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Aside from maybe a hammer and screwdriver, your tape measure might be the most reached-for tool in your toolkit. Whether you rent or own your home, we're willing to bet the need to determine the distance between point A and point B comes up relatively often, whether that's the width of the windows you are measuring for curtains, the height and length of a wall when you're calculating how much paint you'll need, or the depth of the pantry shelves you're organizing.
Tape measures haven't changed a whole lot over the years, and most have similar designs; typically, there's a metal "tape" marked with measurements that pulls out of a metal or plastic holder and retracts either automatically when released or at the push of a button.
Tape measures come in various lengths—25 feet is common, but there are tape measures as short as 6 feet and as long as 100 feet—and units of measurement. Many include both metric measurements and the imperial system of measurements used in the US, including inches and feet, but some only have one or the other. Also, some have notable features like magnetic hooks, belt clips, or all-weather durability. There are even high-tech laser measuring devices.
Here are the best tape measures you can buy today in a variety of categories most likely to interest DIYers and homeowners.
Best Overall: Stanley PowerLock Tape Measure
No metric measurements
The Stanley PowerLock is our top pick. While 25 feet is standard, it is also available in options of 12, 16, 30, or 35 feet, and offers 10 feet of standout. This means you can extend it out as far as 10 feet unsupported before it droops or sags, which can make many measuring projects easier to carry out without a partner. Its sturdy, chrome-plated case and Mylar-coated blade stand up to even fairly rigorous use, and the blade lock lets you set a stop-point on the measuring tape right where you want it. The blade retracts automatically when you release it.
The compact size easily fits in your hand or tool belt, and it's small enough to take on the go. This tape measure has a Stanley's Tru-Zero hook, which starts the measurements at the beginning of the tape, giving you better accuracy when you're measuring long distances. Thanks to 16-inch and 19.2-inch stud markings, it's ideal for framing jobs. Measurement markings go down to 1/16 inch, but this tape measure does not include metric measurements.
Type: Cased | Length: 25 feet | Standout: 10 feet | Metric Measurements: No | Autolock: No
Best Budget: Komelon The Professional 12-Foot Power Tape
There's no need to spend big bucks on a tape measure if you only need one once in awhile. This tape measure from Komelon will only run you a few dollars, and it gets the job done accurately. The Professional extends up to 12 feet and is printed with both imperial (inches) and metric (centimeters) measurements down to 1/16 inches.
Its ergonomic design fits comfortably in your hand, and the attached belt clip allows you to keep it within reach. There's a lock to keep the nylon-coated, metal blade extended to where you want it. Once released, the blade automatically retracts back into the sturdy plastic housing.
Type: Cased | Length: 12 feet | Standout: 5 feet | Metric Measurements: Yes | Autolock: No
Best Laser: Bosch BLAZE 65-ft Outdoor Laser Distance Measurer with Backlit Display
Measures up to 65 feet
The best laser tape measure is the Bosch BLAZE. With the click of a button, this professional-grade tool projects a laser beam as far as 65 feet with accuracy up to 1/8 inch. This makes it easy to measure large spaces and allows you to get a precise reading without assistance. You can set the device to metric or imperial measurements.
Not only that, but it's much faster than using a standard measuring tape. You can size up a space and tackle a measuring job in seconds. This portable tool fits in your pocket or tool belt, and the wrist strap frees up your hands between measurements. Also, the backlit screen allows you to see your measurements at night or in poorly lit spaces. The device runs on two AAA batteries, which are included.
Type: Laser | Length: 65 feet | Standout: N/A | Metric Measurements: Yes | Autolock: N/A
Best with Fractions: Milwaukee Compact Auto Lock Tape Measure
Shows fractions in numerals
Few complaints that autolock doesn't work well
Most tape measures just have small lines to indicate fractions of an inch, but that can be tough to read. If you need very precise measurements without the bother of squinting at tiny lines, we recommend the Milwaukee Auto Lock. Unlike most other options, this one has a fractional scale—that means it actually has the fractions printed right onto the nylon blade—so you can see clearly indicated 1/8s, 1/4s, and 1/2-inch numerals, plus small lines to indicate 1/16ths of an inch.
This 25-foot tape has a 12-foot standout and automatically locks into place for quick, accurate readings before retracting back into the case. It measures only in imperial units, not metric.
