Photo: Glenda Taylor
The “measure twice, cut once” adage is the key to success in all kinds of craft and construction projects. Following this advice often requires the use of a tape measure—a flexible cloth, metal, or fiberglass ribbon of variable length with measurement markings.
Virtually everyone is familiar with the function of a tape measure, but we wanted to know how various top models compared to their competitors. We personally tested the best tape measures on the market to see if they lived up to their manufacturer claims. We inspected them for quality, precision, and the ability to stand up to repetitive use. Read on to learn more about what makes the best tape measure options stand out—and don’t miss the pros and cons we discovered in our hands-on testing.
- BEST OVERALL: Stanley 25 ft. PowerLock Tape Measure
- RUNNER-UP: Ryobi 25 ft. Tape Measure with Overmold
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: Komelon Self Lock 25-Foot Power Tape
- BEST POCKET-SIZE: LEXIVON 16Ft/5m DuaLock Tape Measure
- BEST HEAVY-DUTY: CRAFTSMAN Tape Measure, Self-Lock, 25-Foot
- BEST FOR LAYOUTS: DEWALT Tape Measure, Closed Case, 100-Foot
- EASIEST TO READ: Milwaukee 25 ft. Compact Auto Lock Tape Measure
- BEST LASER MEASURE: DTAPE Laser Measure 165ft, DT50Laser Portable Digital
- BEST FOR DISTANCES: Komelon 6633 Open Reel Fiberglass Tape Measure
- BEST METRIC: Zabiki Tape Measure, 25 Ft Dual Side Easy to Read
How We Tested the Best Tape Measures
To earn a spot in our lineup, each of the tape measures had to be accurate and precise. Fortunately, all the ones we tested were, so that wasn’t an issue. We then moved on to various other tests that pushed each tape measure to its limit. We extended each one out to its maximum length—something that may not happen in general use—but it was necessary to test how the ends of the blades were connected and whether pulling on them would pull them out of the case. For each of the tests we performed, we awarded points between 0 and 4, depending on how well the tape measured up.
All of the metal tapes were tested for standout length, or the length to which it could be extended in the air before it bent. The ones with greater standout lengths received more points.
Each tape was also closely inspected and awarded points for how well its tang was attached and whether its markings were clear and easy to read. We looked at how well a tape performed for its intended usage. For example, we expected the long reel tapes to measure long distances without the tapes twisting or blowing unduly in a breeze. That wasn’t an aspect for the standard cased tapes, however.
We awarded points for durability and the quality of materials and workmanship and noted when a tape included both imperial and metric measurements. Still, we didn’t dock a tape for not having metrics since many U.S. DIYers and pros use only imperial measurements.
At the end of the tests, we tallied the points, and if a tool came in with an unusually low number of points, we excluded it from the list. We used the other tallies to determine the best-intended usage for the tape measures that excelled in our tests.
Our Top Picks
The following products all had to meet our high testing standards to qualify for a spot in this lineup of the best tape measures. In addition to scrutinizing each one and comparing their measurements against a steel measuring tool for accuracy, we noted how easy it was to pull the blade out and how smoothly it retracted back into the housing. We also looked at quality, blade standout, blade lock, and the overall design of the tape. The results? The following models all made the cut—but keep reading—each one comes with some upsides and a few downsides.
From a name well known in the building industry comes the Stanley 25-foot PowerLock tape measure—a dependable and accurate choice for anyone needing to make precision cuts. We’re familiar with the Stanley brand, so we were not surprised that this 25-foot tape performed exceptionally well.
The PowerLock features a stainless steel case and comes with a strong blade lock that holds the extended blade firmly without slipping. The durable metal of the blade allowed us to extend it to nearly 10 feet before the blade bent—quite an accomplishment compared to thinner blades that bend at 5 feet or less. The PowerLock comes with a 3-rivet-reinforced tang for accurate measuring, and the blade features imperial-only measurements in ⅙-inch increments.
It also features premarked (in red) 16-inch notations for easy stud locating, and black diamonds every 19.2 inches (another typical framing spacing). After 1 foot (12 inches), the Stanley tape shows both feet and inch measurements and cumulative inch measurements. For example, it shows both 30 inches as well as 2 feet, 6 inches. We found the tape to be highly accurate and durable. Plus, it comes with a clip for easy carrying on a pocket or belt.
