Laser pointer

Laser pointer

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A laser pointer or laser pen is a small portable device with a power source (usually a battery) and a laser
A laser is a device that emits light through a process of optical amplification based on the stimulated emission of photons. The term "laser" originated as an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation...

 emitting a very narrow coherent
Coherence (physics)
In physics, coherence is a property of waves that enables stationary interference. More generally, coherence describes all properties of the correlation between physical quantities of a wave....

 low-powered beam of visible light, intended to be used to highlight something of interest by illuminating it with a small bright spot of colored light. Power is restricted in most jurisdictions not to exceed 5 mW.

The small width of the beam and low power of typical laser pointers make the beam itself invisible in a reasonably clean atmosphere, only showing a point of light when striking an opaque surface. Some higher-powered laser pointers project a visible beam via scattering from dust particles or water droplets along the beam path. Higher-power and higher-frequency green or blue lasers may produce a beam visible even in clean air because of Rayleigh scattering
Rayleigh scattering
Rayleigh scattering, named after the British physicist Lord Rayleigh, is the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light. The particles may be individual atoms or molecules. It can occur when light travels through...

 from air molecules, especially when viewed in moderately-to-dimly lit conditions. The intensity of such scattering increases when these beams are viewed from angles near the beam axis. Such pointers, particularly in the green-light output range, are used as astronomical-object pointers for teaching purposes.

The recent low-cost availability of infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 (IR) diode laser modules of up to 1000 mW (1 watt) output has created a generation of IR-pumped frequency-doubled (DPSS) laser pointers in green, blue, and violet, of higher visible power, typically up to 300 mW. Because the IR-laser component in the beams of these visible lasers is difficult to filter out, and also because filtering it contributes extra heat which is difficult to dissipate in a small pocket "laser pointer" package, it is often left as a beam component in cheaper high-power pointers. This invisible laser light component causes a degree of extra potential hazard in these devices when pointed at nearby objects and persons.

Laser pointers make a potent signaling tool, even in daylight, and are able to produce a bright signal for potential search and rescue vehicles using an inexpensive, small and lightweight device of the type that could be routinely carried in a emergency kit.

Laser pointers if aimed at a person's eyes can cause temporary disturbances to vision. There is some evidence of rare minor permanent harm, but low-powered laser pointers are not seriously hazardous to health. They may be a major annoyance in some circumstances. A dot of light from a red laser pointer may be thought to be due to a laser gunsight, causing outrage and possible danger. When pointed at aircraft at night, laser pointers may dazzle and distract pilots, and increasingly strict laws have been passed to ban this.

Colors and wavelengths

Early laser pointers were helium–neon (HeNe) gas lasers and generated laser radiation at 633 nanometer (nm), usually designed to produce a laser beam with an output power under 1 milliwatt (mW). The least expensive laser pointers use a deep red laser diode
Laser diode
The laser diode is a laser where the active medium is a semiconductor similar to that found in a light-emitting diode. The most common type of laser diode is formed from a p-n junction and powered by injected electric current...

 near the 670/650 nanometers (nm) wavelength
In physics, the wavelength of a sinusoidal wave is the spatial period of the wave—the distance over which the wave's shape repeats.It is usually determined by considering the distance between consecutive corresponding points of the same phase, such as crests, troughs, or zero crossings, and is a...

. Slightly more expensive ones use a red-orange 635 nm diode, more easily visible because of the greater sensitivity of the human eye at 635 nm. Other colors are possible too, with the 532 nm green laser being the most common alternative. Yellow-orange laser pointers, at 593.5 nm, later became available. In September 2005 handheld blue laser pointers at 473 nm became available. In early 2010 "Blu-ray" (actually violet) laser pointers at 405 nm went on sale.

The apparent brightness of a spot from a laser beam depends on the optical power of the laser, the reflectivity of the surface, and the chromatic response of the human eye
Human eye
The human eye is an organ which reacts to light for several purposes. As a conscious sense organ, the eye allows vision. Rod and cone cells in the retina allow conscious light perception and vision including color differentiation and the perception of depth...

. For the same optical power, green laser light will seem brighter than other colors because the human eye is most sensitive at low light levels in the green region of the spectrum (wavelength 520–570 nm). Sensitivity decreases for redder or bluer wavelengths.

