What Does “Not to Scale” Mean? (Helpful Examples)

When you look at a map and find the message “Not To Scale”, do you know what it means? How should we understand (and use) this information?

Does it even make a difference if an item is “Not to Scale”? Let’s work on it for a bit, and find out.

What Does “Not to Scale” Mean?

To say something is “Not to Scale” is to indicate it’s drawn out of proportion. “Scale” is the relation between the real size of something and its size on a map, or a model or diagram. Something depicted “to scale” would follow the same proportions as the original item.

not to scale meaning

“Not to Scale”, consequently, would mean the depiction isn’t an accurate representation of the original area (or place) – and in fact, isn’t meant to be.

Let’s see some examples:

  • The map was not to scale, so we had to pay close attention when making our way through the park.
  • The model for the bridge is not to scale, that’s why it seems off.
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How to Use “Not to Scale” In a Sentence

“Not to Scale” is frequently a warning. In a map, for example, it can be used to indicate your should follow it with care. In a model, it can be used to indicate the final product might look a little different. For an engineer, it can alert them to double check their calculations.

Let’s see examples of how to use “Not to Scale” in a sentence:

  1. The subway map was not to scale.
  2. The map’s fine print warned that it was not to scale.
  3. The map was not to scale, meaning that some areas may not have been accurately depicted.
  4. The drawing of the house was not to scale.
  5. Many manuals feature drawings not to scale.

“Not to Scale” indicates an inaccurate proportion, meaning we shouldn’t take the visual information we’re receiving at value. In a park map, for example, it might indicate you should be extra careful when hiking.

Although some people might simply disregard this message, “Not to Scale” is often an important warning. It should never be ignored.

Not to Scale vs. Not in Scale

“Not in Scale” is an incorrect form to say “Not to Scale”. The idea in this expression is to state that a drawing wasn’t made “to” match the proportions of the original item. The preposition “to” is what makes sense in this expression.

“Not in Scale” would indicate the drawing isn’t within certain parameters, which doesn’t match what this expression is meant to convey. You should avoid “Not in Scale” and use only “Not to Scale”.

Here are some examples of the incorrect use of “Not in Scale”, followed by the corrected sentences (using “Not to Scale”):

  1. The architect explained that the drawing was not in scale. (incorrect)
  2. The architect explained that the drawing was not to scale.
  1. The model of the building was not in scale. (incorrect)
  2. The model of the building was not to scale.
  1. I warned Frank that the map of the city was not in scale. (incorrect)
  2. I warned Frank that the map of the city was not to scale.

To confirm this concept, let’s take a look at a Google Ngram Viewer graph, that will show us the most used form: “Not to Scale” or “Not in Scale”.

not to scale or not in scale

The graph shows that “Not to Scale” is used much more frequently than “Not in Scale”. We believe the reason for it is that “Not to Scale” is correct, while “Not in Scale” isn’t and should be avoided.

“Not to Scale” – Synonyms

“Not to Scale” is the best way to indicate a drawing isn’t made to proportion, because it’s the standard form, which most people would acknowledge as a proper warning. However, the similar expressions above might help.

Here are forms and expressions we can use as synonyms to “Not to Scale”:

  • Out of Scale
  • Out of proportion
  • Not to proportion
  • Out of gradation
  • Out of ratio

Final Thoughts

“Not to Scale” indicates that a map, drawing or model isn’t designed to match the exact proportions of the original item. It’s made to give an idea, a general understanding, but shouldn’t be looked at as a perfectly made replica. “Not to Scale” mostly works as a warning, a disclosure.