Laser levels are used when the layout of a job has to be accurate such as constructing walls, laying tile, hanging cabinets, windows or doors and site grading. There are different classifications or types of laser levels as well as different purposes for each. This laser level review will discuss each along with the advantages using and the elements to select the best laser level.
A level is a tool that is almost as old as man. A string and a little water has evolved over the millennium into a laser level providing accurate level measurements from hanging pictures to industrial construction work. While there are multiple uses for laser levels from surveying to construction, home use to industrial, the focus of this laser level reviews is the mid-line range used primarily for construction. Intended for the weekend warriors and above, this laser level reviews will cover the various types of laser levels, the purpose and applications of laser levels and what makes a good laser level.
Now, we will now reviews five laser levels from three different manufacturers. While trying to stay in the same classification we also have stayed within a mid-line budget in this laser level review and included genres within the classification. The following five are being rated for size, weight, price, durability and accuracy.
Features of the DW089k are:
- 3 beam line laser
- Brighter diode for visibility
- Built-in magnetic pivot bracket
- Accurate to +/- 1/8” @ 30’
- 1 button operation and control panel
- Micro adjust knob for 90 degree intersecting lines
This unit has visibility of 50 feet with a 165 foot range with a detector, runs on 4 AA batteries, comes with a kit box and ceiling mount.
This is ideal for contractors installing cabinets, chair rails, drop ceilings, doors and windows. It can also be used for installing floor tile and laying out walls.
The construction of the unit was of DeWalt standards with the glass levels being surrounded by a sturdy metal body to protect against bumps and drops. The self-leveler has a magnetic pivot bracket for attaching to metal surfaces. It weighs less than 2 pounds and stands less than 6 inches tall.
Unlike standard line lasers, the DeWalt DW089K features three leveling lines. A third plumb line has been added to this unit for greater accuracy. Separate touch buttons are used to operate the individual lasers. You set the lines where you need them and allow 10 seconds for the unit to calibrate the levels. Adjustments to the individual levels are by turning a knob on the top of the leveler.
This product has received low reviews across the board. The number one complaint is accuracy. Out of the box it was hard to adjust to the 1/8th inch calibration and several people complained they were unable to get the vertical beams square to one another.
The lack of pendulum lock and weakness of magnets were other high concerns for many users as well.
The DW089K rated well in the ease of use, water resistance, and strength of visible beam.
Features of the GCL25 are:
- Five points plus a cross-line
- High visible laser points and lines
- Manual mode
- Smart pendulum System
- Four selection modes
- Accuracy +/- 1/8” at 30 ft.
This unit is ergonomically designed weighing in at 1.1 pounds, standing slightly over 6’ and runs on 4 AA batteries. It comes with a target plane and a soft carrying case.
This is a highly recommended all around level with the combination of horizontal and vertical levels, square plumb transfer and layout applications. It is suited to plumber, electricians, kitchen installers and framers.
Several useful features of the Bosch GCL 25 are the exterior on/off button, LED battery and line/point selection pad. The on/off switch contains a pendulum lock feature. The plumb range is 15 feet with a horizontal point range of 100 feet and A lines range of 30 feet. It is also programmable to set right angles.
The Bosch GCL25 was easy to see and the lock feature was especially nice allowing it to be tipped for stair work. The switchable modes from lines and easy to use panel have made this a popular laser level.
The only negative is the size. It is a bit bulky compared to the others in the same range.
The features of the DeWalt DW088k Self-Leveling Cross Laser are:
- Indoor visibility range up to 100 feet
- Split beam lasers
- Over-molded housing and thick glass
- 2-button operation
- Automatic out of level indication
The DW088k is built tough with a thick debris and water resistant case and extra thick glass. Due to the extra toughness it weighs in at 3.2 pounds with a height of 9.2”. It runs on 3 AA batteries and comes with a ceiling mount.
This rugged tool self-levels fast at about 2 seconds on average. It mounts to a standard camera tri-pod and has strong magnets to mount to any metal surface. The laser was also quite bright and easy to see.
From building stairs to installing doors this work horse is well recommended.
Features of this model are:
- 90 degree lines for squaring
- Bright lines
- Water and dustproof
- Magnet for attaching to metal
- Third laser line for 45 degree angles.
This specialty laser level runs on 4 AA batteries weighs in at a light 1.1 pounds and stands 3.8” tall. It comes with soft carrying pouch and steel positioning plate.