The output power of a laser pointer is usually stated in milliwatts (mW). In the U.S. lasers are classified by the American National Standards Institute
American National Standards Institute
The American National Standards Institute is a private non-profit organization that oversees the development of voluntary consensus standards for products, services, processes, systems, and personnel in the United States. The organization also coordinates U.S. standards with international...

 and Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

 (FDA). Visible laser pointers (400–700 nm) operating at less than 1 mW power are Class 2 or II, and visible laser pointers operating with 1–5 mW power are Class 3A or IIIa. Class 3B or IIIb lasers generate between 5 and 500 mW; Class 4 or IV lasers generate more than 500 mW. The US FDA Code of Federal Regulations
Code of Federal Regulations
The Code of Federal Regulations is the codification of the general and permanent rules and regulations published in the Federal Register by the executive departments and agencies of the Federal Government of the United States.The CFR is published by the Office of the Federal Register, an agency...

 stipulates that "demonstration laser products" such as pointers must comply with applicable requirements for Class I, IIa, II, or IIIa devices

Red and red-orange

These are the simplest pointers, as laser diodes are available in these wavelengths. The pointer is no more than a battery-powered laser diode. The first red laser pointers released in the early 1980s were large, unwieldy devices that sold for hundreds of dollars. Today, they are much smaller and generally cost very little. In recent years, diode-pumped solid-state (DPSS) red laser pointers emitting at 671 nm became available. Although this wavelength can be obtained directly with an inexpensive laser diode, higher beam quality and narrower spectral bandwidth are achieved through DPSS.


Yellow laser pointers emitting at 593.5 nm became available in the last few years. Although they are based on the DPSS process, in this case two lasing lines of the ND:YVO4, 1064 nm and 1342 nm, are summed together with a nonlinear crystal. The complexity of this process makes these laser pointers inherently unstable and inefficient, with their outputs ranging from 1 mW to about 10 mW, varying a lot with temperature and usually mode-hopping if they get too hot or too cold. That is because such a complex process may require temperature stabilizers and active cooling, which can't be mounted into a small sized host. Also, most smaller 593.5 nm pointers work in pulsed mode so they can use smaller and less powerful pumping diodes.


Green laser pointers appeared on the market circa 2000, and are the most common type of DPSS lasers (also called DPSSFD for "diode pumped solid state frequency-doubled"). They are more complicated than standard red laser pointers, because laser diode
Laser diode
The laser diode is a laser where the active medium is a semiconductor similar to that found in a light-emitting diode. The most common type of laser diode is formed from a p-n junction and powered by injected electric current...

s are not commonly available in this wavelength range. The green light is generated in an indirect process, beginning with a high-power (typically 100–300 mW) infrared
Infrared light is electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength longer than that of visible light, measured from the nominal edge of visible red light at 0.74 micrometres , and extending conventionally to 300 µm...

 AlGaAs laser diode operating at 808 nm. The 808 nm light pumps
Laser pumping
Laser pumping is the act of energy transfer from an external source into the gain medium of a laser. The energy is absorbed in the medium, producing excited states in its atoms. When the number of particles in one excited state exceeds the number of particles in the ground state or a less-excited...

 a crystal of neodymium-doped yttrium aluminum vanadate (Nd:YVO4) (or Nd:YAG
Yttrium aluminium garnet
Yttrium aluminium garnet is a synthetic crystalline material of the garnet group. It is also one of three phases of the yttria-aluminium composite, the other two being yttrium aluminium monoclinic and yttrium aluminium perovskite . YAG is commonly used as a host material in various solid-state...

 or less common Nd:YLF
Neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride
Neodymium-doped yttrium lithium fluoride is a lasing medium for arclamp-pumped and diode-pumped solid-state lasers. The YLF crystal is naturally birefringent, and commonly-used laser transitions occur at 1047 nm and 1053 nm....

), which lases deeper in the infrared at 1064 nm. The vanadate crystal is coated on the diode side with a dielectric mirror
Dielectric mirror
A dielectric mirror is a type of a mirror composed of multiple thin layers of dielectric material, typically deposited on a substrate of glass or some other optical material. By careful choice of the type and thickness of the dielectric layers, one can design an optical coating with specified...

 that reflects at 808 nm and transmits at 1064 nm. The crystal is mounted on a copper
Copper is a chemical element with the symbol Cu and atomic number 29. It is a ductile metal with very high thermal and electrical conductivity. Pure copper is soft and malleable; an exposed surface has a reddish-orange tarnish...

 block, acting as a heat sink
Heat sink
A heat sink is a term for a component or assembly that transfers heat generated within a solid material to a fluid medium, such as air or a liquid. Examples of heat sinks are the heat exchangers used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems and the radiator in a car...

; its 1064 nm output is fed into a crystal of potassium titanyl phosphate
Potassium titanyl phosphate
Potassium titanyl phosphate or KTP is a nonlinear optical material which is commonly used for frequency doubling diode pumped solid-state lasers such as Nd:YAG and other neodymium-doped lasers. The material has a relatively high optical damage threshold , a great optical nonlinearity and excellent...

 (KTP), mounted on a heat sink
Heat sink
A heat sink is a term for a component or assembly that transfers heat generated within a solid material to a fluid medium, such as air or a liquid. Examples of heat sinks are the heat exchangers used in refrigeration and air conditioning systems and the radiator in a car...

 in the laser cavity resonator
Optical cavity
An optical cavity or optical resonator is an arrangement of mirrors that forms a standing wave cavity resonator for light waves. Optical cavities are a major component of lasers, surrounding the gain medium and providing feedback of the laser light. They are also used in optical parametric...

