Non-Polarizing Cube Beamsplitters (400 - 700 nm)
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12.7 mm Beamsplitter Cube Mounted in the CM1-4ER Compact Cage Cube Using the BS127CAM Beamsplitter Adapter
Cube Beamsplitter Diagram (Coating and Cement Layer Not to Scale)
Thorlabs' non-polarizing beamsplitter cubes are offered here with broadband AR and beamsplitter coatings designed for 400 - 700 nm. These cubes provide a 10:90, 30:70, 50:50, 70:30, or 90:10 split ratio that is nearly independent of the polarization of the incident light (within 15%).
Each cube is fabricated from N-BK7 and designed for minimal beam offset. A single reflecting surface also avoids ghost images. The dielectric beamsplitter coating is applied to the hypotenuse of one of the two prisms that make up the cube. Cement is used to bind the two prism halves together. In order to achieve the desired split ratio, the light must enter through one of the faces of the beamsplitter-coated prism, which is indicated by a dot on all sizes except the 1" cubes (refer to the diagram to the right). The 1" cubes are engraved with arrows indicating a preferred direction of light propagation.
Our 1" beamsplitter cubes can be mounted directly using a compact cage cube, while our other sizes require a beamsplitter adapter (see image in the upper right-hand corner of this tab). Alternatively, we offer mounted 1" non-polarizing beamsplitter cubes. They are mounted inside 30 mm cage compatible cubes, each of which features four SM1-threaded (1.035"-40) access ports. Additionally, Thorlabs offers pellicle beamsplitters (cube mounted and ring mounted) and plate beamsplitters. For a direct comparison of the performance of our non-polarizing beamsplitter cube, plate, and pellicle at 633 nm, see the Lab Facts tab.
Thorlabs Lab Fact: Beamsplitter Package Matters
We present laboratory measurements of the polarization angle, split ratio, and total throughput power of a beam transmitted through Thorlabs plate, cube, and pellicle beamsplitters. While all non-polarizing beamsplitters function similarly, the exact performance is different for different types of beamsplitter. Each type of beamsplitter contains its own advantages and disadvantages compared to other types of beamsplitters. Appropriate choice of beamsplitter is essential to sensitive experimental systems. We present a complete analysis and comparison of optical parameters for three common types of non-polarizing beamsplitters.
For our experiment we used the HRS015 stabilized HeNe as the light source for our investigation. A linear polarizer is used to set the laser beam's polarization axis to 45° in order to provide equal S- and P-polarized light incident on the beamsplitter. The beamsplitter under investigation was then placed in the beampath, and its split beams directed to appropriate detectors. The total power though the optic, polarization states, split ratios, and angle of incidence effects were investigated under this configuration.
The plots below summarize the measured results for all three types of beamsplitters. From these graphs the performance of each optic can be easily compared to one another. The bottom left plot summarizes the results for the total power throughput for each optic. The total power throughput is measured as the fraction of input power. While the plate and pellicle beamsplitters perform rather similarly, the cube shows signs of absorption inside the optic. Additionally, this plot shows the relative insensitivity of throughput power to angle of incidence. The bottom middle graph summarizes the results for the output polarization angle for each optic. The cube shows the most similar polarization angles between the reflected and transmitted beams, with the plate producing the largest difference in polarization between beams. The bottom right plot summarizes the results for the split ratio, as a fraction of input power, for the beamsplitters. Here it can be shown that the plate beamsplitter demonstrates the most ideal for 50/50 power splitting. For details on the experimental setup employed and the results summarized here, please click here.
Beamsplitter Selection Guide
Pellicle Beamsplitters - Pellicle beamsplitters are the best choice when dispersion must be kept to a minimum. They virtually eliminate multiple reflections commonly associated with thicker glass beamsplitters, thus preventing ghosting. In addition, unlike plate beamsplitters, there is a negligible effect on the propagation axis of the transmitted beam with respect to the incident beam.
