Gear, Parts and Accessories

Red Versus Green Lasers: Which Is Best?

semiautomatic pistol with wood Crimson Trace lasergrips

One of the newest technological advances applied to firearms is also the most misunderstood. More often than not, it is used incorrectly. The technology is, of course, the laser. Laser sights are mainly seen being used on handguns and rifles. So, what exactly is a laser, and how and why would we or should we use them on handguns and rifles?

What is a laser?

To start with, the word “laser” is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” The simplest description of a laser is that it is a light source which has the property that the light emitted is coherent. That spatial coherence allows a laser to be a highly collimated (focused). A narrow beam that is diffraction-limited with very little divergence.

For size comparison, the box that an early API Predator Laser came in shown next to a J -Frame revolver.
For size comparison, the box that an early API Predator Laser came in shown next to a J -Frame revolver.

Lasers are very different from regular light bulbs or LEDs that are also used on firearms to illuminate targets, but in a different way. Bulbs and LEDs that are used in flashlights emit light in many directions and in a variety of frequencies. Lasers, on the other hand, because of the low divergence property of the beam can be used to indicate an aiming point on a target.

Laser Devices

The first generation of laser devices were large and bulky, but at the time, we thought they were very cool. I was even part of an early evaluation to determine their suitability for law enforcement and military use which exposed limitations and established doctrine. The early versions exhibited limitations because of size, fragility, and the dispersion of the beam at distance.

Today, due to the advancement of semiconductor technology, they can be made much smaller and are capable of withstanding much more rugged handling. Additionally, the typical laser sight today is small enough to be mounted to a handgun. In most cases, it can be mounted to a handgun without negatively affecting its handling properties.

Today’s laser devices are small enough to be attached to rails on the dust covers and trigger guards of pistols. I personally find that type awkward and counter intuitive to use. My preferred type is the Laser Grips manufactured by Crimson Trace. In addition to the great ergonomic advantage of the grip style, is its mode of activation. Activation is initiated by tightening one’s grip or loosening the grip to deactivate — both of which are very intuitive.

Another plus of the Laser Grip is that the handguns normal holster will accommodate it without modification. All lasers (to be effective) must be attached so that it is parallel to the barrel. Because the laser beam projects in a straight line, the user moves the firearm until the spot of light from the laser is placed on the desired target.

This illustration is meant to provide a rough visual reference for a bullet’s trajectory and line of sight to demonstrate where the two intersections of Point Blank occur.
This illustration is meant to provide a rough visual reference for a bullet’s trajectory and line of sight to demonstrate where the two intersections of Point Blank occur.

Using Lasers

The spot indicates the place where the firearm barrel is being pointing. It must keep in mind that although the laser light travels in a straight line, bullets traveling through the air follow a parabola due to forces of gravity, etc. The bullet starts falling as soon as it leaves the barrel and to compensate for the effects of gravity the barrel is elevated to the line of sight. (Please see the accompanying illustration.)

That means the bullet crosses the line of sight twice — once as it rises above the line of sight and again when it drops through it. The points of divergence, where line of sight and the bullet path cross are referred to as “point blank.” Most people think the definition of point blank is really close. It is not. With long arms, the first intersection can be as far as 20 to 50 yards depending on the zero of the sights.

Once a laser is mounted on a firearm, it must be sighted in for the users intended use and conditions. Allowances for both windage and elevation need to be made depending on the intended distance between the weapon and the target. Once zeroed, that is possible because a laser beam does not diverge much, and the user only needs to move the barrel until the spot of light from the laser hits the desired target.

Red vs. Green

Until recently, most lasers being used as weapons sights utilize red laser diodes. In the late 1990s, green laser diodes were invented, but it wasn’t until 2007 that the first commercially-produced green laser sight was introduced to the market. Because of the technology involved, green laser sights are more expensive to manufacture than red laser sights. Green lasers also consume more battery power. The increased cost is, however, offset by the fact that green laser light is much more visible to the human eye than red laser light, this is especially true during bright daylight conditions.

This illustration is meant to provide a rough visual reference for a bullet’s trajectory and line of sight to demonstrate where the two intersections of Point Blank occur.
This illustration is meant to provide a rough visual reference for a bullet’s trajectory and line of sight to demonstrate where the two intersections of Point Blank occur.

As a form of comparison, look at a red laser and a green laser during daytime and then again at nighttime. In the sunlight of a bright day, the red laser dot is very difficult to see. By contrast, during the same daylight conditions, the green laser dot is visible.