. The orientation of the crystals must be matched, as they are both anisotropic and the Nd:YVO4 outputs polarized light. This unit acts as a frequency doubler, and halves the wavelength to the desired 532 nm. The resonant cavity is terminated by a dielectric mirror that reflects at 1064 nm and transmits at 532 nm. An infrared filter behind the mirror removes IR radiation from the output beam (this may be omitted or inadequate in less-expensive "pointer-style" green lasers), and the assembly ends in a collimator
A collimator is a device that narrows a beam of particles or waves. To "narrow" can mean either to cause the directions of motion to become more aligned in a specific direction or to cause the spatial cross section of the beam to become smaller.- Optical collimators :In optics, a collimator may...


Nd:YVO4 is replacing Nd:YAG and Nd:YLF because of lower dependency on the exact parameters of the pump diode (therefore allowing for higher tolerances), wider absorption band, lower lasing threshold
Lasing threshold
The lasing threshold is the lowest excitation level at which a laser's output is dominated by stimulated emission rather than by spontaneous emission. Below the threshold, the laser's output power rises slowly with increasing excitation. Above threshold, the slope of power vs. excitation is orders...

, higher slope efficiency
Slope efficiency
The slope efficiency is an important property of a laser. It is obtained by plotting the laser output power against the input pump power. Above the lasing threshold, the resulting curve is usually close to a straight line. The slope efficiency is the slope of this line. Slope efficiency can...

, linear polarization
Linear polarization
In electrodynamics, linear polarization or plane polarization of electromagnetic radiation is a confinement of the electric field vector or magnetic field vector to a given plane along the direction of propagation...

 of output light, and single mode output. For frequency doubling of higher power lasers, LBO
Lithium triborate
Lithium triborate LBO is a non-linear optics crystal. It has a wide transparency range, moderately high nonlinear coupling, high damage threshold and desirable chemical and mechanical properties. This crystal is often used for second harmonic generation of Nd:YAG lasers...

 is used instead of KTP
Potassium titanyl phosphate
Potassium titanyl phosphate or KTP is a nonlinear optical material which is commonly used for frequency doubling diode pumped solid-state lasers such as Nd:YAG and other neodymium-doped lasers. The material has a relatively high optical damage threshold , a great optical nonlinearity and excellent...

. Newer lasers use a composite Nd:YVO4/KTP crystal instead of two discrete ones.

Some green lasers operate in pulse or quasi-continuous wave (QCW) mode, to reduce cooling problems and prolong battery life.

The recent announcement of a direct green laser (not requiring doubling) promises much higher efficiencies and could foster the development of new color video projectors.

Because even a low-powered green laser is visible at night through Rayleigh scattering
Rayleigh scattering
Rayleigh scattering, named after the British physicist Lord Rayleigh, is the elastic scattering of light or other electromagnetic radiation by particles much smaller than the wavelength of the light. The particles may be individual atoms or molecules. It can occur when light travels through...

 from air molecules, this type of pointer is used by astronomers to easily point out stars and constellations. Green laser pointers can come in a variety of different output powers. The 5 mW green laser pointers (class llla) are the safest to use, and anything more powerful is usually not necessary for pointing purposes since the beam is still visible in dark lighting conditions.


Blue laser pointers usually have the same basic construction as DPSS green lasers. In 2006 many factories began production of blue laser modules for mass storage devices, and these were used in laser pointers too. These were DPSS type frequency-doubled devices. They most commonly emit a beam at 473 nm, which is produced by frequency doubling of 946 nm laser radiation from a diode-pumped Nd:YAG or Nd:YVO4 crystal (Nd-doped crystals usually produce a principal wavelength of 1064 nm, but with the proper reflective coating mirrors can be also made to lase at other "higher harmonic" non-principal neodymium wavelengths). For high output power BBO
Beta Barium Borate
Beta barium borate is a crystal frequently used for frequency mixing and other nonlinear optics applications...

 crystals are used as frequency doublers; for lower powers, KTP
Potassium titanyl phosphate
Potassium titanyl phosphate or KTP is a nonlinear optical material which is commonly used for frequency doubling diode pumped solid-state lasers such as Nd:YAG and other neodymium-doped lasers. The material has a relatively high optical damage threshold , a great optical nonlinearity and excellent...

 is used. The Japanese company Nichia controlled 80% of the blue laser diode market in 2006.

Some vendors are now selling blue laser pointers with claimed powers exceeding 1,500 mW. However, since the claimed-power of "laser pointer" products also includes the IR power still present in the beam (for reasons discussed below), comparisons on the basis of strictly visual-blue component from DPSS-type lasers remain problematic, and the information is often not available. Because of the higher neodymium harmonic used, and the lower efficiency of frequency-doubling conversion, the fraction of IR power converted to 473 nm blue laser light in optimally configured DPSS modules is typically 10–13%, about half that typical for green lasers (20–30%).

