How to Read a Meniscus When Using Graduated Cylinders

graduated cylinders

How to Read a Meniscus When Using Graduated Cylinders

Posted on the 1st of Sep 2023 by Westlab

In scientific research and experimentation, graduated cylinders are the preferred instrument for measuring liquid volumes. Their cylindrical shape, marked with carefully calibrated lines, allows researchers and students to obtain accurate volume measurements. 

But reading the volume isn't as straightforward as it might seem, especially for those new to the lab environment. The mysterious curve of the liquid at the surface, known as the meniscus, can be puzzling. 

In this blog, we will discuss the uses of a graduated cylinder and learn how to measure volume accurately using a graduated cylinder.

What Are The Graduated Cylinders?

Graduated cylinders are tall, narrow cylindrical containers made of glass or plastic with calibration marks (graduations) on their sides. These laboratory equipment are used to measure the volume of a liquid accurately. 

The markings indicate volume in specific increments, such as milliliters (mL) or liters (L), and help the user determine the quantity of liquid contained within the cylinder. When using a graduated cylinder, the volume is read at the bottom of the meniscus, which is the curved surface of the liquid inside. The accuracy and precision of a graduated cylinder can vary, so they come in different grades, suitable for different tasks.

Types of Graduated Cylinders

Most graduated cylinders are tall, narrow, cylindrical containers made from either glass or plastic. 

Glass Cylinders

These Laboratory Glassware are often made from borosilicate glass. They can withstand high temperatures and are less reactive to chemicals. They offer more precision and clarity but are more fragile.

Plastic Cylinders

These are made from polypropylene or polymethylpentene. Plastic graduated cylinders are more durable and less prone to breaking. However, they might interact with certain chemicals and are often less clear than glass variants.

Graduations and Accuracy of Graduated Cylinders

The ‘graduations’ on the cylinder are the marked lines indicating volume. The space between each line represents a specific volume increment, usually in milliliters (ml) or liters (l). 

The accuracy of a graduated cylinder largely depends on the size of its graduations:

Class A

Class A offers the highest precision and is usually used in laboratories where even minor discrepancies can't be afforded.

Class B

Class B generally offers slightly less precision and is used in classrooms or environments where ultra-high accuracy is not paramount.

How To Use A Graduated Cylinder

Obtaining the correct volume value depends upon the proper usage of measuring instruments. To achieve accurate measurements while using a graduated cylinder, understand the meniscus of a graduated cylinder, and follow the steps to measure it: 

What is a Meniscus?

A meniscus is the curve observed at the surface of a liquid in response to its container. The liquid either climbs the wall of the container, forming a concave meniscus, or it gets depressed in the middle, forming a convex meniscus. 

The cohesive and adhesive forces between the liquid and the container determine the meniscus shape. In a graduated cylinder, a concave meniscus is most commonly seen when water is the liquid being measured.

The following are the steps to read the meniscus in a graduated cylinder:

  • Positioning: Place the graduated cylinder on a flat, stable surface, ensuring it's upright.
  • Eye Level: Bend down or adjust the height of your gaze so that you're looking straight at the level of the liquid. This is crucial to avoid parallax errors.
  • Identify the Meniscus: The meniscus, especially in water, looks like a slight curve where the liquid touches the sides of the cylinder. It will be concave in shape (U-shaped).
  • Read at the Bottom: For a concave meniscus (common with water), always read the volume at the lowest point of the curve, which is the bottom of the meniscus.
  • Make Sure Your Hands are Steady: If the liquid is moving or if there are air bubbles, wait for it to settle. Vibrations can distort your reading.
  • Measuring Mercury: When using mercury in a graduated cylinder (less common and typically used in older thermometers), the meniscus is convex (hill-shaped). In this case, you would read the top of the meniscus.
  • Take Multiple Readings: If you're unsure, take multiple readings by adjusting your eye level.
  • Use Proper Lighting: Ensure you have adequate light so the graduations and meniscus are clear. If the liquid is colored or opaque, a flashlight can be helpful.
  • Clean & Dry Equipment: Always ensure that you are using clean, dry equipment. Residue can affect the shape and accuracy of the meniscus.
  • Document Immediately: Once you’ve read the measurement, record it immediately to prevent memory lapses or mistakes.

By following the above-mentioned steps, you can easily read the meniscus of a graduated cylinder.

Role of Graduated Cylinders 

A graduated cylinder is a pivotal tool in various scientific and non-scientific settings. The following points explain its role and significance:

Precise Volume Measurement

A graduated cylinder's primary function is to measure a liquid's volume. With clearly marked calibrations, they offer a more accurate means to measure volumes than beakers or flasks, which are designed more for mixing or heating.

Meniscus Reading

A Graduated cylinder allows for the reading of the meniscus, the curve seen at the top of the liquid. This curve forms because of the liquid's adhesion to the wall of the cylinder and its own cohesive forces. When reading the volume of the liquid, it's crucial to take the measurement from the bottom of the meniscus to ensure accuracy.

Various Sizes and Accuracy Levels

Measuring cylinders come in different sizes, from 1 mL to several liters. This versatility ensures that the most appropriate size can be chosen for a particular measurement, minimizing errors. The graduation marks can also vary in increments, allowing users to select a cylinder with the required precision.

Comparative Analysis

In experiments where the relative volume of liquids needs to be compared, measuring cylinders provide a standardized tool for measurement, ensuring consistency in data collection.


They're routinely used in school labs for teaching basic measurement techniques, including "How to Read a Meniscus in Chemistry." Students learn the basics of accurate measurement, including how to read a meniscus and the importance of using the right equipment for specific tasks.

Research & Development

Scientists and researchers rely on them for accurate measurements in experiments. Accurate volume measurements are foundational to the reliability and reproducibility of experiments. In experimentation, even a slight deviation in measurements can lead to skewed results, making the graduated cylinder an invaluable asset for maintaining scientific integrity and advancing innovation.


These measuring cylinders are used in various industries, especially pharmaceuticals, where precision is required. They can be used for tasks like measuring ingredients in food processing or determining the volume of liquids in manufacturing settings.

Meanwhile, with their simple design and critical purpose, graduated cylinders embody the essence of scientific measurement: precision, reliability, and repeatability. They are fundamental in ensuring accurate volume measurements in various fields and settings. They are essential lab tools and find applications in many industries, underscoring their importance in scientific and practical tasks.

Get High Standard Graduated Cylinders Online

To get graduated cylinders, visit Westlab Canada’s website. Westlab is a leading laboratory Equipment Supplier, providing lab equipment tailored to your research needs. Our lab tools are crafted for accuracy, ensuring that each measurement you make is precise and trustworthy. Don't compromise on the quality of your results. 

Shop now at Westlab and elevate your research standards!


2023-09-01 07:17:00
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