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Collimation Tutorial

Choosing a Collimation Lens for Your Laser Diode

Since the output of a laser diode is highly divergent, collimating optics are necessary. Aspheric lenses do not introduce spherical aberration and are therefore are commonly chosen when the collimated laser beam is to be between one and five millimeters. A simple example will illustrate the key specifications to consider when choosing the correct lens for a given application.


  • Laser Diode to be Used: L780P010
  • Desired Collimated Beam Diameter: Ø3 mm (Major Axis)

When choosing a collimation lens, it is essential to know the divergence angle of the source being used and the desired output diameter. The specifications for the L780P010 laser diode indicate that the typical parallel and perpendicular FWHM beam divergences are 10° and 30°, respectively. Therefore, as the light diverges, an elliptical beam will result. To collect as much light as possible during the collimation process, consider the larger of these two divergence angles in any calculations (i.e., in this case, use 30°). If you wish to convert your elliptical beam into a round one, we suggest using an Anamorphic Prism Pair, which magnifies one axis of your beam.

laser diode collimation drawing

Ø = Beam Diameter

Θ = Divergence Angle

Assuming that the width of the lens is negligible compared to the radius of curvature, the thin lens approximation can be used to determine the appropriate focal length for the asphere. Assuming a divergence angle of 30° (FWHM) and desired beam diameter of 3 mm:

focal length calculation

f = Focal Length

Note that the focal length is generally not equal to the needed distance between the light source and the lens.

With this information known, it is now time to choose the appropriate collimating lens. Thorlabs offers a large selection of aspheric lenses. For this application, the ideal lens is a molded glass aspheric lens with focal length near 5.6 mm and our -B antireflection coating, which covers 780 nm. The C171TMD-B (mounted) or 354171-B (unmounted) aspheric lenses have a focal length of 6.20 mm, which will result in a collimated beam diameter (major axis) of 3.3 mm. Next, check to see if the numerical aperture (NA) of the diode is smaller than the NA of the lens:

0.30 = NALens > NADiode ≈ sin(15°) = 0.26

Up to this point, we have been using the full-width at half maximum (FWHM) beam diameter to characterize the beam. However, a better practice is to use the 1/e2 beam diameter. For a Gaussian beam profile, the 1/e2 diameter is almost equal to 1.7X the FWHM diameter. The 1/e2 beam diameter therefore captures more of the laser diode's output light (for greater power delivery) and minimizes far-field diffraction (by clipping less of the incident light).

A good rule of thumb is to pick a lens with an NA twice that of the laser diode NA. For example, either the A390-B or the A390TM-B could be used as these lenses each have an NA of 0.53, which is more than twice the approximate NA of our laser diode (0.26). These lenses each have a focal length of 4.6 mm, resulting in an approximate major beam diameter of 2.5 mm. In general, using a collimating lens with a short focal length will result in a small collimated beam diameter and a large beam divergence, while a lens with a large focal length will result in a large collimated beam diameter and a small divergence.

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