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Understanding Mechanical Engineering Drawings: A Simple Guide for Beginners

Understanding Mechanical Engineering Drawings: A Simple Guide for Beginners

Introduction to Mechanical Engineering Drawings

Engineering drawings, also known as mechanical drawings or blueprints, are technical, two-dimensional drawings that visually communicate the requirements for manufacturing a product. They provide a clear visual representation of the shape, size, dimensions, materials, construction and functionality of the finished product.

Engineering drawings serve several important purposes:

  • To communicate design specifications between engineers, manufacturers, and customers. Engineering drawings provide all the details needed to manufacture the product to the designer's specifications.

  • To provide a permanent record of the design. The drawing serves as the legal document and reference for manufacturing the product.

  • To guide production and assembly. The drawings offer step-by-step visual instructions for assembling components and building the product.

  • For quality control. The drawings can be used to inspect the product during manufacturing and after completion to ensure it meets specifications.

Though 3D CAD models are widely used today, engineering drawings are still a vital form of documentation in many engineering and manufacturing fields. They provide an unambiguous representation of the product from different perspectives. Engineering drawings make it easier to visualize the product, its features, and design intent compared to 3D models for some audiences. They are often required as part of the design, production, and approval process.

Types of Lines

Lines are the key communication tool in engineering drawings. Different line types represent different features and information in the drawing. The main types of lines are:

  • Visible Lines - These are solid, thick lines that represent the visible edges and outlines of a part or component. Visible lines define the shape and form of the object.

  • Hidden Lines - These are made up of short dashes and represent edges or contours that are not directly visible in the current view. Hidden lines show surfaces and features that are blocked from view by other nearby components.

  • Center Lines - These are alternating long and short dashes with two short dashes at each end. Center lines indicate the axis or center planes of rotational components like holes, cylinders, cones etc.

  • Phantom Lines - These are made up of evenly spaced long and short dashes. They represent alternate positions of components or show previous configurations that are no longer in use.

  • Dimension Lines - These are thin lines with arrow heads that indicate a specific dimension between two points or features. The actual numerical value is placed centrally over the dimension line.

  • Extension Lines - These are thin lines extending from a feature or part surface to the dimension line. They help associate the dimension to a particular part feature.

  • Section Lines - These are thin lines with section symbols like half-arrows to indicate where the object is conceptually cut to show the internal features typically in a section view.

So in summary, different lines convey different information in an engineering drawing. Being able to distinguish between the various line types is crucial for accurately interpreting the drawing.

Orthographic Projection

Orthographic projection is a way to represent three-dimensional objects in two dimensions. There are two main types of orthographic projection - first angle projection and third angle projection. The difference between them relates to the positioning of the object views.

First Angle Projection

In first angle projection, the front view of the object is drawn closest to the viewer. The top view is drawn above it, and the side view is drawn to the right. This method is used in Europe.

  • Front view - The front view shows the object as seen from the front. Width and height dimensions can be taken from this view.

  • Top view - The top view shows the object as seen from above. Length and width dimensions can be taken from this view.

  • Side view - The side view shows the object as seen from the left or right side. Length and height dimensions can be taken from this view.

Third Angle Projection

In third angle projection, the front view is drawn farthest from the viewer. The top view is drawn above it, and the side view is drawn to the left. This method is commonly used in the United States.

  • Front view - Same as first angle projection. Shows width and height.

  • Top view - Same as first angle. Shows length and width.

  • Side view - Same as first angle. Shows length and height.

The main difference between first and third angle projection is the placement of the front view relative to the side view. But the views represent the object in the same way.

Sections and Cutaways

Sections are helpful for showing the internal features of a part or assembly. Sections are like cutting the part along a plane and looking at the cross-section. There are different types of sections used for mechanical drawings:

Full Sections

A full section goes through the entire part from front to back. It provides a view of the entire internal structure. Full sections are indicated on the drawing by two parallel section lines. The area between the lines is "cut" and the cut surface is indicated by crosshatching.

Half Sections

Half sections show one half of the part in a section view with the other half shown as an exterior view. Half sections allow you to see both exterior and interior details. On the drawing, the sectioned half will have crosshatching while the solid half will be shown normally.

Offset Sections

If a part has repeated internal features, an offset section can be used to prevent a cluttered view. The section line is offset from the center and only a portion of the cross section is shown. This provides a clearer view of the internal features.