- Type: Cased
- Length: 25 feet
- Markings: Imperial only
- Strong metal blade stays stiff during longer-distance measurements
- Smooth retraction mechanism doesn’t catch
- High-quality materials throughout entire tape measure construction
Get the Stanley 25 ft. tape measure at The Home Depot, Ace Hardware, or Tractor Supply Co.
The hook-under forks on the Ryobi 25-foot tape measure tang are a boon for hooking the tape beneath the bottom edge of an object, such as the underside of a tabletop. We were impressed by the rubberized overmold that gives the Ryobi tape measure a soft, nonslip surface. The tang is reinforced with three rivets for durability, and the Ryobi blade is smooth and durable—we were able to extend it to nearly 8 feet (standout) before the blade bent.
This durable tape measure features imperial measurements in 1/16-inch increments as well as centimeters. It also features graphic markings every 16 inches and 19.2 inches, making it well suited for installing or pinpointing standard-spaced framing members.
We found the blade lock on the Ryobi to be snug and robust—no slippage at all. When compared against a steel measurement tool, the Ryobi was dead-on accurate, as it should be. However, the belt clip is a wire rather than solid stainless steel, and we found it slightly inadequate to hold the tool snugly on a belt or pocket.
- Type: Cased
- Length: 25 feet
- Markings: Imperial and metric
- Blade is smooth and durable; standout of 7.5 feet
- Comfortable rubberized case won’t slide around on workbench
- Hook-under tang forks allow the user to snag the item being measured
- Made of quality materials
- Belt clip could be stronger; might slip off during long days or strenuous bending and reaching
Get the Ryobi 25 ft. tape measure at The Home Depot.
DIYers don’t have to spend much money to get an accurate tape measure. The Komelon Self Lock 25-Foot Power Tape comes with precise imperial measurements on both edges of the blade, making it easy to measure precisely from either side without guessing.
The Komelon comes with a handy “self-lock” feature that automatically engaged when we pulled out the tape. Rather than the user needing to manually press a blade lock, the Komelon secured the blade in place by itself. When we finished checking measurement accuracy, we pushed a bright green button, and the blade retracted smoothly. This is an excellent feature for those who don’t want to engage the blade lock by hand (some are quite stiff).
Unfortunately, we found the auto-lock function didn’t work as well at longer lengths. For instance, it engaged at 4 feet, but the blade slipped a bit at 20 feet. Still, the measurements are highly accurate—slipping notwithstanding—and we could use the green button to lock the blade manually.
The Komelon also features graphic notations every 16 inches and 19.2 inches, making it well suited for standard framing measurement. It demonstrated rigid blade standout to just over 7 feet,
making it a very decent tape measure for the price point, all things considered.
- Type: Cased
- Length: 25 feet
- Markings: Imperial
- Self-locking feature secures blade in place automatically
- Easy push-button blade retrieval eliminates fumbling with stiff blade locks
- Strong stainless steel clip grips tool belt tightly
- Auto-lock function doesn’t work as well at longer lengths
- No metric measurements
Get the Komelon 25 ft. tape measure on Amazon or at Lowe’s.
Those looking for a quality compact tape measure need look no further than the LEXIVON 16-foot tape measure, which comes with both imperial and metric measurements and graphic markings to denote 16-inch and 19.2-inch standard framing measurements. We prefer a minimum of 25 feet for a tape measure most of the time, but the LEXIVON is a welcome exception.
The LEXIVON tape is only 16 feet long, but it’s just the ticket for small jobs that don’t require a longer measure. It features a smooth rubberized overmold, a steel belt/pocket clip, and hook-under tang forks that allow the user to snag the upper or underside of the item being measured. We were able to extend it nearly 6 feet (standout) before it bent.
The numbers are easy to read, and the tool features a dual blade-locking system that impressed us. It comes with a standard blade lock, but then it has something else that we found to be innovative and a little ingenius: a pressure-sensitive button on the bottom of the case. By pressing the button, we could stop the blade from moving; if we let up a bit on the button, the blade would retract slowly. Anyone who’s been cut by a metal tape blade that retracted too quickly will appreciate the pressure lock on the LEXIVON.
