Surface Finish Symbols: Easy Guide with Quick-Reference Tables

Understanding surface finish is crucial in engineering, manufacturing, and design. It’s not just about making products look good; surface finish directly impacts functionality, performance, and longevity. In this guide, we dive deep into surface finish symbols, charts, and measurements such as Ra and Rz. Whether you’re a seasoned professional or new to the field, this comprehensive resource will equip you with the knowledge to make informed decisions and achieve the desired quality in your projects.

What is Surface Finish?

What is Surface Finish

Defining Surface Finish

Surface finish, also known as surface texture, describes the texture of the surface of a manufactured object. It is typically defined in terms of roughness, waviness, and lay. When all three characteristics are included, it is often called surface texture to avoid confusion. This comprehensive definition ensures clarity, as machinists often refer to surface roughness as surface finish.

Key Elements of Surface Finish

  • Roughness: Measures the average height of peaks and valleys on the surface.
  • Waviness: Addresses longer-wavelength variations, such as unevenness in successive layers.
  • Lay: Describes the direction of the predominant surface pattern, often resulting from the production method used to process the surface. Lay patterns can result from improper printer calibration or material properties.

Understanding Surface Finish Relationships

The Importance of Roughness, Waviness, and Lay

Understanding the relationship between roughness, waviness, and lay is crucial for determining a print’s overall surface finish and how closely it matches its original design specifications. The combination of these factors determines the surface topology of the object. Properly understanding and specifying these elements can ensure the desired quality and functionality of the printed part.

Surface Topology and Its Elements

  • Roughness: Measures the average height of peaks and valleys on the surface.
  • Waviness: Addresses longer-wavelength variations, such as unevenness in successive layers.
  • Lay: Describes the direction of the predominant surface pattern, often resulting from the production method used to process the surface.

Standards for Surface Texture

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has published standards to guide the correct specification and use of surface texture symbols:

  • ASME Y14.36M Standard: Describes the proper use of surface texture symbols on technical drawings.
  • ASME B41.6 Standard: Contains the definitions and measurements of surface finish.

Comprehensive Understanding of Surface Texture

While surface texture and surface roughness are related, surface texture provides a more comprehensive understanding of the surface finish. It incorporates roughness, waviness, and lay to create a complete picture of the surface’s characteristics. This distinction is important for accurate communication and specification in engineering and manufacturing.

Detailed Explanation of Lay Patterns

Lay patterns are the predominant surface patterns and are usually determined by the production method used. Some typical lay patterns include:

  • Circular
  • Radial
  • Cross-hatched

Each pattern results from different manufacturing processes. Understanding these patterns helps in predicting the performance and appearance of the finished product.

Lay patterns

Surface finish symbols

Surface finish symbols are used to indicate the degree of precision of the surface in a print. The symbols represent various levels of roughness, waviness, and lay, and can be used to analyze the quality of the 3D printed parts’ surface. For instance, a symbol with three short lines indicates a Class 3 surface finish, with medium roughness and moderate accuracy. Knowing these symbology standards can help determine how well your prints will match their original design specifications.

Depending on the part, this can range from a Class 2 finish, which is characterized by a smooth finish and minimal waviness, to a Class 5 finish which has low roughness but high accuracy.

surface finish Terminology explanation

Surface Roughness Symbols indicating target surface and the position of these symbols

Symbols indicating target surface and the position of these symbols

This surface roughness indication method pictorially displays information such as the surface roughness value, cutoff value, sampling length, machining method, crease direction symbol, and surface waviness on the surface indication symbol as shown below.

surface roughness indication method

  • a: Passband or sampling length and surface texture parameter symbol and value
  • b: Indications of the second and subsequent parameters when multiple parameters are required
  • c: Machining method
  • d: Crease and its direction
  • e: Machining allowance

surface finish symbols meaning

The descriptors shown below are used to graphically represent surface roughness. However, in general, the standard conditions shown in red are omitted and the indications shown in blue are included only when necessary.

The descriptors v for surface finish

Surface finish symbols

Differences Between Surface Roughness and Waviness

Surface roughness refers to the finely spaced surface irregularities, whereas waviness covers the larger, more widely spaced irregularities. Roughness impacts the micro-level texture, while waviness affects the macro-level. Both need to be controlled to achieve the desired surface finish and ensure proper functionality of the part.

