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Scale Factors

Scale Factors

Suppose we have two shapes that look very similar, but one looks bigger than the other. We measure the lengths and indeed find that the lengths of the bigger shape are all exactly three times the lengths of the smaller shape. We then draw another shape, with sides five times the length of the smaller shape. There is a special name for this: the shapes are mathematically similar with a scale factor of three and five respectively! Luckily, in this article, we will be exploring everything that you need to know about similarity and in particular, scale factors. So, before we begin, let's start by defining some key terms.

Scale Factors Definition

Scale factors definition- two similar triangles with scale factor 2.Two similar triangles with scale factor 2- StudySmarter Originals

In the above image, we have two triangles. Notice that the lengths of the triangle are all exactly twice the lengths of the triangle . Other than that, the triangles are exactly the same. Therefore, we can say that the two shapes are similar with a scale factor of two. We can also say that the side corresponds to the side , the side corresponds to the side and the side corresponds to the side .

A scale factor tells us the factor by which a shape has been enlarged by. The corresponding sides are the sides of the shape that have proportional lengths.

If we have a shape enlarged by a scale factor of three, then each side of the shape is multiplied by three to produce the new shape.

Below is another example of a set of similar shapes. Can you work out the scale factor and corresponding sides?

scale factor definition- working out the scale factor for two quadrilaterals ABCD and A'B'C'D'.Working out scale factor example with quadrilaterals - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

We have two quadrilaterals and . By looking at the shapes, we can see that corresponds with because they are both nearly identical- the only difference is is longer. By how much?

Counting the squares, we can see that is two units long, and is six units long. To work out the scale factor, we divide the length of by the length of . Thus, the scale factor is.

We can conclude that the scale factor is and the corresponding sides are with , with , with and with .

Scale Factors Formulas

There is a very simple formula for working out the scale factor when we have two similar shapes. First, we need to identify the corresponding sides. Recall from earlier that these are the sides that are in proportion with each other. We then need to establish which is the original shape and which is the transformed shape. In other words, which is the shape that has been enlarged? This is usually stated in the question.

Then, we take an example of corresponding sides where the lengths of the sides are known and divide the length of the enlarged side by the length of the original side. This number is the scale factor.

Putting this mathematically, we have:

Where denotes the scale factor, denotes the enlarged figure side length and denotes the original figure side length and the side lengths taken are both from corresponding sides.

Scale Factors Examples

In this section, we will look at some further scale factors examples.

In the below image there are similar shapes and . We have:

, , , , and .

Work out the value of and .

scale factors examples- example working out missing lengths using scale factorExample working out missing lengths using scale factor - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

Looking at the image, we can see that and are corresponding sides meaning that their lengths are in proportion with one another. Since we have the lengths of the two sides given, we can use this to work out the scale factor.

Calculating the scale factor, we have .

Thus, if we define to be the original shape, we can say that we can enlarge this shape with a scale factor of to produce the enlarged shape .

Now, to work out , we need to work backwards. We know that and are corresponding sides. Thus, to get from to we must divide by the scale factor. We can say that .

To work out y, we need to multiply the length of the side by the scale factor. Thus, we have .

Therefore and .

Below are similar triangles and , both drawn to scale. Work out the scale factor to get from to .

scale factors examples- example working out fractional scale factorExample working out the scale factor where scale factor is fractional - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

Notice in this shape, the transformed shape is smaller than the original shape. However, to work out the scale factor, we do the exact same thing. We look at two corresponding sides, let's take and for example. We then divide the length of the transformed side by the length of the original side. In this case, and .

Therefore, the scale factor, .

Notice here that we have a fractional scale factor. This is always the case when we go from a bigger shape to a smaller shape.

Below are three similar quadrilaterals. We have that , , and . Work out the area of quadrilaterals and .

scale factors examples- example working out area using scale factorExample working out the area using scale factor - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

First, let's work out the scale factor to get from to . Since and , we can say that the scale factor . Thus, to get from to we enlarge by a scale factor of . We can therefore say that the length of is .

Now, let's work out the scale factor to get from to . Since and , we can say that the scale factor . Thus, to work out A''D'', we multiply the length of A'D' by to get .

To work out the area of a quadrilateral, recall that we multiply the base by the height. So, the area of is and similarly, the area of is .

Below are two similar right-angled triangles and . Work out the length of .

scale factors examples- example involving pythagorasWorking out missing length using scale factor and pythagoras - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

As usual, let's start by working out the scale factor. Notice that and are two known corresponding sides so we can use them to work out the scale factor.

