Although you might think any level will work for you, the reality is that there are different level types for various construction projects.
Whether you’re licensed as a professional general contractor, electrician, or plumber, you’ll use your level more often than you think. A good level is also among the top tools you’ll need if you’re an at-home DIYer or handyman who’s in the process of remodeling your home.
In this extensive guide, we’ll help you select the best level for your project by simplifying the process and providing all the details you need about each level. We also include budget-friendly options that can help you save money during the remodeling process.
Before diving in and discussing different level types, let’s look at essential insights to help you decide which level is right for you and your project.
Our Picks for the Best Levels
- Best General Purpose Level: Milwaukee 48” Redstick Box Level
- Best Laser Level: Bosch 360 Green Beam 12V Three-Plane Leveling Line Laser
- Best Torpedo Level: Klein 8” Torpedo Billet Level
- Best Digital Level: 48” Smart Tool Generation 3 Level
- Best Bubble or Spirit Level: Empire E90 Series Magnum Mason Level
- The Best Levels by Length (8ft, 6ft, 4ft, 3ft, and 3ft)
- Best Pocket Level: Sola Big Red Portable Level With Clip
Types of Levels
While shopping around, you’ll notice that there are many level types available, each of which is designed for a specific use.
- Carpenter Levels: Frequently also referred to as “bubble” or “spirit” levels, carpenter levels feature a rectangular design as small as 16″ long and as lengthy as 48”. Inside two or more vials, you’ll find liquid with a bubble in the middle, which shows you when you’re level and when you’re not.
- Electronic Levels: Also called digital levels, these models often feature digital displays, some of which even light up, which could come in handy in dim or dark working conditions.
- Engineer’s Precision Level: Engineers and architects use these levels to measure foundations precisely.
- Laser Levels: These levels feature a built-in red laser that can extend up to several hundred feet for working in large spaces. Keep in mind, however, that these lasers can be difficult to see in bright light.
- Line Level: Features a one-bubble design with an overhang that allows you to suspend the level from a string. It’s ideal when building cabinets or installing patios.
- Mason’s Level: Typically at least four feet long, mason’s levels can be used in a wide variety of scenarios, including leveling cabinetry.
- Optical Levels: These level types are often used in construction and surveying, where you need to check levels across long distances, such as an entire construction site.
- Scaffold Levels: Feature magnets can keep the levels in places while measuring scaffolding and plumbers who work with piping and other metal components.
- Surveyor’s Level: Also referred to as “dumpy,” “tilting,” or “automatic,” a surveyor’s level helps check elevations across long distances.
- Torpedo Levels: Small levels that are ideal for moving around in confined spaces, with a tapered end that gives it its namesake. Torpedo levels typically range between 6” and 10” long.
- Water Levels: Suppose you need to match location elevations or work across long distances (such as between two rooms). In that case, water levels feature two cylinders that work based on the fact that water automatically seeks its own story.
Level Features to Look For
Different levels come with various features, so when searching for a level, you’ll want to focus on those most useful to you. Here are some common examples of what you’ll find during your research:
- Accuracy – The longer the level, the more accurate it is. On the other hand, levels with more extended designs can decrease functionality in tight spaces.
- Bubble size and liquid color – Levels with larger bubbles are easier to read from a distance. Most levels are also filled with brightly colored alcohol (usually ethanol) for added visibility. Yellow/green is the traditional color, although you’ll encounter models with red or blue coloring.
- Reading lines – Most models feature lines that wrap around their vials for more precise measurement.
- Construction, protection, and durability – Most professional-grade levels are made from aluminum and built to take regular abuse, whether on a job site or at home. To maximize protection, look for models with shock-resistant corners and vials.
- Thumbscrews – These screws feature flat, rounded, knurled heads you can use to clamp your level to different surfaces.
- Rafter hooks – Although most levels don’t come with them, you can insert yours into l-shaped hooks for measuring rafters.
- Use and grip – Hand notches provide additional grip, which can be extra useful when working with a longer level.
- Lighting and illuminated vials – These levels come with LED-lit vials to help maximize visibility in dark areas.
- V-Groove – These levels look like upside-down V’s, hence their name. They help to level almost any pipe or conduit, whether horizontally or perpendicular.
- Magnetic – These levels feature built-in magnets that allow them to stick to iron-based surfaces.
Best General-Purpose Level: Milwaukee 48″ Redstick Box Level
With its durable all-metal backbone, amplified rare earth magnets for holding power, and high-contrast SharpSite Vial Technology for best-in-class readability, the Milwaukee 48″ Redstick Box Level (model #EMPMLBX48) earns our top pick for general-purpose levels.