Additionally, because of its increased brightness and frequency range, the green dot is also seen much more clearly during evening and night hours. It will also be noticed that the entire green beam is clearly visible, not just the dot. With the red lasers one finds that most often, only the red dot is visible during normal nighttime conditions and the beam is usually only discernible when the surroundings have mist, smoke, or dust in the air to refract the laser.

the shooters focus is on where the dot is placed on the target, not on the weapon or the sights.
A grip mounted laser being used correctly. Notice that the shooters focus is on where the dot is placed on the target, not on the weapon or the sights.

That gives a clear advantage to weapons using green lasers. They are much easier to aim than red laser sights. That addresses the most important aspect and the raison d’être (most important reason) for laser sights. They are very useful and efficient when it comes to acquiring targets quickly at short range. The operator can look at where he or she wants the weapon to be pointing, without peering through the weapon’s iron sights, and most especially in low light conditions. These are the reasons that I do not recommend lasers on weapons intended to be used at longer ranges.

Pros and Cons

One of the tactical disadvantages of red and green laser systems is that the target (and other people surrounding the target) can also see the dot and become aware of who or what is being targeted. Additionally, the visibility of the beam gives away the position of the person pointing the weapon.

To counteract that, additional technology allowed for the development of systems where an infrared laser is only visible to those wearing specially designed night vision devices. Unless the intended target is also wearing such a night vision device, he or she is not aware that they are being targeted, nor does it expose the position where the person doing the targeting is either.

One of the greatest advantages of laser sights is that they allow the user to quickly acquire a target. With other types of sights, the user needs to concentrate on acquiring, aligning, and positioning the sights on to the target. During that process it is easy to lose ones focus of things that are surrounding the target, diminishing situational awareness. Laser sights allow the user to maintain a larger field of view without losing the details of the target’s surroundings. It also allows aiming of the weapon without the need to physically align ones self with the barrel, which can allow for greater concealment.

red versus green lasers in varying lighting conditions
Mid-Day – direct sunlight, Late Afternoon – fading sunlight, After Sunset – twilight, Dark – Laser light only These are examples of red and green lasers shown projected on a standard IDPA cardboard target under different lighting conditions to provide a comparison for evaluation.

One of the down sides to using this technology is that laser sights need batteries. There is always the chance of the batteries giving up at the most inopportune time. Remember Mr. Murphy? As previously mentioned, red laser beams are difficult to impossible to see in bright daylight or clean surroundings. Green lasers are much more visible in bright or clear conditions, but they drain batteries much more quickly than red lasers. Green lasers are also more expensive than red lasers.

Laser sights that are mounted on rails or trigger guards on the forward portion of a handgun will alter the balance of the weapon. Rough usage can cause the laser to lose its zero, which means it is no longer aligned to the point of impact. These are two of the major reasons I prefer the grip mounted design mentioned earlier.

S&W 360PD with Crimson Trace Green Laser Grips
One of my favorite carry guns, a S&W 360PD with Crimson Trace Green Laser Grips, provides a deadly combination.

Most shooters use the laser incorrectly by bring the firearm up to eye level as if to use the traditional type of sights. In doing so, the shooter destroys the laser’s advantage. As soon as a threat exposes itself, the presentation is made. With your focus on the precise spot you want the bullet to strike, as your hand is moving into a firing position, you bring the dot to where your eye is focused and squeeze. It can be almost as fast as point shooting and more precise without the years of training.

Do you prefer to run a laser on a CCW or home defense gun? Why or why not? Continue the discussion in the comment section.

The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (28)

  1. As far as point shooting goes, Ed is 100% correct, if you’re not used to it or it doesn’t come natural, it does take practice and even if it does come natural you still need to practice.. And Ed, feel to correct me or jump in on this… for those that may want to learn point shooting… instead of having some laser grip or add on laser sight… find a laser bore sighter for your sidearm’s caliber. It’ll be dead nuts where the actual bullet is going. Of course this is only useful for gunfighting range. Not long distance. Practice drawing using muscle memory to see where the bore sight is on target… once you figure it out memory wise… the laser isn’t needed, you’ll just be able to pull, shoot and hit. Another option is the laser trainer system. Personally I have not used them but essentially it works in the same manner. A laser based “pistol” in several variations like S&W M&P, Glock, etc… and a laser target. Draw, “shoot”… if you score a “hit” the target alerts you. Sort of like a kick ass version of “laser tag”. If I’m not mistaken there is also a version that has an insert for your specific sidearm that works in the same manner. I may however could be wrong on that but I seem to remember it working in a manner that you could use your own sidearm and it worked like a trigger activated snap-cap. But either way, essentially once you figure out how to point shoot aka “snap shoot” you’ll realize just how fast it can be and it’ll become “natural”. As I said, Ed may be able to correct me if he so feels inclined.

