Infrared thermometer

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An infrared thermometer. 1024 Pyrometer-8445.jpg
An infrared thermometer.
A sailor checking the temperature of a ventilation system Pyrometer 040824.jpg
A sailor checking the temperature of a ventilation system

An infrared thermometer is a thermometer which infers temperature from a portion of the thermal radiation sometimes called black-body radiation emitted by the object being measured. They are sometimes called laser thermometers as a laser is used to help aim the thermometer, or non-contact thermometers or temperature guns, to describe the device's ability to measure temperature from a distance. By knowing the amount of infrared energy emitted by the object and its emissivity, the object's temperature can often be determined within a certain range of its actual temperature. Infrared thermometers are a subset of devices known as "thermal radiation thermometers".


Sometimes, especially near ambient temperatures, readings may be subject to error due to the reflection of radiation from a hotter body—even the person holding the instrument[ citation needed ] — rather than radiated by the object being measured, and to an incorrect assumed emissivity.

The design essentially consists of a lens to focus the infrared thermal radiation on to a detector, which converts the radiant power to an electrical signal that can be displayed in units of temperature after being compensated for ambient temperature. This permits temperature measurement from a distance without contact with the object to be measured. A non-contact infrared thermometer is useful for measuring temperature under circumstances where thermocouples or other probe-type sensors cannot be used or do not produce accurate data for a variety of reasons.

Examples of use

Some typical circumstances are where the object to be measured is moving; where the object is surrounded by an electromagnetic field, as in induction heating; where the object is contained in a vacuum or other controlled atmosphere; or in applications where a fast response is required, an accurate surface temperature is desired or the object temperature is above the recommended use point for contact sensors, or contact with a sensor would mar the object or the sensor, or introduce a significant temperature gradient on the object's surface.

Infrared thermometers can be used to serve a wide variety of temperature monitoring functions. A few examples provided include detecting clouds for remote telescope operation, checking mechanical or electrical equipment for temperature and hot spots, measuring the temperature of patients in a hospital without touching them, checking heater or oven temperature, for calibration and control, checking for hot spots in fire-fighting, monitoring materials in processes involving heating or cooling, and measuring temperature of volcanoes. At times of epidemics of diseases causing fever, such as SARS coronavirus and Ebola virus disease, infrared thermometers have been used to check arriving travellers for fever. [1] [2]

There are many varieties of infrared temperature-sensing devices, both for portable and handheld use and as fixed installations.


Infrared thermometers are characterised by specifications including accuracy and angular coverage. Simpler instruments may have a measurement error of about ±2 °C or ±4 °F.

The distance-to-spot ratio (D:S) is the ratio of the distance to the measurement surface and the diameter of the temperature measurement area. For instance, if the D:S ratio is 12:1, the diameter of the measurement area is one-twelfth of the distance to the object. A thermometer with a higher ratio of D to S is able to sense a more-specific, narrower surface at a greater distance than one with a lower ratio. A 12:1 rated device can sense a 1-inch circle at a distance of one foot, whereas a 10:1 ratio device achieves the same 1 inch circle at 10 inches, and a wider, less-specific circle of 1.2 inches at a distance of 12 inches.

The ideal target area should be at least twice the size of the spot at that distance, [3] with smaller areas relative to distance resulting in less accurate measurement.[ citation needed ] An infrared thermometer cannot be placed too close to its target, or this proximity causes heat to build up in the thermometer's housing and damages the sensor. Measurement error generally only decreases with too much distance because of the effects of reflectivity and the inclusion of other heat sources within the sensor's field of view. [4] [5]

According to the Stefan–Boltzmann law, radiant power is proportional to the fourth power of temperature, so when the measurement surface has both hot and cold areas, the indicated temperature may be higher than the actual average temperature, and closer to fourth-power mean average. [6]

Most surfaces have high emissivity (over 0.9 for most biological surfaces)[ citation needed ], and most IR thermometers rely on this simplifying assumption; however, reflective surfaces have lower emissivity than non-reflective surfaces. Some sensors have an adjustable emissivity setting, which can be set to measure the temperature of reflective and non-reflective surfaces. A non-adjustable thermometer may be used to measure the temperature of a reflective surface by applying a non-reflective paint or tape, with some loss of accuracy.

