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Greenlight Optics
Laser Pointers: Colors and Uses
Tuesday, June 10, 2014

“Light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.” This is the literal definition behind the word laser. In our world’s current technological state, lasers come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Movies have even turned lasers into weapons in the form of light sabers. One common form of lasers is the laser pointer. While red may be the most common color (and no, it doesn’t mean the holder is evil like Darth Vader), there are multiple colors of laser pointers — all with different intended uses.

As red is the most well known color and is where we shall start. Red laser pointers are common because they are typically the least expensive ones to make. Deep red laser diodes start near 650 nanometers wavelength. Orange-ish colored ones start around 635-nanometer wavelength. Laser diodes, which are the most common type of lasers produced, are semiconductors electrically pumped. Red or red-orange are simple to produce because laser diodes are easily available in these colors.  

While it seems red lasers may not be used much anymore save for that professional presentation, there have been advances in their technology in recent years. Some newly designed red pointers take advantage of diode-pumped solid-state lasers (DPSSL). DPSSLs are solid-state lasers (in case you couldn’t guess). Pumping a solid gain medium, such as a ruby, with a laser diode, makes DPSSLs. What makes this technology special is the compactness and efficiency DPSSLs have to offer. This form of laser in its high power form can replace ion lasers in certain scientific ventures. Heck, even other color laser pointers are taking advantage of this technology. 

Green lasers have become a popular color in the beginning of the 21st century. The wavelength spectrum for green is around 520-570 nanometers. The most common type of green pointers is also DPSSLs. However, laser diodes are not commonly available in the spectrum of green light. Making things a little bit more complicated, green light is created by high power infrared laser diode. Some green pointers operate in quasi-continuous wave mode, which is to help extend battery life and reduce heat. Like any lasers, pointing a green laser at one’s eye can be extremely dangerous and can causer permanent retinal damage. 

Humans can more easily see the beam of a green laser than a red laser because the human eye is more sensitive at low light levels, which are levels in the green region of the light spectrum. That being said, green pointers are excellent for pointing out objects that are very far away, as a person can easily follow the laser’s beam in its entirety. Currently, many astronomers use green laser pointers to indicate the locations of stars to people, as certain types of green pointers can be visible for thousands of feet. Green lasers that operate under milliwatts (mW) are powerful enough to light matches and pop balloons.

Blue is the up-and-coming color in the laser pointer world. The common wavelength is 473 nanometers, and those blue pointers have a similar composition to their green counterparts. The wavelength for these pointers is 360-480 nanometers. There are gas lasers and semiconductor laser diodes with blue beams. Some blue lasers that emit light below 445 nanometers actually appear violet in color. 

The common usage of blue lasers is seen in Blu-ray players. (OK, actually Blu-rays use violet lasers, but those violet lasers function at 405 nanometers, which makes them barely visible at that wavelength.) Another use of blue lasers can be seen in medical applications. Cystoscopy, a test used to detect bladder cancer, has incorporated using blue lasers during the procedure. But also like their green counterparts, blue pointers can be potent enough to pop balloons, meaning you should take precautions when using these powerful pointers. 

While these are just the popular laser pointer colors, who knows what color modern technology will produce next? Maybe rainbow lasers will be the next big thing!


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