Blue lasers can also be fabricated directly with InGaN
Ingan is a village in the Punjab province of Pakistan....

 semiconductors, which produce blue light without frequency-doubling. 450 nm blue laser diodes are currently available on the open market. The devices are brighter for the same power than 405 nm violet laser diodes, since the longer wavelength is closer to the peak sensitivity of the human eye. Mass production of laser diodes for commercial devices like laser projectors
Laser video projector
A laser video projector is a video projector that modulates a laser beam in order to project a raster-based image. The systems work either by scanning the entire picture a dot at a time and modulating the laser directly at high frequency, much like the electron beams in a CRT, or by optically...

 have driven down prices.


Lasers emitting a violet light beam at 405 nm may be constructed with GaN (gallium nitride) semiconductors. This is close to ultraviolet, bordering on the very extreme of human vision, and can cause bright blue fluorescence
Fluorescence is the emission of light by a substance that has absorbed light or other electromagnetic radiation of a different wavelength. It is a form of luminescence. In most cases, emitted light has a longer wavelength, and therefore lower energy, than the absorbed radiation...

, and thus a blue rather than violet spot, on many white surfaces, including white clothing, white paper, and projection screens, due to the widespread use of optical brightener
Optical brightener
Optical brighteners, optical brightening agents , fluorescent brightening agents or fluorescent whitening agents are dyes that absorb light in the ultraviolet and violet region of the electromagnetic spectrum, and re-emit light in the blue region...

s in the manufacture of products intended to appear brilliantly white. On ordinary non-fluorescent materials, and also on fog or dust, the color appears as a shade of deep violet that cannot be reproduced on monitors and print. A GaN laser emits 405 nm directly without a frequency doubler, eliminating the possibility of accidental dangerous infrared emission. These laser diodes are mass-produced for the reading and writing of data in Blu-ray drives (although the light emitted by the diodes is not blue, but distinctly violet). , 405 nm blue-violet laser diode modules with an optical power of 250 mW, based on GaN violet laser diodes made for Blu-ray disc readers, had reached the market from Chinese sources for prices of about US$60 including delivery.

At the same time, a few higher-powered (120 mW) 404–405 nm "violet" laser pointers have become available which are not based on GaN, but use DPSS frequency-doubler technology from 1 watt 808 nm GaAlAs infrared diode lasers. As with infrared-driven green laser pointers above, such devices are able to pop balloons and light matches, but this is as a result of an unfiltered high-power infrared component in the beam. See the section on hazards below, for the difficulties with frequency-doubled IR-pumped lasers.


Laser pointers are often used in educational and business presentation
Presentation is the practice of showing and explaining the content of a topic to an audience or learner. Presentations come in nearly as many forms as there are life situations...

s and visual demonstrations as an eye-catching pointing device. Red laser pointers can be used in almost any indoor or low-light situation where pointing out details by hand may be inconvenient, such as in construction
In the fields of architecture and civil engineering, construction is a process that consists of the building or assembling of infrastructure. Far from being a single activity, large scale construction is a feat of human multitasking...

 work or interior decorating. Green laser pointers can be used for similar purposes as well as outdoors in daylight or for longer distances.

Laser pointers are used in a wide range of applications. Green laser pointers can also be used for amateur astronomy
Amateur astronomy
Amateur astronomy, also called backyard astronomy and stargazing, is a hobby whose participants enjoy watching the night sky , and the plethora of objects found in it, mainly with portable telescopes and binoculars...

. On a moonless night, a green laser pointer beam can often be clearly seen, allowing someone to accurately point out individual stars to others nearby. Also, these green laser pointers are commonly used by astronomers worldwide at star parties or for conducting lectures in astronomy. Astronomy laser pointers are also commonly mounted on telescopes in order to align the telescope to a specific star or location. Laser alignment is much easier than aligning through using the eyepiece.

Industrial and research use

Laser pointers are used in industry. For instance, construction companies may use high quality laser pointers to enhance the accuracy of showing specific distances, while working on large-scale projects. They proved to be useful in this type of business because of their accuracy, which made them significant time-savers. What is essentially a laser pointer may be built into an infrared thermometer
Infrared thermometer
Infrared thermometers infer temperature using a portion of the thermal radiation sometimes called blackbody radiation emitted by the object of measurement. They are sometimes called laser thermometers if a laser is used to help aim the thermometer, or non-contact thermometers to describe the...

 to identify where it is pointing, or be part of a laser level
Laser level
In surveying and construction, the laser level is affixed to a tripod, leveled and then spun to illuminate a horizontal plane. The laser beam projector employs a rotating head with a mirror for sweeping the laser beam about a vertical axis. If the mirror is not self-leveling, it is provided with...

 or other apparatus.