A sensor with an adjustable emissivity setting can also be used to calibrate the sensor for a given surface, or to measure the emissivity of a surface. When the temperature of a surface is accurately known (e.g. by measuring with a contact thermometer), then the sensor's emissivity setting can be adjusted until the temperature measurement by the IR method matches the measured temperature by the contact method; the emissivity setting will indicate the emissivity of the surface, which can be taken into account for later measurements of similar surfaces (only).

Infrared pyrometer

The most common infrared thermometer is the spot infrared pyrometer or infrared pyrometer, which measures the temperature at a spot on a surface (actually a relatively small area determined by the D:S ratio). These usually project a visible red dot onto the center of the area being measured that identifies the spot being measured, but plays no part in the measurement. The actual angular area being measured varies among instruments and is not restricted to the visible spot.

Related equipment, although not strictly thermometers, include infrared scanning systems and infrared thermal imaging cameras. Infrared scanning systems scan a larger area, typically by using what is essentially a spot thermometer pointed at a rotating mirror. These devices are widely used in manufacturing involving conveyors or "web" processes, such as large sheets of glass or metal exiting an oven, fabric and paper, or continuous piles of material along a conveyor belt. Infrared thermal imaging cameras or infrared cameras are essentially infrared radiation thermometers that measure the temperature at many points over a relatively large area to generate a two-dimensional image, called a thermogram, with each pixel representing a temperature. This technology is more processor- and software-intensive than spot or scanning thermometers, and is used for monitoring large areas. Typical applications include perimeter monitoring used by military or security personnel, inspection / process quality monitoring of manufacturing processes, and equipment or enclosed space hot or cold spot monitoring for safety and efficiency maintenance purposes.

A photographic camera using infrared film and suitable lens, etc., is also called an "infrared camera". This only captures the near infrared and is not sensitive to the thermal radiation from room temperature objects.

See also

Related Research Articles

Infrared electromagnetic radiation with longer wavelengths than those of visible light

Infrared radiation (IR), sometimes called infrared light, is electromagnetic radiation (EMR) with wavelengths longer than those of visible light. It is therefore generally invisible to the human eye, although IR at wavelengths up to 1050 nanometers (nm)s from specially pulsed lasers can be seen by humans under certain conditions. IR wavelengths extend from the nominal red edge of the visible spectrum at 700 nanometers, to 1 millimeter (300 GHz). Most of the thermal radiation emitted by objects near room temperature is infrared. As with all EMR, IR carries radiant energy and behaves both like a wave and like its quantum particle, the photon.

Thermometer Device to measure temperature

A thermometer is a device that measures temperature or a temperature gradient. A thermometer has two important elements: (1) a temperature sensor in which some change occurs with a change in temperature; and (2) some means of converting this change into a numerical value. Thermometers are widely used in technology and industry to monitor processes, in meteorology, in medicine, and in scientific research.

Pyrometer remote-sensing thermometer used to measure high temperatures

A pyrometer is a type of remote-sensing thermometer used to measure the temperature of a surface. Various forms of pyrometers have historically existed. In the modern usage, it is a device that from a distance determines the temperature of a surface from the amount of the thermal radiation it emits, a process known as pyrometry and sometimes radiometry.

Bolometer device for measuring the power of incident electromagnetic radiation via the heating of a material with a temperature-dependent electrical resistance

A bolometer is a device for measuring the power of incident electromagnetic radiation via the heating of a material with a temperature-dependent electrical resistance. It was invented in 1878 by the American astronomer Samuel Pierpont Langley.

