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Optical Isolator Selection Guide


Optical Isolator Selection Guide


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The following selection guides display Thorlabs' Optical Isolators. Click on any of the colored bars below to see full specifications and purchasing options for the chosen wavelength range and isolator type. For more details on the design and function of our isolators, see the Isolator Tutorial tab above. For isolator specification combinations not offered below, Thorlabs offers custom isolators with a wide range of center wavelengths, operating temperatures, package sizes, and various other specifications. Please see the Custom Isolators tab above for more details or to request a custom isolator.

Our Free-Space Isolators are available in fixed and adjustable narrowband options, as well as broadband and tandem options. For more information on differences between types of free-space isolators, see the Isolator Types tab above.

Optical Isolators

Our Fiber Isolators are available with SM or PM fiber. Our broadband SM fiber isolators, including those centered at 840 nm and 895 nm, are designed for use with superluminescent diodes (SLDs). 

Optical_Isolator 940 nm PM

Optical Isolator Tutorial

Function
An optical isolator is a passive magneto-optic device that only allows light to travel in one direction. Isolators are used to protect a source from back reflections or signals that may occur after the isolator. Back reflections can damage a laser source or cause it to mode hop, amplitude modulate, or frequency shift. In high-power applications, back reflections can cause instabilities and power spikes.

An isolator's function is based on the Faraday Effect. In 1842, Michael Faraday discovered that the plane of polarized light rotates while transmitting through glass (or other materials) that is exposed to a magnetic field. The direction of rotation is dependent on the direction of the magnetic field and not on the direction of light propagation; thus, the rotation is non-reciprocal. The amount of rotation Q equals V x L x H, where V, L, and H are as defined below.

 

Faraday Effect in an Isolator Drawing
Figure 1. Faraday Rotator's Effect on Linearly Polarized Light

Faraday Rotation

Q = V x L x H

V: the Verdet Constant, a property of the optical material, in minutes/Oersted-cm.

L: the path length through the optical material in cm.

H: the magnetic field strength in Oersted.

An optical isolator consists of an input polarizer, a Faraday rotator with magnet, and an output polarizer. The input polarizer works as a filter to allow only linearly polarized light into the Faraday rotator. The Faraday element rotates the input light's polarization by 45°, after which it exits through another linear polarizer. The output light is now rotated by 45° with respect to the input signal. In the reverse direction, the Faraday rotator continues to rotate the light's polarization in the same direction that it did in the forward direction so that the polarization of the light is now rotated 90° with respect to the input signal. This light's polarization is now perpendicular to the transmission axis of the input polarizer, and as a result, the energy is either reflected or absorbed depending on the type of polarizer.

 

Drawing of Light Propagation Through an Isolator
Figure 2. A polarization-dependent isolator. Light propagating in the reverse direction is rejected by the input polarizer.

Polarization-Dependent Isolators

The Forward Mode
In this example, we will assume that the input polarizer's axis is vertical (0° in Figure 2). Laser light, either polarized or unpolarized, enters the input polarizer and becomes vertically polarized. The Faraday rotator will rotate the plane of polarization (POP) by 45° in the positive direction. Finally, the light exits through the output polarizer which has its axis at 45°. Therefore, the light leaves the isolator with a POP of 45°.

The Reverse Mode
Light traveling backwards through the isolator will first enter the output polarizer, which polarizes the light at 45° with respect to the input polarizer. It then passes through the Faraday rotator rod, and the POP is rotated another 45° in the positive direction. This results in a net rotation of 90° with respect to the input polarizer, and thus, the POP is now perpendicular to the transmission axis of the input polarizer. Hence, the light will either be reflected or absorbed.

 

Light Propagation Through a Polarization-Independent IsolatorClick for Details
Figure 3. A polarization independent isolator. Light is deflected away from the input path and stopped by the housing.

Polarization-Independent Fiber Isolators

The Forward Mode
In a polarization independent fiber isolator, the incoming light is split into two branches by a birefringent crystal (see Figure 3). A Faraday rotator and a half-wave plate rotate the polarization of each branch before they encounter a second birefringent crystal aligned to recombine the two beams.

The Reverse Mode
Back-reflected light will encounter the second birefringent crystal and be split into two beams with their polarizations aligned with the forward mode light. The faraday rotator is a non-reciprocal rotator, so it will cancel out the rotation introduced by the half wave plate for the reverse mode light. When the light encounters the input birefringent beam displacer, it will be deflected away from the collimating lens and into the walls of the isolator housing, preventing the reverse mode from entering the input fiber.

 

General Information

Damage Threshold
With 25 years of experience and 5 U.S. patents, our isolators typically have higher transmission and isolation than other isolators, and are smaller than other units of equivalent aperture. For visible to YAG laser Isolators, Thorlabs' Faraday Rotator crystal of choice is TGG (terbium-gallium-garnet), which is unsurpassed in terms of optical quality, Verdet constant, and resistance to high laser power. Thorlabs' TGG Isolator rods have been damage tested to 22.5 J/cm2 at 1064 nm in 15 ns pulses (1.5 GW/cm2), and to 20 kW/cm2 CW. However, Thorlabs does not bear responsibility for laser power damage that is attributed to hot spots in the beam.

