Introduction: Tape Measuring Tool

Picture of Tape Measuring Tool

This handy tape measure add-on allows you to measure and mark with one hand. A 3D printed pencil holder attaches right to the tape measure body, and an arrow aligned with the pencil easily shows where the mark will a land.

I made this with Tinkercad, a free and easy to use 3D modeling tool that runs right in your web browser. Tinkercad is great becasue you are just dragging simple shapes around to make your creation, kind of like building something with LEGO. Though this colorful software is very easy to learn, the ceiling of what it can do is actually very high, as long as your design can be managed with the primitive shapes provided.

I made a few versions of this design, and you're welcome to check it out and make it your own.

This model will probably work with any tape measure, provided the clearance between the mounting opening and the arrow is wide enough. Grab the STL file below and try it yourself, or follow along in this Instructable and I'll show to make your own.

Ready? Let's make!

Step 1: Measure Tape Measure

Picture of Measure Tape Measure

Before any modeling I made some measurements and notes about the tape measure I wanted to put the pencil holder on.

I used the screw for the belt loop as the anchor point for almost every dimension. Some critical dimensions for this build:

  • Horizontal distance from attachment screw to where I wanted the arrow
  • Vertical distance from attachment screw to the tape aperture
  • Diameter of a pencil
All measurements are in millimeters

Since 3D printing happens on such a small scale, and working with whole numbers is much easier than fractions, millimeters is the conventional unit of measurement. Almost all calipers will have a unit button that will allow you to easily switch between imperial and metric. With these dimensions I could start modeling.

Tinkercad is browser based, so all you need is a computer and access to the Internet. After getting a free account to keep your models in, you're good to go!

Step 2: Start With a Box

Picture of Start With a Box

Tinkercad uses colorful primitive shapes to create objects. These primitives can be modified in all kinds of ways to make shapes. To start this design, drag a box from the Basic Shapes bar on the right side of the screen onto the Workplane.

When a primitive is dropped onto the Workplane there are white nodes around the shape, these are handles that allow the shape to be manipulated to suit your needs.

Step 3: Modify the Box

Picture of Modify the Box

The box is a good start, but we want more of a flat rectangular shape for the tape measure tool.

Clicking on one of the white handles on the bottom of the box will allow you to see the measurement of this primitive, this box is 20mm by 20mm. These numerical values can be clicked on and replaced by your own values. A quick way to switch between the length and width values is the TAB key.

This rectangle will be the flat part that attaches to the side of the tape measure. Since all other shapes will be attached to this rectangle, it's a good place to start. The dimension values were changed to 80mm long and 2mm thick.

The white handle on the top of the shape allows the height to be changed. Click on the top white handle, push TAB to enter a new value of 40mm.

We now have a skinny and wide rectangle shape. Great job!

Tinkercad works by combining shapes to create your vision. The process of dropping new primitives and changing the dimensions is how we're going to create the tape measuring tool.

Step 4: New Box - Pencil Holder

Picture of New Box - Pencil Holder

To make the pencil holder drag a new box primitive from the Basic Shapes bar on the screen onto the Workplane.

Click on the new box to bring up the white handles, then push TAB to quickly get into the dimension value area. I made this new box 12mm by 12mm.

Click the top white handle and push TAB to enter the new height. Matching the rectangle we made earlier, a value of 40mm is entered.

Step 5: Pencil Opening

Picture of Pencil Opening

Now that there's a box for the pencil holder there needs to be an opening to insert the pencil. In the Basic Shapes bar on the right of the screen there are two ghostly shapes, a box and a cylinder. Drag a ghostly cylinder onto the Workplane.

When combined with solid shapes, these ghostly shapes carve out whatever they are touching. This ghostly cylinder will go inside the pencil holder box we just made, but first we need to give it the correct dimensions of a pencil.

Ghostly shapes can be modified just like regular primitives. Click on the ghostly cylinder and push TAB to enter new values. I measured the pencil I was using at around 7.5mm in diameter, so 7.5 was entered in for both values.

Clicking the top white handle a new value of 40mm is entered, matching the height of the pencil holder box.

The tall pencil holder box and tall ghostly cylinder are going to be combined to create the space inside the holder.

Step 6: Align Pencil Holder Shapes

Picture of Align Pencil Holder Shapes

Click and drag the mouse to create a window around the tall rectangle pencil holder and the ghostly negative shape. You may have to move the view around to just select those two shapes. With both shapes selected find the align button at the top of the screen in the toolbar - it looks like two bars stacked on top of each other.

