How to measure off drawings without printing them out (updated)

Updated June 2020 to reflect updates to Adobe since this post was first published in 2017

We have less and less printed drawings on our desks these days. In most cases it is just easier to look at the latest revision on the screen. But, what happens if you need to measure off the drawings? Perhaps you are preparing a project description and want to provide some detail about the size of the building. Or you are undertaking an assessment and want to discuss the separation distance to a neighbouring property. How do you get around the need to print off plans just to use a scale rule?

Did you know you can digitally measure off plans with Adobe? Even basic Adobe Reader will do it. This post describes it in five easy steps – which are exactly the same steps which you already do when you use a scale rule and a hard copy of the drawing.

Before we get started, here are some important points to note on using this tool:

Note 1: As with scaling off paper drawings, do not rely on the Adobe Measure tool if you are obtaining a measurement which requires absolute accuracy e.g. where compliance with a rule is marginal or when drafting a condition which specifies a dimension. In these circumstances you should ask the drawing author to measure it for you.

Note 2: Scaling off will only work on drawings generated in CAD, it will not work on hand drawn plans or scans of CAD drawings (as these are no longer in scale with the required data embedded).

Note 3: Get more information from Adobe’s relevant help page here (go to subsection Measure the height, width, or area of objects ).

Step One: Get the drawing and identify its scale

  1. Open the drawing in Adobe.scale 50
  2. Find out what scale it is in by reading the scale specified on the drawing e.g 1:100, 1:500.

Step Two: Get your scale rule

  1. If you don’t see the Measure tool icon (a purple rule) on the toolbar, use the search box to find Measure / Measurement Tool.
  2. This will bring up two boxes. One as shown in the image below will allow you to choose which measurement type you want i.e. do you want to measure Distance, Perimeter or Area (plus Snap Types which are discussed later in this post). The other box which opens when you turn on the tool will show the measurement results and also shows the scale ratio the Measure tool is set on.


Step Three: Turn your scale rule to the right scale for the drawing

  1. scale
    Scale Ratio setting for 1:50 scale (1cm = 0.5m)

    Hover your cursor over the drawing.

  2. Right click and choose the top option Change Measurement Scale.
  3. Enter the scale ratio in the dialogue box. For example for 1:100 set 1cm=1m, for 1:500 set 1cm=5m.

Click the handout to see a table with common scale ratios: How To Handout: Measure off drawings (Note I haven’t updated the rest of this handout but the scale ratios in Table 1 will still be valid.)

Step Four: Verify

scale eg

It’s always a good idea to verify you have it right by measuring something on the drawing which has a labeled dimension. If you measure it (see Step 5 below) and it is the same as the labeled dimension, then you know you have it right. If not, re-check Step 3 above, or trouble shoot at Adobe’s relevant help page here.

Step Five: Measure

sc-ale-eg-e1505086796426.pngHint: Zoom in to the area you are measuring so you can place the cursor more precisely to get a more accurate measurement.

  1. Simply click at one end of what you want to measure and click on the other end of it – you will see a red arrow at each end – and the tool will show you (see image below) the dimension between the two points.

Annotation 2020-06-10 110554

Snap Types

Hint: If what you want to measure is already shown by a line on the drawing, for example a wall or site boundary, you can use the Snap tool. These help you capture the measurements of any lines on the drawings more accurately.  As a planner I find that the architect has already dimensioned many of these lines, I tend to be measuring distances not shown by a line, e.g. between two elements which are not related such as a tree and the boundary.


And that’s it. Scaling off electronic drawings without the need to print. No wasted paper. No walking to the printer. It works for you and the environment.

If you found this post helpful, check out our other quick tips in the How To’s Category on the blog.

Happy measuring. The trees thank you.

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