They may also be helpful in scientific research in fields such as photonics
The science of photonics includes the generation, emission, transmission, modulation, signal processing, switching, amplification, detection and sensing of light. The term photonics thereby emphasizes that photons are neither particles nor waves — they are different in that they have both particle...

, chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

, physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

, and medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....


Leisure and entertainment

Entertainment consists of any activity which provides a diversion or permits people to amuse themselves in their leisure time. Entertainment is generally passive, such as watching opera or a movie. Active forms of amusement, such as sports, are more often considered to be recreation...

 is one of the other applications that have been found for lasers. The most common use of lasers in entertainment can be seen in special effects used in laser shows. Clubs, parties and outdoor concerts all use high-power lasers, with safety precautions, as a spectacle. Laser shows are often extravagant, using lenses
Lens (optics)
A lens is an optical device with perfect or approximate axial symmetry which transmits and refracts light, converging or diverging the beam. A simple lens consists of a single optical element...

, mirrors and smoke
Smoke is a collection of airborne solid and liquid particulates and gases emitted when a material undergoes combustion or pyrolysis, together with the quantity of air that is entrained or otherwise mixed into the mass. It is commonly an unwanted by-product of fires , but may also be used for pest...


However, laser pointers have few applications beyond actual pointing in the wider entertainment industry, and many venues ban entry to those in possession of pointers as a potential hazard. Very occasionally laser gloves, which are sometimes mistaken for pointers, are seen being worn by professional dancers on stage at shows. Unlike pointers, these usually produce low-power highly divergent beams to ensure eye safety. On one or two occasions pointers have been used as props by magicians during magic shows.

As an example of the potential dangers of laser pointers brought in by audience members, at the Tomorrow Land Festival in Belgium in 2009, laser pointers brought in by members of the audience of 200 mW or greater were found to be the cause of eye damage suffered by several other members of the audience according to reports about the incident filed on the ILDA (International Laser Display Association's) Web site:. The report says that the incident was investigated by several independent authorities, including the Belgium police, and that those authorities concluded that pointers brought in by the audience were the cause of the injuries.

Laser pointers can be used in hiking
Hiking is an outdoor activity which consists of walking in natural environments, often in mountainous or other scenic terrain. People often hike on hiking trails. It is such a popular activity that there are numerous hiking organizations worldwide. The health benefits of different types of hiking...

 or outdoor activities. Higher-powered laser pointers are bright enough to scare away large wild animals
Wildlife includes all non-domesticated plants, animals and other organisms. Domesticating wild plant and animal species for human benefit has occurred many times all over the planet, and has a major impact on the environment, both positive and negative....

 which makes them useful for hiking and camping. In these circumstances a laser pointer can also serve as a handy survival tool, as it can be used as a rescue signal in emergencies which is visible to aircraft and other parties, during both day and night conditions, at extreme distances. For example, during the night in August 2010 two men and a boy were rescued from marshland after their red laser pen was spotted by rescue teams.

Weapons systems

Accurately aligned laser pointers are used as laser gunsights to aim a firearm
A firearm is a weapon that launches one, or many, projectile at high velocity through confined burning of a propellant. This subsonic burning process is technically known as deflagration, as opposed to supersonic combustion known as a detonation. In older firearms, the propellant was typically...


Some militaries use lasers to mark targets at night for aircraft. This is done to ensure that "friendly" and "enemy" targets are not mistaken. A friendly target may wear an IR emitting device that is only visible to those utilizing night vision (such as pilots.) To pinpoint the exact location of an enemy combatant, they would simply illuminate the target with a laser beam detectable by the attacking aircraft. This can be one of the most accurate ways of marking targets.


Laser pointers can cause eye injuries directly, and dangerous situations by distraction. , in spite of the very large number of pointers, and many incidents of malicious or careless use, no very serious and permanent eye injuries have been reported from low-power pointers, nor have any aviation or other accidents actually been reported to be caused by them, although the risk is clearly real.

Malicious use

Laser pointers, with their very long range, are often maliciously shone at people to distract or annoy them. This is considered particularly hazardous in the case of aircraft pilots, who may be dazzled or distracted at critical times. According to an MSNBC report there were over 2,836 incidents logged in the US by the FAA in 2010. The use of laser pointers is often frowned upon by members of the laser projector community who fear that their misuse may result in legislation affecting lasers designed to be placed within projectors and used within the entertainment industry. Others involved in activities where dazzling or distraction are dangerous are also a concern.

Shining lasers at aircraft is illegal in many jurisdictions.

Another distressing and potentially dangerous misuse of laser pointers is to use them when the dot may reasonably be mistaken for that of a laser gunsight. Armed police
The police is a personification of the state designated to put in practice the enforced law, protect property and reduce civil disorder in civilian matters. Their powers include the legitimized use of force...

 have drawn their weapons in such circumstances.

These situations can, of course, occur unintentionally when a laser pointer is held in the hand.