Revolved Sections

Revolved sections are achieved by projecting a sectioned cutaway to show a 3D view of the part. This helps reveal complex interior geometry. On the drawing, centerlines are drawn to indicate the axis of revolution.

Removed Sections

Removed sections omit a portion of a component to show the section view behind it. They allow visibility of the background features. The cut surfaces are shown with crosshatching and dotted lines indicate the edges that have been removed or hidden.

Dimensions and Tolerances

Dimensions and tolerances are used to specify the size, geometry, and other allowable variations in mechanical parts and assemblies. They are critical to ensuring proper fit and function.

Linear Dimensions

Linear dimensions indicate the distance between two points or features on a part. They are usually expressed in millimeters (mm) or inches. Linear dimensions are placed parallel to the measured distance.

Angular Dimensions

Angular dimensions specify angles or slopes on features. They are typically shown in degrees. The angle symbol precedes the value.


A tolerance defines the allowable variation in a dimension. It reflects the range in which a feature's size is acceptable. Common tolerances include:

  • Bilateral tolerances: The dimension may vary above and below the nominal value. For example, a 1.00 +/- 0.01 mm tolerance means the size can be between 0.99-1.01 mm.

  • Unilateral tolerances: The dimension can only vary in one direction from the nominal value. For example, 1.00 +0.01/-0.00 mm means the size must be greater than 1.00 mm but not exceed 1.01 mm.

  • Limits: Minimum and maximum values may be specified instead of a tolerance. For example, 4.95 mm < d < 5.05 mm.


The fit between mating parts is controlled by tolerances. A clearance fit provides room between parts for easy assembly. An interference fit creates tight contact through pressure. The symbols for common fits like FN1, h9, H7 are defined in standards like ISO 286.

Dimensions and tolerances must be carefully chosen to ensure the design intent is met for fit and function. Precision in machining and manufacturing is needed to produce parts within the specified tolerances.

Title and Revision Blocks

The title block and revision block contain important information to identify and track the engineering drawing.

Title Block

The title block is typically located in the bottom right corner of the drawing. It contains:

  • Drawing title

  • Drawing number - unique identifier for the drawing

  • Revision number - used to track updates and changes

  • Creator name - engineer and/or company that created the drawing

  • Approval signatures

  • Date - date the drawing was created

The drawing title clearly describes the component, assembly or system shown in the drawing.

The drawing number is a unique code that identifies each drawing, usually structured as:

`[Project Number]-[System ID]-[Drawing Type]-[Sheet Number]`

For example:


Revision Block

The revision block tracks changes made to the drawing after initial release. It contains:

  • Revision number - used to identify latest version

  • Revision date - date of change

  • Description of change - summary of what was changed

  • Approver name - who authorized the change

Revision numbers follow a sequential order, starting from 0. Higher numbers indicate later revisions.

The revision notes summarize what was changed - for example:

`"Revised Bill of Materials as per ECN 1234"`

Reviewing the revision block shows the modification history and current revision status of the drawing.

Views and Layout

The arrangement, alignment, and layout of the different views is critical for accurately conveying the 3D object in a 2D drawing. Here are some key considerations:

Arrangement of Views

  • The most common views are the front, top, side and 3D perspective. Additional views may be added if needed to show critical features.

  • Front, top and side views are typically arranged in a standard layout. The front view is placed above the top view, with the side view to the right.

  • Section views are inserted close to the areas they cut. Detail views are placed on the side or below.

  • Views are arranged logically to allow easy interpretation of the 3D object. Related views are grouped together.

Alignment of Views

  • Corresponding views are aligned precisely using projection lines. This allows you to visualize the relationship between the different 2D views.

  • Hidden lines are aligned in the various views. For example, holes visible in the front view will align with hidden lines in the side view.

  • Some views may be rotated for convenience, but corresponding features will remain aligned across views.

Layout Considerations

  • Views are arranged efficiently to avoid wasted space. But enough white space should be left for dimensions, notes and other detailing.

  • The drawing is oriented to fit drawing sheets. Standard sheet sizes like A3, A4, Legal etc. are used.

  • All views and details should be measurable using the drawing scale. The scale is clearly indicated.

  • Symbols, numbering, notes and leaders are positioned neatly without cluttering the views.

With careful consideration of view layout, an engineering drawing successfully conveys all necessary 3D information in an easy to interpret 2D drawing. The ISO standard provides guidelines to optimize layouts for readability and measurement.