Surface Roughness, Surface Texture, and Surface Topology

Surface roughness is one component of surface texture, which also includes waviness and lay. Surface topology is a broader term that encompasses the overall surface features, including roughness, waviness, and lay patterns. These distinctions are critical for accurately specifying and measuring the surface quality of parts.

Surface Finish and Product Function

Surface finish directly impacts the function and performance of a product. For example, reducing surface roughness can decrease friction, which is crucial for parts that slide against each other, reducing wear and increasing efficiency. In other cases, specific surface finishes are required to ensure proper adhesion of coatings or to meet aesthetic standards. The desired surface finish is determined by the component’s function and operating conditions, and achieving the correct finish involves selecting the appropriate manufacturing processes and tools.

Surface finish charts

The table below shows the conventional roughness of the different processes

Surface finish charts

Impact of Surface Finish on Friction and Wear

Surface finish significantly affects friction and wear. Smoother surfaces with lower roughness values tend to have lower friction, which reduces wear and extends the lifespan of components. This is particularly important for sliding parts in machinery, where minimizing friction is critical for efficiency and durability.

Examples of Surface Finish Requirements in Different Industries

Different industries have specific surface finish requirements to ensure optimal performance and durability:

Ship Propellers

Smooth surface finishes reduce drag and improve efficiency. For example, a study found that improving propeller surface finish can reduce fuel consumption by up to 3%. Regular maintenance is essential to counteract erosion and cavitation.

Optical Components

Lenses and mirrors require extremely fine finishes for clarity and precision. Telescope mirrors, for instance, need a surface roughness of less than 10 nanometers. The James Webb Space Telescope’s mirrors were polished to 20 nanometers accuracy to ensure clear imaging.

Medical Devices

Implants and surgical tools need high surface finish standards to prevent infection and ensure smooth operation. Hip implants, for example, require a surface roughness (Ra) of less than 0.1 micrometers to reduce wear and bacterial adhesion.

These examples highlight the critical role of surface finish in various industries, emphasizing the need for precision to enhance product performance and longevity.

Specific Manufacturing Processes and Their Typical Surface Finishes

Different manufacturing processes yield distinct surface finishes, each suitable for specific applications. Here are typical surface roughness values achieved by common manufacturing processes:

Flame Cutting

Flame cutting involves high temperatures that result in a rough surface finish. The typical surface roughness (Ra) for flame-cut surfaces ranges from 6.3 to 25 micrometers (250 to 1000 microinches). This level of roughness is suitable for applications where precision is not critical but can be further processed if needed.


Grinding is used to produce very smooth finishes and is ideal for high-precision parts. This process can achieve surface roughness values as low as 0.1 to 0.8 micrometers (4 to 32 microinches). Grinding is commonly used in the finishing stages of manufacturing to improve the surface quality of components like bearings and precision tools.

Milling and Turning

The surface finish achieved in milling and turning depends on several factors, including the cutting tool, feed rate, and cutting speed. Typical surface roughness (Ra) values for these processes are:

  • Milling: 0.4 to 3.2 micrometers (16 to 125 microinches)
  • Turning: 0.8 to 6.3 micrometers (32 to 250 microinches)

By optimizing the machining parameters, such as using sharper tools and adjusting feed rates, manufacturers can achieve finer finishes. For example, a precision turning operation with optimized parameters can achieve Ra values as low as 0.4 micrometers (16 microinches).

Measurement and Inspection Techniques

Measuring and inspecting surface finish accurately is crucial for ensuring quality. Various techniques are used, including:

  • Profiling Techniques: High-resolution probes measure surface texture, providing detailed profiles.
  • Area Techniques: Methods like optical and ultrasonic scattering measure average surface roughness over an area, offering faster and more automated assessments.
  • Microscopy Techniques: Electron microscopy provides detailed images of surface texture, useful for qualitative analysis.
  • Specific Instruments Used: Profilometers are commonly used to measure surface roughness accurately and provide detailed surface profiles.

Factors Affecting Surface Finish

There are many factors that affect surface finish, especially in machining processes. These include:

  • Cutting Tool Selection: The type, material, and geometry of the cutting tool can significantly impact the surface finish.
  • Machine Tool Condition: The condition of the machine tool, including its rigidity and precision, affects the final surface quality.
  • Toolpath Parameters: Parameters like feed rate, cutting speed, and depth of cut are crucial in determining the surface finish.
  • Environmental Factors: Coolant usage, temperature, and vibration can also influence the surface finish.

