15 Types of Protractors and Their Characteristics & Usages

Types of Protractors

In various sectors, precise angle measurements are pivotal. From classroom geometry to intricate engineering projects, the role of a protractor remains indispensable. This guide, brought to you by Linquip, the leader in equipment solutions, offers an in-depth exploration of the different types of protractors and their uses.


Protractors are ancient tools used for measuring angles. They originated from early civilizations like the Babylonians and Greeks. Historically made from bone, ivory, and metal, today’s protractors are primarily made of plastic or contain electronic components for precision. Designs have evolved from simple markings to detailed gradations and digital displays. Modern advancements include digital protractors and app-based versions. From navigating stars to classroom geometry, the protractor’s importance in precise angle measurement has remained consistent throughout history.


Understanding Protractors

A protractor is a flat, semi-circular, or rectangular tool made primarily for measuring angles, usually in degrees. Its invention revolutionized angle measurements, making them more accurate and accessible.


Main Types of Protractors

  1. Half-circle Protractor
  2. Full-circle Protractor
  3. Rectangular Protractor
  4. Digital Protractor
  5. Bevel Protractor
  6. Semicircular Map Protractor
  7. Station Pointer Protractor
  8. Plotting Protractor
  9. Quadrant Protractor
  10. Universal Bevel Protractor
  11. Goniometer Protractor
  12. Armillary Protractor
  13. Articulating Arm Protractor
  14. Pocket Protractor
  15. Magnetic Protractor


Types of Protractors Table with Characteristics and Usage

Type of Protractor Characteristics Usage
Half-circle Protractor Semi-circular design measures up to 180 degrees General angle measurement, academic use
Full-circle Protractor Circular design measures up to 360 degrees Advanced geometry, engineering tasks
Rectangular Protractor Rectangle shape with degrees marked on the edges Navigation, particularly marine
Digital Protractor Uses electronic sensors, provides digital readings Precision tasks, engineering, woodworking
Bevel Protractor Adjustable blade, Vernier scale Metalwork, woodworking, technical drawing
Semicircular Map Protractor Designed for map readings Navigation, cartography, land surveying
Station Pointer Protractor Central pivot design Nautical navigation, aviation
Plotting Protractor Square/rectangular, used for plotting on maps Navigational plotting, cartography
Quadrant Protractor Quarter-circle measures up to 90 degrees Engineering drafts, architectural designs
Universal Bevel Protractor 360-degree circle, adjustable blade, Vernier scale Technical drawing, precision engineering
Goniometer Protractor Two-arm design, one arm rotates Medical field, physical therapy (joint angles)
Armillary Protractor Represents a model of celestial spheres Historical astronomy, celestial navigation
Articulating Arm Protractor Arm with locking mechanism Engineering, model-making, film animation
Pocket Protractor Small, compact, often credit-card-sized Quick measurements, field use by engineers/architects
Magnetic Protractor Contains a magnetic base Metalworking, construction, ensuring accurate readings on metal surfaces

This table provides a concise overview of the various types of protractors, their main features, and their typical applications.


Half-circle Protractor

Half-circle Protractor
Half-circle Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Shaped like a semi-circle.
  • Range: Measures angles up to 180 degrees.
  • Usage: Commonly found in school geometry kits; ideal for basic angle measurements.


Full-circle Protractor

Full-circle Protractor
Full-circle Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Circular, with markings up to 360 degrees.
  • Range: Measures a complete revolution.
  • Usage: Advanced geometry, astronomy, and some engineering tasks.


Rectangular Protractor

Rectangular Protractor
Rectangular Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Rectangular or square, with a circular scale in the middle.
  • Range: Up to 360 degrees, but in a square form factor.
  • Usage: Technical drawings, architectural drafts, and navigational purposes.


Digital Protractor

Digital Protractor
Digital Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Uses electronic components to measure angles.
  • Range: Typically up to 360 degrees.
  • Features: Digital display, often with backlighting, for precision measurements.
  • Usage: Engineering, woodworking, and other areas where high precision is required.


Bevel Protractor

Bevel Protractor
Bevel Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Has a movable arm that can be adjusted to the required angle.
  • Range: Measures angles more intricately with Vernier scale readings.
  • Usage: Precision engineering, metalwork, and carpentry.


Semicircular Map Protractor

Semicircular Map Protractor
Semicircular Map Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: A semicircular tool specifically calibrated for map readings.
  • Range: Measures angles up to 180 degrees.
  • Usage: Navigation, cartography, and land surveying.


Station Pointer Protractor

Station Pointer Protractor
Station Pointer Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Features a central pivot from which measurements are taken.
  • Range: Up to 360 degrees.
  • Usage: Nautical navigation and aviation.


Plotting Protractor

Plotting Protractor
Plotting Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Often square or rectangular, used for plotting courses on maps.
  • Range: Contains scales on all its edges.
  • Usage: Navigational plotting, cartography, and marine purposes.


Quadrant Protractor

  • Design: A quarter-circle or 90-degree protractor.
  • Range: Measures right angles or partitions thereof.
  • Usage: Engineering drafts, architectural designs, and specific academic applications.


