Optics materials: Glass versus Polymers

by | Feb 25, 2021 | Optics explained

Optical elements are made from various kinds of materials. Optical materials are usually transparent models, meaning materials with good light transmission in some spectral ranges with little absorption or scattering of light. However, absorption could also be used for optical filters and even light scattering has it’s applications. Some optics materials are useful for making components which do not transmit light, like substrates for laser mirrors. In this blog we will take a closer look at various optics materials for led lenses. Our main focus will be on whether to choose glass optics or polymer optics.

Optical materials: from glass to polymers

Let us take a closer look at different kinds of optical materials and their properties.

Inorganic glasses

A common optical material are optical lenses made of inorganic compounds, which contain chemical species like oxygen, silicon and germanium. In other cases pure materials, with very few chemical constituents, are used, for example in fused silica glass (silicon dioxide, SiO2). Fused silica glass is mostly used for bulk optics, e.g. prisms and beamsplitters. It is a preferred material for precision optics due to its repeatable and consistent optical performance.

Polycrystalline ceramics

Some applications within the fields of optics use polycrystalline ceramics. Certain ceramics have been developed with good optical quality, e.g. Al203 and YAG. These materials how low scattering losses, due to the used materials being very pure and the particles of the raw material having very small dimensions (nanometer dimensions).

The properties of polycrystalline ceramics are similar to those of glasses. Polycrystalline ceramics can be used for components such as prisms and lenses. Lasers will have to use YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet), which is doped with neodymium.

Organic polymers

Various polymer materials show excellent transparency, mostly in the visible spectral range and to some extent in the infrared. Some properties of organic polymers: they can be fabricated at lows cost, sometimes even together with their mounts, and organic polymers are lightweight and less fragile than glasses. However, they are softer than glass optics, so an optical coating may be required.

The properties of organic polymers are dependent upon the specific polymer material that is being utilized. Both the crystallinity and the formulation (colorant, fillers, plasticizers and other additives) will influence the optical properties of the polymer optic.

Check our datasheet for our most up-to-date capabilities and material properties.

Polymer over glass?

Polymer optics do have downsides: they are prone to scratches (without a coating), generally speaking they have a lower optical quality when compared to glass materials and they are more temperature sensitive. However, polymer optics are also more cost-effective and they have a low density, meaning lighter products can be created.

Smart manufacturing of optics

Are you working on a project which requires custom optics? Are you looking for a cost-effective and very fast solution for optics prototyping?

At Addoptics we offer smart manufacturing of optics. With our smart manufacturing technology you are able to scale your optics prototyping and production. We can deliver a physical prototype of your optical design within 6 working days, no matter how complex it’s geometry. Our optics are strong, durable and heat-resistant.

The patented Addoptics manufacturing method leverages the speed of 3D printing, producing a mold for a custom optical design within hours after ordering, often ready to be cast the same-day. All this without compromising on quality or charging expedition fees. Even though we don’t compromise on quality we can offer very affordable prices.

We have chosen to work only with polymer optics due to their many benefits, like lower weight, higher impact resistance and lower unit price. We only work with industry-standard optical polymers, offering only high-quality products. We work with polyurethane, which we can cast in all possible shapes, like freeform lenses.

If you are interested in receiving your optics within the shortest time frame possible, please reach out to us to discuss your project. We’d be happy to help!