Interpreting and Understanding Mechanical Drawings

Mechanical drawings contain a wealth of information, but decoding that information takes some know-how. Here are some tips for interpreting and understanding the key aspects of a mechanical drawing or blueprint:

  • Start with the title block - This contains basic information like the drawing number, title, revision number, creator, date, and more. Understanding the metadata in the title block gives you the backdrop for the rest of the drawing.

  • Understand first angle vs third angle projection - These are the two main ways to represent 3D objects in 2D. First angle projection has the object rotated counterclockwise with the front view on the right. Third angle projection rotates the object clockwise with the front view on the left. Knowing which is being used allows you to properly interpret the different views.

  • Use dimensions - Dimensions on the drawing provide the actual measurements of components. Pay close attention to dimensions, units, and scale to determine real-world sizes. Also look for any dimension callouts providing additional notes.

  • Reference any leader notes - Notes with arrow leaders pointing to part of the drawing often provide critical information about that component, function, or assembly. Don't miss these!

  • Review the bill of materials - The BOM provides a breakdown of all the materials and components. Cross-reference the BOM with the drawing to understand how components fit and work together in the assembly.

  • Look for section callouts - Section views are cutaways showing internal features. The callouts label and orient the section views.

  • Watch for detail bubbles - Detail bubbles indicate zoomed-in views of a region providing more info.

Don't get overwhelmed! Start step-by-step to extract all the important design, function, and specification information contained in the mechanical drawing. Over time, you'll develop the know-how to interpret complex drawings quickly and easily. Practice makes perfect!

CAD vs Hand Drawings

Computer Aided Design (CAD) has revolutionized the engineering drawing process and become the standard across most industries. However, hand drawings are still used in certain applications. Understanding the differences and being able to convert between CAD and hand drawings is key.

Advantages of CAD

  • Increased efficiency - CAD allows faster drafting and easy revisions

  • Accuracy - CAD drawings are precise down to .001 mm

  • Visualization - CAD allows 3D modeling and photorealistic rendering

  • Data integration - CAD links to analysis, simulation, manufacturing

  • Collaboration - CAD files are easy to share and merge

Hand Drawings Still Used For:

  • Concept sketches - Quick hand sketches to brainstorm ideas

  • Legacy systems - Older plants still maintain hand drawings

  • Simplicity - Hand drawings are less resource intensive

  • Legal documents - Wet ink signatures required on some drawings

Converting Between CAD and Hand Drawings

While CAD is the modern standard, engineers still need to be able to work with and convert between digital and hand drawings. This requires an understanding of drafting principles.

  • CAD to hand drawing - Print the CAD drawing, adding dimensions, lines, notes manually on the print

  • Hand drawing to CAD - Scan the drawing and re-create it in CAD, or trace over manually in CAD

The ability to move between CAD and hand drafted drawings is an essential engineering skill. With practice, converting between the two becomes quick and easy. Maintaining proficiency in both traditional and digital technical drawing provides flexibility and versatility in the modern workplace.

Resources for Practice

There are many resources available for those looking to practice reading and interpreting mechanical engineering drawings. Here are some recommendations:

Practice Drawings

  • Many open source engineering drawing sets can be found online to use for practice. These are often sample CAD files made available by software vendors like AutoCAD, SolidWorks, etc.

  • GitHub and other open source sites host a variety of mechanical drawing files to download. Just search for "mechanical drawings" or related terms.

  • Some engineering firms and manufacturers also share sample drawings online for educational purposes. These provide realistic examples.

  • Check if your local library has books with collections of drawings you can borrow. Look in engineering and technology sections.

Recommended Books

  • Engineering Drawing and Design by David Madsen - A standard textbook with practice exercises

  • Mechanical Drawing Self-Taught by Joshua Rose - Focused on drafting fundamentals

  • Manual of Engineering Drawing by Colin Simmons - Covers technical drawing conventions

  • Engineering Graphics Essentials with AutoCAD - Good for learning CAD software


  • Many colleges and technical schools offer introductory courses on engineering drawings, either in-person or online. These provide a structured way to learn.

  • EdX, Coursera, Udemy and other e-learning platforms have courses on technical drawing. Some are free.

  • Check for online workshops, webinars, and training programs focused on reading engineering drawings.

  • YouTube has many tutorials explaining how to read drawings.

The most important thing is to practice regularly with real-world examples. The more exposure you have to interpreting drawings, the more comfortable you will become. Start simple and work your way to more complex drawings.

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