Whether you’re a professional or a DIYer looking to up your game by using a laser level I’ve put this short guide together for you to help you choose a good laser level for your needs.
By the time you finished reading this post, you’ll find out what type of laser levels are available out there. What each one of them does, which one to choose, and much more!
So let’s get into it, but first…
- 1 How do laser levels work?
- 2 Different types of laser levels
- 3 How to choose the right type of laser level?
- 4 Should I go for a self-leveling laser level?
- 5 Red laser beam or Green laser line?
- 6 How to choose between a straight line or a rotary laser level
- 7 Some of the most recommended brands
How do laser levels work?
Laser stands for Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation. By stimulating certain electrons, light is emitted through a diode and then concentrated through mirrors and prisms onto a fixed point or level.
This laser can be used as a visual cue for when straight or level reference points are needed, for example ensuring your shelving is level or your piping is plumb.
All Laser Levels have two things in common, the laser, and a leveling base that can be used to steady the device.
These leveling bases can be attached to a tripod for a job that requires elevation, mounted to the wall, or placed on the floor.
There is usually a mechanism within the device to ensure it is level, either a bubble mechanism or a pendulum. Afterall a laser level is useless if the device itself is wonky.
Depending on the type of laser level you have, you will get a different type of light being projected.
- A spot laser will only project one spot onto the surface
- A line laser will project a line
- A cross line will give a horizontal and a vertical line
- And a rotary laser will shoot a 360-degree beam around a room or enclosed space.
Depending on how hard it is going to be to see the laser in the environment you are working, you may want to purchase a green laser, which is 400 percent brighter than a red one.
Different types of laser levels
1. Line laser
A line laser shoots horizontal or vertical laser lines point to point at a distance of up to 100ft.
This is best for indoor use, where, if the leveling device is attached to the wall or placed on the floor, the line can be seen across an entire wall or floor and are used to ensure shelving or piping is level or plumb.
2. Plumb bob
Plumb bobs are used to establish vertical lines. They usually are placed on the floor of surfaces and are pointed upwards, for the purpose of ensuring plumbing is, well, ‘plumb’.
3. Rotary laser
A rotary laser projects a rotating dot to create a 360-degree line. Most use detectors to read the lasers over a long distance and rotary lasers are usually used for outdoor purposes such as grading roads or laying pipes.
Rotary lasers are the most expensive. They can cost up to $2000, so only buy these ones if you are working on a very big job.
How to choose the right type of laser level?
Some factors you should consider when choosing a laser level are your budget, whether you are working indoors or outdoors, whether you are working at elevation and whether you are working over long distances, or doing just a small job.
It’s important to choose the right type of laser level based on the job you are doing.
You do not want to spend too much money on a sophisticated piece of equipment if the job you are doing is a simple one. Common sense right!
You also need to consider what types of laser brightness/beamwidth.
If you are working outside, a bright laser with a wide beam is more suitable, whereas if you are working indoors, a wider, less bright laser is both sufficient and safer. Green lasers are four times more visible than red ones.
When you make a pencil mark in the middle of a line, you want that line to be as narrow as possible to maximize accuracy.
And obviously, whether you need an additional kit, such as tripods or laser detectors, is dependent on whether you are working indoors or outdoors.
Whether you are working over long distances or just doing a small job, and whether you are working at elevation or whether you can do the job simply by placing the laser level on the floor.
Should I go for a self-leveling laser level?
A cheaper manual leveling laser will need to be leveled by you and is suitable for indoor use where the device is unlikely to be jolted by accident, and where the laser does not need to point accurately across a large distance.
A self-leveling laser is more suitable for big jobs, where accuracy over large distances is essential, and when other people/ machinery could accidentally jolt the leveling device off.
A self-leveling device will automatically shut down if it is moved out of position- so you have no need to worry about doing the job based on a wonky laser.
There are different kinds of self-leveling lasers.
- Some are based on wire suspension, which, while producing an accurate result, is very fragile as just one case of someone dropping the machine or jolting it will disrupt the wires and cause the machine to break.
- Another type of self-leveling laser is a pendulum or gimbal type, which is dependent on gravity to level the laser. Similar to wire-suspension, this type can produce accurate results quickly but on the downside, it can also be broken by friction or dust quite easily.
- And finally, electronic self-leveling lasers have the advantage of additional programmable features, such as a grade/slope setting, tilt warnings, and more. The disadvantage is that they are the most expensive of the self-leveling lasers.
You should choose between these types based on how busy your worksite is and how likely someone is to drop or jolt the laser out of kilter.
Red laser beam or Green laser line?
It is advisable if you want to buy a line laser for outdoor use you may consider buying one with a green laser as this is four times brighter.
However, these beams do require more battery power than red ones and are generally more expensive at the point of purchase.
Additionally, it may still be hard to see outdoors and you will be required to buy a detector, at which point it could be very little difference whether you have a red laser beam or a green one.
Green lasers are generally operable at longer ranges. Red lasers can be seen at 20 to 30 feet, while a green laser can be visible at 45 to 60 feet.
So, if you are working on a very large construction site, even if you do purchase a laser detector, buying a green one is the superior choice.
Another consideration if you are on a large construction site with many other laser levels operating, is that red lasers are still the more popular choice in the construction industry. Buying a green one makes sure your laser stands out and avoids confusion.
As always, you should consider the kind of job you are most likely going to be using a laser level for, what other people on your site are using, and your procurement and operating budget, and make your purchase decision accordingly.
How to choose between a straight line or a rotary laser level
It depends on the job you are doing. A straight-line laser is better for indoor applications. It is more visible than the rotary laser due to its steady-state, whereas a rotary laser will often be pointing at areas you are not working on.
You can restrict the rotary laser to a particular section or speed up its rotations so the laser remains on your area for longer, but this fades the laser compared to the line laser.
If you are working outdoors, a rotary laser is a superior choice.
Rotary lasers, such as the Dewalt, have a range of up to 2000 feet compared to the line lasers which only have a range of 160 feet. Another advantage of a rotary laser is accuracy, while line lasers are accurate to within ⅛ of an inch, a rotary laser is accurate to within 1/16 of an inch.
For most indoor tasks however, ⅛ of an inch is an acceptable degree of inaccuracy (your books won’t start falling over for example). Finally, cost is an important consideration. A Dewalt line laser is $349, which is not cheap, but a rotary laser is $2000. (these are just examples of prices. Check on Amazon for the latest prices)
So, if you are doing an outdoor job where range and accuracy are important, a rotary laser is the better choice if it is within your budget. Otherwise, it is probably best to go for the line laser.
Some of the most recommended brands
Makita specializes in line lasers with adaptable modes, allowing for the projection of up to 2 vertical and 2 horizontal lines at the same time.
They specialize in accuracy and user-friendly features such as memory mode and dust and drip-proof designs. A range of their products can be seen here
Dewalt does both rotary and line laser levels. Their products range in price from around £100 to over £1000. As usual, when choosing a Dewalt you need to consider the type of job you are doing, whether it is indoors or outdoors, and what additional kit you may need such as a tripod and laser detector. Many laser levels sell these additional features as package deals, which you should only buy if you need them.
Bosch specializes in accuracy and sells a variety of great quality lines and rotary lasers. They do not sell very much in the way of sophisticated equipment, unlike Dewalt.
Hilti specializes in rotating laser levels that have a robust design, so you do not need to worry about it breaking if you knock it over. Targeted at the construction industry, these tools are expensive but highly accurate and very user friendly.
They also specialize in fast-charging batteries to maximize your productivity and allowing your device to be recharged in less than half an hour- the time of a coffee break!