The laser lines are designed in the front of the laser base for easy centering. It offers 0, 45, 90 and 135 degree layout options. Although not self-leveling we found this to be a must have for a tile job.
This is a useful tool for any tile project. The major complaint of this unit was the brightness or visibility of the beam. It worked well on lighter tile but lost distance on darker tile. The inability to turn off one or more of the laser beams to maintain battery life was another complaint.
The accuracy is rated quite high and worked on all varieties of tile accept for the visibility issue of the dark colors.
Features of this PLS Laser are:
- Longest length of line and fan angles in the industry
- Unique optic technology
- Internal shock frame
- Pulsed beams for outdoor work.
This unit weighs in at 2.4 pounds and stand 6” tall. It runs on 2 AA batteries and comes with a magnetic wall bracket, pouch and carrying case.
This laser is an interior continuous line laser for horizontal or vertical layouts. It is accurate, fast and combines a plumb, level and square laser into one tool. When a rotary laser is not feasible due to size or cost, this is a great substitute.
The laser line projects 180 degrees wrapping walls and the plumb line projects behind the tool allowing it to wrap around a room.
The PLS uses the patented PLS pendulum design and magnetic dampening to give quick and accurate lines. This was the only laser in our review that made allowances for vibration jump keeping the lines tight and not needing readjusting.
This is an awesome tool for the money. It is one tough cookie. It takes drops like a champ. It is also easy to use and holds its accuracy well. The visibility of the beam is average. It rated especially high for non-square rooms where finding level was not easy. This is a great tool for remodeling older homes.
Classification of level:
There are three basic kinds of laser levels used today; the plumb dot, line level or rotary. Lasers are further classified as manual leveling, self-leveling, or dual beam leveling.
- The plumb dot laser produces a solid dot on a work surface like a plumb bob creating a reference point. Best used when you want a level point at 90 degrees between a wall, the floor and ceiling. Excellent for cabinetry.
- A laser line level combines a plumb bob level with a laser line level to display accurate horizontal or vertical lines.
- A rotary level emits lines like seen in the movies of high tech security systems with a beam that can wrap 360 degrees around a room and is easier for the human eye to detect.
While most laser levels made are self-leveling it is important to discuss the various classifications of leveling options.
- Manual leveling involves using thumb-screws and bubble vials to manually adjust the level. This is a time consuming process and any movement or bumping of the unit requires readjustment.
- Self-leveling or auto leveling offers a greater degree of accuracy. A unit on the level houses a pendulum that is stilled through gravity and magnets and then the laser light is projected. This type usually carries the “self-leveling” title while the automatic leveling units have electronic self-leveling sensors.
- Dual Beam leveling is usually a single line or plane with a vertical beam to establish both plumb and level. Dual beam leveling is often found in the rotary lasers.
Another key feature to purchasing a laser level is the color of the beam and whether or not it is intended for indoor or outdoor use. Generally lasers emit red or green light with green being more expensive to use. Green light is easier for the human eye to see but more expensive to produce. Green lasers are used for large industrial scale construction due to the cost.
The traditional red laser is harder for the human eye to detect. Specialty glasses or laser detectors may be needed, especially in outdoor usage. Most laser levels are sufficient for indoor use except in bright locations. Outdoor use requires the use of a detector. Rotary lasers are primarily used outside while line and plumb can be used outdoors with difficulty they are better used indoors.
Purpose and Application:
Laser levels are used for a myriad of construction tasks from locating light fixtures, tiling, and cabinetry. The main purpose of using a laser level is simplicity. What previously took the man power of two or three individuals can now be done by one person.
Accuracy is another great reason to buy a laser level. With accuracy rates within 1/8th of an inch this is better than can be done with the old spirit levels.
A great advantage of using a laser level is the ability to span an entire work area and greater distances. This reduces the need to measure multiple times or multiple people measuring.
The purpose of the level laser to purchase is also important to consider. A home user would most likely purchase a multi-purpose level for doing basic one time repairs or hanging pictures. A professional who relies on a laser level for his income would invest in a laser level more suited to his specialty.
Indoor applications of laser levels are:
- Leveling floors
- Aligning walls
- Drop ceiling installation
- Lighting fixture and electrical outlet installation
- Chair rails and wainscoting
- Shelves and photos
Outdoor applications are:
- Lot leveling
- Fence alignment
- Masonry work
Practicality and versatility are the keys to finding a quality laser level so the needs of the buyer will dictate the size and quality being purchased.
