Whether you are doing small carpentry projects, home renovations, or building a new house from scratch, one of the tools that you will most likely always need is a level.
Of course, anything you build needs to be flat and straight, which is what a level is designed to measure. Without a good level, the things you build probably won’t end up being straight, and not only will this look odd, but it won’t do you any favors in terms of structural integrity either.
With that being said, there are a few different kinds of these tools out there, mainly laser levels and bubble levels. What we want to do right now is take a look at the differences between the two, so you can figure out which one is better for your situation.
Laser and Bubble Levels: The Basics
Before we get into talking about the differences between laser and bubble levels, let’s first figure out what exactly each of these tools is and it works.
What Is a Laser Level?
A laser level is a special type of electronic tool that shoots visible laser beams out onto various surfaces with the aim of determining how level or plumb a surface is. These laser beams may be either red or green in color. These beams are shot out either at the horizontal or vertical axis.
A laser level is a very versatile tool that can be used to determine the straightness and flatness of a wide variety of surfaces and items.
What is a Bubble Level?
A bubble level may also be known as a spirit level, a water level, or simply just a level. This is a special kind of tool or instrument designed to determine whether or not a surface is horizontally level or vertically level (plumb). The bubble level features a frame that contains one or more vials inside of it.
These vials contain water or some other liquid. There is enough room inside of the vials for a small air bubble. In the center of these vials, you will see two lines evenly spaced. When you put the level on its surface and the air bubble is in between those two lines, it means that the surface is horizontally level.
This is a completely manual tool that does not use power.
Laser Level vs. Bubble Level: What Are the Differences?
Now that we know what both bubble levels and laser levels are, let’s take a look at the main differences between them so you can figure out which one of these tools is the best for you.
The first difference between these two tools is going to be in terms of their cost. Yes, you can rightly assume that because a bubble level is a manual tool that it is going to cost many times less than the laser level.
Laser levels are advanced tools, with most costing upwards of $100 and some even upwards of $1,000. On the other hand, you can find a simple manual bubble level for under $20.
2. Power Consumption
Moreover, a manual bubble level does not require any power at all, and therefore you never have to worry about it running out of juice.
On the other hand, a laser level does use batteries, and those batteries can die. Although it’s not a huge deal, it is a pain in the neck if you’re in the middle of a job and have those batteries die on you without a backup.
3. Long-Distance Levelling
One of the things that a laser level excels at doing is leveling long distances. Depending on the quality of the laser level you get, that laser beam may be able to shoot over hundreds of yards (professional models for specified fields of work may be able to shoot the laser beam several kilometers). This is of course something that a normal bubble level simply cannot do.
Bubble levels usually top out at about four feet in length, so you can do the math. Yes, there are string bubble levels that can be used to level large rooms, but that said, you still need places to hang that string from. And of course, you are limited by the length of the string at your disposal.
In terms of variety, when it comes to laser levels, there are four main types. These include line laser levels, rotary laser levels, dot laser levels, and combination laser levels. On the other hand, when it comes to bubble levels, you’ll find well over a dozen different types.
With all that being said, your average laser level can do a whole lot more than a bubble level. So although there are way more types of bubble levels than laser levels, those few types of laser levels can do way more than all of the bubble levels combined.
5. Possible Applications
When it comes down to it, bubble levels are used for smaller applications. For instance, if you are building a cabinet, you can check to see if your cabinets stand straight. Yes, there are of course many other applications that are bubble-level-friendly used for such as to see if the floor is straight or a wall is plumb. That said, just keep in mind that bubble levels are generally best used for small applications.
Laser levels due to their long-distance operation are far more versatile in nature. Just some of the things they can do include leveling floors, plumbing walls, seeing if ceilings are straight, checking door and window heights, installing ceilings, installing rails, aligning shelves, and so much more. There are also high-grade professional laser levels that are used for landscape leveling and land surveying. However, something that a laser level is not good at is checking to see if individual objects are straight.
Generally speaking, laser levels need to have some kind of relation between where they’re standing and an object in the distance. Bubble levels, on the other hand, can check the levelness or straightness of single objects very easily. In other words, checking to see if that dresser you built is straight or not is not something that you would use a laser level for.
6. Overall Accuracy
Yes, bubble levels are accurate, but when it comes down to it, laser levels are far more accurate. Lasers shoot in straight beams and there is nothing that can change that. Laser levels are far more accurate.
7. Calibration and Ease of Use
With all that being said, bubble levels are of course much easier to use, especially when it comes to calibrating them. Laser levels, on the other hand, are very sensitive electronic instruments with many moving parts that require constant calibration.
Figuring out how to calibrate and use a laser level can be difficult.
A bubble level relies on your own speed, as it is a manual tool, whereas a laser level is electronic and can provide you with super-accurate readings in less than a second, all with the push of a button.
That said, depending on your use case, a laser level may take a bit to set up properly.
Bubble levels are far more durable than laser levels. Laser levels contain many moving parts that can break. Laser levels are fragile, and they need to be taken care of very well.
Which of the Two Should You Use?
What it really comes down to here is the size and type of application you plan to use the level for. If you just plan on using a level every now and again and you are only using it for small and simple applications, then a spirit or bubble level is best.
However, if you need a super accurate tool, one that you were going to use on a daily basis and you need it to be super-fast and accurate, then it’s a laser level that you want to go with.
The bottom line here is that both bubble levels and laser levels have their pros and cons to think about. In general, if you’re just going to be leveling a few things, such as if you are a carpenter, then bubble level is probably enough.
That said, if you are a general contractor or somebody who works in the construction business, then a laser level might be a good investment to make for long-term use.