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Common Thermal Imaging Terms

Ambient Temperature

The temperature of immediate air and environment, which can influence the heat transfers around the object. Most temperature indicators on thermal imagers don’t measure ambient air temperatures.

Amorphous Silicon

Material used to create infrared detectors.

Background Noise

The naturally present noise in an thermal detector, independent of the ambient temperature or signal strength. This is typically masked by software, but occasionally appears as image graininess in very bland sections.


A temperature determining instrument utilising a strip thermistor to achieve greater sensitivity than a basic thermistor. Dissimilar to thermistors which are used for contact temperature measurements, bolometers are used to measure radiation levels.


The process of regulating an instrument to read accurately under specific conditions.

Chopper Wheel

A small wheel in front of a BST-based infrared detector that rotates rapidly. The wheel has a spiral cut out that to a degree blocks different parts of the detector temporarily. This method generates fluctuation in the amount of infrared energy getting to the detector, allowing it to generate an accurate thermal image.

Detector (Infrared)

The chip or wafer that senses infrared energy.

Electromagnetic Radiation

The field effects emitted by advancing a charged particle in a magnetic field. Dependant on field speed and strength of acceleration, many types of electromagnetic radiation are created.

Emissivity Emission

The capability of an object to absorb & radiate infrared energy. High emissivity ratings are indicatively good absorbers of infrared energy.

Far Infrared

The longest wavelength of infrared radiation, measured as approximately 8μm to 14μm. Similarly referred to as Long Wave Infrared.

FoV (Field of View)

The total visible field, measured as an angle, as seen when viewed by a thermal imager. Narrower FOVs generate more realistic images and are used a greater distances, whilst wider FOV’s provide broader image on the display.

Array (FPA)

The actual infrared detector, usually a thin wafer or around 2cm’s.


The amount of cycles an operation performs per period of time. The unit of measurement normally for frequency is Hertz (Hz), or cycles per second.

Infrared (IR)

Electromagnetic radiation in the band from 0.7μm to 100μm. infrared radiation is between the visible spectrum and microwave radiation.

Long Wave Infrared (LWIR)

The longest wavelength of infrared radiation, measured as roughly 8μm to 14 μm. Also known to as Far Infrared.


A kind of infrared detector that is able of measuring energy levels on each pixel of the FPA. Surface temperature measurement can be taken directly from a microbolometer’s FPA.

Micron (micrometre) (abbreviated as μm)

The metric measurement equal to one-millionth of a metre.

Mid Infrared (or Mid-wave Infrared, MWIR)

Infrared radiation with wavelengths of roughly 3μm to 8μm.

Near Infrared

The shortest infrared radiation wavelength, measuring approximately 1μm to 3μm. Also referred to as Short Wave Infrared.

Pixel (Picture element)

The smallest in memory or location size on a display. FPA is measured in pixels, with each pixel generating a small quota of the thermal image.


Heat transmission of energy in the form of electromagnetic waves.

Reflectance (Reflectivity)

Amount of total infrared radiation reflected by a surface.


The point at which a pixel or FPA can’t register any additional infrared radiation. Saturated pixels are spontaneously displayed as the hottest indicator (white, red, etc). Additionally defined as the form in which a further increase in infrared radiation creates no further increase in the displayed image.


Small device that continually obstructs the FPA in a microbolometer thermal imager. The shutter shields the FPA, stopping infrared energy from reaching the detector. Whilst the FPA is covered, the thermal imager authenticates it’s calibrations.

Transmissivity (Transmittance)

The measurement of the capacity of a material to pass radiation from one side to the other without reflecting or absorbing it. Infrared transmittance for most materials is close to zero, thus absorption/emissivity and reflectivity are typically inverse values.



Vanadium Oxide

A material utilised to create infrared detectors.


The space between two peaks of an energy wave cycle. Very long wavelengths can be measured in Hz (Hertz), or how frequently peaks occur per second.

White Out

A state that troubled older infrared detectors. When detectors were exposed to strong infrared sources, the thermal imager would generate entirely white images on the display. Occasionally this was intended in an effort to shield the detector from damage; sometimes it showed damage to the detector. Modern thermal imagers don’t white out; they may experience saturation.