So, . Thus, the scale factor is . Since we do not know the side , we cannot use the scale factor to work out . However, since we know , we can use it to work out .

Doing so, we have . Now we have two sides of a right-angled triangle. You may remember learning about Pythagoras' theorem. If not, perhaps review this first before continuing with this example. However, if you are familiar with Pythagoras, can you work out what we need to do now?

According to Pythagoras himself, we have that where is the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle, and and are the other two sides. If we define , , and , we can use Pythagoras to work out !

Doing so, we get . So, .

We therefore have that .

Scale Factor Enlargement

If we have a shape and a scale factor, we can enlarge a shape to produce a transformation of the original shape. This is called an enlargement transformation. In this section, we will be looking at some examples relating to enlargement transformations.

There are a few steps involved when enlarging a shape. We first need to know how much we are enlarging the shape which is indicated by the scale factor. We also need to know where exactly we are enlarging the shape. This is indicated by the centre of enlargement.

The centre of enlargement is the coordinate that indicates where to enlarge a shape.

We use the centre of enlargement by looking at a point of the original shape and working out how far it is from the centre of enlargement. If the scale factor is two, we want the transformed shape to be twice as far from the centre of enlargement as the original shape.

We will now look at some examples to help understand the steps involved in enlarging a shape.

Below is triangle . Enlarge this triangle with a scale factor of with the centre of enlargement at the origin.

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

The first step in doing this is to make sure the centre of enlargement is labelled. Recall that the origin is the coordinate . As we can see in the above image, this has been marked in as point O.

Now, pick a point on the shape. Below, I have chosen point B. To get from the centre of enlargement O to point B, we need to travel unit along and unit up. If we want to enlarge this with a scale factor of , we will need to travel units along and units up from the centre of enlargement. Thus, the new point is at the point .

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle - StudySmarter Originals

We can now label the point on our diagram as shown below.

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle point by point - StudySmarter Originals

Next, we do the same with another point. I have chosen . To get from the centre of enlargement O to point C, we need to travel units along and unit up. If we enlarge this by , we will need to travel units along and units up. Thus, the new point is at .

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle point by point - StudySmarter Originals

We can now label the point on our diagram as shown below.

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle point by point - StudySmarter Originals

FInally, we look at the point . To get from the centre of enlargement O to the point A, we travel unit along and units up. Thus, if we enlarge this by a scale factor of , we will need to travel units along and units up. Therefore, the new point will be at the point .

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle point by point - StudySmarter Originals

We can now label the point on our diagram as shown below. If we join up the coordinates of the points we have added, we end up with the triangle . This is identical to the original triangle, the sides are just three times as big. It is in the correct place as we have enlarged it relative to the centre of enlargement.

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle - StudySmarter Originals

Therefore, we have our final triangle depicted below.

scale factor enlargement- example with triangle being enlarged with scale factor 3 and centre of enlargement at the originExample of enlarging a triangle - StudySmarter Originals

Negative Scale Factors

So far, we have only looked at positive scale factors. We have also seen some examples involving fractional scale factors. However, we can also have negative scale factors when transforming shapes. In terms of the actual enlargement, the only thing that really changes is that the shape appears to be upside down in a different position. We will see this in the below example.

Below is quadrilateral . Enlarge this quadrilateral with a scale factor of with the centre of enlargement at the point .

negative scale factors- example with quadrilater being enlarged with scale factor -2 and centre of enlargement (1,1)Negative scale factors example - StudySmarter Originals

Solution:

First, we take a point on the quadrilateral. I have chosen point . Now, we need to work out how far D is from the centre of enlargement P. In this case, to travel from P to D, we need to travel unit along and unit up.

If we want to enlarge this with a scale factor of , we need to travel units along and units up. In other words, we are moving units away and units down from P. The new point D' is therefore at , as shown below.

negative scale factors- example with quadrilater being enlarged with scale factor -2 and centre of enlargement (1,1)Negative scale factors example - StudySmarter Originals

Now, consider point A. To get from P to A, we travel unit along and units up. Therefore, to enlarge this with a scale factor , we travel units along and units up. In other words, we travel units to the left of P and units down, as shown as point A' below.

negative scale factors- example with quadrilater being enlarged with scale factor -2 and centre of enlargement (1,1)Negative scale factors example - StudySmarter Originals