Type: Cased | Length: 25 feet | Standout: 12 feet | Metric Measurements: No | Autolock: Yes
Best Magnetic: Stanley FATMAX Magnetic Tape Measure
No metric measurements
With an incredibly strong magnet on the end of the hook, the Stanley FATMAX attaches securely to studs and other metal surfaces. Since you don't have to hold it in place on one end, you can complete various jobs solo. There are 16-inch and 19.2-inch stud-center markings to simplify things if you are working with studs inside the walls.
The FATMAX has 14 feet of standout and extends as far as 25 feet. Like other Stanley tape measures, it has a Tru-Zero hook for accurate measurements every time. We also like that it has a cushioned, slip-resistant design, which fits comfortably in your hand, and an easy-to-use blade lock. This tape measure has imperial measurements only—no metric.
Type: Cased | Length: 25 feet | Standout: 14 feet | Metric Measurements: No | Autolock: No
Best Extra-Long: DEWALT DWHT34028 100 ft. Fiberglass Long Tape
Metric measurements on one side
No running tally of inches
Most people don't need an excessively long tape measure—after all, the longer the blade, the more of a pain it can be to work with. But if you need to measure a commercial space, lot, or an otherwise extra-large area such as a deck, your best bet is this 100-foot-long DEWALT tape measure. It has a double-sided fiberglass blade with exact measurements down to 1/8s of an inch on one side and metric measurements on the other.
The side crank rolls up the tape measure quickly and easily when you're finished measuring and is ergonomic for comfort. There's also a professional-grade stake hoop for convenient outdoor measuring, and a carabiner so you can clip the tool to your belt or toolbag.
Type: Reel | Length: 100 feet | Standout: N/A | Metric Measurements: Yes | Autolock: N/A
Best Belt Clip: Ryobi 25 ft. Tape Measure with Overmold and Wireform Belt Clip
Shows fractions in numerals
If you tend to be hard on your tools, you'll appreciate this sturdy 25-foot tape measure from Ryobi. It has a handy wireform clip that prevents fraying on your clothes or belt while keeping the tool secure and within reach. The tape casing has a reinforced rubber overmold for impact resistance and a comfortable grip, plus a wear-resistant nylon coating over the blade.
Unlike most other tape measures, this one actually has fractions of an inch indicated with numerals, not just small lines. It measures in imperial units only, no metric. There's seven feet of standout, meaning you won't need somebody else to hold the blade in place up to that point.
Type: Cased | Length: 25 feet | Standout: 7 feet | Metric Measurements: No | Autolock: No
Best for Sewing: GDMINLO Soft Tape Measure
Metric measurements on one side
Very slightly inaccurate
The best tape measure for sewing is this 60-inch option from GDMINLO. With inches on one side and centimeters on the other, it's versatile and convenient for needlework, clothes-making, tailoring, and other projects. It's also perfect for taking your own body measurements or for small measuring tasks around the house.
This soft-but-sturdy measuring tape also folds or rolls up into a small, packable size that easily fits in your sewing kit, purse, or pocket. The soft, flexible vinyl is easy to use on fabrics and won't stretch out, even after years of use.
Type: Sewing | Length: 5 feet | Standout: N/A | Metric Measurements: Yes | Autolock: N/A
If you're looking for a dependable, versatile tape measure that'll last for years, we recommend the Stanley PowerLock (view at Amazon). It's compact, weather-resistant, and delivers an accurate read. Having said that, the high-tech Bosch BLAZE (view at Lowe's) might be worth the slightly higher price tag. This 65-ft laser measurer makes it easy to accurately measure large spaces on your own. It's a great gift for DIYers too.
What to Look for In a Tape Measure
There are three common types of tape measures: cased, reel, and sewing.
Cased tape measures are the most familiar type. They have a retractable blade marked with imperial or metric measures, and a case that’s made of plastic or metal. This type of tape measure is a must-have in your toolkit and is useful for most measuring tasks around the home.
Reel tape measures are most often used by surveyors and others needing to measure large stretches of open space. These tools typically have a very long blade—some are several hundred feet long—but instead of an enclosed case, the blade is retracted onto a reel by turning a hand crank. While most DIYers don’t need this type of tape measure, it’s useful if you need to measure a large flat space, such as a deck or long fence.
Sewing tape measures are flexible tapes that don’t have a case. These are very useful tools for sewing and similar projects, but are also handy for taking body measurements, measuring items with curved surfaces, or general measuring tasks around the home. The most common length for a sewing tape measure is 5 feet, but there are some as long as 12 feet.