  2. For me the downside of both red dots and lasers is I see much more flare with red and the green is much more crisp making it less distracting. Speed draw from a holster with a green dot requires a slight adjustment but results in cutting time nearly in half by a timer.

    For those concerned about tracking the sight back to the shooter I imitate the same technique with a flashlight. I hold the laser gripped handgun forward and extended away from my body at about the 2:00 position as I am right handed, not fully extended. This works at 10 yards or closer for me, beyond that a standard two handed grip is required. In home defense typical distance the first, outside or longer distance standard grip. The first only when I am in a fixed position.

    I like my scandium J frame with a CT grip but I love my Model 66 snubbie with a CT grip. Repeat shots are much faster.

  3. I’ve always found if you site a laser at 10 yards and put on a target at 25 or 50 yards you could miss your target completely especially at the 50 yard target! They only seem to be good for the distance they are sited for! Would like to here your thoughts. Thanks Charles

  4. I would like to offer a big thank you to all that read my articles and comment, even to those of you that misunderstand some of my points and especially to those that disagree. Thank You.

    To those that ask questions I apologize for not responding. The reason is that to do justice to your questions most answers require a full article. Future articles will be published that in fact answer some of your questions fully.

    I will try however and attempt to answer Pat who wanted to know which was correct, “lock and load” or “load and lock?” That depends on the time period and the weapon being used. Load and Lock was used until the introduction of the M1 Garand when procedure changed an Lock and load described the actions more correctly. That is the short answer. To do it justice requires a complete article.

    To Percy and Rob that have an interest in point shooting… I do offer Point Shooting as part of my classes and in fact have a series of advanced classes dedicated to teaching point shooting alone. To do it correctly and become skilled requires training and dedication. I am located in Southern California and if you are in the area and are really interested in some instruction email me at:

    lethalarms@pacbell.net

    I hope this helps and again, Thank You.

  5. @Neal Linhardt… generally speaking red and blue are harder for the average person’s eyes to pick up. Green is basically right in the middle of the visible spectrum and tends to be the easiest to aquire. I know that’s definitely true for me and a number of people I shoot with. I had a ’97 Firebird years ago and had a hard time driving it at night because of the red gauge lights. Supposed to help with night vision but the numbers sorta blurred, the edges of them just weren’t sharp. I have the same problem with lighted store signs that are blue. Friend used red LEDs as back lighting on his motorcycle gauges that that had orange numbers and needles… it was terrible to ride at night too.

  6. Unintended TORTURE TEST of CT Laser Grips on a Kimber 45 ACP 1911. Gun holstered on hip, I hit a deer at 55MPH with my motorcycle. I was seriously injured as I tumbled down the pavement, deer was killed and Harley Road King totaled. I landed on my right shoulder and hip (gun) . Holster was seriously scuffed up. As requested, PASP removed my firearm prior to my transport to the hospital. I retrieved it some weeks later and took it to the range. Firearm and laser grips functioned 100% and grips’ red dot was still right on target. Laser grip was unharmed except for minor scuffing on the bottom. This was a far more severe impact than any firearm would experience in normal use, and it stood up very well.

  7. I found this article informative. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Perhaps a future comparison might include Blue laser for rifles (I own a 50,000mw or 5watt hand held Blue that might be useful.) at present I have a forward rail mounted red laser on my Smith and Wesson M&P22 which also has a GlassEagle red dot sight. This is my bedside home intruder defense and very small game weapon. For convenience it is fitted with a pressure switch zip-tied to the pistol grip so it can be activated by thumb. I also have Green lasers mounted on both my AR15 with a scope for self defense if needed and hunting small to medium game, and AR10 with a powerful electronic scope for larger game and can be used in defense also. both are fitted with momentary contact switches on the forward bottom rail mounted pistol grips. if I had the option I would have provided pictures.

