What Is a Fractional Scale?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 25, 2020 8:01:42 AM ET

In mapmaking, a fractional scale refers to the proportion of map distance to the actual distance on the ground. It can be expressed in fractional form or as a ratio.

Map scaling is an important tool in providing a detailed, precise visual representation of real world features. Due to the impracticality of using the actual distances of geographical characteristics on a map, cartographers scale these features down to a smaller size. The commonly used fractional scale for most geological surveys conducted by the United States is 1/24,000 or 1:24,000, which means that 1 unit of measurement on a topographical map is equivalent to 24,000 units on the ground. Other types of map scales include verbal scales and bar scales.