How to choose a laser level to improve your DIY projects in the home and garden
Whether you’re putting up shelves, aligning tiles or hanging wallpaper, the best laser levels will ensure your work is straight, true and accurate every time. Replacing the bubble of traditional spirit levels, they’re supremely versatile, can work brilliantly in the brightest of sunlight and have the ability to stretch the entire length of a room.
Most laser levels will display laser markings vertically and horizontally along a single wall, while others boast a 360-degree feature allowing you to take accurate readings around an entire room at once. Importantly, a laser level will provide a true reading regardless of any irregularities on the surface it’s placed on. As soon as self-levelling units are a few degrees from level, they’ll snap to the vertical or horizontal, eliminating margins of error.
To really unlock the potential of laser levels, especially for bigger jobs where it’s more about marking out than fine tuning a nearly finished project, you’ll need a tripod or a telescopic pole to mount the level on. For all our testing, we’ve used the Ryobi Telescopic Pole which extends up to 3.2 metres. With its single leg, there’s less chance of tripping over it in confined spaces.
The majority of laser levels emit a red beam, but a handful are green, which are easier to see; we’ve tested both here.
We validated each laser level with a traditional spirit level to ensure accuracy; unsurprisingly all passed. Then we analysed each product’s specifications, before looking for the features that make the units easier to use, such as clear instructions, ease of tripod mounting and accessories such as a case.
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How to choose the best laser level for you
How much should I spend?
You can spend as little as £30 for the cheapest laser levels, which will be perfectly fine for the occasional job, or to have in your toolbag for emergencies. But for the more regular user, or for a bigger job – such as installing a kitchen or tiling a room, you might want to choose something from a well-known brand. Either way, look for the margin of error in the specifications.
Where will you use it?
Typically, you’ll either be using your laser level indoors or outdoors, but here we’ve focused on those most suited to indoor use. You might reasonably imagine that external laser levels would offer better weatherproofing thanks to a stronger IP (ingress protection) rating, but that’s not necessarily the case. In reality, outdoor laser levels are just that bit brighter in operation.
What features do you need?
A tripod mount is pretty much essential; most feature a ¼-inch mount meaning they’ll work with the most common tripods – you can use most regular camera tripods, though ones tailored for laser line work are also available. Similarly, a case is always handy to help protect the often fragile units from damage, while a velcro strap – and some way of mounting it – is handy if you don’t have a tripod, or there’s not enough space to use one.
The majority of laser levels on the market have some kind of self-levelling function, as well as a manual model to measure irregular angles. Some, such as the non-self-levelling Bosch PII 1P can be secured to the wall at any angle to aid hanging pictures along the side of a staircase, for example.
Laser dots, opposed to laser lines, can help accurately transfer heights to drill holes, and 360-degree lasers make hanging a room full of pictures or installing a drop ceiling far easier.
How accurate are laser levels?
Very. They’re certainly more than accurate enough for the naked eye. Of course, a pocket tool is unlikely to ever be 100% correct, so take a look at the specifications of each unit on your shortlist. Anything that boasts an accuracy of 0.5mm per metre should be perfectly fine for most household projects.
How we test laser levels
To deliver initial accuracy readings, we take vertical measurements using a traditional spirit level, before comparing a laser level’s crosshairs with external walls of a house to determine vertical accuracy, and kitchen worktops to assess horizontal accuracy.
We look for a laser level’s ability to lock in when the unit approaches a vertical measurement, as well as how it performs in manual mode where irregular readings need to be taken – such as when ensuring picture hooks are correctly positioned along a staircase.
As expected, all laser levels in our test emitted clear and crisp lines, although we also recorded how far the beam can travel both indoors and – in the case of the Ryobi – outdoors. Note, however, that since green laser lines are more visible outdoors than red lines, other units weren’t penalised to keep the assessments comparable. Nevertheless, we did prefer units that can deliver a 360-degree line around the room. Finally, we rate the general ease of use, and other features or accessories offered as part of the package.
