Friday, January 29, 2010

Dead Tech: Proportional Scale

Before computers made it possible to scale things up or down by dragging a corner or typing in a number, the proportional scale was an indispensable studio tool.

It made it easy to calculate relative measurements when you needed to make enlargements or reductions.

It looks like a circular slide rule. The smaller inside wheel represents the size of the original, while a larger outside wheel measures the size of the reproduction. Each wheel is marked in a gradually increasing scale from 1 to 100 inches. The two wheels rotate independently, held concentrically by a grommet.

A small window marks the percentage enlargement or reduction. If you set it to a 24 percent reduction, all the relative measurements between the two wheels will be held at that relationship.

Knowing such measurements was necessary for making photographic enlargements, planning original art for a given print application, or specifying type. Although it may be obsolete for many of its original graphics art uses, it’s still a useful tool for modelmakers, craftspeople or anyone who needs to scale something up or down by percentages.

32 comments:

Michael Dooney said...

it's not dead yet! I still use one of those to enlarge and reduce sketches and such on a copy machine.

Drew said...

The proportional scale! To me, at least, it's not a dead tech. I still use it if I'm trying to figure out proportions of a larger piece from a thumbnail or rough (and then I take out two rulers and mark off the dimensions to get an idea of the size.

Still a lot of use left for the old scale...

Christopher Thornock said...

Uh, oh. I still use my proportional scale. The one I bought my freshman year of college. I guess I need to get with the times. The 'loop' did go away, however.

Bill Guffey said...

See what you've done, James! I use one all the time at work also, scaling up and down for newspaper column widths. And yes, we still wax, cut out, and use paper layout sheets. Small town stuff, you know?

Steve said...

I first encountered this in high school journalism class (1965), back in the day of doing paste-ups, running half-tones and headlines through the waxing machine. Like, Michael Dooney, I still use mine to quickly arrive at enlargement/reduction percentages when resizing artwork or photos on a copying machine.

China Blue Rockett said...

Everybody should own one of these; they're spectacularly useful and comprehensive in a hands-on way computers can't eapproximate.

James Gurney said...

I'm glad the ol' proportional scale has so many defenders, and I'm glad I'm not alone in finding them a great tool. Can't say I've found as many uses for my old slide rule, though.

Sketchguy said...

I still have mine as well, and still use it. Unfortunately, it is old and yellowed, but still works :)

Peter Underhill said...

Sadly, I stopped using mine a few years ago when I arrived at an easy equation on the calculator.
For those with the need:
To take measurement A to Measurement B (enlarge or reduce)
B ÷ A x 100 = Percentage.
I never used the x100, I just got used to shifting the decimal point a couple of positions.

I do still keep my proportional scale aand haber rule etc. In fact, I might just dig them out and sniff them right now.

Daroo said...

I lost my proportion wheel -- I wish I had it.
But I keep this on my bookmarks bar:
http://www.copyitmailit.com/p.htm

Mike Manomivibul said...

I work at an art store and we still sell them, plus i use them all the time to scale sketches and such on a photo copier as Dooney said.

Steve said...

Like Daroo, we always called it a proportional "wheel."

Sara Light Waller said...

I still have mine too...and it's only slightly yellowed. It's been in storage for the past year and although I don't really NEED it anymore I felt better when I unpacked it earlier this week.

Jamie Douglas said...

I still use one of these! They're still sold in art stores. They might be a little obsolete, but certainly not dead.

Goomie said...

I still use mine, and I've had it for at least 20 years! On a similar note, are french curves dead? I have some younger coworkers who are artists and they had no idea what it was!

sfox said...

Oh, jeez, now I need to dig mine out. I know it's in the studio somewhere. Couldn't do graphic design without it, back in the day.

I also need to find my old flexi-curve. My husband needs it for something he's doing with an airplane model.

Are circle and ellipse templates Dead Tech too? I'd think not.

SeBentley said...

Sorry to be so insanely off topic, but I saw this article and thought of you--

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123018405

SeBentley said...

That was a link to an article on NPR about looking at fossils with technology to determine what colors certain species of dinosaurs may have been. Sorry, I didn't initially think about how weird it was to post a link to something and not say what that something was!

And more on topic: I am one of those young folk who use photoshop to figure everything out nowadays. Sometimes, I really regret how utterly dependent I find myself on it (such as using it to resize something accurately). But now that I know about this...

Carolyn said...

I have that very same scale! Like Michael D, I too use it to enlarge and reduce sketches on a copier machines. It's still a very useful tool.

I also used to know how to "spec type" before the age of computer design. I guess that makes me a dinosaur! :?

Laura said...

I still have a proportion wheel and use it every now and then, but back in the day - I had it in my hands every few minutes. I worked in the dark room of a busy screen printer and made the all film positives. Fun times.

bzyglowi said...

I'm afraid I'm going to have to break the stream of comments by saying I'm a crazy young'un who's never even heard of one of these things. Although it does rather answer my question of "what did we do before Photoshop?"

Maret said...

I'm an illustration student and only heard about the magic of the proportional scale this semester when it was on the required materials list. I was so excited to go out and get one! It's going to make my non-math inclined brain a lot happier.

Jonathan said...

I'd like to point out, that copy shops are likely to have those lying around, simply because nobody can remember the percentage conversion to go from letter to legal or letter to A4.

artybecca said...

I used to use one of these also at my first graphic design job in the pre-computer era. I haven't thought about it in ages. Thank you Daroo for the online conversion tool. That is handy because my in-brain formula tool is not very reliable.

lilrivkah said...

Oh! This is splendid! I had a friend pass one of these down to me, but I couldn't figure out what it did. Now I know!

This would actually come in handy figuring out the ratios of my comic pages to the scanned to the final print size. Or when I'm designing furniture. I can see all sorts of uses for this baby. Working out the ratios by hand usually leaves me with a lot of little errors when working with so many bits and pieces.

Thank you!

James Gurney said...

I never thought of it for helping to calculate photocopy reductions. I've used it a couple times already, where before it was languishing in a drawer. Thanks for giving it new life!

Gene Snyder said...

I used to teach how to use the ole' Proportion Scale in the U.S. Army Basic Graphics course. I remember it being a hard concept for students to wrap their heads around. This was back in the late 90s, not sure if it is still being taught or in use today. I still have mine and use it for scaling when griding-off a drawing to transfer to canvas.

Joel Grothaus said...

museum of forgotten art supplies

http://drawger.com/?what=shows&show_id=32

kenmeyerjr said...

Geez...I feel old...I still have this and use it whenever the need arises...

Butch said...

I have one of these as well, and use it often. It's the same one I bought back in college. The classics never go out of style!

PATTY LEIDYS ZERO HOUR said...

I use mine all the time!

I can also cut rubylith like nobodies bidness... lol

a said...

Just ran into this. Oh my. I used a scaling wheel, as we called it,back in the early '70s, as the daily newspaper "cameraman" (one of the few females). Used it for the pages, halftones, line shots and PMTs. I shot and developed the entire paper by hand. Watching those dots develop. What a rush of memories...

Annie