How to Create a Custom Scale for Not-to-Scale Drawings

We often work with prints of drawings, architectural and structural details, etc. as we collaborate with consultants and clients. Sometimes these are not-to-scale (“N.T.S”, as may be indicated) prints so you can’t measure directly off the print with a scale. Here are some ideas and methods for being able to scale and take measurements on drawings that are not to scale or just don’t have a scale associated with them.

  • The most important thing is being able to find something on the drawing that is of a known size. If the drawing contains a graphic scale that is the best place to start or if not and it does have some dimensions, those are probably the next easiest element to create a custom scale with. Otherwise look for something that you know the size of at full scale or is labeled with a size. That is to say, use a standard counter top height of 36″ or standard depth counter top of 24″, a 2×6 wall thickness of 5-1/2″, a door or window with a size labeled, or a footing with an 8″ depth/thickness called out or dimensioned, just something to start with.
  • Next, with the edge of a piece of scrap paper (which will be your custom scale) placed over the drawing and aligned parallel with the element, draw a small line on the scrap paper to define the known distance. As an example, say I am looking at a floor plan that has a door and it’s width labeled as 3′-0″. With the corner of the piece of paper at one end of the door, I simply make a mark or small line on the scrap paper where the other end of the door is.
  • Now we have a three foot distance to work with, which, depending on how accurate the measurements you need to make are, the edge of the scrap paper can then be divided further, and evenly, until you’ve reached the level of accuracy you need, say to the nearest six inches. It may be useful to have a second piece of scrap paper to help in dividing the increments equally or creating additional  three foot increments.

Also as a side note, there are several of us in the office who’s business cards have a scale on them so if you have a print that is to scale, some of our business cards can be used to take rough measurements. Happy scaling!



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