So why ultrafast lasers are so ultrafast in damaging optics?

While the high laser-induced damage threshold (LIDT) is a buzzword when talking about femtosecond and picosecond optics, it is not (only) the nominal LIDT value that matters. Laser damage is a complex phenomenon and, while the result is the same – the optical component is ruined and not suitable for further use, there are different laser damage types and mechanisms. The main ones speaking about ultrafast optics are catastrophic damage and color change. Catastrophic damage causes light scattering, while color change affects the laser pulse shape and temporal characteristics.

The Problem

LIDT tests performed for a relatively small number of pulses may not illustrate this division of damage types. The color change is noticeable only after a number of pulses, thus it is important to replicate real-life applications in order to understand the real threshold of ultrafast optics.

The separation of laser damage modes – catastrophic and color-change – is evident when measuring standard optics with a higher number of pulses:

a) LIDT measurement of market-standard mirrors (not OPTOMAN product)
(LIDT >0.4 J/CM2 at 105 number of pulses)

b) LIDT measurement of market-standard high-power mirrors (not OPTOMAN product) 
(LIDT >0.3 J/CM2 at 105 number of pulses)

The measurements shown in graphs a) and b) above indicate that both types of damage are more likely to occur with an increasing number of pulses and that color-change damage occurs at lower fluence values compared to catastrophic damage. It can also be seen that color change is the dominant damage mechanism after prolonged radiation (>103 pulses), especially for high-power mirrors. At number of pulses as high as 105, fluence drops down to 0.4 J/CM2 for market-standart mirrors and even to 0.3 J/CM2 for high-power market-standart mirrors. This can be explained by the optical fatigue effect which causes degradation of coatings.


What separates standard mirrors from high-power ones is the choice of coating materials, as it is possible to increase the catastrophic damage threshold by choosing higher bandgap coating materials. However, the color-change effect still remains there working with ultrashort pulses of 10 ps and less. Therefore, it is clear that the color-change effect is an arch-enemy and a LIDT-limiting factor for ultrafast applications, and has to be eliminated in order to increase the lifetime of optics and reduce the total cost of ownership.

Beating Dr. Absorption

It is well known that absorption is the main cause of laser damage. However, we have noticed that color change caused by degradation of coatings is more sensitive to changes in absorption than catastrophic damage which mainly depends on the bandgap of materials (considering that the coating does not have absorptive defects). Even the slightest improvement in absorption can significantly reduce the fatigue effect and degradation process. OPTOMAN has accepted the challenge to do so.

Strategically working towards color-change elimination, OPTOMAN did a number of R&D runs, aiming to optimize coating design, coating parameters as well as pre- and post- coating processes. Eventually, OPTOMAN was able to reduce coating absorption down to ~1 ppm for the s-polarization component and ~2 ppm for the p-polarization component.

The graph shows longitudinal photothermal absorption measurement of HR mirror.

The Solution

The achievement of beating Dr. Absorption has paved the way for further actions. Having the coatings degradation challenge in mind, OPTOMAN has developed a product specifically optimized for ultrafast laser applications – SuperHero Power Mirrors featuring no color-change damage.

The LIDT of these mirrors is defined only by the catastrophic-damage values which have also been boosted and are higher than market-standard high-power mirrors.

The graphs show LIDT measurements of SuperHero Power Mirrors.

Find out more about SuperHero Power Mirrors here.


Also check OPTOSHOP for in-stock SuperHero Power Mirrors.