Laser Measure vs Tape Measure: A Quick Comparison


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A distance measuring device is an important tool to have on hand whether you are hanging a few simple portraits or are busy with a large-scale construction project. Measuring tools are useful for just about every craft, design, and construction project. They are essential tools in the kits of engineers, woodworkers, architects, contractors, handymen, DIY enthusiasts, and even seamstresses.

When you have to accurately measure out large distances, the best two measuring devices to rely on are laser measure devices and tape measure tools. Which one of these tools offers the most efficiency and accuracy?

In this handy laser measure vs tape measure guide, we compare these measuring devices so you can choose one that will offer you the most functionality.

What is a Tape Measure?

Traditional tape measures are also referred to as measuring tape and were first invented in 1829 by James Chesterman in Sheffield in England. Measuring tapes were originally developed for tailor purposes but are now some of the most common measuring tools used in these modern times.

Essentially, it is just a very long flexible ruler that is rolled up into a coil so you can easily store it away or carry it with you. This tool usually consists of a narrow strip with linear measuring markings along the strip. The measurement indications are designed with numbers and markings that allow you to easily read how tall or long an object is and the measurements can be in metric or imperial units.

These flexible tools can be made from a number of materials including cloth, plastic, fiberglass, and metal and are usually housed in a container that helps roll the measuring tape into a compact size.

Different Tape Measure Types

Traditional tape measures can vary quite a lot in length, material, and design and some models are more functional for certain applications than others. These tools do, however, fall into the following two main categories or designs: namely spring return tape measurers and long tape measurers.

A Spring Return Tape Measure

Spring return tape measurers are also called pocket tape measures and are specially designed to fit into your pocket yet can be used to measure large objects or distances.

These devices are designed with a hard case to protect the interior tape or ribbon and have a coil in the middle around which the tape is rolled.

At the center of these devices, there is a spring mechanism that returns and rolls the tape around the coil when you let go of the ribbon. The ribbon is usually slim but ranges from 2 to 35 feet in length and has a little hook at the edge that keeps the ribbon from disappearing into the casing. This little hook is also handy for taking measurements on your own since you can hook it around an object and move far out to take an accurate reading.

Some spring return measure devices also come with a lock mechanism that keeps the spring coil from rolling up the ribbon even as you let go of the device. The features and extras for these devices can differ since brands and manufacturers often attach all sorts of accessories to make a standard tape measure a lot more functional. Here is a quick look at a couple of common variations for this measuring tool.

Keyring measuring tapes: These are tiny enough to fit on your key ring.

Auto-lock measuring tapes: They have an auto-lock system that keeps the tape from rolling back into a coil.

Magnetic measuring tapes: They can be attached to a piece of metal since they are fitted with a strong magnet at one end.

Rust-resistant tape measure: The ribbons of these are made from alternative materials that do not rust so you can use these devices in water or wet conditions.

Digital measuring tapes: A digital measuring tape consists of the same traditional design but has a digital display on the tape measurer so you can see the distances at a glance.

Long Tape Measures

These types of tape measures are designed with a much longer ribbon and are much too big to fit into your pocket. The length of the ribbons can vary from 25 to 500 feet and these are functional tools to use on large building sites or for surveying purposes. They are also fitted with a large hand crank and need to be manually rolled up after taking measurements.


What is a Laser Distance Measure?

A laser measuring device is also referred to as a laser distance meter or laser meter. This tool was invented in 1960 but wasn’t used by the average public until Leica Geosystems launched the first handheld laser measurer in 1993.

These tools are very compact and easy to handle since they use an optical measuring process to establish the distance between two points.

A laser meter uses laser technology and consists of a small digital display where you can read the measurement the device calculates.

Laser distance measurers are very easy to use and are ideal for all sorts of industries like interior designing, building, contracting, architecture, real estate, woodworking, plumbing, surveying, and many others.

How Does a Laser Measure Work?

When you switch on this digital device, it shoots a laser beam from the measuring device onto a target in the distance. This measuring method is also referred to as pulse measurement and uses the time of flight to calculate the distance between the device and an object.

Light travels at a speed of 299 792 458 km / s. The laser measurer calculates the time it takes for a light beam to reach its target and travel back to the tool. It then automatically calculates the distance based on the speed of light and the time interval for the reading to reach its target.

These measures are extremely accurate and very convenient since the laser dot makes it easy to see where the measurement is taken and you can take measurements all on your own.

Laser Measure vs Tape Measure

Both of these measuring tools can be very effective for taking accurate measurements and they can also both be very handy when you need to take large measurements. To make it easier for you to choose the right one, we are now going to compare their functionality.

Which is the Most Accurate?

Spring coil tape measurers usually have an accuracy of 1/16 inch and long tape measures have an accuracy of 1/2 inch. This accuracy excludes human error like sagging or tape twisting and environmental fluctuations due to temperature.

Laser measurers are usually accurate to 1/8 inch for distances up to 300 feet. But some advanced laser tape measurers can be accurate to 1/25 inches at 330 to 1,600 feet.

For precise measurements with each of these devices, it is usually recommended to take the same measurement 10 times at different times or temperatures so you can establish the correct difference.

All in all, laser measuring instruments tend to give more reliable measurements.

Which is the Easiest to Use?

Laser measurement tools tend to be easier to use because of all the following reasons;

  • You don’t need two people to take the measurement over long distances
  • Distances are automatically calculated and displayed on a digital display
  • You can measure the distance from you to any point without walking it out
  • It is easy to take readings in the dark or in low light conditions
  • Small portable devices can still take very long measurements

Which is The Quickest?

Laser measuring instruments also take the lead here since they can calculate long distances in an instant without you walking the distance. With long tape measurements, you need to walk the entire distance, manually hold it down and manually reel it back in.

Which is the Most Durable?

In this section, tape measurements tend to take the lead because they are not affected as much by impact, water, shock, heat, or dust.

Laser equipment can be impact and water-resistant but a higher resistance level also means a higher price. For a much lower price, you can get a manual tool that is naturally rust, water, and shock-resistant and these devices can usually be repaired if they happen to break.

Which is the Easiest to Calibrate?

Laser distance measuring tools need to be calibrated by manufacturers and you will need to send it to professionals to re-calibrate regularly to ensure that it takes accurate measurements.

Tape measures are always calibrated and will always give an accurate reading as long as you use them correctly.

Which is The Safest?

Both of these tools do pose some hazards. With tape measurements, you can cut your fingers on the edge when it automatically retracts and it can sometimes be dangerous to climb onto heights to take measurements.

With a laser tool, you don’t have to climb up on a roof to take a measurement but it still poses a bigger risk since you can easily damage your eyesight if you look straight into the laser beam.

Which is the Most Affordable?

Pocket tape measurers are, by far, the most affordable. Even long tape measurers can be more cost-effective since laser technology can be pricey and you often need to invest in additional equipment like a tripod stand, extra batteries, and a target plate if you want to take accurate readings.

Final Thoughts

In this laser measure vs tape measure comparison, it becomes quite clear that both of these tools can be very handy and accurate. When you consider all the pros and shortcomings of these different tools, it becomes quite clear that a simple tape measure can be a more effective investment for general measurements or tasks while a more expensive laser measurer probably is a better option for professional applications.

We do hope that you found this comparison guide useful and can now determine whether you should buy a tape or laser measuring tool. If you want to learn more about these quality tools or want to find a quality piece of equipment then you should have a look at some of the guides and product reviews we have on Measure Expert. On this site, we compare all the best tools to help you take accurate measurements.

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