Just because it’s a general-purpose model doesn’t mean it’s not loaded with features. For example, the 48” Reddick also boasts impact-protected, reinforced vials, removable endcaps, non-slip grips, and wide handles for maximum comfort and portability. It’s even guaranteed to remain accurate to 0.29” for its serviceable life, and Milwaukee backs it with a limited lifetime warranty.
- All-metal backbone, reinforced/impact-resistant vials, and removable endcaps for durability;
- High-contrast vial system;
- Rare earth magnets deliver firm grip;
- Hang hole for storage;
- Lifetime accuracy guarantee and a limited lifetime warranty.
- Premium features come at a premium price.
- At 48”, it might not be ideal for tight spaces, even with its removable endcaps.
Best General-Purpose Budget Level
While the Professional I-Beam Aluminum Level from Stanley isn’t loaded with features, it does boast three vials, a pipe groove, heavy-duty aluminum construction, and shock-absorbing endcaps. And all of this at an ultra-competitive price, compared to top-of-the-line models.
- Constructed from heavy-duty aluminum with protective endcaps;
- 48” length and three vials for accuracy;
- Pipe groove;
- A lot of value for the money.
- Doesn’t come loaded with all of the same features as higher-end models.
Best Laser Level: Bosch Three-Plane Leveling Line Laser
While there are many different versions available, laser levels work by casting a built-in laser onto different surfaces (walls, floors, and so forth) that, once appropriately calibrated, can deliver the ultimate ease of use.
And there’s a lot to like about Bosch’s Three-Plane Leveling Line Laser, including high-end features like self-leveling functionality and three different measurement planes, which you can view from up to 330 feet away (the company calls this their VisiMax technology).
The 360-degree Green Beam also connects via Bluetooth and allows you to control the level via a free smartphone app, including:
- Turning the device on and off;
- Selecting planes;
- Adjusting visibility;
- Viewing battery levels;
- Accessing alerts.
- Three laser plane levels;
- Up to 3/32-in @ 30-ft accuracy;
- Compact size;
- Includes heavy-duty pouch and hard carrying case;
- You can use the 12 V Max Lithium-ion battery (included) with other Bosch tools or four AA batteries.
- Specialized; won’t be an ideal option for some scenarios (e.g., moving around in a tight crawl space);
- You’ll have to pay a pretty penny to get your hands on the best laser level.
Best Budget Laser Level
If you want to get your hands on a great laser level but without taking out a second mortgage, Black & Decker’s BDL220S Laser Line Level offers a variety of must-have features at a competitive price. You’ll find:
- Two backlit vials for improved visibility;
- A 360-degree rotating wall attachment;
- The ability to project its laser at any angle.
Together, the company advertises the BDL220S as a general-use level best for hanging pictures, mirrors, and shelves, installing curtain rods, and hanging decorations around your home.
- Includes backlit vials;
- No-nonsense features at a competitive price;
- Projects laser at any angle;
- Includes two AA batteries.
- Doesn’t come with all the same features as some higher-end (and higher-priced) models.
How to Use a Laser Level
Laser levels are super cool and high-tech, but they’re straightforward to use in a wide variety of scenarios. These include hanging pictures or artwork, leveling floors, aligning shelves and cabinetry, and ensuring walls and other surfaces are plumb.
Briefly, here’s how it works:
- Turn your level on, which will cast its laser as a line or dot;
- Set the tool on a flat surface (unless yours features auto-level functionality);
- Fine-tune and calibrate your level using the bubble, screws, or knobs;
- Find the beam and align it to your needs (note: this part will be more difficult outdoors, especially in bright sunlight);
- Take your measurements and repeat.
Best Torpedo Level: Klein Torpedo Bullet Level
A torpedo level features tapered ends that work great for general-duty applications and a compact design ideal for moving around in confined spaces. Klein’s Torpedo Bullet Level (model #935RB) uses four high-visibility, easy-to-read vials, each set at different angles (90, 45, and 30 degrees), for ultimate usability. The level also comes with a patented magnet track that prevents them from dislodging, along with a v-groove for working with pipe and conduit.
- Aluminum construction for durability;
- Four vials with different angles;
- Rare earth magnet;
- Compact design.
- Higher price than less-featured levels.
Best Budget Torpedo Level
When it comes to bang-for-your-buck, the 9 Mag Torpedo Level from Milwaukee Tool is challenging to beat since it comes with must-have features at an ultra-competitive price. These include solid aluminum construction, two vials at different angles (level and 45), and magnetic edges for hands-free operation.
- A no-frills level at a competitive price;
- Durable aluminum construction and acrylic vials;
- Magnetic ends.
