Beginner’s Guide to Basic Dimensions

Basic dimensions are shown on a blueprint enclosed in a box. But what do they mean?

Keep reading to find out.

A basic dimension is a theoretically exact size or location.

Basic dimensions do not have a tolerance applied to them, this includes any general tolerance blocks.

Instead a separate is listed on the drawing that uses the basic dimension.

An example of this would be a true position callout for a hole or set of holes. The basic dimension(s) specify the location of the hole.

The true position of the hole is calculated based on the difference of the actual location compared to the basic dimensions theoretically exact location.

What is a basic dimension used for?

Basic dimensions are used for calculations. They are used to calculate various geometric dimensioning and tolerancing (GD&T) characteristics such as true position, profile or angularity.

In the example above, the 120 degree callout and the 42 diameter bolt circle are the basic dimensions and the true position of 0.2 is the characteristic controlling the basic dimensions.

Using basic dimensions

How is a basic dimension shown on a drawing?

basic dimension example

The symbol for a basic dimension is the dimension shown enclosed in a rectangular frame or box.

This is the convention identified in the blueprint drawing standard ASME Y14.5.

Some drawings may list a basic dimension not in a rectangular frame but instead the dimension will be followed by a Bsc. notation. This is more common on older drawings and does not change the way basic dimensions are used.

Basic dimension examples

basic dimensions for a bolt hole circle
This example has 2 basic dimensions. Both the size of the bolt hole circle and the angle between the holes are basic dimension.

Basic dimensions and tolerances

Can a basic dimension have a tolerance?

A basic dimension itself does not have a tolerance. General tolerance blocks do not apply to a basic dimension.

Instead its value is used to compute another characteristic such as angularity, profile or true position.

general tolerance block
An example of a general tolerance block

Basic dimensions compared to other types of dimensions

Basic dimension vs reference dimension

Basic dimensions are associated with another tolerance or dimension. While they don’t have a tolerance tied to themselves, they are used to calculate another toleranced feature such as the true position of a hole.

Reference dimensions are simply placed on a drawing or blueprint for reference. They have no tolerance associated with them. No matter how far off the given value a reference dimension is, it would never be cause for rejection.

A basic dimension being far off its nominal value would not be cause for rejection itself, but its effect on another feature referencing the basic dimension could be cause for rejection. So if a basic dimension was far off the nominal location, another tolerance would likely be out of spec. 

reference dimensions
Reference dimension examples

Basic dimension vs regular dimension

Regular dimensions have a tolerance assigned to them. This can be directly assigned to the individual dimension or it can be the general tolerances. The regular dimension must fall within the limits of the tolerance.

A basic dimension is instead controlled by another characteristic. The basic dimension can vary by any amount but it must not deviate from the nominal value to the point that the other characteristic (true position callout, profile callout, etc.) is no longer within the specified limits.

How to measure a basic dimension

A basic dimension is measured just like any other dimension. The only difference is that the basic dimension doesn’t have a tolerance directly associated with it. Instead another dimension uses the basic dimension to calculate its value.

How to report basic dimensions

Do basic dimensions need to be listed on an inspection report?

While there isn’t a strict requirement anywhere to include them, I would recommend reporting their values on an inspection report. 

The features have been measured and you likely already have the values. By recording them, you will provide more information and value for your customer. 

You must report the feature control values such as true position, profile value, etc. that use the basic dimension to be calculated.

What about on FAIs?

The requirement for reporting basic dimensions is the same for first article inspection reports. Be aware that some customers may require them even though there is no requirement per AS9102.

Want to learn more?

GD&T is a complicated subject and understanding it correctly can be the difference between a perfect part and scrap.

The best way to learn GD&T is from experienced teachers who can break down the material into manageable pieces.

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4 thoughts on “Beginner’s Guide to Basic Dimensions”

  1. I have a question. what tolerance do you put on a hole pattern that the holes that make up the hole pattern diameter have a true position of 2mm. I have a hole patter of 37mm. I have 6 holes that have a TP of 2mm. What would be my basic dimension tolerance? I appreciate your response and look forward to hearing from you.
    Jeff Novak

    • Hi Jeff,
      The tolerance for the holes would be the true position of 2mm. You would need to calculate the nominal dimensions of your hole locations based on the angle between them and the radial lengths. Once you know the nominal x and y coordinates for your holes, you will need to measure them to determine how much they deviate from the nominal values. Once this is known, you calculate the true position value by using this formula.

      True position = 2 * √(x deviation²+y deviation²)

      You would need to calculate this true position value for each of the holes. A good mental reference is you can deviate from the nominals in both x and y by 1/3 of your tolerance. In this case, +/- .66mm for your x and y location values. This doesn’t give you the actual true position tolerance but is a close approximation. If either your x or y is closer to nominal, you will gain more tolerance in the other axis (x or y). For example, if your x location is on nominal then your y location can deviate from nominal by 1/2 of the true position tolerance or 1mm in this example.

      Hope this helps,

  2. How can we use the below formula when angle is called out as a basic dimension?

    True position = 2 * √(x deviation²+y deviation²)

    Please clarify

    • Hi Yaser,
      It sounds like you probably are dealing with a bolt hole circle. You will need to use the angle to help you determine the nominal x and y locations and then use the true position formula based on how far off of nominal your measurements are. You will have to use trig to calculate the x and y nominal locations using the angle and another dimension. This other dimension is likely a diameter or radius value. Search for a triangle calculator on Google if you are unsure how to calculate the x and y nominal locations based on the angle.

      Good luck,


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