Homeowner’s Guide To Digital Tape Measures
Tape measures have gone digital. Now they can store data, convert between units and measure long distances to an accuracy of a fraction of an inch.
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Suppose you’re measuring a house for new hardwood flooring. You measure along perpendicular walls in each room, avoiding obstacles, with a helper holding the other end of the tape. Then you write down the numbers, multiply them to get the area in each space, and add everything up.
What if you had a device that took these measurements while you stood in a corner of the room, performed the calculations automatically, and stored them while you moved from room to room? You’d save a lot of time and be a whole lot more organized. That device is a digital tape measure.
You could say a digital tape measure is to a traditional tape measure what a pocket calculator is to a slide rule. Digital devices are automatically more accurate than analog ones, while incorporating functionality impossible to include in manual tools.
If you only use the tape measure in your tool drawer occasionally, you probably don’t need to replace it with a digital one. But if you do a lot of measuring, especially over distances longer than 16 feet, upgrading to a digital tape measure is worth it.
What Is a Digital Tape Measure?
Strictly speaking, a digital tape measure is a tool that measures length and displays it on an LED screen. Readings can be in decimals or fractions, and most models can switch between them. Readings are typically accurate to within 1/16-inch (1.5-mm).
An increasing number of digital tape measures send out a laser beam and time how long it takes the beam to reflect off a solid surface and return. This provides a more efficient way to measure long distances. Tape measures with this capability can usually store data and perform calculations.
Types of Digital Tape Measures
The most basic ones are no more complicated than a conventional tape measure with an LED screen. Instead of reading data from the graduations on the tape, you read it from the screen.
Combo tape measures (AKA two-in-one tape measures) have metal tape with graduations and built-in lasers. You can use one of these like a regular tape measure, or go with the laser function. Laser measures typically calculate area and volume, save readings and calculate height and width of wide or tall structures via triangulation.
Digital measuring instruments with lasers don’t always include a traditional tape measure. Some are shaped like a small remote control or mobile device, with an LED screen for reading the measurement. These tools feature a keypad with an on/off button, mode selector and sometimes a calculator.
How To Use a Digital Tape Measure
If your digital tape measure has an actual tape and an LED screen, use it like a conventional tape measure. Hook the end of the tape onto a piece of wood or a countertop, stretch the tape to measure, then read the measurement on the screen.
A laser measurement device has to be pointed at a solid object to get a reading. Here’s how to use it:
- Turn it on.
- Choose the measurement units via the selector button.
- Select the reference edge. Depending on the device, you could choose between a point on the top, bottom, front or rear.
- Point the device, push the button and take a reading. Push the addition button to add a second length measurement. The device will save the first measurement.
- Press the “area” function, and the device computes area from the next two measurements you take. Most devices also have a “volume” choice when you take length, width and height measurements.
- Choose the “indirect” function to measure height and width of buildings, fences and other structures. Take one measurement with the device pointed at the structure and another with it pointed at the top or the end. It will do the calculation based on right-angle triangles (the Pythagorean theorem).
- Use “continuous” mode to scan an irregular surface, like the corner of a room. The device will record and remember the longest and shortest distances to the surface.
Why Buy a Digital Tape Measure?
The accuracy of a tape measure with an LED screen is helpful in the shop, but some digital tape measures are so loaded with features that they’re bulky and expensive. Many pros comfortable their conventional tape measures to get by without all the technology.
A tape measure with a laser is a different story, because it provides functionality a conventional tape measure doesn’t. You can quickly make long-distance measurements that the device saves and transfer them to a laptop or mobile phone. This simplifies the job for any DIYer doing:
- Outdoor building, including setting fence posts or building a deck, patio or outbuilding.
- Designing and installing landscapes.
- Interior remodeling, like installing new flooring or cabinets, hanging doors and modifying walls.
- Interior and exterior painting. A laser measurement tool easily calculates coverage area and the amount of paint needed.
Best Digital Tape Measures
If you’re looking for a tool just for the shop, you may not need the laser function. On the other hand, you may need only the laser function if you’re working outdoors. Either way, here are some of the top choices.
Best non-laser tape measure
The eTape Digital Electronic Tape Measure is simply a conventional tape measure with an LED screen. It’s lightweight, not too expensive, measures up to 16 feet and converts from imperial to metric units. It can store up to three measurements.
Best combo tape measure
You can carry this Mileseey Measuring Tape on your tool belt and use it like a conventional 16-foot tape measure, but its laser can measure distances up to 131 feet. The LED display, which works only with the laser function, converts between meters, inches and feet.
This tool calculates area and volume and does Pythagorean measurements. It costs twice as much as a regular tape measure, and it’s rechargeable.
Best laser measure
If you need to measure long distances, the Leica Disto D2 Laser Measure is a popular choice. It fits in your pocket, runs on two AA batteries, and can measure up to 330 feet (100 meters) to an accuracy of 1/32-in. (about 1-mm.).
It performs all the calculations a laser measure can, and all the controls are on the front of the tool. It’s a little pricey, but definitely not the most expensive model out there.
Plus, don’t miss out on the best digital tape measure of 2022—a T1 Tomahawk digital tape measure.