What is the difference between pipe vs tube?

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What is the difference between pipe vs tube?

What is the difference between pipe vs tube? A pipe is a round tubular to transport or distribute fluids and gases. Steel pipes are designated by a nominal size value (NPS or DN), which represent a rough indication of their inside diameter and fluid conveyance capacity. A tube is a round, rectangular, squared or oval hollow section measured by outside diameter (“OD”) and wall thickness (“WT”), expressed in inches or millimeters. 

Pipe vs Tube

Pipes are used for conveying fluids and gases; tubes are used to manufacturing pressure equipment (tubing) and for mechanical applications.


The word “steel pipe” refers to round hollow sections used for transmission and distribution pipelines and piping systems that convey fluids and gases – such oil & gas, propane, steam, acids, and water.

Steel PIpe

The most important dimension for a steel pipe is the inside diameter (“pipe ID”), which indicates the rough (not the exact) fluid conveyance capacity of the tubular. The ID is expressed in NPS” or “DN” (nominal pipe size, or bore size).

The pipe outside diameter (OD) does not match the nominal size for pipes below NPS 14 inches (a 2 inches pipe, for instance, has an internal flow capacity of approximately 2 inches, but has an outside diameter of 2.375 inches). For pipes of a given NPS, the pipe outside diameter is fixed, whereas the pipe inside diameter decreases by increasing schedule values (pipe wall thickness).

The most important mechanical parameters for pipes are the pressure rating, the yield strength, and the ductility.

The standard combinations of pipe nominal diameter and wall thickness (schedule) are covered by the ASME B36.10 and ASME B36.19 specifications (respectively, carbon and alloy pipes, and stainless steel pipes).



As mentioned, the outside diameter of pipes of a specific NPS is constant but the inside diameter of the pipe (ID) changes depending on the pipe schedule.

The pipe ID can be easily calculated, as long as the pipe NPS and schedule are known.

The pipe ID can be calculated by deducting from the pipe NPS the pipe wall thickness multiplied by 2 (the pipe WT can be taken from the schedule). Example: for a 12 NPS pipe (DN 300 mm), schedule 40, the pipe outside diameter and the wall thickness are 12.75 inches (324 mm) and 0.406 inches (10.4 mm).

Therefore, the pipe ID (internal diameter) is 12.75 inches – 2 x 0.406 inches = 11.94 inches, or Pipe ID = 324 mm – 2 x 10.4 mm = 303.2 mm.

It should be noted that this calculation is just theoretical, as pipes have a wall thickness tolerance which is generally +/-12.5% for ASME pipes. Hence the actual ID of a given pipe may differ by +/- 12,5% from the theoretical value.



The word “tube” refers to round, square, rectangular, and oval hollow sections used for pressure equipment (boilers, heaters, and superheaters), for mechanical applications and for instrumentation systems. For these type of applications, the outside diameter and the wall thickness of the tube are the most important dimensions (contrary to pipes) together with its mechanical properties (yield, tensile strength, and elongation) are key.

Steel Tube

The outside diameter and the wall thickness of a tube (“tube OD”) are expressed in inches or millimeters; the difference between the outside diameter and the wall thickness, multiplied by two, defines the inside diameter of the tube.

In terms of pipe vs tube pricing, steel tubes are generally more expensive than steel pipe due to their stricter manufacturing tolerances and mills productivity (tons produced by the hour). The most important physical properties of steel tubes are the hardness, the tensile strength, and highly precise dimensions.



To summarize the difference between pipe and tube and the pipe meaning vs. tube meaning

1Key DimensionsThe most important dimension for a pipe is the inside diameter (ID), expressed in NPS (nominal pipe size) or DN (nominal diameter), which defines its fluid conveyance capacity. The NPS does not match the true inside diameter, it is a rough indicationThe most important dimensions for a steel tube are the outside diameter (OD) and the wall thickness (WT). These parameters are expressed in inches or millimeters and express the true dimensional value of the hollow section.
2Wall ThicknessThe thickness of a steel pipe is designated with a “Schedule” value (the most common are Sch. 40, Sch. STD., Sch. XS/XH, Sch. XXS). Two pipes of different NPS and same schedule have different wall thicknesses in inches or millimeters.The wall thickness of a steel tube is expressed in inches or millimeters. For tubing, the wall thickness is measured also with a gage nomenclature (BWG, SWG).
3Tubular ShapeRound onlyRound, rectangular, square, oval
4Production rangeExtensive (up to 80 inches and above)Narrower range for tubing (up to 5 inches), larger for steel tubes for mechanical applications
5Tolerances (straightness, dimensions, roundness, etc)Tolerances are set, but rather looseSteel tubes are produced to very strict tolerances. Tubulars undergo several dimensional quality checks, such as straightness, roundness, wall thickness, surface, during the manufacturing process.
6Production ProcessPipes are generally made to stock with highly automated and efficient processes, i.e. pipe mills produce on a continuous basis and feed distributors stock around the world.Tubes manufacturing is more lengthy and laborious
7Delivery timeCan be shortGenerally longer
8Market priceRelatively lower price per ton than steel tubesHigher due to lower mills productivity per hour, and due to the stricter requirements in terms of tolerances and inspections
9MaterialsWide range of materialsTubing is available in carbon steel, low alloy, stainless steel and nickel-alloys; steel tubes for mechanical applications are mostly of carbon steel
10End ConnectionsThe most common are beveled and plain endsThreaded and grooved ends are available for quicker connections on site


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