Techniques for Improving Surface Finish in Milling and Turning

Improving surface finish in milling and turning involves several techniques:

  • Cutting Tool Lead Angle: Using a cutting tool with a lead angle other than 90 degrees can produce a finer finish.
  • Feed Rate Adjustments: Adjusting the feed rate can help achieve a smoother surface. Lower feed rates generally produce finer finishes.
  • Use of G-Wizard Calculator: The G-Wizard Calculator can help adjust feeds and speeds to optimize surface finish. It has a handy “Tortoise-Hare” slider that makes it easy to dial in proper feeds and speeds for a finishing pass, reducing the risk of rubbing and improving tool life.

Surface Finish Units and Calculations

Understanding surface finish units and calculations is essential for accurate specifications:

Ra (Arithmetic Average)

Ra is the arithmetic average of the roughness profile over a given length. It is the most commonly used surface finish parameter. Ra is usually measured in micrometers (µm) or microinches (µin).

Example Calculation: Let’s say we have the following surface height measurements in micrometers: 2, 3, 1, 4, 3

Calculation steps:

  1. Take the absolute value of each height: |2|, |3|, |1|, |4|, |3|
  2. Calculate the average of these values: (2 + 3 + 1 + 4 + 3) / 5 = 2.6 µm

So, the Ra value for this surface is 2.6 µm.

Rmax and Rz

  • Rmax measures the vertical distance from the highest peak to the lowest valley.
  • Rz measures the average distance between the five highest peaks and the five deepest valleys, commonly used in Europe.

Example Calculation: Let’s say we have the following five peak-to-valley distances in micrometers: 6, 8, 5, 7, 9

Calculation steps:

  1. Calculate the average of these distances: (6 + 8 + 5 + 7 + 9) / 5 = 7 µm

So, the Rz value for this surface is 7 µm.

Calculating Surface Finish Metrics

Various equations are used to calculate these metrics to ensure precise measurement and specification:

  • Ra (Arithmetic Average):
  • Surface Finish Units and Calculation
  • where nn is the number of measurements, and yiy_i is the height value at each point.
  • Rz (Average Maximum Height):
  • Surface Finish Units and Calculation
  • where and are the highest peaks and lowest valleys, respectively.

By understanding and applying these calculations, you can accurately measure and specify surface finish, ensuring your products meet design and quality standards.

Surface Finish Standards

Surface finish standards ensure consistency and accuracy in specifications:

  • ASME Y14.36M Standard (US): Defines the correct specification and use of surface texture symbols on technical drawings.
  • ISO 1302 Standard (International): Used globally for surface texture specifications.
  • Differences Between ISO and ANSI Symbols: Understanding the differences helps in accurately interpreting and applying these standards.

Surface Finish Conversion and Cheat Sheets

Handy reference tools make it easier to work with surface finish specifications:

Surface Finish Conversion Charts

These charts convert between metric and imperial units, making it easier to work with international standards.

Surface Finish (Metric) Surface Finish (Imperial)
0.025 µm 1 µin
0.05 µm 2 µin
0.1 µm 4 µin
0.2 µm 8 µin
0.4 µm 16 µin
0.8 µm 32 µin
1.6 µm 63 µin
3.2 µm 125 µin
6.3 µm 250 µin
12.5 µm 500 µin
25 µm 1000 µin
50 µm 2000 µin

Cheat Sheets

Quick access to surface finish symbols and conversions helps in efficient specification and interpretation.

  • Ra to Rz Conversion: Provides rough estimates for converting Ra (Arithmetic Average) to Rz (Average Maximum Height).Rz≈4×Ra (varies by specific surface and measurement method)Rz \approx 4 \times Ra \text{ (varies by specific surface and measurement method)}
  • Common Surface Finish Symbols:
    • N1: 0.025 µm (1 µin)
    • N2: 0.05 µm (2 µin)
    • N3: 0.1 µm (4 µin)
    • N4: 0.2 µm (8 µin)
    • N5: 0.4 µm (16 µin)
    • N6: 0.8 µm (32 µin)
    • N7: 1.6 µm (63 µin)
    • N8: 3.2 µm (125 µin)
    • N9: 6.3 µm (250 µin)
    • N10: 12.5 µm (500 µin)
    • N11: 25 µm (1000 µin)
    • N12: 50 µm (2000 µin)

These reference tools are invaluable for ensuring your surface finish specifications are accurate and easily interpretable across different measurement systems and standards.

