Optical coatings

Optical coatings with different properties

The most common applications for optical coatings involve mirroring (increasing the reflection) or anti-reflection (reducing the reflection) of optical surfaces as well as producing optical filters (changes in reflection based on wavelength). A distinction can be made between optical systems with metal coatings and optical systems based on dielectric coatings.

High-reflective (HR) metal coatings

The reflectivity of metal films is essentially determined by the optical properties of the metals themselves. Examples of optical metals are aluminium, chromium, gold, copper or titanium.   

Uniformly high level of reflectivity in the UV, VIS and IR ranges

  • Aluminium (Al)

Highest reflectivity in the VIS range

  • Silver (Ag)  

Highest reflectivity in the IR range

  • Gold (Au)
  • Copper (Cu)

It only takes a layer of gold about 50 nm thick to achieve partial transparency in the visible light range and at the same time high reflectivity in the IR range, and this fact can be used to good advantage in coatings on heat protection visors or protective goggles for welding.

Anti-reflective (AR) dielectric coatings

An easy way to apply an anti-reflective coating to glass surfaces consists in the sputtering or vapour deposition of what is called a λ/4 layer of, for example, magnesium fluorite (MgF2). If the layer thickness d is determined according to formula d = λ/(​4 x n), where n is the refractive index of the layer material, then the light waves of wavelength λ reflected at the two boundary surfaces (air/coating and coating/glass) cancel each other out by destructive interference. The result is a reduction of the reflection.

Another possibility, for example, is the deposition of triple layers with n (air) < n1 < n2 < n3 < n (glass). In this case, the anti-reflective effect is achieved by well-chosen refractive indices, which produce a gradual transition of the refractive index of air into that of glass (gradient layer).

Systems with multiple layers will need to be used to produce complex optical coatings that minimize reflections to the greatest possible extent and at the same time maximize the transmission of light waves. In general, these multi-layer coatings consist of alternating layers of low- and high-refractive index materials with a precise layer thickness. The many boundary surfaces and their associated reflections in the layer system lead to interference, destructive as well as constructive, and determine the optical effect.

Low-index dielectrics

  • Magnesium fluorite (MgF2) with n = 1.38
  • Silicon oxide (SiO2) with n = 1.46
  • Aluminium oxide (Al2O3) with n = 1.67   

High-index dielectrics

  • Titanium oxide (TiO2) with n = 2.55
  • Tantalum oxide (Ta2O5) with n = 2.20
  • Zirconium oxide (ZrO2) with n = 2.15
  • Silicon nitride (Si3N4) with n = 2.05

Filter coatings

Wavelength-selective filter coatings are based on interference layer systems constructed of high- and low-index dielectric materials (see above). For demanding, narrow-band filter applications, the stacks of optical layers can consist of a hundred individual layers or more, with the highest requirements for the uniformity of the individual layer thicknesses (special filter design). Please read more about it on our page FHR.Star-EOSS®.

FHR Anlagenbau has sputtering techniques suitable for the deposition of dielectric layers, including medium frequency sputtering (MF), high frequency sputtering (HF ), pulsed DC sputtering and reactive sputtering.

Coating materials

All materials, sizes and shapes, optionally bonded