Eye injury

The output of laser pointers available to the general public is limited (and varies by country) in order to prevent accidental damage to the retina
The vertebrate retina is a light-sensitive tissue lining the inner surface of the eye. The optics of the eye create an image of the visual world on the retina, which serves much the same function as the film in a camera. Light striking the retina initiates a cascade of chemical and electrical...

 of human eye
Human eye
The human eye is an organ which reacts to light for several purposes. As a conscious sense organ, the eye allows vision. Rod and cone cells in the retina allow conscious light perception and vision including color differentiation and the perception of depth...

s. The U.K. Health Protection Agency
Health Protection Agency
The Health Protection Agency, or, in Welsh, Yr Asiantaeth Diogelu Iechyd is a statutory corporation. It is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards...

 recommended that "laser pointers generally available to the public should be restricted to less than 1 milliwatt as no injuries [like the one reported below to have caused retinal damage] have been reported at this power". In the U.S., regulatory authorities allow lasers up to 5 mW.

Studies have found that even laser beams of not more than 5 mW can cause permanent retinal
Retinal, also called retinaldehyde or vitamin A aldehyde, is one of the many forms of vitamin A . Retinal is a polyene chromophore, and bound to proteins called opsins, is the chemical basis of animal vision...

 damage in a few seconds, but in practice it is not possible to stare at such a bright light for more than an instant; laser pointers have caused afterimage, flashblindness and glare, but not permanent damage, and are generally safe
Laser safety
Laser safety is safe design, use and implementation of lasers to minimize the risk of laser accidents, especially those involving eye injuries. Since even relatively small amounts of laser light can lead to permanent eye injuries, the sale and usage of lasers is typically subject to government...

 to use.

A high-powered green laser pointer bought over the Internet
The Internet is a global system of interconnected computer networks that use the standard Internet protocol suite to serve billions of users worldwide...

 was reported in 2010 to have caused a decrease of visual acuity
Visual acuity
Visual acuity is acuteness or clearness of vision, which is dependent on the sharpness of the retinal focus within the eye and the sensitivity of the interpretative faculty of the brain....

 from 6/6 to 6/12; after two months acuity recovered to 6/6, but some retinal damage remained. The US FDA issued a warning after two anecdotal reports it received of eye injury from laser pointers.

Laser pointers available for purchase online can be capable of significantly higher power output than the pointers typically available in stores. Dubbed "Burning Lasers", these are designed to burn through light plastics and paper, and can have very similar external appearances to their low-power counterparts.

Studies in the early twentyfirst century found that the risk to the human eye from accidental exposure to light from commercially available class IIIa laser pointers having powers up to 5 mW seemed rather small; however, prolonged viewing, such as deliberate staring into the beam for 10 or more seconds, can cause damage.

The UK Health Protection Agency warns against the higher-power typically green laser pointers available over the Internet, with power output of up to a few hundred milliwatts, as "extremely dangerous and not suitable for sale to the public."

Infrared hazards of DPSS laser pointers

Lasers classified as pointers are intended to have outputs less than 5 mW total power (Class 3R
Laser safety
Laser safety is safe design, use and implementation of lasers to minimize the risk of laser accidents, especially those involving eye injuries. Since even relatively small amounts of laser light can lead to permanent eye injuries, the sale and usage of lasers is typically subject to government...

). At such power levels, an IR filter for a DPSS laser may not be required as the infrared (IR) output is relatively low and the brightness of the visible wavelength of the laser will cause the eye to react (blink reflex). However, higher-powered (> 5 mW) DPSS-type laser pointers have recently become available, usually through sources that do not follow laser safety regulations for laser packaging and labeling. These higher-powered lasers are often packaged in the same pointer-style housings as regular laser pointers, and usually lack the IR filters found in professional high-powered DPSS lasers, because of costs and additional efforts needed to accommodate them.

Though the IR from a DPSS laser is less collimated, the typical neodymium-doped crystals in such lasers do produce a true IR laser beam. The eye will usually react to the higher-powered visible light; however in higher power DPSS lasers the IR laser output can be significant. What poses a special hazard for this unfiltered IR output is its presence in conjunction with laser safety goggles designed to only block the visible wavelengths of the laser. Red goggles, for example, will block most green light from entering the eyes, but will pass IR light. The reduced light behind the goggles may also cause the pupils to dilate, increasing the hazard to the invisible IR light. Dual-frequency so-called YAG laser eye-wear is significantly more expensive than single frequency laser eye-wear, and is often not supplied with unfiltered DPSS pointer style lasers, which output 1064 nm IR laser light as well. These potentially hazardous lasers produce little or no visible beam when shown through the eye-wear supplied with them, yet their IR-laser output can still be easily seen when viewed with an IR-sensitive video camera.

In addition to the safety hazards of unfiltered IR from DPSS lasers, the IR output of unfiltered lasers may also be unscrupulously included in power figures for lasers, including the ability for lasers to burn.

