Piping Design Basics- Isometric Drawings

What is Isometric Drawing?

Once the three dimensional (3D) model has been established id piping design software like PDS, PDMS or SP3D, Piping Designers/Engineers need to convey that information to the yard for fabrication and site for Construction. The transferred information must have to be sufficient for the fabricator with the vision of what is to be fabricated and how the piping should be connected with other elements, with exact dimensions and complete build/Bill of materials (BOM). This is where Isometric Drawings play a magnificent role. So piping isometrics are directly used for the following situations:

  • For Construction Services
  • For marking up deviation during site modifications/ as-builting.
  • For reference as Stress Analysis model built up and final stress mark up for updating stress requirements.

By definition, Isometric drawings are a pictorial representation that combines height-width-depth/length into a single view with 30 degrees from its horizontal plane as shown in the below attached image.

isometric drawing
Built-up of Isometric Drawing

Features of Piping Isometric Drawing

Isometric Drawing is a two dimensional (2D) drawing that represents the 3D piping system. The important features are

  • It is not drawn to the scale, but it is proportionate with exact dimensions represented.
  • Pipes are drawn with a single line irrespective of the line sizes, as well as the other configurations such as reducers, flanges, and valves.
  • pipes are shown in the same size. The actual sizes are notified in Bill of Material, tagging, call-out or notes.

Isometric drawings are popular because of its simplicity yet efficiency to convey complex information. The following figure gives an example of how one Isometric drawing can represent three orthographic drawings. That is just a simple piping drawing. Imagine complex design and yet orthographic drawings are used for construction, that is really a headache.

Orthographic vs Isometric drawing
Orthographic Vs Isometric Drawing

Earlier days, Isometric drawings were hand-drawn. With innovation and advancement of the digital age, isometrics are drawn by AutoCAD/Microstation software. In recent days, the 3D models could automatically extract the Isometric by a single click of a mouse.

sample isometric
Sample Isometric Drawing

How to Read Isometric Drawings?

1. First, imagine that the piping system is built in a box. This basic imagination is required for the piping having an offset. So, it will help you to imagine, how the piping configuration will look like as it travels.

Generation of Piping Isometric
Generation of Piping Isometric

2. Offset happens when the pipe turns to any angle other than 90-degree or to accommodate odd nozzle’s location or tie in point connections. A popular use is a 45-degree elbow and this is used extensively in piping design. In such cases, piping design may land on Northeast, Southeast, Northwest or Southwest axes. In order to check the dimension of pipe length with offset, common Pythagoras’s theorem and Trigonometric rule can be used. A sample calculation is shown below as a reference-

Pythagoras theorem
Pythagoras Theorem

Example of length calculation

Pipe Length Calculation
Example 1 of Pipe Length Calculation
Example 2 of Pipe Length Calculation
Example 2 of Pipe Length Calculation

Example of offset

Image showing Offset

If you happened to have difficulties in reading the offset, try to draw the imaginary box. It could help you in having a better understanding of which axes the pipe travel and how the piping should look like. In the example given, take the flow from ‘x’, the pipe goes up; then up-northwest; then north. As you get along with Iso a lot, things will come naturally.

3. A North arrow is provided in all piping isometrics to inform the location of the piping system in piping/ general arrangement drawing.

4. The piping isometrics also has coordinates & elevation detailed information to verify the exact length of pipe in horizontal and vertical axes respectively. The dimensions in Isometric drawings are measured from the pipe centreline and not from the outer diameter of the pipe (refer to the image attached below for reference).

Piping Dimension in Isometrics
Piping Dimension in Isometrics

With the advancement of technology, there could be minimum or even zero possibilities that the North arrow, coordinates, and elevation in Isometric would differ from the piping arrangement; hence the dimensions and MTO should match exactly if the source 3D model is the same.

However, It is always better to check and to verify as there could be some issues with the modeling itself that may cause discrepancies on material and quantity. For example, if double piping is modeled by mistake, it will read double quantity of material.

5. Isometric drawings also inform which piping should be constructed at the fabrication shop and which should be assembled at the construction/platform field itself. The complete piping system is separated into pieces that is transported to the site for erection. These small pipe pieces are termed as piping spools. One sheet of Isometric drawing normally has few spools.

Every weld that is assembled between spools at the construction site is termed as field weld (FW). There is one more type of weld that is known as field-fit weld (FFW). This FFW is defined by the designer if he/she could foresee that the spool might require some adjustment before the final fit-up, so at the location of FFW has been marked, it will be given some pipe length tolerance (commonly 150-300mm). Usually, FFW will occur at the nozzle of equipment or tie-in locations.

Tie in Point
FFW at Tie-in Point
FFW example 2

The whole assembled piping will look like the following after it is assembled at the field.

Assembled Drawing
Assembled Drawing

Piping isometric drawing symbols

Commonly used piping isometric drawing symbols are shown below for reference purpose

Piping Isometric Symbols for Pipe fittings
Piping Isometric Symbols for Pipe fittings
Piping Isometric Symbols for Various Valve Types
Piping Isometric Symbols for Various Valve Types
Piping Isometric Symbols for Various Piping Components
Piping Isometric Symbols for Various Piping Components

Some more Resources for you…

Salient Points to check while reviewing Piping Isometric Drawings
Preparation of Piping Isometrics
Types of Piping Drawings


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Nur Hidayah Haron

A Passionate Piping Engineer having extensive experience in the oil and gas field; mainly for topside piping system, subsea manifold and onshore LNG facilities. Familiar with codes and standards, i.e. American Petroleum Institute (API) standards, Petronas Technical Specification (PTS), Shell’s Design Engineering Practices (DEP), American Society of Mechanical Engineer (ASME), and American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM), etc. To know more follow her on https://www.linkedin.com/in/nur-hidayah-haron-04881737/

9 thoughts on “Piping Design Basics- Isometric Drawings

  1. Hi,
    I would like to familiar with isometric Piping. My basic is Diploma in Mechanical Engineering and my experience is MEPmechanical side. Like PHE and Fire Fighting only 2D with arch Background. Max Pipe size i handled 12″in Fire fighting. I would like to learn more in Piping Isometrics

    1. Hi Ramesh,
      Thank you for your comment. As a start, you may take any P&ID and compare it to the respective Isometric drawings. Start from one point till the end. I believe, over time you will master it.

  2. I would like too share knowledge about piping scope. I have done Bachelor’s degree of Mechanical engineering also completed Piping design (PDMS) software as per ASME.
    Good knowledge of piping, isometric, P&id, layout, BOQ & BOm.
    Good knowledge of Code & Std.
    Good knowledge of Pipe/Wall thickness calculation.
    I have 3 years experience in oil & gas field
    For more query/ information please feel free to contact me.

    Thank you

  3. Dear All,

    Hi, i’m kris with mechanical engineer background. And i’m as employee at one of foreign company in Indonesia. I would to asking you about piping symbols for uPVC or HDPE material. Is that equal with socket welded symbol for steel pipe material ?

    Thank you.

  4. Hi,
    I am a piping engineer, with more than 6 years of site experience.
    I want to shift from site to design, which was my primary interest.
    Can you guys please suggest / advice, what should I do to get it into design?

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