Pellicle beamsplitters have two disadvantages: They exhibit sinusodial oscillations in the splitting ratio as a function of wavelength, due to thin film interference effects. Click Here for more details. They are also extremely delicate. Since they are fabricated by stretching a nitrocellulose membrane over a flat metal frame, the beamsplitter cannot be touched without destroying the optic. Thorlabs offers pellicle beamsplitters mounted in metal rings for use in kinematic mounts as well as 30 mm cage cube-mounted pellicles.
Polarizing Beamsplitters - Thorlabs’ polarizing plate and cube beamsplitters split randomly polarized beams into two orthogonal, linearly polarized components (S and P), as shown in the diagram to the right. S-polarized light is reflected at a 90° angle with respect to the incident beam while p-polarized light is transmitted. Polarizing beamsplitters are useful in applications where the two polarization components are to be analyzed or used simultaneously. Thorlabs offers broadband 16 mm cage cube-mounted, broadband 30 mm cage cube-mounted, and broadband unmounted polarizing beamsplitter cubes, as well as laser line 30 mm cage cube-mounted and laser line unmounted cubes. Additionally, Thorlabs offers wire grid polarizing beamsplitters which have a larger Angle of Incidence and work with uncollimated light. For applications requiring higher power, we also offer high-power polarizing beamsplitting cubes.
Non-Polarizing Beamsplitting Cubes - These cubes provide a 50:50 splitting ratio that is nearly independent of the polarization of the incident light. The low polarization dependence of the metallic-dielectric coating allows the transmission and reflection for s- and p-polarization states to be within 10% of each other. These beamsplitters are particularly useful with randomly polarized lasers and are specifically designed for applications in which polarization effects must be minimized. Thorlabs offers 16 mm cage cube-mounted, 30 mm cage cube-mounted, and unmounted beamsplitter cubes.
Plate Beamsplitters - Thorlabs' plate beamsplitters are optimized for an incidence angle of 45° and feature a dielectric coating on the front surface for long-term stability. To help reduce unwanted interference effects (e.g., ghost images) caused by the interaction of light reflected from the front and back surfaces of the optic, a wedge has been added to the round versions of these beamsplitters. Dispersion, ghosting, and shifting of the beam may all be potential problems, however. These are the best choice for a general-purpose beamsplitter. Thorlabs offers both polarizing and nonpolarizing plate beamsplitters.
Economy Beamsplitters - These are the most cost effective of all the beamsplitter types. Thorlabs' economy beamsplitters, which have an exposed oxide coating on one side and are uncoated on the other side, are designed to have either a 50:50 or 30:70 splitting ratio throughout the visible spectrum (450 - 650 nm) when used with unpolarized light incident at 45°.
Please note that the Fresnel reflections off of the uncoated back surface of these economy beamsplitters can lead to interference effects in the reflected beam. For applications sensitive to these effects, consider using a beamsplitting cube or a pellicle beamsplitter.
Polka Dot Beamsplitters - This type of beamsplitter consists of a glass substrate with a vacuum-deposited reflective coating that is applied over an array of apertures, giving the beamsplitter a "polka dot" appearance. Half of the incident beam is reflected from the coating, and half of the beam is transmitted through the uncoated portion of the substrate.
Polka dot beamsplitters are useful over a wide wavelength range and are negligibly angle sensitive, which makes them ideal for splitting the energy emitted from a radiant source. These are not recommended for imaging applications, such as interferometry, as the polka dot pattern will affect the image.
Damage Threshold Data for Thorlabs' Non-Polarizing Cube Beamsplitters
The specifications to the right are measured data for Thorlabs' 50:50 non-polarizing cube beamsplitters with a wavelength range from 400 to 700 nm. Damage threshold specifications are constant for all 50:50 cubes, regardless of the size of the beamsplitter. Please note that we do not have damage threshold data currently available for the cubes on this page that offer other splitting ratios.
