Whether you’re hanging a picture frame or building a fence, a level is a must-have tool for basic jobs and expert-level work. Simply put, a level establishes a horizontal plane, making sure that whatever your hanging, building, or repairing is, well, level! You’re probably familiar with bubble levels (also called spirit levels). This type of level uses a series of very slightly curved glass vials filled with a colored liquid. Each vial has lines on it which help the user determine if the plane is level. While these types of tools have been used for a long time, technology has brought us an upgrade to this tool that is simple, easy to use, and creates a much longer plane for the user to work with – a laser level.
In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of laser levels and for each give some quick, provide examples of what levels are best suited for different jobs and step-by-step instructions on how to use them. Finally, we’ll provide a few reviews on some of the best selling laser level brands to help you make the decision that’s best for you and your projects.
To get started, let’s quickly review what a laser level is and how it differs from a bubble level. While the initial differences may seem obvious (laser versus liquid), there are a few advantages to laser levels which really set them apart. A laser level projects a line of laser across a horizontal or vertical plane, which gives you a clear view of the horizontal or vertical alignment of whatever space or item you’re working with. Originally built for construction sites and other heavy jobs, improvements in technology have made laser levels smaller, less expensive, and easier to use. Advantages to the laser level over the bubble level include:
- Ease of use – you don’t have to hold it with one hand while trying to measure or mark with the other hand
- Longer plane – the laser is viewable across a long distance, which ensures whatever you’re doing is level across a greater distance, whereas bubble levels can only level the area where they’re being held to
- Variety of applications – laser levels can be used for everything from hanging curtains to installing kitchen cabinets, which means in many cases only one tool is needed to give you the horizontal plane you need to do clean, accurate work
There are several different types of laser levels, some with specific applications and some that can work across multiple uses. Here we’ll cover each type, discuss which laser level is best suited for certain jobs, and provide some basic step-by-step instructions on how to use them.
Dot/Point Laser Level
A dot/point laser level is the simplest version of a laser level. This makes it one of the cheapest options, though it is not as versatile in its uses as some others we’ll review. This laser level throws off one beam of light on one plane, which allows you to check the alignment of a group of object. Dot/point laser levels are best for basic home tasks, such as hanging a group of pictures, putting up curtains, or ensuring a new socket is in line. These types of levels can be purchased with different numbers of dots/points, with the number of dots/points equating to a difference in price so how do you know how many you need for your job?
A two-point laser level provides a laser in each direction, giving you one horizontal or vertical plane. This is best for simple picture or curtain hanging, since you’re only work on one plane. A three-point laser level provides one additional point perpendicular to the other two points, giving you 90 degrees of leveling. A five-point laser level (the most you can get) has horizontal, vertical, and square points. Having five points is ideal for framing and foundation layouts. The best way to think of it is the more points, the more complex the potential applications.
To use a dot/point laser level:
- Attach the dot/point laser level to the wall or set it on the floor
- Turn on the level and track the point(s) across the surface
- Proceed with your job, using the point(s) as a reference to mark the surface
Cross Line Laser Level
A cross line laser level is a step up from a dot/point laser in terms of functionality, but is still best for use at home. What makes this type of level different than the one above is it also provides a vertical beam; hence the name “cross line.” Instead of attaching to the surface, this level is set in front of the surface and projected onto it, kind of like how a movie is projected onto a screen. Because of this, you’ll probably need to buy a laser level tripod, which does increase your investment in the product. One significant benefit of this type of laser level is it works regardless of how far it is from the surface you’re working with. Another benefit is that you do not need to make markings on the surface, which means you’re spending less time measuring and more time on your project. Cross line laser levels are ideal for hanging pictures or other artwork, since the cross line ensures that the items are completely straight both horizontally and vertically.
To use a cross line laser level:
- Mount the cross line laser level on a laser level tripod (optional, but recommended)
- Set it up in front of the surface you wish to work with; how far away it is from the surface is up to you
- Turn on the laser level, adjusting if needed
Rotary Laser Level
A rotary laser level is the first we’ve covered that can handle more substantial jobs than hanging a picture or a set of curtains. In fact, you’ve probably seen these in use on construction sites and other jobs that require surveying. Rotary laser levels use a laser beam and mirrors to throw the beam at 360 degree angle, then rotates to project the beam around the room. You will, like the cross line laser level, need a tripod to ensure accuracy of the rotary laser level. Some rotary laser levels come with a tripod, so that will impact the price of the product. Furthermore, some rotary laser levels need to be leveled manually, while some are self leveling, so be sure to keep this in mind when choosing your level (self-leveling models are more expensive).
There are two significant benefits to a rotary level over a cross line or dot/point laser level. First, since it projects around the room, it can make larger projects, like lining up windows and doors, much easier. Second, it can be used outside (the above two are recommended for primarily indoor use). If you want to use it outside, however, you will need a laser level detector to help you see the laser when it is being used in a sunny or otherwise well-lit location.
To use a rotary laser level:
- Mount the rotary laser level on on a laser level tripod
- Place it near the center of the space you’re working with, though it does not need to be perfectly centered
- Turn on the laser level, adjusting as needed
Tile Laser Level
A tile laser level is the only level we review here that has one primary purpose: laying tiles. These laser levels are set on the floor and throw the laser in front of the base, making centering tile much easier. It projects lines between zero and 90 degrees to ensure the tile you’re laying and those around it are centered and even with the rest of the tiles. Keep in mind, though, that this level only works accurately if it is on a flat, even surface. Slanting or otherwise uneven surfaces will provide an inaccurate level which can ruin the alignment of the whole project. In addition to assisting with accurate tile laying, it can also be used for installing other types of flooring, like hardwood. Plus, it can be used outside, if you’re looking to lay tile or another type of flooring on a patio.
To use a tile laser level:
- Place the level in the corner of or somewhere in the middle of the room on a flat, even surface
- Turn on the level, adjusting based on where in the room you are laying the tile
- Proceed with your job, moving the level as needed
Top Laser Level Brands
Now that you have an understanding of the different types of levels, what they’re used for, and how to use them, let’s take a look at a few top level brands to help guide your search. Bosch and Dewalt are the primary manufacturers of laser levels for the regular consumer. Bosch is a well-known tool manufacturer that makes a variety of laser levels. Repeatedly on the top of many “best of” lists around the web, they make all types of levels listed in this article.
Dewalt is another top tool manufacturer making the same “best of” lists as Bosch. Like Bosch, they make all types of levels listed in this article, including a varying selection of dot/point laser levels so you can chose the number of dots/points that is best for your job. Both have laser level buying guides on their websites can help you choose the best laser level based on the type of job you’re going to be doing. Overall, the prices between the two brands are comparable, really depending on the type of laser you’re looking for, the features (e.g., tripod included, self-leveling, etc.), and the retailer selling the product.
When choosing between these two brands for a level, most users recommend looking at the features of each, including laser detectors, beam color (red is not as bright as green), manual versus self leveling, weight, mounting threads, and price. There are several independent buying guides available on the internet which can help narrow down your choices based on your own needs. There are, of course other brands as well that make these levels, but Bosch and Dewalt are regularly ranked as the making the best laser levels available for the amateur and professional users.
In choosing to move from a bubble level to a laser level, there are many things to consider when selecting the laser level that is best for you to use in your work. Each laser level provides different functionality and features, which makes it easier to use than a standard bubble level, but you’ll still need to do some consumer research to decide which brand and product is best for the type of work you want to do. Whether you’re doing masonry work, remodeling a kitchen, or just want to add stripes to your new living room paint job, a laser level is well worth the investment, providing accurate measurements to ensure the best results.