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How does a laser tape measure work?

Infographic how does a laser tape measure work

Measure twice and cut once is one of the most important rules of working with your hands. Taking accurate measurements is essential for work such as construction and surveying. While a traditional metal or fiberglass tape is familiar and reliable, a laser measuring tape can be superior in a lot of cases. They are surprisingly simple to operate and very capable.

Infographic how does a laser tape measure work

Traditional Tape Measures: Reliable but Limited

Tape measures have been in use for a long time. They are extremely reliable and familiar to a lot of people. Whenever you need to measure something, simply tape out your tape and line it up. However, metal and fiberglass tape measures are limited in a lot of ways. For example, if you need to take a long measurement (anything longer than the span of your arms), you will need someone else to hold the other end for you. Additionally, you are making the measurement by looking at markings on the tape. This is fine for most situations, but insufficient for high-precision measurements (especially if you need to include the tape casing in the number). You may not have your tape totally straight or you may simply find yourself guessing at the measurement when it is between two markings. Lasers offer a far more accurate option. First, they are highly precise and can be very accurate, especially when used with a tripod. Second, a single person can use a laser tape measure without assistance.

How Laser Measurements Work

A laser distance measure works by measuring the distance from the device to any surface that blocks the laser it emits. The device emits a pulse of highly focused light (the laser) and measures the time for the reflection to return. This happens extremely quickly, so it appears that the light is being emitted continuously. There are some significant advantages to this compared to using a traditional tape measure:
  • Fast: You can get an accurate reading almost immediately. If you are using a tripod or otherwise have the measure still, it can get a very quick reading. It may take a second during handheld use. However, this is still faster than a conventional measure.
  • Single-User: You don’t need a buddy to hold the other end. A single person can measure distances with ease.
  • Height Measurements: Using an LDM, you can measure ceilings and other heights without a ladder. This is especially helpful for very high measurements.
  • Always Straight: Making sure the tape is straight is difficult for long-distance measurements. However, a laser is always straight and precise.
  • Precise: Laser measures can get readings in both imperial and metric down to the millimeter. Some are even more accurate than that.

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Using a Laser Tape Measure

Using a laser distance measure is surprisingly easy. In fact, despite being high-tech, the ease-of-use is one of the reasons LDMs are the best tape measures.

Setting Up To Take a Measurement

For the most part, LDMs only require you to point and measure. You don’t need to do any fancy setup work. The sole exception to this is double-checking that you have it set to the right units. Simply look at the screen to check. Most have a dedicated button for setting the units. A few high-accuracy measures may require a little more configuration. However, these are unnecessary for anything but the most precise measurements.

How the Backlight Works

Some laser measures have a backlight. This helps when working in dark areas. Simply turn it on if you are having trouble taking measurements in the dark.

Making Basic Measurements

Taking a basic measurement with an LDM couldn’t be easier. Simply turn the device on, point it at the point you want to measure to then pressure the measure button. The device will then display the distance on the screen.

Using Continuous Measurement Mode

With some models, you can set them to continuous measurement mode. This will constantly display the distance from the device to whatever you are pointing it at. If you want to take several fast but not necessarily accurate measurements, this can be helpful. Additionally, some continuous modes have a readout for maximum and minimum values. This can be helpful when you want to find the angle to the hypotenuse of a triangle.

Add/Subtract Distance Measurements

You can infer some additional information with a little information. For example, you may stand in the center of a space and measure the distance from you to each side. Some measures have built-in functions for adding and subtracting two measurements.

Calculating Area

Quickly calculate the area of a rectangle by measuring the length and width then multiplying. Add other shapes such as triangles (L*W/2) for more complex calculations. Again, some measures will do the math for you.

Calculating Volume

Calculating volume works very similarly to area. However, you add the extra dimension of height. Since most rooms have flat ceilings, you can usually just multiply the area by the height to get volume.

Making Indirect Measurements

If you want to get clever, you can use some geometry such as the Pythagorean theorem to measure distances. This is great for measuring the height of a building without climbing it. Your LDM may have a built-in mode for this.

Check Previous Measurements

Most LDMs have a history of measurements. So, you can quickly take a few measurements then check the history to write them all down. Also, if you forget a result, it is easy to look it up.

Place Your Order for a Laser Measuring Tape

Check out Engineer Supply’s catalog of laser tape measures today. We have models ranging from basic DIY options to high-precision, engineering tools. This could revolutionize the way you measure distances.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Where Can I Order a Laser Tape Measure?

You can order a variety of measuring devices, including laser-based ones, from Engineer Supply. We have an extensive selection of measuring tapes and other surveying, engineering and construction supplies. Whatever your measuring needs, you can find a device that fits your budget.

Are Laser Measuring Tapes Accurate?

Yes, using a laser to measure distances is considered very accurate. The laser technology is able to make significantly more precise readings than traditional tape measures or non-electronic rulers. Advanced laser measuring tools even eliminate the risk of human error in alignment. In short, they are a good way to measure, especially when accuracy is important.

Why Would I Use a Laser Instead of a Traditional Tape Measure?

Typically, people use a laser measure when getting a highly precise and accurate reading is important. Additionally, laser measures can usually measure longer distances. In particular, you can use one to measure several meters or more with only one hand. Conversely, a traditional tape requires a helper for such distances.

Can a Laser Measuring Device Be Dangerous?

In general, the lasers used in measuring devices are safe. They use fairly low-powered lasers and are much less likely to cause harm, even to eyes. That being said, it is a good idea to avoid point them directly at anyone’s face.

What Types of Work Call for a Laser Measuring Device?

They can be used for any work that requires taking measurements. This includes surveying, engineering, constructions and more. Additionally, highly accurate laser measures are often used in scientific work. Bear in mind that not all devices are made equal. Higher-end ones are significantly more precise.

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