Laser Induced Damage Threshold Tutorial
This following is a general overview of how laser induced damage thresholds are measured and how the values may be utilized in determining the appropriateness of an optic for a given application. When choosing optics, it is important to understand the Laser Induced Damage Threshold (LIDT) of the optics being used. The LIDT for an optic greatly depends on the type of laser you are using. Continuous wave (CW) lasers typically cause damage from thermal effects (absorption either in the coating or in the substrate). Pulsed lasers, on the other hand, often strip electrons from the lattice structure of an optic before causing thermal damage. Note that the guideline presented here assumes room temperature operation and optics in new condition (i.e., within scratch-dig spec, surface free of contamination, etc.). Because dust or other particles on the surface of an optic can cause damage at lower thresholds, we recommend keeping surfaces clean and free of debris. For more information on cleaning optics, please see our Optics Cleaning tutorial.
Thorlabs' LIDT testing is done in compliance with ISO/DIS11254 specifications. A standard 1-on-1 testing regime is performed to test the damage threshold.
First, a low-power/energy beam is directed to the optic under test. The optic is exposed in 10 locations to this laser beam for a set duration of time (CW) or number of pulses (prf specified). After exposure, the optic is examined by a microscope (~100X magnification) for any visible damage. The number of locations that are damaged at a particular power/energy level is recorded. Next, the power/energy is either increased or decreased and the optic is exposed at 10 new locations. This process is repeated until damage is observed. The damage threshold is then assigned to be the highest power/energy that the optic can withstand without causing damage. A histogram such as that below represents the testing of one BB1-E02 mirror.
The photograph above is a protected aluminum-coated mirror after LIDT testing. In this particular test, it handled 0.43 J/cm2 (1064 nm, 10 ns pulse, 10 Hz, Ø1.000 mm) before damage.
According to the test, the damage threshold of the mirror was 2.00 J/cm2 (532 nm, 10 ns pulse, 10 Hz, Ø0.803 mm). Please keep in mind that it is only representative of one coating run and that Thorlabs' specified damage thresholds account for coating variances.
Continuous Wave and Long-Pulse Lasers
When an optic is damaged by a continuous wave (CW) laser, it is usually due to the melting of the surface as a result of absorbing the laser's energy or damage to the optical coating (antireflection) . Pulsed lasers with pulse lengths longer than 1 µs can be treated as CW lasers for LIDT discussions. Additionally, when pulse lengths are between 1 ns and 1 µs, LIDT can occur either because of absorption or a dielectric breakdown (must check both CW and pulsed LIDT). Absorption is either due to an intrinsic property of the optic or due to surface irregularities; thus LIDT values are only valid for optics meeting or exceeding the surface quality specifications given by a manufacturer. While many optics can handle high power CW lasers, cemented (e.g., achromatic doublets) or highly absorptive (e.g., ND filters) optics tend to have lower CW damage thresholds. These lower thresholds are due to absorption or scattering in the cement or metal coating.
Pulsed lasers with high pulse repetition frequencies (PRF) may behave similarly to CW beams. Unfortunately, this is highly dependent on factors such as absorption and thermal diffusivity, so there is no reliable method for determining when a high PRF laser will damage an optic due to thermal effects. For beams with a large PRF both the average and peak powers must be compared to the equivalent CW power. Additionally, for highly transparent materials, there is little to no drop in the LIDT with increasing PRF.
In order to use the specified CW damage threshold of an optic, it is necessary to know the following:
The power density of your beam should be calculated in terms of W/cm. The graph to the right shows why the linear power density provides the best metric for long pulse and CW sources. Under these conditions, linear power density scales independently of spot size; one does not need to compute an adjusted LIDT to adjust for changes in spot size. This calculation assumes a uniform beam intensity profile. You must now consider hotspots in the beam or other nonuniform intensity profiles and roughly calculate a maximum power density. For reference, a Gaussian beam typically has a maximum power density that is twice that of the uniform beam (see lower right).