Elements of a good laser
When purchasing a laser level, there are several key factors to consider:
- Leveling ability manual, self, auto
- Wavelength and rotating speed
As previously mentioned in the classification, there are several different ways a laser level is balanced. A simple inexpensive home use direct line laser will use a bubble and vial and direct a single beam or point aiding in simple projects like photo hanging.
Manual leveling requires the movement of dials to bring the unit into level while self-leveling has an apparatus within the unit to aid in leveling. Auto leveling involves having sensors built in for more rapid function.
Prices will vary depending on the degree of operation required to level. The quality of the pendulum and magnet system or quality of the sensors will vary the price. Some of the units we tested were quick to detect level while others took longer.
The length of range is used to determine accuracy. The longer the line projected the higher the chance for inaccuracy. It is important to understand the accuracy rating when choosing a laser level. Most guaranty an accuracy of +/- 1/8th of an inch at 30 feet which is fine for standard indoor jobs. When you are working with larger projects and most outdoor projects it is important to check the accuracy range of a laser level at 100 feet. The larger rotary laser levels provide longer distance with more accuracy with 1/16th of an inch for 100 feet as an industry standard.
Range is the length of the laser beam. Indoor jobs are often well covered even by the most basic and inexpensive laser level models which generally require a range of 20 to 65 feet. Large or outdoor projects require ranges up to 250 feet.
Wavelength and rotating speed determine the strength and visibility of a beam. This is generally not an issue with indoor use laser levels. Indoor projects in bright light and outdoor projects rely on higher quality wavelengths and rotating speeds to make the beam more visible in strong light with detecting equipment.
Again while the green light is easier for the human eye to see, the red does maintain its wavelength better in a variety of temperatures and this too should be taken into consideration, especially on outdoor jobs.
Everyone has seen a broken spirit level in their life. Once the bubble breaks the tool becomes useless, therefore durability is another major factor in a laser level purchase. This is a tool of the trade that gets abused. They are knocked around, bumped and dropped often. They are susceptible to construction vibration, dust, debris and water.
The molding unit, dials, glass, and internal parts all have to be considered when purchasing. Depending on the job you are doing, some factors may be more important for example, laying tiles will require water proof vs. water resistant leveler. There is a big difference between surviving a coffee spill and being exposed to water all day.
The internal working of levels is where it is most important to have durability. The pendulums, magnets and sensors have to be protected from abuse to not only function but to functions with accuracy.
Outdoor use laser levels need protection from all of the weather conditions including temperatures. Outdoor construction involves higher degree of natural debris like mud and dust so having a dependable armor is crucial.
A final consideration when purchasing a laser level is safety after all this is laser technology. The industry standard puts these in Class II, which are small, low-intensity lasers with a diode rated output of less than 1mW. These will not go Superman on you and burn walls, skin or clothes. As with a simple laser pointer, direct eye contact with the source is not recommended. This said, the larger equipment for outdoor use may use larger diodes, emitting a stronger signal so checking with the manufacturer and following the proper usage guidelines will prevent harm.
This in depth laser level reviews is intended to give you guidelines to purchase one for yourself. Knowing what your usage of the laser will be will help you choose the classification; plumb dot, laser line or rotary. A weekend handyman will have quite different needs than a man using this tool to earn money.
The level has evolved greatly from a string and water to internal pendulums and sensors. There are laser levels for almost any project, from hanging cabinets with a plumb and line laser to laying a tile floor with a tile laser giving accurate 90 degree angles.
Whether it is indoor or outdoor use, certain things like, light strengths, accuracy and durability should be reviewed. A laser level that can take a beating and keep working is important. The construction of a unit will affect not only the size and weight of a unit but also the price. A water resistant laser level will be less expensive than a waterproof one.
Visibility of the beam should be considered. Some models in our laser level review tested well in visibility while others didn’t. Darker colors absorbed the light of the tile laser so if you are considering this product you may want to consider purchasing special light detecting glasses to help.
In our laser level reviews we found accuracy to be of the highest importance. Some customers found calibration of one unit to be too far out of bounds and uncorrectable. Other units scored well in accuracy.
Preparing yourself with knowledge and reviews will help you find an often used tool in your box.