  8. I prefer the green lasers simply because they are more visible for my old eyes than the red especially in daylight.

  9. Retired L.E. 36 years. Took my niece shooting her S&E M&P 2” 38 revolver with Crimson Trace. Her 1st time shooting handgun.After giving her few fundamentals and her recoil adjustments she was hitting milk jugs and coffee cans simply by placing the laser on target and firmly squeezing the trigger and gun. Shocked me

  10. Very useful. Thanks Much for sharing your time and expertise.
    Maybe some tips on quick point shooting. Also sounds a Thank You For Your Service is owed

  11. Very useful. Thanks Much for sharing your time and expertise.
    Maybe some tips on quick point shooting

  12. Only thing I have a laser on is my H&R Pardner Pump 12ga. I have a 6 position adjustable AR style stock, heat shield with ghost ring combat sights, however many lumens Streamlight and the red laser. Laser works fine but don’t really use it much but for things that go bump in the night it’s there if needed. On handguns… not so much. Found them more distracting than just point shooting.

  13. Dear Ed, I enjoyed your piece on lasers and the different aspects each color, red/green, presents.
    Yes , color can be quite important when choosing a laser sight.
    What I found to be an excellent point of yours , was to “point and shoot” once the colored dot was
    where you wanted it. Yes, it may take a few rounds and some range time to get comfortable with
    this , but after a short period of practice time its easy.
    Its quite a sighting concept that goes against some of what Ive learned about target acquisition
    over the last 60 years. And I like it. My little Red Dot laser on my old Ruger 10/22 is
    always “spot on”.
    Another quick point you made. Good discussion of “point blank” and what it really means.
    So, with that in mind …. is it “lock and load” or “load and lock” ?? …. asking for a friend.
    Thanks for the good stuff you share with us. Pat, from Eastport , Maine.

  14. Red laser grip activated Armalaser TR10 on a Keltec .32. No noticable change to how the pistol handled. Previously learned to point rather than aim was first improvement. Adding red laser. I have come to appreciate the added speed of target acquisition as I worked through pointing followed by laser target acquisition. This has also added reliability to the ability to move and shoot

  15. Law enforcement or home / personal protection. I have a friend that has a green laser mounted on her trigger guard. She was able to have a custom holster for the firearm made for not much more than a out of the box version. I feel Home defence personal protection wise, the weapon will probably never be used. But like most of our home CO and fire alarms, it should always be ready as the batteries should be changed yearly. I think putting on special glasses during a home invasion or otherwise is counter productive.

  16. Thanks for info on acquiring a target. With many species (deer, turkey, predators) you might NOT have the luxury of time. On the other hand, I’ve not heard of anyone using a laser for turkeys.

  17. That’s a very interesting article and I wonder if you’ve had any experience instructing “point shooting” and if you can recommend a book or article that explains that technique?
    I was diagnosed as “red-green color blind” ;much to my surprise;upon my appointment to the Naval Academy at Annapolis. I disqualified from my ambition to become an aviator pilot or a deck officer which in retrospect turned out to be a lucky happenstance…
    So, now that we seem to be facing the threat of economic class motivated civil war and Supreme Court opinions that prescribe the freedom to aquire a wide range of modern guns, what does a concerned liberal do to catch up to the skill level of the average “Oath Keeper” who is commanded to “stay ready for the fight if I’m not elected”?

  18. Aside from fast target acquisition, the secondary reason I prefer a laser on my home defense piece is that it might provide an intruder a brief moment for re-evaluation of their decision-making history. I would prefer less paperwork and carpet cleaning as an option.

  19. CCW for Home Invasion defense? I’d rather use a flashlight with/mounted to shotgun as primary and 9mm with light as backup

  20. Higher makes a grip lazer for many models. Same quality as CT but half the price and you don’t loose zero when changing batteries. Much better value in my book. Down size is they only come in black and OD.

  21. I find that the Lazermax high energy sight when used on a Glock is fabulous,as it is mounted within the recoil spring area; and unless you use the sticker to show everyone, it is totally concealed. Also it is straight under the barrel and not odd to the side.

  22. Ed, your chart for the laser “point blank” range showing bullet departure for line of sight is only valid if the laser is mounted above the barrel – like a scope…

    If the laser is mounted below the barrel – there can only be a single point where the bullet path will intersect the laser.

    Maybe this will not be meaningful for a laser sighted in at 10 yards or less – but I have a green laser for my AR – which I mounted over the barrel and have sighted in at 100 yards. I had to be aware of this difference…

    Thanks for the discussion!

  23. Thanks Ed. I find it interesting how new tech is being used on a tool that has not changed much over hundreds of years. Always appreciate your insight.

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