Though green (532 nm) lasers are most common, IR filtering problems may also exist in other DPSS lasers, such as DPSS red (671 nm), yellow (589 nm)and blue (473 nm) lasers. These DPSS laser wavelengths are usually more exotic, more expensive, and generally manufactured with higher quality components, including filters, unless they are put into laser pointer style pocket-pen packages. Most red (635 nm, 660 nm), violet (405 nm) and darker blue (445 nm) lasers are generally built using dedicated laser diodes at the output frequency, not as DPSS lasers. These diode-based visible lasers do not produce IR light.

Regulations and misuse

Since laser pointers became readily available, they have been misused, leading to the development of laws and regulations specifically addressing use of such lasers. Their very long range makes it difficult to find the source of a laser spot. In some circumstances they make people fear they are being targeted by weapons, as they are indistinguishable from dot type laser reticles. The very bright, small spot makes it possible to dazzle and distract drivers and aircraft pilots, and they can be dangerous to sight if aimed at the eyes.

In January 2005 a New Jersey man named David Banach was arrested for pointing a green laser pointer at a small jet flying overhead.

In 2008 laser pointers were aimed at players' eyes in a number of sport matches worldwide. Olympique Lyonnais
Olympique Lyonnais
Olympique Lyonnais is a French association football club based in Lyon. They play in France's highest football division, Ligue 1. The club was formed as Lyon Olympique Universitaire in 1899, according to many supporters and sport historians, but was nationally established as a club in 1950. The...

 was fined by UEFA
The Union of European Football Associations , almost always referred to by its acronym UEFA is the administrative and controlling body for European association football, futsal and beach soccer....

 because of a laser pointer beam aimed by a Lyon fan at Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo
Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro, OIH, , commonly known as Cristiano Ronaldo, is a Portuguese footballer who plays as a winger or striker for Spanish La Liga club Real Madrid and is the captain of the Portuguese national team...

. In a World Cup
FIFA World Cup
The FIFA World Cup, often simply the World Cup, is an international association football competition contested by the senior men's national teams of the members of Fédération Internationale de Football Association , the sport's global governing body...

 final qualifier match held in Riyadh
Riyadh is the capital and largest city of Saudi Arabia. It is also the capital of Riyadh Province, and belongs to the historical regions of Najd and Al-Yamama. It is situated in the center of the Arabian Peninsula on a large plateau, and is home to 5,254,560 people, and the urban center of a...

, Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia , commonly known in British English as Saudi Arabia and in Arabic as as-Sa‘ūdiyyah , is the largest state in Western Asia by land area, constituting the bulk of the Arabian Peninsula, and the second-largest in the Arab World...

 between the home team and the South Korea
South Korea
The Republic of Korea , , is a sovereign state in East Asia, located on the southern portion of the Korean Peninsula. It is neighbored by the People's Republic of China to the west, Japan to the east, North Korea to the north, and the East China Sea and Republic of China to the south...

n team, South Korean goalkeeper Lee Woon-Jae
Lee Woon-Jae
Lee Woon-Jae is a South Korean football goalkeeper, who plays for Chunnam Dragons in the South Korean K-League. He was part of Korea's 1994, 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cup campaigns...

 was hit in the eye with a green laser beam.

In 2009 police in the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 began tracking the sources of lasers being shone at helicopters at night, logging the source using GPS, using thermal imaging cameras to see the suspect, and even the warm pointer if discarded, and calling in police dog teams. As of 2010 the penalty could be five years' imprisonment.

Despite legislation limiting the output of laser pointers in some countries, higher-power devices are currently produced in other regions (especially China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...

 and Hong Kong
Hong Kong
Hong Kong is one of two Special Administrative Regions of the People's Republic of China , the other being Macau. A city-state situated on China's south coast and enclosed by the Pearl River Delta and South China Sea, it is renowned for its expansive skyline and deep natural harbour...

), and are frequently imported by customers who purchase them directly via Internet mail order. The legality of such transactions is not always clear; typically, the lasers are sold as research or OEM
Original Equipment Manufacturer
An original equipment manufacturer, or OEM, manufactures products or components that are purchased by a company and retailed under that purchasing company's brand name. OEM refers to the company that originally manufactured the product. When referring to automotive parts, OEM designates a...

 devices (which are not subject to the same power restrictions), with a disclaimer that they are not to be used as pointers. DIY videos are also often posted on Internet video sharing sites like YouTube
YouTube is a video-sharing website, created by three former PayPal employees in February 2005, on which users can upload, view and share videos....

 which explain how to make a high-power laser pointer using the diode from an optical disc burner. As the popularity of these devices increased, manufacturers began manufacturing similar high-powered pointers. Warnings have been published on the dangers of such high-powered lasers. Despite the disclaimers, such lasers are frequently sold in packaging resembling that for laser pointers. Lasers of this type may not include safety features
Laser safety
Laser safety is safe design, use and implementation of lasers to minimize the risk of laser accidents, especially those involving eye injuries. Since even relatively small amounts of laser light can lead to permanent eye injuries, the sale and usage of lasers is typically subject to government...

 sometimes found on laser modules sold for research purposes.