Typically, a cased tape measure has a blade made of steel or fiberglass, often coated with nylon or a similar material for durability and water-resistance. The case might be plastic or metal. If plastic, it should be heavy enough to withstand regular use and occasional drops. Metal cases are heavier, but sturdier. Either material is often covered at least partly with a rubberized coating to add extra grip and to help the tool withstand drops without cracking.
When it comes to choosing a tape measure, don’t automatically assume that the longer, the better. The most common length for a cased tape measure is 25 feet, which is long enough to measure the average room’s walls or floors, yet not so long that it’s unwieldy or overly heavy. But there are shorter tape measures for those only needing the tool for small tasks like measuring a piece of furniture, looking for the right spot to drive a nail to hang a picture, or centering a television. And of course, there are also much longer tape measures that come in handy when measuring floors or walls in large rooms or outdoor areas. Other than 25 feet, the most common sizes are 12, 16, 30, and 35 feet.
As for the blade width, around 1 inch is best. Thinner than that, and the blade can be flimsy. Thicker, and you may find the tape measure too bulky or difficult to retract.
All tape measures have markings to indicate increments of length. Most tape measures sold in the US have only imperial measurements, meaning inches and feet. There are some, however, that also have metric measurements, so if that is important, be sure to check before you buy.
Most commonly, tape measures have numerals for inches and feet, and small lines to indicate fractions of inches. There are some, however, that actually indicate the fractions with numerals rather than lines, which can be much easier to read.
Most cased tape measures have some sort of clip so you can easily carry the tool on your belt or toolbag. A steel clip is the most durable. The clip should be thick enough so it won’t snap or bend, but not so thick that it’s bulky or hard to use. A rounded design won’t snag or wear on your clothing.
The metal tip of a cased tape measure is called the hook or the tang. The hook lets you “catch” the end of the tape measure in place to keep it steady while you extend it. A good hook is large enough to hold in place when required, but not so large that it catches where you don’t want it to. Additionally, hooks with upright points are more likely to catch on items other than what you are measuring.
Some tape measures have a magnetic hook, which is useful when measuring steel or other magnetic metal items, but can potentially be a nuisance, as the magnet can attach itself to various nearby metal items other than what you want to measure.
The standout of a cased tape measure is the distance the unsupported blade can extend before it bends or sags. As a general rule, a tape measure’s standout should be at least 7 or 8 feet, although many go further.
Most cased tape measures have a small toggle that locks the extended blade in place with a push of your thumb, preventing the blade from retracting before you are done with it. There are some, however, that automatically lock the blade in place as it is extended, and do not release the blade until you push the button to retract it. Neither option is superior; it’s mostly a matter of preference.
How do you read a tape measure?
To measure from point A to point B, put the end of the tape measure on point A. On the tape measure, the inch mark is indicated by largest number in bold and black and by the longest line, the half-inch mark by the second longest line and the fraction ½, the quarter-inch mark by the third longest line and the fraction ¼, and so on. Find the closest whole inch to point B, then use the shorter indicator lines to see which fraction of an inch it is. Add the fractions to the number of inches to get the total measurement.
How do you use a tape measure?
Secure the tape in place with the metal hook to prevent it from moving and pull as much of the tape out of the case as needed. Some tape measures have a stop button to let you lock the tape at the desired measurement. When you are done, let the blade retract back into the case, which depending on the model happens automatically or you need to push a button. The belt clip on a tape measure is to attach it to your belt within easy reach.
Why does the metal piece on a tape measure move?
The metal hook at the end of a tape measure is intentionally not fixed, it wiggles to make up for the hook’s thickness (usually 1/16 inch) to obtain the accurate measurement or “true zero”. When you measure the outside of a surface, let the hook shift out so you don’t count it in your measurement. When you measure the inside of a surface, let the hook shift back so there is no gap in your measurement.
What does the diamond on a measuring tape mean?
How do you read a tape measure in mm?
A metric measuring tape has markings for meters, centimeters, and millimeters. The largest markings are cm, the medium markings are for 0.5 cm or 5 mm, and the smallest markings are for mm. To measure from point A to point B, find the closest whole centimeter to point B, then use the shorter indicator lines to see the mm. Add the cm and mm to get the total measurement.
Why Trust The Spruce?
This article is edited and updated by Michelle Ullman, the tool expert for The Spruce. She has extensive experience not only in writing about all things related to the home, but also in carrying out various DIY projects, including landscaping, painting, flooring, wallpapering, furniture makeovers, and simple repairs. For this roundup, she considered dozens of tape measures, evaluating each for basic features, extras, and feedback from customers. Additional reporting was done by Nadia Hassani, a master gardener with over 20 years of gardening experience.