Now, consider point C. To get from P to C, we travel units along and unit up. Therefore, to enlarge this with a scale factor , we travel units along and units up. In other words, we travel units to the left of P and units down, as shown as point C' below.

negative scale factors- example with quadrilater being enlarged with scale factor -2 and centre of enlargement (1,1)Negative scale factors example - StudySmarter Originals

Now, consider point B. To get from P to B, we travel units along and units up. Therefore, to enlarge this with a scale factor , we travel units along and units up. In other words, we travel units to the left of P and units down, as shown as point B' below.

negative scale factors- example with quadrilater being enlarged with scale factor -2 and centre of enlargement (1,1)Negative scale factors example - StudySmarter Originals

If we join up the points, and remove the ray lines, we obtain the below quadrilateral. This is our final enlarged shape. Notice that the new image appears upside down.

negative scale factors- example with quadrilater being enlarged with scale factor -2 and centre of enlargement (1,1)Negative scale factors example - StudySmarter Originals

Scale Factors - Key takeaways

  • A scale factor tells us the factor by which a shape has been enlarged by.
  • For example, if we have a shape enlarged by a scale factor of three, then each side of the shape is multiplied by three to produce the new shape.
  • The corresponding sides are the sides of the shape that have proportional lengths.
  • If we have a shape and a scale factor, we can enlarge a shape to produce a transformation of the original shape. This is called an enlargement transformation.
  • The centre of enlargement is the coordinate that indicates where to enlarge a shape.
  • We can also have negative scale factors when transforming shapes. In terms of the actual enlargement, the shape will just appear to be upside down.

Frequently Asked Questions about Scale Factors

When we enlarge a shape, the scale factor is the quantity by which each side is enlarged by. 

When we enlarge a shape, we enlarge it by a scale factor of three when we multiply each of the sides by three to get the new shape. 

If we know the scale factor, we can multiply the side of the original shape by the scale factor to find the missing lengths of the new shape. Alternatively, if we have known sides of the enlarged shapes, we can divide the lengths by the scale factor to get the lengths of the original shape. 

Divide the corresponding sides of the enlarged shape by the original shape.

The shape is turned upside down.

Final Scale Factors Quiz

Question

What is a scale factor? 

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Answer

A scale factor tells us the factor by which a shape has been enlarged by.

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Question

What are corresponding sides?

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Answer

The corresponding sides are the sides of the shape that have proportional lengths. 

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Question

If we have a shape enlarged by a scale factor of three, what do we mean?


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Answer

Each side of the shape is multiplied by three to produce the new shape.

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Question

What is an enlargement transformation? 

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Answer

If we have a shape and a scale factor, we can enlarge a shape to produce a transformation of the original shape. This is called an enlargement transformation.

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Question

What do we mean by centre of enlargement? 

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Answer

The centre of enlargement is the coordinate that indicates where to enlarge a shape. 

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Question

What does a negative scale factor do?

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Answer

Produce a shape that has been enlarged upside down.

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Question

What does a scale factor less than 1 do?

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Answer

Produce a shape smaller than the original shape

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Question

Suppose we have a triangle with sides 2 cm, 4 cm and 6 cm. What would the sides be if we enlarged it by a scale factor of 3?

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Answer

6 cm, 12 cm and 18 cm.

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Question

Suppose we have a triangle with sides 1 cm, 2 cm and 3 cm. What would the sides be if we enlarged it by a scale factor of 2?

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Answer

2 cm, 4 cm, 6 cm

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Question

Suppose we have a triangle with sides 10 cm, 12 cm and 24 cm. What would the sides be if we enlarged it by a scale factor of 10?

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Answer

100 cm, 120 m, 240 cm

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Question

In quadrilateral ABCD, the side AB is 10 cm. It is enlarged with a scale factor of 1/2. What is the new length of AB?

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Answer

5 cm

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Question

In quadrilateral ABCD, the side AB is 21 cm. It is enlarged with a scale factor of 2. What is the new length of AB?

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Answer

42 cm

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Question

In quadrilateral ABCD, the side AB is 8 cm. It is enlarged with a scale factor of 3/2. What is the new length of AB?

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Answer

12 cm

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Question

In quadrilateral ABCD, the side AB is 11 cm. It is enlarged with a scale factor of 10. What is the new length of AB?

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Answer

110 cm

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Question

In quadrilateral ABCD, the side AB is 2 cm. It is enlarged with a scale factor of 5/2. What is the new length of AB?

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Answer

5 cm

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