- Type: Cased
- Length:16 feet
- Markings: Imperial and metric
- Compact; great option for small jobs needing shorter-length measurements
- Rubberized grip doesn’t slip out of messy hands
- Dual blade-locking system
- Pressure-sensitive button offers additional safety
- Only 16 feet long; won’t work well for larger jobs
Get the LEXIVON 16 ft. tape measure on Amazon.
Everything about the Craftsman 25-foot tape measure points toward quality, and this tool is made to stand up to high use. We noted the quality of this tape measure during the initial inspection. The case is made from heavy molded polyethylene and features a partial rubberized grip along the top and bottom edges. The belt clip is made from polished solid steel, and the metal blade is nylon coated for durability and rust resistance.
We checked the measurements on the Craftsman tape against our steel measure, and they were spot-on as we expected. The tape comes with the standard graphic notations every 16 and 19.2 inches. The tool features a 3-rivet tang and a solid-feeling lock button that doesn’t leave the user guessing which direction is locked and which is unlocked—it’s labeled. The tape is self-locking as well, making it well suited to anyone who doesn’t want to take the extra time to set the lock manually.
Although this tape measure comes with only imperial measurements, it improves over some tapes in that incremental fractions are printed along the bottom edge of the blade. The movement on the blade is smooth, and the retraction is controlled and even.
- Type: Cased
- Length: 25 feet
- Markings: Imperial
- High-quality construction stands the tests of time and heavy use
- Smaller fractions labeled; great for precise measurements
- Self-locking with smooth blade movement and even retraction
Get the Craftsman 25 ft. tape measure on Amazon.
For staking out an area for excavating or determining the dimensions of a lot, the DeWalt 100-foot tape measure shines. This type of tape measure is not suited to making precise carpentry cuts, but it wasn’t designed for that work. Instead, the 100-foot reel tape measure is made to obtain longer measurements, and it’s typically used outdoors—for laying out foundations or determining the length of a proposed fence line.
We’re familiar with reel tape measures and DeWalt products, so we had high hopes for this specific tool—and we weren’t disappointed. The tang comes with a fold-out spike that is useful for fitting over a nail or screw head, and the molded plastic case is strong and durable and comes with a partial rubberized grip. We hooked the tang over a nail and stretched the tape out to its maximum length. The flexible fiberglass blade is coated with a rust-resistant coating that gives it some stability—it didn’t flip this way and that in the wind as some reel tapes are prone to doing.
The stainless steel crank arm is snug without any play, and it features a 5-to-1 gear ratio, which allowed us to wind up the entire tape with just a dozen or so turns. The tape comes with an attached stainless steel carabiner clip we discovered was perfect for hanging on a hook in the garage. The measurements are imperial and only in ⅛-inch increments—but that’s par for the course for this type of tape. We were pretty impressed.
- Type: Reel
- Length: 100 feet
- Markings: Imperial, ⅛-inch increments
- Fast-winding crank retracts entire tape with minimal turning
- Coated tape for rust resistance; great for outdoor use
- Quality materials withstand demands of tough job sites
- Tape width slightly on the thin side at ⅜-inch wide
Get the DeWalt 100 ft. tape measure on Amazon or at Tractor Supply Co.
The Milwaukee name is nationally known for high-quality construction tools and accessories, and the Milwaukee 25-foot self-lock tape measure is no exception. As with all the tapes we tested, the Milwaukee’s measurements were spot-on. The tape’s bold black whole-inch numbers are large and easy to read against the muted yellow background.
In addition, the smaller fractions are clearly labeled along the bottom edge of the tape, with the ¼-inch fractions appearing in bold and the ⅛-inch fractions in regular type, making it easy to see at a glance which is which.
The Milwaukee tape measure features a 3-rivet tang with hook-under forks that allow the user to snag the topside or the underside of the item being measured. The tape had the longest standout of all, just under 9 feet before it bent, and the tool comes with a self-lock that kept the blade from retracting until we depressed the retraction button.
