioned numbers are of course fractions of an inch and [1/4], [1/2], [3/4] are called major fractions. A carpenter will use a major fraction and say 1/4 plus which would be 5/16ths of an inch. Or 1/2 minus meaning 7/16ths of an inch or 3/4 plus plus meaning an inch (they can be funny guys sometimes).

Plus meaning one 16th of an inch (hash mark) more, minus meaning less one 16th of an inch.


So lets say I'm going to measure the width of my desk top. In this case it is 59" and 3/8ths (or 6/16ths) of an inch wide or four feet eleven and 3/8ths of an inch.

With that said, when doing more intricate measurements one usually uses inches. I wouldn't say four feet 11 inches plus 3/8ths of an inch.

Measuring in feet is used when one is doing a rough calculation for square footage.


To measure square footage (length x width) place the tape on the floor against the wall step on the tape with your foot, extend the tape to the opposite wall. Right down the measurement thats at the bend. Do the same with the other two opposite walls. Write down the measurement. Know multiply the two numbers together. Your resulting number is the rooms square footage.

To do a wall, extend the metal tape, (7' or so) while holding the hook end of the tape measurer with your foot against the baseboard (numbers facing you). Bend the tape in half then push the tape up. One side of the metal tape should be touching your palm while your thumb and index finger lightly pinch the other side of the tape.

Once the tape reaches the ceiling you should be able to (with good eye site and tape manoeuvring) read the tape at the bend. Multiplying a floor to ceiling measurement by a wall to wall measurement will give you the walls square footage.

Doing a rough estimate for square footage is the only time that you want to read a tape measurer at the bend. If you have other inside measurements (e.g., cabinets) or need a more precise number elsewhere then use either a wood ruler with a sliding bar (good for pencil scribing) or place a ruler (or square) inside of what you intend to measure then measure to the ruler. Remember to add the length of your ruler to your measurement.

If you want to subtract windows and doors, measure a window or doors square footage then subtract that total from the walls square footage. Add all of your square footages (excluding subtracted ones) together to give you a total for wall area.


Purchase a quality, easy to use, tape measurer. Your measurer needs to have both inches and feet marked off. Having fewer numbers on the tape makes the measurer less confusing. Inches on the tape should be segmented into 16 equal lines (hash marks).

If you want to keep your measurements simple stick with the 16th scale. Don't use 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, etc. instead say 2/16ths, 4/16ths, 8/16ths, 12/16ths.

Also when buying materials cut the larger pieces first that way if you make a mistake in measuring then smaller pieces can be cut from the incorrectly cut big piece.


Looking for how to painting and decorating information other than paneling paint. If so use the home link above.

If you would like to ask a question click the ask a question button on the home page. By doing so you will get an answer either by me or someone else who reads this website.