Universal Bevel Protractor

Universal Bevel Protractor
Universal Bevel Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: A bevel protractor with a 360-degree circle and an adjustable blade.
  • Range: Measures any angle with high precision.
  • Features: Comes with a Vernier scale to give more precise readings.
  • Usage: Metalwork, technical drawing, woodworking, and engineering.


Goniometer Protractor

Goniometer Protractor
Goniometer Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Often a two-arm device where one arm remains stationary while the other rotates to measure angles.
  • Range: Typically up to 360 degrees, depending on the design.
  • Usage: Primarily in physical therapy to measure joint angles and track progress in patient recovery.
  • History and Significance: Derived from the Greek words ‘gonia’, meaning angle, and ‘metron’, meaning measure. This tool has been invaluable in medical disciplines to evaluate mobility and prescribe treatments.


Armillary Protractor

  • Design: Consists of several rings (armilla) centered on a smaller circle. It represents a model of celestial spheres.
  • Range: Can depict the entire celestial sphere, showcasing the Earth at the center.
  • Usage: Historically used for astronomy and navigation.
  • Noteworthy Facts: The armillary sphere, which the protractor design is based on, dates back to ancient Greece and was later used extensively by Chinese astronomers.


Articulating Arm Protractor

Articulating Arm Protractor
Articulating Arm Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Features an arm that can be locked at various points to achieve desired angles.
  • Range: Varies by design, but typically covers up to 360 degrees.
  • Usage: Complex engineering tasks, model making, and even film animation for setting specific frames.
  • Unique Aspect: The locking mechanism on these protractors ensures consistent measurements, making it particularly beneficial for repeated tasks.


Pocket Protractor

Pocket Protractor
Pocket Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Small, typically the size of a credit card, and made of durable plastic or metal.
  • Range: Generally up to 180 degrees.
  • Usage: Quick field measurements, are used by many professionals like engineers, architects, and surveyors.
  • Convenience Factor: Its compact size allows professionals to carry it around effortlessly, ensuring they always have a tool at hand for quick angle measurements.


Magnetic Protractor

Magnetic Protractor
Magnetic Protractor (Reference: amazon.co.uk)
  • Design: Contains a magnetic base that can attach to metal surfaces.
  • Range: Can measure angles up to 360 degrees.
  • Usage: Metalworking, construction, and carpentry.
  • Highlights: The magnetic base ensures the protractor stays firmly in place on metal surfaces, providing accurate readings even in challenging working conditions.


Why Choose Protractors from Linquip?

With an extensive catalog that includes the aforementioned types and more, Linquip stands as a vanguard in the realm of precision instruments. Not just the diversity, but the guarantee of quality and durability make Linquip’s protractors a preferred choice for professionals.


The Protractor: A Historical and Design Perspective

Origins and History

The protractor’s roots trace back to ancient civilizations. From the stargazers of Babylon to the builders of Egypt, the need to measure angles accurately has always been a paramount concern. The term “protractor” itself is derived from Latin: “pro-” meaning “forward” and “tractor” meaning “to draw”. In essence, it is a tool that aids in the forward drawing or measurement of angles.

While the exact origin is somewhat debated, there’s evidence suggesting ancient navigators used early forms of protractors for celestial navigation. The ancient Greeks advanced geometry, and their need for precision likely saw the development of early angle-measuring tools.


Material and Make-up

Over the centuries, the materials used for protractors have evolved:

  1. Bone and Ivory: Ancient protractors were crafted from bone and ivory, often ornately decorated.
  2. Metal: Brass and other metals provided more durability and were widely adopted by professionals like navigators and military tacticians.
  3. Plastic: With the advent of modern manufacturing, plastic became the preferred choice for its cost-effectiveness, transparency, and durability. This transition marked the protractor’s move into classrooms worldwide.
  4. Electronic Components: Modern digital protractors often incorporate electronic sensors and displays to provide more precise readings.


Design Nuances

While the principle of measuring angles remains consistent, the design of protractors has seen numerous innovations:

  • Markings: Early protractors may have had limited markings, possibly only indicating cardinal angles. Modern protractors, however, often include gradations down to individual degrees and sometimes even finer measurements via vernier scales.
  • Base Lines: Most protractors have a horizontal baseline to align with the baseline of the angle being measured, ensuring accuracy.
  • Center Point: This is a crucial aspect of a protractor’s design, allowing users to position the protractor precisely over the vertex of the angle.


Modern Advancements

With technology’s advancement, the humble protractor has seen several modern iterations:

  1. Digital Protractors: These devices use electronic sensors to measure angles with digital displays offering readings, often to decimal places.
  2. App-based Protractors: Smartphones and tablets, with their built-in gyroscopes and sensors, now host applications that can emulate protractors, making angle measurement more accessible.



Understanding and choosing the right protractor is essential for precise angular measurements. With brands like Linquip offering a wide array of choices backed by expertise, the task becomes considerably easier. Whether you’re a student delving into geometry or an engineer aiming for perfection, Linquip’s range of protractors promises accuracy and quality in every measurement.


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