- Doesn’t come with all the features as higher-priced models.
How to Use a Torpedo Level
Because of their tapered ends and short, compact designs, torpedo levels work best in situations where space is minimal. To use, you’ll:
- Place on a level surface;
- See if the bubble rests between both of the vial’s markings;
- If not, adjust the level accordingly;
- Repeat as needed.
Best Digital Level
Instead of bubbles, digital levels use electronic displays to let you know whether a surface is level. Comparatively, digital levels are more accurate than manual versions, and you can even customize the output from some models.
Our pick for the best digital level is the Gen3 Level from M-D Building Products. It features a backlit digital display, IP65 water resistance, easy calibration, and multiple measuring options (e.g., feet, millimeters, and digital inches).
- Backlit display;
- IP65 rated for durability;
- Easy calibration;
- Include 9V battery.
Best Budget Digital Level
Although it’s priced meaningfully lower than the Gen3, the True Blue box level from Empire Levels & Plumbs delivers many must-have features, including four timed power-saving modes, a digital display that you can sync with its high-contrast e-band vials, and precision-milled edges and surface grippers.
- Digital display;
- Tilt indicator;
- Competitive price;
- Four power-saving modes;
- Includes protective case and two AA batteries;
- Limited lifetime warranty on frame and vials;
- 1-year warranty on electronics.
- Doesn’t come with many of the features (including smartphone connectivity) as higher-end models.
How to Use a Digital Level
Except for its LED readout, using a digital level is similar to using a traditional model and can work in as many scenarios by doing the following:
- Place your digital level on a flat surface.
- Wait a few seconds for the level to calibrate.
- Adjust as needed until the readout displays 0 degrees.
- Check the readout against the vialed bubbles.
- Recalibrate or repeat as necessary.
Best Bubble or Spirit Level
Empire’s E90 Series Magnum Mason Level is 48” long and features two True Blue vials accurate to within .0005”, along with a durable aluminum reinforced frame. What’s more, its polycarbonate lenses resist fogging, and their vials are replaceable in case of damage.
- Highly accurate in all ten positions;
- Aluminum construction for durability;
- Replaceable polycarbonate lenses and vials;
- Designed to replace wood levels used in masonry work.
- Pricier than levels with fewer features.
Best Budget Bubble or Spirit Level
Embedded in Stanley/Black & Decker’s I-Beam level professional-grade, high-impact ABS plastic is three vials, including an easy-read top center window. Because of its construction, you won’t have to worry about marring finished surfaces or denting as you might with aluminum.
- High-impact ABS plastic resists denting and won’t mar finished surfaces;
- Built-in measuring scale;
- Top-view window;
- Highly competitive pricing.
- You won’t get all the bells and whistles at this price point.
How to Read a Bubble or Spirit Level
Are you looking for simple instructions about how to use a bubble or spirit level? Read through these four steps:
- Place the level on the surface you want to measure.
- Check that the vial’s bubble is spaced evenly between the two middle markers.
- If necessary, adjust the surface until it’s level.
- Repeat the process.
The Best Levels by Length
We mentioned it earlier, but it’s important to reemphasize that longer levels are more accurate than shorter models. This is because the greater area you can measure, the greater detail you’ll have regarding whether or not a surface is level.
Here’s a way to imagine it: Picture two levels resting on a 6′ two-by-four; one is 10″ long, and the other is 48″ long. Because the 48″ version spans a greater distance, you can check the two-by-four’s accuracy more accurately than a shorter model.
However, keep in mind that longer levels are also more cumbersome and less inclined to work well in cramped quarters than shorter versions. Therefore, we’d recommend purchasing the longest level you can use across the most jobs.
Best 8ft (96”) Level
The Professional Extruded Aluminum Level from Kraft Tool Company features a whopping ten vials across its 8′ length and is constructed from a heavy-duty aluminum frame. You’ll also find an I-beam frame, shock-absorbent end caps, and replaceable lenses and vials.
- Total of 10 vials;
- Aluminum I-beam frame construction;
- Super long for maximum accuracy;
- Replaceable lenses and vials;
- More length means a higher price.
Best 6ft (72”) Level
With its thick-walled, professional-grade aluminum construction, retractable endcaps for corner scribing, and PlumbSite window, Irwin’s professional-grade 72” 2000 Series Box Beam level earns the top position in our 72” level category.
- Durable aluminum construction;
- Proven accuracy over time;
- Retractable endcaps;
- PlumbSite window allows you to see readings when in the plumb position.
- Higher price than many similarly equipped 72” levels.