Clicking align when shapes are selected allows the two shapes to be aligned with each other. The window around the two objects has changed from a dashed line to a solid outline with round black nodes surrounding the shapes. Clicking the center node will center align the shapes in one direction.

Clicking on the center node on the other direction will align them again, putting the cylinder directly in the middle of the pencil holder. Click on any blank space in the Workplane to stop the align command.

To create the void inside the pencil holder we'll combine your centered shapes. Click and drag a box around the pencil holder and centered ghostly cylinder. With both selected, click the group button in the toolbar at the top of the screen. The shapes will combine, adding the negative space of the cylinder to the solid pencil holder rectangle, creating a cylindrical void.

Step 7: Measurement Pointer

Picture of Measurement Pointer

For the measurement pointer I used the roof primitive, which was dragged and dropped from the right side of the page and onto the Workplane.

Along with the white nodes that appear on a primitive are rotational arrows, seen just outside of the model. These rotational arrows correspond to an axis, so you can only rotate a model in one axis at a time - which keeps things very easy.

Click the rotational arrow to the side of the model to rotate the roof to stand on its end, making it look like a long rectangular prism. If you hold down shift while you rotate the primitive will rotate and lock at logical incremental degrees, like 45°and 90°, alternatively hitting the tab key will allow you to enter in a numerical value. We want a 90° rotation.

After rotating, the white nodes can be modified to create the measurement pointer. I chose a 20mm long pointer with a base width of 12mm, the width matches the width of the pencil holder.

Clicking the white node on top to lower the height profile, I made the pointer 4mm high.

Step 8: Align Pointer to Pencil Holder

Picture of Align Pointer to Pencil Holder

To align the pointer and the pencil holder, drag a window around both shapes to select them. In the top right of the toolbar is the align command. Click align to bring up the positioning nodes.

We want the shapes to be aligned, so chose the middle node to place the shapes in line with each other.

Since there's no command to place the edge of one shape at the end of another, the shapes can be manually positioned to have the base of the pointer at the edge of the pencil holder. Use the align tool if things get away from you.

With the two shapes aligned they can now be combined to form one shape.

Drag a window around both, then find group in the top right toolbar to create one shape from the two selected.

Step 9: Align Pencil Pointer to Long Box

Picture of Align Pencil Pointer to Long Box

The pencil pointer shape can be manually moved to the long box, lining the pencil pointer on one end of the box, or the pencil pointer and box can bother be selected and matched up using the align button in the toolbar.

Once positioned, select both objects and group to make them one shape.

Step 10: Add Void

Picture of Add Void

To save printing filament, and speed up the print time, a large void was added to the middle of the long box. This part is optional, but there's no reason to have it solid, and it's a good exercise in modeling.

From the primitives library on the right grab a hole cylinder and drop it onto the Workplane.

Click on the cylinder to bring up the rotational arrows, and rotate the cylinder 90°.

Move the cylinder into the long box. The relative location of the opening doesn't matter right now, as the align tool will help us center it after the size is right.

Once in place, the cylinder was modified to almost fill the long box area. I sized the cylinder to be 5mm less than the height of the long box, so if the height of the long box was 40mm the cylinder was 35mm.

A window was dragged around both shapes and the align tool was chosen. The cylinder needs to be vertically centered in the box, to do this the middle height node was chosen.

With the large cylinder centered in the box the shapes can be grouped to create the opening.

Select both shapes again and use the group command to make the opening in the long box.

Step 11: Screw Opening

Picture of Screw Opening

With the basic shape finished the screw opening can be placed. Drop a new hole cylinder into the Workplane.

Click the primitive to bring up the white nodes, and enter in your screw diameter value, I used 3mm x 3mm.

Using the rotational arrows the cylinder was rotated 90°.

Select the tape measure tool model and the new hold cylinder, then chose the align command from the top toolbar.

The screw opening is located in the upper right of the solid model, so the position node on the end was clicked to being the hole cylinder to that end.

The top vertical alignment was then chosen to bring the cylinder to the top right of the solid model.

With the cylinder in the right position the two shapes were then brought in line using the far back alignment node, bringing the cylinder into the body of the solid model.

The hole cylinder is aligned correctly to the solid, but in the wrong location.