Dispersion Measurement of Isolator IO-5-780-HP
Figure 4. Pulse Dispersion Measurements Before and After an IO-5-780-HP Isolator

Magnet
The magnet is a major factor in determining the size and performance of an isolator. The ultimate size of the magnet is not simply determined by magnetic field strength but is also influenced by the mechanical design. Many Thorlabs magnets are not simple one piece magnets but are complex assemblies. Thorlabs' modeling systems allow optimization of the many parameters that affect size, optical path length, total rotation, and field uniformity. Thorlabs' US Patent 4,856,878 describes one such design that is used in several of the larger aperture isolators for YAG lasers. Thorlabs emphasizes that a powerful magnetic field exists around these Isolators, and thus, steel or magnetic objects should not be brought closer than 5 cm.

Temperature
The magnets and the Faraday rotator materials both exhibit a temperature dependence. Both the magnetic field strength and the Verdet Constant decrease with increased temperature. For operation greater than ±10 °C beyond room temperature, please contact Technical Support.

Pulse Dispersion
Pulse broadening occurs anytime a pulse propagates through a material with an index of refraction greater than 1. This dispersion increases inversely with the pulse width and therefore can become significant in ultrafast lasers.

τ: Pulse Width Before Isolator

τ(z): Pulse Width After Isolator

Example:
t = 197 fs results in t(z) = 306 fs (pictured to the right)
t = 120 fs results in t(z) = 186 fs

Fixed Narrowband Isolation

Fixed Narrowband Isolator

The isolator is set for 45° of rotation at the design wavelength. The polarizers are non-adjustable and are set to provide maximum isolation at the design wavelength. As the wavelength changes the isolation will drop; the graph shows a representative profile.

  • Fixed Rotator Element, Fixed Polarizers
  • Polarization Dependent
  • Smallest and Least Expensive Isolator Type
  • No Tuning

Adjustable Narrowband Isolation

Adjustable Narrowband Isolator

The isolator is set for 45° of rotation at the design wavelength. If the usage wavelength changes, the Faraday rotation will change, thereby decreasing the isolation. To regain maximum isolation, the output polarizer can be rotated to "re-center" the isolation curve. This rotation causes transmission losses in the forward direction that increase as the difference between the usage wavelength and the design wavelength grows.

  • Fixed Rotator Element, Adjustable Polarizers
  • Polarization Dependent
  • General-Purpose Isolator

Adjustable Broadband Isolation

Adjustable Broadband Isolator

The isolator is set for 45° of rotation at the design wavelength. There is a tuning ring on the isolator that adjusts the amount of Faraday rotator material that is inserted into the internal magnet. As your usage wavelength changes, the Faraday rotation will change, thereby decreasing the isolation. To regain maximum isolation, the tuning ring is adjusted to produce the 45° of rotation necessary for maximum isolation.

  • Adjustable Rotator Element, Fixed Polarizers
  • Polarization Dependent
  • Simple Tuning Procedure
  • Broader Tuning Range than Adjustable Narrowband Isolators

Fixed Broadband

Fixed Broadband Isolator

A 45° Faraday rotator is coupled with a 45° crystal quartz rotator to produce a combined 90° rotation on the output. The wavelength dependences of the two rotator materials work together to produce a flat-top isolation profile. The isolator does not require any tuning or adjustment for operation within the designated design bandwidth.

  • Fixed Rotator Element, Fixed Polarizers
  • Polarization Dependent
  • Largest Isolation Bandwidth
  • No Tuning Required

Tandem Isolators

Tandem Isolators

Tandem isolators consist of two Faraday rotators in series, which share one central polarizer. Since the two rotators cancel each other, the net rotation at the output is 0°. Our tandem designs yield narrowband isolators that may be fixed or adjustable.

  • Up to 60 dB Isolation
  • Polarization Dependent
  • Highest Isolation
  • Fixed or Adjustable
Optical Isolator in FiberBench Mount
Click to Enlarge

Custom Isolator Example
Custom Adjustable Narrowband Isolator with Different Input and Output Polarizers Optimized for 650 nm Wavelength and 40 °C Temperature.

OEM Application Services

  • Direct Integration to Laser Head Assemblies
  • Combination Isolator and Fiber Coupling Units
  • Minimum Footprint Packages
  • Filter Integration
  • Active Temperature Control and Monitoring
  • Feedback Monitoring
  • Environmental Qualification
  • Private Labeling
  • ITAR-Compliant Assembly

OEM and Non-Standard Isolators

In an effort to provide the best possible service to our customers, Thorlabs has made a commitment to ship our most popular free-space and fiber isolator models from stock. We currently offer same-day shipping on more than 90 isolator models. In addition to these stock models, non-stock isolators with differing aperture sizes, wavelength ranges, package sizes, and polarizers are available. In addition, we can create isolators tuned for specific operating temperatures and isolators that incorporate thermistors with heating or cooling elements for active temperature control and monitoring. These generally have the same price as a similar stock unit. If you would like a quote on a non-stock isolator, please fill out the form below and a member of our staff will be in contact with you.