- Type: Cased
- Length: 25 feet
- Markings: Imperial (large, highly visible)
- Large numbers are easy to see and read; even the smaller fractions are legible
- Self-locking mechanism and hook-under forks keeps tape secure during use
- Partial rubberized case is easy to grip
- Strong belt/pocket clip; stays in place in user’s pocket
Get the Milwaukee 25 ft. tape measure at The Home Depot.
With the DTAPE Laser Measure, there’s no hooking a tang over a nail head or recruiting a helper to hold the end of the tape. There’s no locking a blade in place or wondering if it will retract too quickly and snap a hand. With this digital tape measure, determining distance is as easy as pushing a button and reading a number on the LED screen.
We tested the DTAPE’s accuracy against the other tape measures in this lineup, and it came in within ¼ to ½ of an inch. That’s not accurate enough for construction or woodworking projects. Still, it’s plenty accurate for calculating the width, length, volume, and area of rooms for appraisal purposes or to estimate paint, carpeting, or wallpaper.
Plus, it’s fast and easy. The digital tape runs on two AAA batteries (included), and in addition to determining distance, it comes with calculator functions. We tested its calculations, and while they’re accurate, it’s much quicker to figure estimates on a standard construction calculator.
The red laser dot is bright and easy to see—we positioned the tool and then directed the laser to the spot we wanted to measure, and it instantly gave us the distance.
- Type: Laser
- Length: Up to 165 feet (we tested at 100 feet)
- Markings: LED screen (digital)
- Instantly measures from one point to another
- Well suited to measuring room dimensions
- Backlit LED screen makes numbers easy to see
- Only accurate between ¼ and ½ inch; not suitable when precise numbers are needed
- Slightly complex calculator functions
Get the DTAPE laser tape measure on Amazon.
Lengthy measurements, such as across an entire lot or from a curb to the back of the house, require the use of a long reel tape, and that’s just what the Komelon 300-foot open reel tape measure is designed to do. All 300 feet of lime-green fiberglass tape are neatly wound around a center spool and held in place by strong molded polyethylene arm supports that keep it snug and evenly wound.
The tang features a fold-down spike that can be fitted over a nail or screw head, and the Komelon comes with a separate bright orange spike for pushing into the ground to determine the origination point. We’ve used reel tapes before that became twisted on the spool when rewinding them up, but the fiberglass tape on the Komelon has just enough stiffness to help keep it straight.
Both sides of the tape feature imperial measurements in ⅛-inch increments, which is standard for a reel tape. The winding handle is solid and folds up along the top to serve as a lock to keep the tape from pulling out. It winds at an easy pace—not too quickly—but it doesn’t take a long time, either. The reel tape is sturdy and durable, and we found it to be among the best models we’d ever tested.
- Type: Reel
- Length: 300 feet
- Markings: Imperial, ⅛-inch increments
- Bright lime-green tape is highly visible
- Fiberglass coating helps keep tape from twisting
- Sturdy and well made to withstand regular use
- Open reel means the tape is subject to the elements if left outside
Get the Komelon 300 ft. tape measure on Amazon.
The vast majority of tape measures sold in the U.S. come with imperial measurements, and many feature only imperial measurements. For the few that include metric measurements, the numbers are often small and difficult to see. Not so with the Zabiki 25-foot easy to read tape measure that comes with both inches and centimeters clearly marked.
An impressive fringe benefit on this tape measure—one that didn’t appear on any of the others we tested—is a robust magnetic tang. When we positioned the tang against metal, we were able to pull the tape measure backward to extend the blade, and the magnetic tang held firm. This opens up many opportunities for measuring metal objects without needing a helper to hold the tang in place. We liked this feature.
The Zabiki comes with a 3-rivet tang for durability and features a sturdy case with a partial rubberized grip. The only downside we found with this tool was that the blade lock had a tendency to stick, and we had to apply quite a bit of pressure to engage it. Our standout test showed the Zabiki could be extended to almost 6 feet before it bent. It’s an excellent tape measure for anyone who wants to use both imperial and metric measurements.
- Type: Cased
- Length: 25 feet
- Markings: Imperial and metric
- Easy-to-read markings for both imperial and metric measurements
- Partial rubberized grip is comfortable to hold
- Magnetic tang holds firm during use
- Blade lock slightly stiff; sometimes requires substantial pressure to engage
- No recurring markers at 16-inch or 19.2-inch increments
Get the Zabiki 25 ft. tape measure on Amazon.