Now compare the maximum power density to that which is specified as the LIDT for the optic. If the optic was tested at a wavelength other than your operating wavelength, the damage threshold must be scaled appropriately. A good rule of thumb is that the damage threshold has a linear relationship with wavelength such that as you move to shorter wavelengths, the damage threshold decreases (i.e., a LIDT of 10 W/cm at 1310 nm scales to 5 W/cm at 655 nm). While this rule of thumb provides a general trend, it is not a quantitative analysis of LIDT vs wavelength. In CW applications, for instance, damage scales more strongly with absorption in the coating and substrate, which does not necessarily scale well with wavelength. While the above procedure provides a good rule of thumb for LIDT values, please contact Tech Support if your wavelength is different from the specified LIDT wavelength. If your power density is less than the adjusted LIDT of the optic, then the optic should work for your application.
Please note that we have a buffer built in between the specified damage thresholds online and the tests which we have done, which accommodates variation between batches. Upon request, we can provide individual test information and a testing certificate. The damage analysis will be carried out on a similar optic (customer's optic will not be damaged). Testing may result in additional costs or lead times. Contact Tech Support for more information.
As previously stated, pulsed lasers typically induce a different type of damage to the optic than CW lasers. Pulsed lasers often do not heat the optic enough to damage it; instead, pulsed lasers produce strong electric fields capable of inducing dielectric breakdown in the material. Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to compare the LIDT specification of an optic to your laser. There are multiple regimes in which a pulsed laser can damage an optic and this is based on the laser's pulse length. The highlighted columns in the table below outline the pulse lengths that our specified LIDT values are relevant for.
Pulses shorter than 10-9 s cannot be compared to our specified LIDT values with much reliability. In this ultra-short-pulse regime various mechanics, such as multiphoton-avalanche ionization, take over as the predominate damage mechanism . In contrast, pulses between 10-7 s and 10-4 s may cause damage to an optic either because of dielectric breakdown or thermal effects. This means that both CW and pulsed damage thresholds must be compared to the laser beam to determine whether the optic is suitable for your application.
When comparing an LIDT specified for a pulsed laser to your laser, it is essential to know the following:
The energy density of your beam should be calculated in terms of J/cm2. The graph to the right shows why the energy density provides the best metric for short pulse sources. Under these conditions, energy density scales independently of spot size, one does not need to compute an adjusted LIDT to adjust for changes in spot size. This calculation assumes a uniform beam intensity profile. You must now adjust this energy density to account for hotspots or other nonuniform intensity profiles and roughly calculate a maximum energy density. For reference a Gaussian beam typically has a maximum power density that is twice that of the 1/e2 beam.
Now compare the maximum energy density to that which is specified as the LIDT for the optic. If the optic was tested at a wavelength other than your operating wavelength, the damage threshold must be scaled appropriately . A good rule of thumb is that the damage threshold has an inverse square root relationship with wavelength such that as you move to shorter wavelengths, the damage threshold decreases (i.e., a LIDT of 1 J/cm2 at 1064 nm scales to 0.7 J/cm2 at 532 nm):
You now have a wavelength-adjusted energy density, which you will use in the following step.
Beam diameter is also important to know when comparing damage thresholds. While the LIDT, when expressed in units of J/cm2, scales independently of spot size; large beam sizes are more likely to illuminate a larger number of defects which can lead to greater variances in the LIDT . For data presented here, a <1 mm beam size was used to measure the LIDT. For beams sizes greater than 5 mm, the LIDT (J/cm2) will not scale independently of beam diameter due to the larger size beam exposing more defects.
The pulse length must now be compensated for. The longer the pulse duration, the more energy the optic can handle. For pulse widths between 1 - 100 ns, an approximation is as follows:
Use this formula to calculate the Adjusted LIDT for an optic based on your pulse length. If your maximum energy density is less than this adjusted LIDT maximum energy density, then the optic should be suitable for your application. Keep in mind that this calculation is only used for pulses between 10-9 s and 10-7 s. For pulses between 10-7 s and 10-4 s, the CW LIDT must also be checked before deeming the optic appropriate for your application.
Please note that we have a buffer built in between the specified damage thresholds online and the tests which we have done, which accommodates variation between batches. Upon request, we can provide individual test information and a testing certificate. Contact Tech Support for more information.
 R. M. Wood, Optics and Laser Tech. 29, 517 (1997).
The shaded region in the graph to the right indicates the specified operating wavelength range.