Click the cylinder and start dragging it to the left, a numerical value will appear below the shape and indicate how far the shape is in relation to where it was before you started dragging. Push tab to get into the value field and type in the measurement made from your notes (mine was 11mm from the edge).

Repeat the same process by dragging the hole cylinder downwards, then pushing tab and entering in the value from your notes (mine was 12mm from the top). The 25mm shown in the image above is referencing how far away the hole cylinder is from the surface of the Workplane.

With the hole cylinder in the right location, both shapes can be selected by dragging a window around them and then grouping them.

Step 12: Export Model

Picture of Export Model

The model is now complete! Check out the model from all sides to make sure you're happy with how it looks. If there's any areas they need work, select the model and chose ungroup to break the model apart.

Select the model and find the export button in the top right of the screen. This will take you to the printing screen.

Step 13: Send to Print

Picture of Send to Print

Some 3D printers are connected to a laptop, and some use an SD card. Whichever method, export your model and start printing. There's loads of choices for 3D printers, if you're looking for a great deal the Creality 3D printer is inexpensive and a workhorse of a printer.

This model took about 30 minutes on standard settings. You can download my STL file below, or you can play around with it in Tinkercad. Remember, this model was measured for the tape measure I had on hand, yours may have different measurements.

Step 14: Clean Print

Picture of Clean Print

3D prints rarely come off the print bed perfect. Luckily, cleanup is straightforward.

A sharp hobby knife was used to clean stay wisps of plastic from the print, and to remove the support structure from the large void in the middle.

Step 15: Attach to Tape Measure

Picture of Attach to Tape Measure

My tape measure has one small screw that holds the belt clip to the back. Using a screwdriver the screw was removed and the belt clip was slid over the 3D print, lining up the small screw openings.

The screw was then inserted into the 3D print and belt loop, and fastened to the tape measure.

Step 16: Start Measuring!

Picture of Start Measuring!

This measurement tool works either as a one-handed marking tool, or just a place to hold your pencil while you're measuring.

This model is completely open-source, so download and print it yourself, or use it as a base to make your own. You can open this model in Tinkercad by following this link, in case you want examine some details, or copy it to your own portfolio.

On a further revision I made a 1" notch on the pencil holder to give a quick reference without opening up the tape measure, if I ever needed it.

Happy making! :)

have you made your own tape measure tool?I want to see it!

Share a picture of your tape measure tool in action and get a free Pro Membership to Instructables!


Donald82 (author)2017-10-18

Really useful idea! Although, we use a metric system in Finland and I use openscad to create 3D models so maybe I'll create one of my own :)

But thanks for the inspiration anyway :)

mikeasaurus (author)Donald822017-10-18

The Tinkercad model is in metric!

Donald82 (author)mikeasaurus2017-10-23

I didn't mean the model file(s). But the "arrow" which points the inches side on the tape measure. Anyway, I just realized that on my tape measure there's no inches at all! So never mind my last comment :D

Mister___Cat (author)2017-10-22

awsome work... and very useful tool

i will try to make one... it will make my life much easier..

Dawsie (author)2017-10-18

I love the idea but as I don’t have a 3D printer I will have to think out side the square and make it out of wood lol

After looking at your printed option I see that I can do this and look forward to finding a quite moment in the workshop to make myself one but also one for me Dad as he’s for ever losing his pencil when he comes o write down his measurements lol so it will server two purpose for him lol

As someone mention the wriggle on the tape measure is a problem for this what I did was fix the tape measure end clip in place with a metal bonding two part mouldable glue as I got feedup with constant problems of that little silver tab moving in and out the way it does and keeps giving me different mesuremts all the time. Once I fixed that problem all my measurements have been correct each time as long as I use only that tape measure for measuring my items and setting up the benchsaw cutting fence every time.

There is always a diffearece between each and every tape measurement out there. I was taught years ago by my wood working teacher at school to only use one tape measurement for all mesuremens and to never rely on two different ones unless you have held them together and compared each and every mark on both to ensure that they line up.

mikeasaurus (author)Dawsie2017-10-18

Making this out of wood is a good idea. I'd love to see your design when it's finished. Making one for your dad is also a great gift idea.

Good tip on the tape measure comparison your shop teacher told you about, I'll be remembering that for upcoming projects.