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If you’re looking for an accurate, feature packed and easy to use laser level, Ryobi’s 360° is in a class of its own – but it’s not cheap. It boasts protective grey rubberised edging and feet, has a battery compartment that won’t accidentally open, and comes with four AA batteries and a padded, zip-up case. Ryobi says it will shine for up to four hours, and has a working range of up to 25 metres.
To operate it, you simply slide the large side-mounted switch and press the Mode button on the top to cycle through its crosshair, horizontal, vertical, 360-degree crosshair and 360-degree horizontal modes. An LED on the top changes from red to green when the unit is positioned four-degrees from vertical or horizontal and enters its self-levelling mode. It takes three seconds to self-level.
Although Ryobi offers the 360° with a red laser, we’re testing the slightly more expensive green version here. In a side-by-side comparison, claims that the green light is clearer and easier to see certainly hold water. It could also be helpful to distinguish between lines if multiple measurements need to be taken in one go.
Ryobi also offers a Telescopic Pole for laser levels. The lightweight pole extends from 1,200mm to 3,200mm by twisting each of the three sections. On one end is a rubberised foot, on the other a spring loaded platform which tensions the pole between the floor and ceiling. Once in place, it provides a useful and very stable platform to mount the laser levels on, using its ¼-inch screw. Not cheap, but it’s an extremely useful accessory.
Key specs – Size: 86 x 70 x 110mm (LWH); Range: 25m; Accuracy: ±0.5mm/m; Self-levelling angle: ±4 degrees; Key features: Green laser beam, 360-degree function, zip-up case
2. Kapro 862 Prolaser Cross Line Laser: Best laser level for ease of use
Price: £70 | Buy now from Toolstation
It’s hard to think how Kapro could make the 862 Prolaser easier to use. Slide the on/off switch forward one position to enter manual mode and you can place the laser level at any angle, or alternatively you can flick it to its second position to engage its self-levelling mode.
According to the specifications, the Kapro has the tightest accuracy here, with a variance of just ±0.2mm per metre, and it’ll self-level once the unit is placed three degrees or less from the vertical. However, we did find that the pendulum lock takes a touch longer than the others here to settle down when self-levelling.
A secondary button on top of the unit cycles through crosshair, horizontal and vertical modes. As well as a 1.4-inch screw mount, the box contains a 61cm velcro strap, allowing the unit to be fastened to fence posts, pipework, or other fixed mounting points, plus two strong magnets and a hanging hole. A velcro case and a clear instruction booklet, small enough to be stowed in the case, complete an impressive package.
Key specs – Size: 90 x 55 x 92mm (LWH); Range: 20m Accuracy: ±0.2mm/m; Self-levelling angle: ±3 degrees; Key features: IP54 rating, velcro case, velcro hanging/securing strap
3. Bosch PII 1P Laser Spirit Level: Most versatile laser level
Price: £36 | Buy now from Wickes
The Bosch PII 1P represents a novel approach to the laser level formula. It blends two traditional bubble-filled spirit levels with laser technology to great effect. That means that you can quickly eyeball measurements with the bubble-levels and also beam a straight line at any angle you need.
It really comes into its own once you attach it to the wall using the supplied mount. At this point the beam tracks a perfectly straight line at any angle. That makes it as perfect for locating picture hooks on a staircase as it is for transferring heights to ensure any holes drilled are level using its laser dot marker mode. Unlike rival models here, it also doubles as a traditional spirit level, providing a quick and easy way check levels of shelves, large kitchen appliances and much more.
While the build quality is first rate, and the claimed 15 hour operation from the two supplied AAA batteries is ample, there’s no case for it or the mount. Fortunately, the box it’s all supplied in is strong.
Key specs – Size: 154 x 24 x 50mm (LWH); Range: 5m Accuracy: ±0.5mm/m; Self-levelling angle: ±3 NA; Key features: Line and point modes, vertical and horizontal spirit levels