Specialized Surface Finishes

Different applications require specific surface finishes:

Roughness Grades and Applications

Roughness Grade Industry Application Function and Benefits
N1 (0.025 µm / 1 µin) Precision Optical Components Provides extremely high clarity and precision, suitable for lenses and high-precision instruments.
N4 (0.2 µm / 8 µin) Automotive Parts Enhances friction performance and wear resistance, suitable for engines and transmission components.
N7 (1.6 µm / 63 µin) Medical Devices and Implants Prevents infection, provides smooth surfaces, and improves biocompatibility.
N10 (12.5 µm / 500 µin) Construction Structural Components Ensures sufficient strength and durability, suitable for building materials.

Surface Finish of Abrasive Grits and Sandpaper

Abrasive Grit Size (Grit) Surface Finish (Ra) Industry Application
80 3.2 µm / 125 µin Metal deburring and initial polishing, suitable for metalworking.
120 1.6 µm / 63 µin Medium polishing, suitable for woodworking and plastic processing.
240 0.8 µm / 32 µin Fine polishing, suitable for paint preparation and final finishing.
600 0.4 µm / 16 µin Ultra-fine polishing, suitable for optical devices and high-precision parts.

Detailed Examples

Surface Finish Type Example Practical Application
Mirror Polishing Mirror-finished Stainless Steel High-end decoration and architectural materials, providing excellent aesthetic effects.
Anodizing Anodized Aluminum Improves corrosion resistance and surface hardness, widely used in aerospace and automotive industries.
Electroplating Chrome-plated Wheels Provides wear and corrosion resistance, suitable for automotive and motorcycle parts.
Sandblasting Sandblasted Glass Creates a matte effect and consistent surface texture, suitable for decoration and signage.

Surface Finish FAQ

1. What are symbols of surface finish?

  • Surface finish symbols are standardized representations used on technical drawings to specify the desired texture, roughness, and lay of a surface. Common symbols include lines with different patterns and annotations indicating specific roughness values.

2. What is RA and RZ in surface finish?

  • Ra (Roughness Average) measures the average deviation of surface peaks and valleys from the mean line. Rz (Average Maximum Height) measures the average of the largest peak-to-valley distances over five sampling lengths.

3. What does a 32 surface finish mean?

  • A 32 surface finish indicates a roughness average (Ra) of 32 microinches or approximately 0.8 micrometers. It is a moderately smooth finish used in various manufacturing applications.

4. What is RA 0.8 surface finish?

  • An Ra 0.8 surface finish has a roughness average of 0.8 micrometers (32 microinches), indicating a smooth surface often used for high-precision components.

5. How do you identify surface finish?

  • Surface finish is identified using tools like profilometers, which measure surface roughness parameters such as Ra and Rz, and by referencing standardized symbols on technical drawings.

6. What is 20 RA surface finish?

  • A 20 Ra surface finish has a roughness average of 20 microinches (approximately 0.5 micrometers), representing a relatively smooth surface suitable for components requiring good friction characteristics and wear resistance.

7. What does a 125 surface finish mean?

  • A 125 surface finish indicates a roughness average (Ra) of 125 microinches (approximately 3.2 micrometers). It is a common finish for general-purpose machining applications.

8. What is a 3.2 surface finish?

  • A 3.2 surface finish has a roughness average (Ra) of 3.2 micrometers (125 microinches). This finish is used for parts that need a moderate level of smoothness.

9. What is a #4 surface finish?

  • A #4 surface finish is a brushed finish commonly used on stainless steel, characterized by fine parallel polishing lines. It typically has a roughness average (Ra) around 0.8 to 1.2 micrometers.


Understanding surface finish symbols, measurements, and their applications is crucial for ensuring the quality and performance of your products. By mastering these concepts, you can make informed decisions that will enhance the functionality and durability of your components.

At Modo Rapid, we specialize in providing high-quality surface finishes for a wide range of industries. Our team of experts is ready to assist you with your specific needs, ensuring that your parts meet the highest standards.

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Send us your drawings or any questions you have about surface finishes. Our team is here to provide you with the best solutions tailored to your requirements. Contact us today or simply upload your files.

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