Types of Tape Measures
Don’t choose a tape measure at random; take some time to learn the basics. First off, know that there are four basic varieties to choose from.
- Cased tape measures: The most popular and versatile design, these tape measures house the blade—the metal or fiberglass measuring strip—in a rubber or metal holder that can be easily stowed in a pocket or clipped to a tool belt. A standard 25-foot tape measure can be used for a variety of building and craft purposes, such as installing shelving, hanging pictures, and woodworking.
- Long or open-reel tapes: Used primarily by engineers, contractors, and builders, these tools have a hand crank for retraction and can be between 25 and 500 feet in length. They are typically made of coated fiberglass, have measurement markings in both feet and meters, and may have a bottom spike for increased stability when measuring ground distances.
- D-tape: Similar in look and style to a cased tape, a D-tape (diameter tape) contains an ultra-flexible blade of cloth or metal that can easily wrap around pipes and poles. D-tapes provide an accurate measurement using pi to calculate circumference (the length around a circle) and diameter (a straight line passing from one side of a circle to the other). D-tapes come in a variety of lengths, from 12 inches to 50 feet.
- Laser: Rather than an actual tape measurer, the new kids on the block—laser tape measures—can be handy alternatives to standard tape measures when the user needs to calculate the width, length, or height of a room. The user shines the laser on the wall, ceiling, or board, and then presses the measuring button. The laser measure calculates the distance to within about ⅛ inch to ½ inch of accuracy. These tape measures are popular with real estate agents, appraisers, and adjusters, but they’re subject to user error (moving slightly while measuring), so they’re not the best option for precision carpentry.
The following features are often found in quality tape measures:
- Standout blade. The tape itself—known as the blade—should stay straight and firm when extended in the air. Cheap blades bend easily, denting and dipping in places. Quality blades, made of steel or fiberglass, should literally “stand out” for 6 feet or farther before bending. Metal blades coated with nylon are highly durable and versatile.
- Tang. The metal end-hook at the tip of the tape measure ensures an accurate reading, but too often the tang is the weakest part of a tape measure. When shopping, make sure the tang looks and feels solid without being static—there should be a slight in-and-out movement (called “floating”) when you tug it gently. You’ll notice that when the tang hits a wall or solid object, it pushes in slightly. When you hook the tang around an edge, it pulls out slightly. The tang is designed to float to compensate for its own width, providing consistent and accurate measurement. Magnetic tangs act as an additional tool—assisting a solo measurer when measuring a metal object.
- Belt clip or holder. Cased tape measures are often equipped with a belt clip—a steel or nylon pincer that attaches to a tool belt or pocket. Some pros and do-it-yourselfers find the clip annoying because it adds bulkiness and may make the tape measure harder to hold or stow in a pocket. If you find this to be true, you can often unscrew the clip or buy a clipless model.
- Auto-lock. A tape measure that automatically locks when pulled out is especially helpful when working alone or in tight spaces. For example, if you’re measuring the inside of a cabinet, the blade will lock into position by itself, ensuring an accurate reading. Simply press a button, and the blade will retract.
- Markings. This refers to the information printed on the blade, which should be clear and easy to read. Most important are the measurements: The “imperial system” of feet, inches, and fractions of inches is used in the U.S., but if you think you may need to make conversions (for a rug or piece of furniture from abroad, for example), get a tape measure that also has metric markings.
Graphic markings (diamonds and triangles) noting 16-inch and 19.2-inch intervals keep newly constructed walls in compliance with building codes (studs are often placed 16 inches apart). They help the user locate the center of studs (as long as the structure was built in compliance with standard codes). Stud marks make hanging pictures and installing shelves much easier, allowing you to anchor the nail solidly.
More Ergonomic Features to Consider
Tape measures aren’t designed for constant in-hand use, so they’re not the most comfortable hand tools to grasp. Fortunately, they don’t require a firm grip to use, so they’re usually not too cumbersome.
- Grip: When shopping for the best measurement tape, grip type is secondary to other features. The best overall pick in our lineup features stainless steel housing, although many of the other tape measures we tested come with rubberized coatings that give them a soft hand feel. The difference is mostly negligible, but a rubberized grip may help keep the tool from slipping out of a sweaty hand on a hot day.
