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This article is about the infrared imaging technique. For the printing technique called thermography, see thermographic printing

        Thermography, thermal imaging, or thermal video, is a type of infrared imaging. Thermographic cameras detect radiation in the infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum (roughly 900–14,000 nanometers or 0.9–14 µm) and produce images of that radiation. Since infrared radiation is emitted by all objects based on their temperatures, 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 (hence the name). When viewed by thermographic 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's extensive use can historically be ascribed to the military and security services.

Thermal imaging photography finds many other uses. For example, firefighters use it to see through smoke, find persons, and localize the base of a fire. With thermal imaging, power lines maintenance technicians locate overheating joints and parts, a telltale sign of their failure, to eliminate potential hazards. Where thermal insulation becomes faulty, building construction technicians can see heat leaks to improve the efficiencies of cooling or heating air-conditioning. Thermal imaging cameras are also installed in some luxury cars to aid the driver, the first being the 2000 Cadillac DeVille. Some physiological activities, particularly responses, in human beings and other warm-blooded animals can also be monitored with thermographic imaging. [1]

The appearance and operation of a modern thermographic camera is often similar to a camcorder. Enabling the user to see in the infrared spectrum is a function so useful that ability to record their output is often optional. A recording module is therefore not always built-in.

Instead of CCD sensors, most thermal imaging cameras use CMOS Focal Plane Array (FPA). The most common types are InSb, InGaAs, HgCdTe and QWIP FPA. The newest technologies are using low cost and uncooled microbolometers FPA sensors. Their resolution is considerably lower than of optical cameras, mostly 160x120 or 320x240 pixels, up to 640x512 for the most expensive models. Thermographic cameras are much more expensive than their visible-spectrum counterparts, and higher-end models are often export-restricted. Older bolometers or more sensitive models as InSb require cryogenic cooling, usually by a miniature Stirling cycle refrigerator or liquid nitrogen.

Additional recommended knowledge


Difference between IR film and thermography

Thermal imaging is going to be used on Mars to detect caves that could hold life.

Advantages of Thermography

  • You get a visual picture so that you can compare temperatures over a large area
  • It is real time capable of catching moving targets
  • Able to find deteriorating components prior to failure
  • Measurement in areas inaccessible or hazardous for other methods
  • It is a non-destructive test method

Limitations & disadvantages of thermography

  • Quality cameras are expensive and are easily damaged
  • Images can be hard to interpret accurately even with experience
  • Accurate temperature measurements are very hard to make because of emissivities
  • Most cameras have ±2% or worse accuracy (not as accurate as contact)
  • Training and staying proficient in IR scanning is time consuming
  • Ability to only measure surface areas


  • Condition monitoring
  • Medical imaging
  • Research
  • Process control
  • Non destructive testing
  • Chemical imaging

Thermal infrared imagers convert the energy in the infrared wavelength into a visible light video display. All objects above 0 kelvins emit thermal infrared energy so thermal imagers can passively see all objects regardless of ambient light. However, most thermal imagers only see objects warmer than -50 °C.

The spectrum and amount of thermal radiation depend strongly on an object's surface temperature. This makes it possible for a thermal camera to display an object's temperature. However, other factors also influence the radiation, which limits the accuracy of this technique. For example, the radiation depends not only on the temperature of the object, but is also a function of the emissivity of the object. Also, radiation also originates from the surroundings and is reflected in the object, and the radiation from the object and the reflected radiation will also be influenced by the absorption of the atmosphere.

See also

History of thermal imager manufacturers

  • History of AIM thermal imaging
  • History of Texas Instruments/DRS Thermal imaging
  • History of Raytheon Commercial Infrared/L-3 Communications thermal imaging
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Thermography". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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