Dawsie (author)mikeasaurus2017-10-22

Thank you :-) I will add a picture when I’m done :-D

He was a great teacher and was always encouraging me to push my self :-)

mtairymd (author)2017-10-20

That looks pretty useful...nice job!

mikeasaurus (author)mtairymd2017-10-20


cuyler1 (author)2017-10-19

If anyone ever needed to apply for a patent--you do!! I worked in the building trade for years and always had an idea along the same lines. I can see some of the tool corparations eyeballing this and moulding it into the case of the tape measure yet on the opposite side so the tape can still be clipped to a belt.

Yonatan24 (author)cuyler12017-10-20

I would think contractors and those people drop their tape measurer all the time. If this gets made, I would think steel would be a better option. Or at least some really strong fiberglass reinforced nylon.

wannabemadsci (author)2017-10-19

Great idea and implementation! Super tutorial on Tinkercad.

What holds the pencil in place? Friction?

Might be nice to have a set screw or shim to help out.

Thanks for sharing!

The opening just uses friction from an interference fit. You could easily add a set screw to your design if you like, just download my models and make the modification!

markstutzman (author)2017-10-17

This is neat, and I'm in process of printing one out right now. That being said, one criticism:

The first link in your Instructable (the one which goes to the design on, has all 3 designs PLUS the lettering in one. It would be more helpful if you had one file for each design, with no lettering (since I doubt anyone wants to 3D print the labels). Once I loaded the file into my slicer, and ungrouped it, I found that I had to delete each one of those letters individually! What a PITA. And since I wanted the print the one w/o the hole, I couldn't just use the .STL file link in the Instructable.

mikeasaurus (author)markstutzman2017-10-17

Thanks for the feedback! Can you not copy the Tinkercad model into your own portfolio and then remove the text/models you don't need? You should be able to directly edit the models then to suit your needs.

markstutzman (author)mikeasaurus2017-10-17

I could have, but didn't think about it ahead of time, and ended up doing in the slicer, because the model was already loaded. And it wouldn't have been a big deal, except for having to deal with each letter as an individual element. My comment was more a warning for others to not do it the way I did it.

mikeasaurus (author)markstutzman2017-10-18

Duly noted. I hadn't considered how others might interact with the files :) Glad you figured it out. Please share your print when it's installed on your tape measure!

markstutzman (author)mikeasaurus2017-10-18

I printed the "no-hole" version, and didn't pay attention to the fact that the pointer is facing the opposite way from the one in the Instructable pics, and it turns out to be unusable on either my Stanley tapes, or the cheap, free ones from Harbor Freight. Also, the pencil hole is small, and actually shaves off the paint and part of the "corner" wood from a standard hexagonal pencil. I'm guessing when you measured the pencil, you went from flat to flat, as that's 7mm, as is the hole on my printed version, but measuring corner to corner adds about half a mm...

mikeasaurus (author)markstutzman2017-10-19

I don't mind it shaving the corners off the hexagonal-shaped pencils, as it fits extra tight and doesn't move. I have some completely round pencil bodies that fit into the opening without any problems. This design is really meant to get you started designing with Tinkercad, you're encouraged to make your own improvements. If you post the results of your design here I'll give you a free Pro Membership! :) Thanks for all the feedback with the design, I've loving it

Also, forgot to say that this Instructable is an excellent TinkerCAD tutorial.

abbasporyazdanpanah (author)2017-10-18

This is great

Biodynamic (author)2017-10-18

I love it! Will definitely be printing one. I just finished a basement remodel and as I measured and cut the baseboards I kept thinking “I could use a third hand!” Now I’ve got one. Thanks!

Build_it_Bob (author)2017-10-17

Hi Mike,

I think the whole concept, process and execution are incredible. Great Instructable; thank you so much for sharing. I had mulled around an Idea of building the pencil into the tape measure, but your idea is better...and now anyone can make one.

My first thought to use it is measuring between multiple pictures or objects. I have installed a collection of framed plates in the three homes that i have owned over the years, and how much of a pain it was to measure center lines on an arc.

all while trying to hold the pencil in place...this takes care of that frustration factor.

I could also see attaching a metal scribe instead of a pencil (or interchangeable) as I often use painters tape to do the rough layout 1st then stand back to see if it is all symmetrical.

Hats off to a great time saving tool.


mikeasaurus (author)Build_it_Bob2017-10-18

Thanks, Bob!

