The role of the dimension on an engineering drawing has changed drastically for some companies. When dealing with traditional, manually created, 2-D drawings, the dimensions are the most important part of the drawing. The views are only a foundation for the dimensions. They could be quite inaccurate because the part is made from the dimensions and not the views. When working with drawings created as a 3-D computer database, the geometry is most important. It must be created accurately because the computer database can be translated by another computer program into a language a machine tool can understand. In this scenario, the dimensions serve as a dimensional analysis tool and a reference document for inspection. See Chapter 16. Dimensions may be of three different types: general dimensions, geometric dimensions, and surface texture. This section provides a brief introduction to general dimensioning and surface texture. Due to the extensive nature of geometric dimensioning, it is covered in Chapter 5. Prior to any discussion of dimensioning, the following underlying concepts must be understood.

  1. Feature Types
  2. Taylor Principle / Envelope Principle
  3. General Dimensions
  4. Technique
  5. Placement
  6. Choice
  7. Tolerance Representation

Feature Types

Dimensions relate to features of parts. Features may be plane features, size features, or irregular features. A plane feature is considered nominally flat with a 2-D area. Size features are composed of two opposing surfaces like tabs and slots and surfaces with a constant radius like cylinders and spheres. Irregular features are free-form surfaces with defined undulations like the wing of an airplane or the outside surface of the hood of an automobile. Due to the nature of irregular surfaces, they are not usually defined only with general dimensions.

Taylor Principle / Envelope Principle

In 1905, an Englishman, William Taylor, was awarded the first patent for a full-form gage (GO-NOGO Gage) to inspect parts. His concept was that there is a space between the smallest size a feature can be and the largest size a feature can be and that all the surface elements must lie in that space. See Fig. 4-22. A GO-NOGO gage is used to check the maximum and least material conditions of part features. The maximum material condition of a feature will make the part weigh more. The least material condition of a feature will make the part weigh less. Taylor’s idea was to make a device that would reject a part whose form would exceed the maximum size of an external size feature or the minimum size of an internal size feature. For external size features, the device would be of two parallel plates separated by the maximum dimension for a tab or a largest sized hole for a shaft. For internal size features, the device would be two parallel plates at minimum separation for a slot or the smallest sized pin for a hole. See Chapter 19 for more information on gaging. This idea was generally adopted by companies in the United States and was commonly known as the Taylor Principle. Product design uses a similar concept called the Envelope Principle. The Envelope Principle was adopted in the US because it unites the form of a feature with its 2-D size. It allows the allowance and maximum clearance to be calculated. Separate statements controlling the form of size features are not required. The default condition adopted by the ISO is the Principle of Independency. This concept does not unite the form with the 2-D size of a feature—they are independent. If a form control is required, it must be stated. See Chapter 6 for the differences between the US and ISO standards

General Dimensions

General dimensions provide size and location information. They can be classified with the names shown in Fig. 4-23.


Dimensioning techniques refer to the rudimentary details of arrow size, gap from the extension line to the object outline, length of the extension line past the dimension line, gap from the dimension line to the dimension value, and dimensioning symbols. The sizes shown on the right side of Fig. 4-24 are commonly used. Most computer aided drafting software will allow some or all of theses elements to be adjusted to the letter height, as shown, or some other constant. Additional dimensioning symbols are shown in Chapter 5.


Whereas dimensioning techniques are fairly common from drawing to drawing and company to company, dimension placement can vary. It may be based on view arrangement, part contour, function, size, or simple convenience. Some common dimension placement examples are shown in Figs. 4-2, 4-3, 4-4, 4-23, and dimensioned in Fig. 4-24.

The most important element to good placement is consistent spacing. This translates to easy readability and fewer mistakes. Some other placement techniques are:

  1. Provide a minimum of 10 mm from the object outline to the first dimension line
  2. Provide a minimum of 6 mm between dimension lines
  3. Place shorter dimensions inside longer dimensions
  4. Avoid crossing dimension lines with extension lines or other dimension lines
  5. Dimension where the true size contour of the object is shown
  6. Place dimensions that apply to two views between the views
  7. Dimension the size and location of size features in the same view


There are usually several different ways to dimension an assembly and its detail parts. Making the best dimensional choices involves understanding many different areas. Knowledge of the requirements of the design should be the most important. Other knowledge areas should include the type and use of tooling fixtures, manufacturing procedures and capabilities, inspection techniques, assembly methods, and dimensional management policies and procedures. Many other areas like pricing control or part routing may also influence the dimensioning activity. Due to the vast body of knowledge required and legal implications of incorrect dimensioning practices, the dimensioning activity should be carefully considered, thoroughly executed, and cautiously checked. Depending on the complexity of the product, it may be prudent to assign a team of dimensional control engineers to perform this activity.

Tolerance Representation

All dimensions must have a tolerance associated with them. Six different methods of expressing toleranced dimension are presented in Fig. 4-23. 1. The 31.6-31.7 dimension is an example of the limit type—it shows the extreme size possibilities (the large number is always on top). 2. The 15.24-15.38 dimension is the same as the limit dimension but is presented in note form (the small number is written first and the numbers are separated by a dash). 3. The 83.8 dimension is an example of the equal bilateral form—the dimension is allowed to vary from nominal by an equal amount. 4. The 40.6 dimension is an example of the unequal bilateral form—the dimension is allowed to vary more in one direction than another. 5. The 25.0 dimension is an example of the unilateral form—the dimension is only allowed to vary in one direction from nominal. 6. The dimensions with only one number are actually equal bilateral dimensions that show the nominal dimension while the tolerance appears in the Unless Otherwise Specified (UOS) part of the title block.

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