Absolute pressure is zero-referenced against a perfect vacuum, so it is equal to gauge pressure plus atmospheric pressure. 

Gauge pressure is zero-referenced against ambient air pressure, so it is equal to absolute pressure minus atmospheric pressure. Negative signs are usually omitted. To distinguish a negative pressure, the value may be appended with the word "vacuum" or the gauge may be labeled a "vacuum gauge."

Differential pressure is the difference in pressure between two points.

The zero reference in use is usually implied by context, and these words are added only when clarification is needed. Tire pressure and blood pressure are gauge pressures by convention, while atmospheric pressures, deep vacuum pressures, and altimeter pressures must be absolute.

For most working fluids where a fluid exists in a closed system, gauge pressure measurement prevails. Pressure instruments connected to the system will indicate pressures relative to the current atmospheric pressure. The situation changes when extreme vacuum pressures are measured; absolute pressures are typically used instead.

Differential pressures are commonly used in industrial process systems. Differential pressure gauges have two inlet ports, each connected to one of the volumes whose pressure is to be monitored. In effect, such a gauge performs the mathematical operation of subtraction through mechanical means, obviating the need for an operator or control system to watch two separate gauges and determine the difference in readings.

Moderate vacuum pressure readings can be ambiguous without the proper context, as they may represent absolute pressure or gauge pressure without a negative sign. Thus a vacuum of 26 inHg gauge is equivalent to an absolute pressure of 30 inHg (typical atmospheric pressure) − 26 inHg = 4 inHg.

Atmospheric pressure is typically about 100 kPa at sea level, but is variable with altitude and weather. If the absolute pressure of a fluid stays constant, the gauge pressure of the same fluid will vary as atmospheric pressure changes. For example, when a car drives up a mountain, the (gauge) tire pressure goes up because atmospheric pressure goes down. The absolute pressure in the tire is essentially unchanged.

Using atmospheric pressure as reference is usually signified by a g for gauge after the pressure unit, e.g. 70 psig, which means that the pressure measured is the total pressure minus atmospheric pressure. There are two types of gauge reference pressure: vented gauge (vg) and sealed gauge (sg).

A vented gauge pressure transmitter for example allows the outside air pressure to be exposed to the negative side of the pressure sensing diaphragm, via a vented cable or a hole on the side of the device, so that it always measures the pressure referred to ambient barometric pressure. Thus a vented gauge reference pressure sensor should always read zero pressure when the process pressure connection is held open to the air.

A sealed gauge reference is very similar except that atmospheric pressure is sealed on the negative side of the diaphragm. This is usually adopted on high pressure ranges such as hydraulics where atmospheric pressure changes will have a negligible effect on the accuracy of the reading, so venting is not necessary. This also allows some manufacturers to provide secondary pressure containment as an extra precaution for pressure equipment safety if the burst pressure of the primary pressure sensing diaphragm is exceeded.

There is another way of creating a sealed gauge reference and this is to seal a high vacuum on the reverse side of the sensing diaphragm. Then the output signal is offset so the pressure sensor reads close to zero when measuring atmospheric pressure.

A sealed gauge reference pressure transducer will never read exactly zero because atmospheric pressure is always changing and the reference in this case is fixed at 1 bar.

An absolute pressure measurement is one that is referred to absolute vacuum. The best example of an absolute referenced pressure is atmospheric or barometric pressure.

To produce an absolute pressure sensor the manufacturer will seal a high vacuum behind the sensing diaphragm. If the process pressure connection of an absolute pressure transmitter is open to the air, it will read the actual barometric pressure.


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Pressure and Temperature Gauge