- Portability: Most standard tape measures are highly portable. They weigh just a few ounces, and the majority come with a clip on one side for carrying on a belt or a pocket. The exception is the reel tape, which can measure as much as a foot in diameter, depending on length.
- Size: Standard measuring tape housings are usually no more than about 4 inches high and wide and an inch or so thick. Reel-type models can be up to a foot long and wide or even larger.
- Weight: Users can expect the average tape measure to weigh less than a pound—although some of the more compact models weigh just a couple of ounces. Reel tapes can weigh in around 3 pounds, or more.
- Durability: Quality materials make for a long-lasting tape measure. On the best measuring tape, the rivets holding the tang in place are securely installed. The blade’s metal is substantial enough to keep from developing permanent bends or breaks. The spring and locking mechanism are resilient and not affected by frequent use.
Getting precise measurements is essential for many projects, even ones as simple as hanging art or estimating how much wallpaper will be necessary for a specific room.
- Accuracy for project: While all tape measures should be accurate, finish carpenters, cabinetmakers, and woodworkers depend on a high level of accuracy. Most tape measures come with 1/16-inch increments, although a few come with 1/32-inch increments. When learning how to read a tape measure for precision, if the measure has only 1/16-inch increments, the standard rule is to say the measurement is “strong” when it falls between increments. For example, if a measurement falls between 3/16 inch and 4/16 inch, it would be called a “strong 3/16 inch” which tells the user it’s actually 7/32 inch.
- Price and value: For the most part, tape measures are reasonably priced, ranging from under $10 for standard models that are suitable for most construction and DIY projects, to $20 or more for high-end tape measures used by engineers or architects. While slightly less accurate, laser measures start at around $40 and go up from there.
Understanding Tape Measure Accuracy
Tape measures sold in the United States feature measurement increments in inches and fractions of inches—the imperial measuring system. Some (not all) of the newer measuring tapes also offer metric measurements. This is handy when building, assembling, or installing materials that come with metric instructions. In addition to the other accuracy features mentioned above, a few more considerations may apply.
- Standout: Most metal-blade tape measures (excluding the very cheapest) feature a blade with a curve. The curve is instrumental in keeping the blade from bending downward when the user extends it a few feet in the air. This is known as the blade’s standout capability. Eventually, all blades will bend, but the best ones can be extended 6 feet or farther before that happens.
- Scribe tip: Measuring is straightforward, but a pencil is often necessary to mark the material for cutting. When a pencil isn’t available, the slightly serrated bottom edge of the tang can be moved back and forth across the material to make a mark for cutting.
- Nail grab: The best measuring tapes come with a nail grab, which is helpful for those who are working alone and have no helper to hold the tape. By driving a nail into the material at the right spot, the user can slip the tang over the nail head to hold it in place for measuring.
Tape measures are found in most homes, workshops, tool boxes, and tool belts, and for a good reason—there’s always something that needs measuring, it seems. Still, different types of tape measures are better suited to some tasks than others. Those looking to find the best tape measure for a specific project are likely to have some questions.
Q. What is the black diamond on a measuring tape for?
Small black triangles appear every 16 inches on many measuring tapes to denote standard 16-inch on center (O.C.) measurements between studs. Small black diamonds appear every 19.2 inches, another standard spacing for wall studs or floor joists, although 16-inch O.C. is the most common.
Q. Do I need an automatic locking tape?
It sure is handy, but you don’t need it. You can always engage the manual lock if the tape doesn’t automatically lock when you pull the blade out.
Q. What are the most common sizes of tape measures?
With tape measures, 25 feet is the most common length, although some are as short as 12 feet, and others are 30 feet or longer.
Q. Are laser distance measurers worth the price?
It depends on how they’re used. They’re typically accurate to around ¼ of an inch, which is suitable for figuring wall space. However, they’re not accurate enough for woodworking. Real estate agents, appraisers, and engineers often find laser tape measures worth the money.
Q. Which is more accurate, a tape measure or ruler?
They should be equally accurate—the difference is that a tape measure is accurate over a longer distance.
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