Best Budget 6ft (72”) Level
Milwaukee’s 72” Pro Box Level is constructed from heavy-duty, precision-milled aircraft aluminum for the ultimate in durability, including acrylic vials that are 400% stronger than competitors, so they resist breaking, leaking, and fogging. The level is also accurate to within .0005″ per inch, and its eLock Center Vial System is locked in place for reliability.
- Acrylic vials that are 400% stronger than competitors, for resistance against breaking, leaking, and fogging;
- eLock Center Vial System;
- Removable endcaps;
- Competitive price;
- Delivers a lot of value for the money.
- The length might be too bulky and cumbersome in tight spaces.
Best 4ft (48”) Level: Great Neck 48” Box Level
Great Neck’s 48” Box Level comes with a durable, heavy-duty frame, shatter-resistant acrylic vials, and even a top-read vial, all at a great price. You’ll also find a high-visibility finish to keep track of your level while on a job site.
- It comes with many must-have features, including acrylic vials;
- Competitive price;
- Hi-viz yellow finish.
- Contains only three vials.
Best Budget 4ft (48”) Level
The Empire 330 Series I-Beam Level from Milwaukee Tool features a lightweight POLYCAST® I-beam frame that resists breaking – and even returns to its original shape after flexing – and durable acrylic vials for long-lasting performance.
- Lightweight, flexible POLYCAST® construction;
- Accurate up to .001”;
- Grip zones for comfort;
- Hang hold for storing your level when you’re not using it;
- Made in the USA.
- Comes with basic features at a basic price.
Best 3ft (36”) Level
Although the Pro Sands Level from Kraft/Sand Tools is only 36” long, it comes with three plastic vials and professional-grade, heavy-duty I-beam aluminum construction that’s precision-milled for accuracy. You’ll also find shock-absorbing end caps.
- Heavy-duty, precision-milled I-beam aluminum construction for durability and accuracy;
- Shock-absorbing end caps.
- You might prefer additional vials for even greater accuracy, depending on your project.
Best Budget 3ft (36”) Level
Suppose you’re looking for a 36″ level on a budget. In that case, the Kraft/Sand Tools 36” AI Contract Level might be just what you need since it features contractor-grade, extruded aluminum construction and the same Cat’s Eye Yellow double-bent vials as higher-end models. You’ll also find similar hand holes, shock-absorbent endcaps, and plastic lenses and vials.
- Durable aluminum construction with plastic lenses and vials;
- Cat’s Eye Yellow double-bent vials for maximum visibility;
- Shock absorbent endcaps;
- Competitive price.
- More expensive models often come with additional features, depending on your needs.
Best 2ft (24”) Level
Milwaukee Tool’s 24” Pro Box Level uses break-resistant, solid-block acrylic vials fit inside a heavy-duty, aircraft-grade, and precision-milled aluminum frame. The level’s vials are accurate to within .0005″ per inch and secured in place with two-part epoxy.
- Durable aluminum construction
- Plastic vials resist leaking and fogging and secured in place with two-part epoxy;
- One-piece rubber handgrips;
- Removable end caps.
- Pricier than some models.
Best Budget 2ft (24”) Level
Despite its competitive price, the Stanley/Black & Decker 24″ level boasts many must-have features, including High Impact ABS shock-resistant construction, an easily readable top window, plus two additional vials for maximum accuracy.
- High Impact ABS construction doesn’t dent or mar finished surfaces like aluminum;
- It comes with a total of three shock-resistant vials;
- Versatile level for most projects.
- Competitive price.
- Not as accurate as longer levels.
Best Pocket Level: Keson’s Portable Mag Clip Level
Pocket levels feature compact designs that are simpler than longer models and can fit inside your toolbelt’s pocket, hence their name. While this makes them more portable, pocket levels often come with fewer features than other versions.
Inside its break-resistant acrylic shell, Keson’s Portable Mag Clip Level features a strong neodymium magnet, a +60% magnifying lens, and a single patented SOLA FOCUS vial. This compact and lightweight level also comes with a generous 30-year guarantee against leaks.
- Compact design that can fit in your pocket;
- Durable acrylic plastic construction;
- Single vial with patented SOLA FOCUS technology;
- 30-year guarantee against leaks.
- Relatively high price compared to many other pocket levels.
Best Budget Pocket Level
The 5” Pocket Level Straight 84-5 features a durable molded plastic frame, a top-read window, and a durable pocket clip – and all of this at an incredibly low price.
- Durable molded plastic frame and pocket clip;
- Ultra-compact profile for ease of use in cramped quarters;
- Top-read window;
- Price is difficult to beat.
- Not as accurate as longer models.