Thorlabs has many years of experience working with OEM, government, and research customers, allowing us to tailor your isolator to specific design requirements. In addition to customizing our isolators (see the OEM Application Services list to the right), we also offer various application services.

 

Parameter Range
Wavelength Range From 244 - 4550 nma
Aperture Sizes  Up to Ø15 mm
Polarization Dependence Dependent or Independent
Max Powerb Up to 2 GW/cm²
Isolation Up to 60 dB (Tandem Units)
Operating Temperature 10 - 70 °C
  • Custom Faraday rotators, for use in the 244 to 5000 nm range, are also available.
  • The maximum power specification represents the maximum power for the combined forward and reverse directions. Therefore, the sum of the powers in the forward and reverse directions cannot exceed the maximum power specification.

Free-Space Isolators

We are able to provide a wide range of flexibility in manufacturing non-stock, free-space isolators. Almost any selection of specifications from our standard product line can be combined to suit a particular need. The table to the right shows the range of specifications that we can meet.

We offer isolators suitable for both narrowband and broadband applications. The size of the housing is very dependent on the desired maximum power and aperture size, so please include a note in the quote form below if you have special requirements.

 

Faraday Rotators

We can also offer Faraday rotators which rotate the polarization of incoming light by 45° ± 3°. These are similar to our isolators but with the polarizers at each end removed. They are available with center wavelengths from 244 to 5000 nm.

 

Parameter Range
Wavelength Range From 633 - 2050 nma
Polarization Dependence Dependent or Independent
Max Powerb (Fiber to Free-Space) 30 W
Max Powerb (Fiber to Fiber) 20 W
Operating Temperature 10 - 70 °C
  • For wavelengths shorter than 633 nm, we recommend using our free-space isolators in conjunction with our modular FiberBench accessories. Please contact Technical Support for more information.
  • The maximum power specification represents the maximum power for the combined forward and reverse directions. Therefore, the sum of the powers in the forward and reverse directions cannot exceed the maximum power specification.

Fiber Isolators

Thorlabs is uniquely positioned to draw on experience in classical optics, fiber coupling, and isolators to provide flexible designs for a wide range of fiber optic specifications. Current design efforts are focused on increasing the Maximum power of our fiber isolators at and near the 1064 nm wavelength. We offer models with integrated ASE filters and taps. The table to the right highlights the range of specifications that we can meet.

The fiber used is often the limiting factor in determining the Maximum power the isolator can handle. We have experience working with single mode (SM) and polarization-maintaining fibers (PM); single-, double- and triple-clad fibers; and specialty fibers like 10-to-30 µm LMA fibers and PM LMA fibers. For more information about the fiber options available with our custom isolators, please see the expandable tables below.

In the spectral region below 633 nm, we recommend mounting one of our free-space isolators in a FiberBench system. A FiberBench system consists of pre-designed modules that make it easy to use free-space optical elements with a fiber optic system while maintaining excellent coupling efficiency. Upon request, we can provide select stock isolators in an optic mount with twin steel dowel pins for our FiberBench systems, as shown to the left.

We are also in the process of extending our fiber isolator capabilities down into the visible region. For more information, please contact Technical Support.

Custom Fiber Isolator

Custom Free-Space Isolator for Wavelengths Below 633 nm

Optical Isolator in FiberBench Mount
Click to Enlarge

Twin Steel Pins Insert into FiberBench
Optical Isolator in FiberBench Mount
Click to Enlarge

Mounted Isolator
Polarization Independent Fiber
Polarization Maintaining Fiber

 

Make to Order Options

The expandable tables below provide information on some common isolator and rotator specials we have manufactured in the past. We keep the majority of the components for these custom isolators in stock to ensure quick builds, so these specials are available with an average lead time of only 2-4 weeks.  Please use the Non-Stock Isolator Worksheet below for a quote.

Adjustable Narrowband Isolators
Faraday Rotators
Fixed Narrowband Isolators
Fixed Broadband Isolators

 

Custom Request Form

Request a custom isolator quote using the form below or by contacting us for more information at (973) 300-3000.

Non-Stock Isolator Worksheet:
Please select your input type:   Free-Space Input  |    Fiber Input
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Free-Space Input
Wavelength or Wavelength Range (nm):
Power (W):
Max 1/e2 Beam Diameter (mm):
Isolation (dB):
% Transmission:
Notes:
Fiber Input
Wavelength or Wavelength Range (nm):
Power (W):
Polarization Sensitivity:  Dependent   |     Indepentent
Isolation (dB):
% Transmission:
Fiber:
Fiber Connector:   FC/PC   |     FC/APC   |     Other
Output:   Fiber   |     Free-Space
Notes:

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