What is Tape Measure? – Comparison & Types

A tape measure is a tool to measure length. Depending on the type of tape measure, it can serve the measurement length differently. It can serve up to 300 feet. Generally, a tape measure is similar to a ruler, in which the way we use it is by laying it on object being measure such as wall, floor, etc. However, there are some stick-out differences that we can observe.

Tape Measure Vs. Ruler

The easiest way to observe it is by comparing it to a ruler.

Firstly, its blade is flexible, bendable, and rollable. Therefore, the problem that comes from a typical long measuring ruler, which is very rigid then consequently cannot be coiled up and pretty hassling to carry up, can be solved. Moreover, this kind of property comes from the material that constructs it. Some are made of fabric, nylon, ribbon, and even metal strip.

Secondly, based on one of its variants, it is able to measure until 300 feet in maximum, while a ruler is only 1 meter or 3.3 feet in maximum by comparison. Surely, this capability is very determinable especially when we are going to measure a longer object.

Thirdly, it features a retraction system except for the sewing tape measure type. You can easily turn the long blade into a coiled-up shape and save it into the case. As they become compact, you can easily carry it up anywhere you want.

Lastly, tape measures come with the case while the ruler doesn’t. The case is very useful to store the rolled-up blade and strongly protectable to secure the content from impact and other unexpected damage.

Tape Measure Classifications

We can classify them into 3 groups based on their body parts: fabric tape measure, retractable tape measure, and hand-crank tape measure.

As general, there are four major body pieces of a tape measure: blade, true-zero tab, case, and retraction system. The blade, where you can find the graduations, divides based on its length. The true-zero-tab, where the first point of measurement begins, divides based on its shape. The case, which is the house of the coiled blade, affect the classification based on its existence. The retraction system, which is the system to coil up the blade, also divides based on its existence.

1. Sewing Tape Measure

sewing tape measure
sewing tape measure

A fabric tape measure is a short-range ruler that is flexible and most commonly used for sewing. In most cases, the maximum length of a sewing tape measure is 100 centimeters (1 m). If we convert it to the imperial unit, it’s roughly no more than 4 feet. Also, it generally comes with no hard case. Its true zero point is a metal tab. It uses no retraction system; you need to coil it with your hands.

As its name, most tailors use this for sewing purposes. You could also use this to measure the diameter of some parts of your body such as hand, head, chest, and so forth.

2. Retractable Tape Measure

Retractable Tape Measure
Retractable Tape Measure

A retractable tape measure is a distance measuring tool that typically features a spring mechanism to recoil the blade so that it’s compact and portable to carry up. Also, it comes with a hard case where the spring is stored and protected. Moreover, it has a unique-looking blade that is different from the sewing and hand-crank type ones. Its curved shape helps the blade stand out while extending.

Many people rely on this tool to fulfill their measurement needs. Workers such as trades, carpenters, woodworkers, electricians, builders, contractors, surveyors, and etc use a tape measure and they might have at least one tape measure in their toolbox.

3. Hand-crank Tape Measure

Unlike the retractable, a hand-crank type uses no spring mechanism to coil the blade. It utilizes a hand-crank method to roll up the blade. So you need to retract the blade by your hands through the crank. Aside from that, the blade is fairly contrasting to the retractable ones. In other words, it’s not designed with curved shape; just flat and flexible. Despite a hand-crank type comes with the case, it does not totally cover the entire blade. So, preferable action is needed whenever it’s wet or exposed to high temperate. Furthermore, a hand crank one features a looking-like-ring hook where the true zero points begin.

We generally use hand-crank measuring tapes for far distance measurement; a typical 100 feet tape measure. Therefore, a hand-crank type is typically suitable for surveyors, etc.

Digital Tape Measure

Similar to a retractable tape measure, a digital tape measure can retract its blade itself. However, the reading is instantly displayed on the screen. A digital tape measure, in some cases, is equipped with laser measure.

Precision Tape Measure

As you know that the blade’s material of a tape measure may expand due to heat. This heat expansion may further extend the blade length. Surely, it will affect the accuracy negatively. If you are looking for a reliable tape measure, you have to buy the Class I or II ones. Mostly, the tape measures on the market is class III.

Advantages of Tape Measure

The main advantage of all models of tape measure is their portability. It can measure longer distances but the blade can coil, so it saves space. Other than the digital models, they don’t need any battery. So, it’s supposed to last forever.


In some cases, a ruler is a good option for shorter measurements. It’s also more corrosion-resistant. Certainly, it’s easier to draw a rectangle using it than using a measuring tape. Whereas, a tape measure is an undeniable option for long-distance measurement. It will be very easy and accurate to measure the length of a table using a tape measure rather than a ruler.

Wheel measure and laser measure are also the next options if you need to measure a longer distance.

Overall, any linear measuring tool has specific benefits and drawbacks. Therefore, it’s important to suit the tools with needs.

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