Thermal radiation electromagnetic radiation generated by the thermal motion of charged particles in matter

Thermal radiation is electromagnetic radiation generated by the thermal motion of particles in matter. All matter with a temperature greater than absolute zero emits thermal radiation. Particle motion results in charge-acceleration or dipole oscillation which produces electromagnetic radiation.

Thermographic camera device that forms an image using infrared radiation

A thermographic camera is a device that forms a heat zone image using infrared radiation, similar to a common camera that forms an image using visible light. Instead of the 400–700 nanometre range of the visible light camera, infrared cameras operate in wavelengths as long as 14,000 nm (14 μm). Their use is called thermography.

Thermography infrared imaging

Infrared thermography (IRT), thermal imaging, and thermal video are examples of infrared imaging science. Thermographic cameras usually detect radiation in the long-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum and produce images of that radiation, called thermograms. Since infrared radiation is emitted by all objects with a temperature above absolute zero according to the black body radiation law, thermography makes it possible to see one's environment with or without visible illumination. The amount of radiation emitted by an object increases with temperature; therefore, thermography allows one to see variations in temperature. When viewed through a thermal imaging camera, warm objects stand out well against cooler backgrounds; humans and other warm-blooded animals become easily visible against the environment, day or night. As a result, thermography is particularly useful to the military and other users of surveillance cameras.

Emissivity A physical quantity related to Thermal Radiation

The emissivity of the surface of a material is its effectiveness in emitting energy as thermal radiation. Thermal radiation is electromagnetic radiation and it may include both visible radiation (light) and infrared radiation, which is not visible to human eyes. The thermal radiation from very hot objects is easily visible to the eye. Quantitatively, emissivity is the ratio of the thermal radiation from a surface to the radiation from an ideal black surface at the same temperature as given by the Stefan–Boltzmann law. The ratio varies from 0 to 1. The surface of a perfect black body emits thermal radiation at the rate of approximately 448 watts per square metre at room temperature ; all real objects have emissivities less than 1.0, and emit radiation at correspondingly lower rates.

The mean radiant temperature (MRT) is defined as the uniform temperature of an imaginary enclosure in which the radiant heat transfer from the human body is equal to the radiant heat transfer in the actual non-uniform enclosure.

Passive infrared sensor electronic sensor that measures infrared light

A passive infrared sensor is an electronic sensor that measures infrared (IR) light radiating from objects in its field of view. They are most often used in PIR-based motion detectors. PIR sensors are commonly used in security alarms and automatic lighting applications. PIR sensors detect general movement, but do not give information on who or what moved. For that purpose, an active IR sensor is required.

Temperature measurement recording of temperature

Temperature measurement, also known as thermometry, describes the process of measuring a current local temperature for immediate or later evaluation. Datasets consisting of repeated standardized measurements can be used to assess temperature trends.

Disappearing-filament pyrometer

The disappearing-filament pyrometer is an optical pyrometer, in which the temperature of a glowing incandescent object is measured by comparing it to the light of a heated filament. Invented independently in 1901 by Ludwig Holborn and Ferdinand Kurlbaum in Germany and Harmon Northrup Morse in the United States, it was the first device which could measure temperatures above 1000 °C. Disappearing filament pyrometers have been used to measure temperatures between about 600 °C and 3000 °C. Like other optical pyrometers they are used to measure the temperature of objects too hot for contact thermometers, such as molten metals. Widely used in the steel and ceramics industries as well as for research, they have been almost totally superseded by electronic spectral-band pyrometers.

Proximity sensor sensor able to detect the presence of nearby objects without any physical contact

A proximity sensor is a sensor able to detect the presence of nearby objects without any physical contact.

A flame detector is a sensor designed to detect and respond to the presence of a flame or fire, allowing flame detection. Responses to a detected flame depend on the installation, but can include sounding an alarm, deactivating a fuel line, and activating a fire suppression system. When used in applications such as industrial furnaces, their role is to provide confirmation that the furnace is working properly; in these cases they take no direct action beyond notifying the operator or control system. A flame detector can often respond faster and more accurately than a smoke or heat detector due to the mechanisms it uses to detect the flame.

