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The Pacific Laser Systems PLS480 – Pinpoint Laying out Laser Lines

Aimed at: Builders, tillers, decorators – anyone who regularly needs to mark out.

Pros: Easy to use, accurate and efficient. You will wonder why you used chalklines. 

When I think of all the “fun” we used to have with laying-out before the days of innovative and affordable lasers I don’t miss the “good old days”. Frankly, what a pain in the neck. Plumb lines, especially on windy days, were always a bit dodgy. Chalk lines sometimes didn’t mark properly and weren’t really possible to use if there were any small obstructions in the way and rickety right angles made up of bits of 2x1 became inaccurate almost as soon as they were made.

Lasers have changed all this, from surveyors’ laser levels that cost thousands to jobbing builders and plumbers’ versions that cost hundreds or sometimes less, we now all have the convenience and accuracy of lasers to help us layout. Because they are self leveling and the lasers project over obstacles they are so easy to use that even DIYers have no real excuse for a duff job these days.

The Pacific Laser Systems PLS480 is a classic example of all of the above. It arrived packed into a grey plastic case that neatly contained all the components in their custom spaces. There are great advantages to this – nothing moves in transit when the case is closed, and it is also easy to check that you have everything before you pack up. There really is a lot that you get with this laser, all of which is designed to be versatile, useful and accurate. In fact, it could be just about all the laser a small tradesperson would need, except, maybe, for a laser distance measure.

The laser device itself comes packed into a black nylon case as well, so it is well protected. Taking nearly as much space, there is a clever dual- function adaptor to mount the laser for use. This adaptor enables the laser to be mounted easily onto a standard surveyor’s tripod or it can be fitted over a stable batten or beam. In my kit I also had a piece of alloy angle onto which the laser device can be screwed for use on floors when laying wall or floor tiles.  Two laser targets are also included, one a simple reflector target, and the other an electronic target that can detect both vertical and horizontal lines with a beep function to indicate when the laser line is accurately found. There are also a couple of laser mounting clamps included. One has magnets so that the laser can be attached to a metal profile or scaffolding pole and the other has a simple screw clamp system.

So you get the idea that you have all you need in the box, but really the best bit is to get out into the open air or on site and find out just how easy the kit is to use.

I was lucky enough to have a surveyor’s tripod included as part of the test kit. This has a built in spirit level so it is pretty easy to have a basic level ready for the laser to be attached (it automatically cancels itself if the self-leveling function cannot operate) The adaptor for the laser has a sighting hole downwards through the middle so once the laser is mounted and switched on, there is a pinpoint of laser light to show plumb, your starting point.

Outside, the best target to use is the reflective one. The reflective surface looks a lot like reflective road signage, but as I discovered, it is incredibly effective at making the laser line visible.  This reflector is placed on the desired reference point by unfolding the base and standing it on a handy brick or flat surface.  Using the appropriate laser mode, (pulse) a laser light is projected, and by careful adjustment using the fine-tuning knobs on the tripod base, the laser shows up on the target. This laser beam is strongly visible if your eyes are right behind the laser beam looking directly at the target and will be so, I am told past a distance of 60 metres. Even in bright daylight at over 40 metres I had no trouble seeing the mark - without my glasses!  If you need to make the designated mark permanent, it is straightforward to put in a marking peg.

Then using the electronic laser detector, the laser line at right angles to the marked line is detected and marked. It really is that simple – simple marking out done in minutes without hassle and fuss.

But the joy of laser marking out is that it doesn’t matter if there are obstacles in the way. I managed to lay out a rectangle in the car park near my house despite a metre high wall that was in the way of the electronic detector. I had the help of a colleague to do this, but in reality, I could have easily done it by myself once the laser had been positioned initially. If I had wanted to lay out accurate distances all I would have needed was a suitably long tape measure pegged to the original plumb point under the tripod.

Apart from being able to be used inside and out for marking out of most small building tasks, this laser is so versatile that the jobbing tradesperson could use it on floors for laying out all types of floors from laminate to quarry tiles. It is equally at home on walls, should bathroom tiles be the job in hand, or even leveling kitchen worktops as well.  By overriding the self-leveling system (pressing the level lines button twice) a laser line can be projected at any angle onto a surface. Great for doing stairway marking out or even for marking out wallpaper lines that are at an angle other than right angles.

This PLS480 laser is another great example of how new technology can help us work more efficiently and accurately and more to the point – simply. You don’t have to have a degree or be a professional surveyor to use this device. If you do a lot of marking out, laying of tiles and other exterior or interior leveling work, then this laser will quickly pay for itself in time saved and accurate results.

The PLS480 is fully assembled in California, USA and has a three year warranty against manufacturer’s defects.

For more information on PLS, please visit

Pacific Laser Systems level lasers marking Peter Brett Review
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