A scribe in lieu of a pencil is a great idea. The option to add another tool holder is easy enough in Tinkercad, or just print a separate attachment. I've had a tape measure slip out of my hands while trying to do a complicated measurement more than I care to admit. Necessity is the mother of f̶r̶u̶s̶t̶r̶a̶t̶i̶o̶n̶ invention :)

hnrymnl (author)2017-10-17

This is great. One thing though, the model in your tinkercad instructional is different from the final product. Check out the pencil holder and pointer. Overall, very good idea.

mikeasaurus (author)hnrymnl2017-10-18

The Tinkercad models are for reference. Chances are your tape measure dimensions are going to be different than mine, so you'd have to modify the files (or make your own).

Gofish (author)2017-10-17

What a great idea. I don't have a 3D printer but am going to copy in Aluminium.

mikeasaurus (author)Gofish2017-10-18

That would be amazing! Please share the results here when you're done!

misterxp (author)2017-10-17

Thanks for the great tutorial. I am trying to build a 3D printer and this tutorial is a perfect start for my first print project, from drawing to printing. Just what I was looking for. Great!

mikeasaurus (author)misterxp2017-10-18

Ambitious project, good luck.! Looking forward to seeing your design when it's printed :)

PatA3 (author)2017-10-17

Very good idea, plan, and instruction. There is nothing in your plan to allow for the movement of the tab end. I always start a measurement at the 1" mark because there can be up to 1/8" difference in actual measurements

Gofish (author)2017-10-17

Forgot to add that I often need to scribe a radius and this idea will make life much easier.

charlessenf-gm (author)2017-10-17

If the purpose of the large circular void was to save material and the printer left a support structure by default, why cut the support structure out? Obviously it adds strength to the piece - no harm, no foul, right?

As a practical matter though, this device has limited value. The purpose of measuring and marking requires precision that this solution does not reliably afford - especially as the distance from the point of beginning increases and the tape flexes more as a consequence.

poornojo (author)charlessenf-gm2017-10-17

The large circular void is so you can see when using it as a standard tape measure. As far as the flex factor, I do not see how that would be a factor. Not even at 24' 7" the tape would be no different using his tool addition or using the standard tape measure.

charlessenf-gm (author)poornojo2017-10-17

"he large circular void is so you can see when using it as a standard tape measure."

Well, that is NOT the reason the author provided: "To save printing filament, and speed up the print time, a large void was added to the middle of the long box. This part is optional, but there's no reason to have it solid, and it's a good exercise in modeling."

and "A sharp hobby knife was used to ... remove the support structure from the large void in the middle."

Typically, when using a tape measure, one attempts to look down onto the tape and material to be made - ninety degrees when possible as opposed to viewing from either side of the tape through a hole of any size!

charlessenf-gm (author)poornojo2017-10-17

As the author said " For rough, one-handed marking"

At over half a century of using retractable tape measures from various manufactures - one-handed and with a helper - I have to agree with the author.

I saw the value of the video as great instructions on using the software tool - in that regard it was darned near perfection.

When making a series of equal measurements - e.g. 'every three inches along a two by - Calipers or a 'story stick' made using calipers when repeating the process along multiple boards would be preferable IF precision is the object.

If not, why not simply 'eyeball" it? The tape is laid flat on the stock to be marked, the markings on the tape are right there in plain site and you've a sharp pencil at hand.

Support structure in 3D printing is for overhangs, not strength for the finished piece. Here's a Lesson On Support Structures, if you'd like to know more.

For precision, I'd use calipers. For rough, one-handed marking, this tool is pretty great. The model files are included, and open source. You're welcome to make my design better!

"You're welcome to make my design better"

Appreciate the instructions. If I ever get a 3d Printer . . . .

ChristianG (author)2017-10-17

great idea, but my tape is the other way round. so are you able to mirrow it and put it here for download? Thanks in advance.

mikeasaurus (author)ChristianG2017-10-17

Thanks! The model files are included, and a link to Tinkercad where you can see a few other variations. Try it yourself!

ChristianG (author)mikeasaurus2017-10-17

Thanks for the quick reply. Sorry I have overlooked the links to thinkercad.

jeanneambro (author)2017-10-17

Cool! My son works for a company that makes personal 3D printers and I've asked him to print me one. Thanx for sharing.

deluges (author)2017-10-17

Smart, I like it

mrwonton (author)2017-10-16

seems super useful!

mmmelroy (author)2017-10-16

this is awesome, i have to get one of these printed soon

About This Instructable




Bio: I'm Mike and I make crazy things at Instructables HQ in San Francisco. Follow me and try a few of my projects for yourself!
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