Infrared and thermal testing is one of many nondestructive testing techniques designated by the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT). Infrared thermography is the science of measuring and mapping surface temperatures.

"Infrared thermography, a nondestructive, remote sensing technique, has proved to be an effective, convenient, and economical method of testing concrete. It can detect internal voids, delaminations, and cracks in concrete structures such as bridge decks, highway pavements, garage floors, parking lot pavements, and building walls. As a testing technique, some of its most important qualities are that (1) it is accurate; (2) it is repeatable; (3) it need not inconvenience the public; and (4) it is economical."

ASTM Subcommittee E20.02 on Radiation Thermometry is a subcommittee of the ASTM Committee E20 on Temperature Measurement, a committee of ASTM International. The subcommittee is responsible for standards relating to radiation or infrared (IR) temperature measurement. E20.02's standards are published along with the rest of the E20's standards in the Annual Book of ASTM Standards, Volume 14.03.

Leslie cube

Leslie's cube is a device used in the measurement or demonstration of the variations in thermal radiation emitted from different surfaces at the same temperature. It was devised in 1804 by John Leslie (1766–1832), a Scottish mathematician and physicist. In the version of the experiment described by John Tyndall in the late 1800s, one of the cube's vertical sides is coated with a layer of gold, another with a layer of silver, a third with a layer of copper, while the fourth side is coated with a varnish of isinglass. The cube is made from a solid block of metal with a central cavity. In use, the cavity was filled with hot water; the entire cube has essentially the same temperature as the water. The thermal detector showed much greater emission from the side with varnish than from any of the other three sides.

Measuring instrument device for measuring a physical quantity

A measuring instrument is a device for measuring a physical quantity. In the physical sciences, quality assurance, and engineering, measurement is the activity of obtaining and comparing physical quantities of real-world objects and events. Established standard objects and events are used as units, and the process of measurement gives a number relating the item under study and the referenced unit of measurement. Measuring instruments, and formal test methods which define the instrument's use, are the means by which these relations of numbers are obtained. All measuring instruments are subject to varying degrees of instrument error and measurement uncertainty. These instruments may range from simple objects such as rulers and stopwatches to electron microscopes and particle accelerators. Virtual instrumentation is widely used in the development of modern measuring instruments.

Active thermography is an advanced nondestructive testing procedure, which uses a thermography measurement of a tested material thermal response after its external excitation. This principle can be used also for non-contact infrared non-destructive testing (IRNDT) of materials. The IRNDT method is based on an excitation of a tested material by an external source, which brings some energy to the material. Halogen lamps, flash-lamps, ultrasonic horn or other sources can be used as the excitation source for the IRNDT. The excitation causes a tested material thermal response, which is measured by an infrared camera. It is possible to obtain information about the tested material surface and sub-surface defects or material inhomogeneities by using a suitable combination of excitation source, excitation procedure, infrared camera and evaluation method.


  1. Thermal Imaging for Detecting Potential SARS Infection (also covers non-imaging infrared thermometers)
  2. "A Roissy, le "thermomètre laser" pour détecter Ebola". Libération. 2014-10-18. Retrieved 2014-10-18. A peine descendus d’avion, les passagers du vol Conakry-Paris ont été accueillis samedi avec des thermomètres laser pour détecter d’éventuels cas de fièvre, mesure la plus spectaculaire prise par le gouvernement pour prévenir l’éventuelle arrivée en France du virus Ebola
  3. "Infrared thermometers explained" (PDF). FireCraft
  4. Research & Development. Reed Business Information. 2004. p. 31.
  5. J. R. Barker (1 October 1985). Thermological methods. VCH. p. 192. ISBN   978-3-527-15168-4.
  6. Stefan-Boltzmann Law