There have been many incidents regarding, in particular, aircraft, and the authorities in many countries take them extremely seriously. Many people have been convicted and sentenced, sometimes to several years' imprisonment.


In April 2008, citing a series of coordinated attacks on passenger jets in Sydney
Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and the state capital of New South Wales. Sydney is located on Australia's south-east coast of the Tasman Sea. As of June 2010, the greater metropolitan area had an approximate population of 4.6 million people...

, the Australian government announced that it would restrict the sale and importation of certain laser items. The government had yet to determine which classes of laser pointers to ban. After some debate, the government voted to ban importation of lasers that emit a beam stronger than 1 mW, effective from July 1, 2008. Those whose professions require the use of a laser can apply for an exemption. In Victoria
Victoria (Australia)
Victoria is the second most populous state in Australia. Geographically the smallest mainland state, Victoria is bordered by New South Wales, South Australia, and Tasmania on Boundary Islet to the north, west and south respectively....

 and the Australian Capital Territory a laser pointer with an accessible emission limit greater than 50 mW is classified as a prohibited weapon and any sale of such items must be recorded. In Western Australia, regulatory changes have classified laser pointers as controlled weapons and demonstration of a lawful reason for possession is required. The WA state government has also banned as of 2000 the manufacture, sale and possession of laser pointers higher than class 2. In New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory the product safety standard for laser pointers prescribes that they must be a Class 1 or a Class 2 laser product. In February 2009 South African cricketer Wayne Parnell
Wayne Parnell
Wayne Dillon Parnell is a cricketer who plays Tests, One Day International and Twenty20 matches for South Africa. At domestic level he plays for the Warriors having previously represented Eastern Province, he has also played county cricket for Kent...

 had a laser pointer directed at his eyes when attempting to take a catch, which he dropped. He denied that it was a reason for dropping the ball, but despite this the MCG decided to keep an eye out for the laser pointers. The laser pointer ban only applies to hand-held battery-powered laser devices.


No regulations controlling the importation and sale of laser pointers have been established in Canada , except for the federal regulation that manufacturers comply with the Radiation Emitting Devices Act. As of July 2011 three people had been charged under the federal Aeronautics Act, which carries a maximum penalty of $100,000 and five years in prison, for attempting to dazzle a pilot with a laser. Other charges that could be laid include mischief
Mischief is a vexatious or annoying action, or, conduct or activity that playfully causes petty annoyance. Young children, when they hear of mischief, think of practical jokes....

 and assault
In law, assault is a crime causing a victim to fear violence. The term is often confused with battery, which involves physical contact. The specific meaning of assault varies between countries, but can refer to an act that causes another to apprehend immediate and personal violence, or in the more...



Before 1998 Class 3A lasers were allowed. In 1998 it became illegal to trade Class 2 laser pointers that are "gadgets" (e.g. ball pens, key chains, business gifts, devices that will end up in children's possession, etc.). It is still allowed to trade Class 2 (< 1 mW) laser pointers proper, but they have to meet requirements regarding warnings and instructions for safe use in the manual. Trading of Class 3 and higher laser pointers is not allowed.


The use of pointers with output power > 5 mW is regulated in public areas and school yards.

United Kingdom

UK and most of Europe are now harmonized on Class 2 (<1 mW) for General presentation use laser pointers or laser pens. Anything above 1 mW is illegal for sale in the UK (import is unrestricted). Health and Safety regulation insists on use of Class 2 anywhere the public can come in contact with indoor laser light, and the DTI have urged Trading Standards authorities to use their existing powers under the General Product Safety Regulations 2005 to remove lasers above class 2 from the general market

United States

Laser pointers are Class II or Class IIIa devices, with output beam power less than 5 milliwatts (<5 mW). According to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations, more powerful lasers may not be sold or promoted as laser pointers. Also, any laser with class higher than IIIa (more than 5 milliwatts) requires a key-switch interlock and other safety features. Shining a laser pointer of any class at an aircraft is illegal and punishable by a fine of up to $11,000.

All laser products offered in commerce in the US must be registered with the FDA, regardless of output power.

In Utah
Utah is a state in the Western United States. It was the 45th state to join the Union, on January 4, 1896. Approximately 80% of Utah's 2,763,885 people live along the Wasatch Front, centering on Salt Lake City. This leaves vast expanses of the state nearly uninhabited, making the population the...

 it is a class C misdemeanor
A misdemeanor is a "lesser" criminal act in many common law legal systems. Misdemeanors are generally punished much less severely than felonies, but theoretically more so than administrative infractions and regulatory offences...

 to point a laser pointer at a law enforcement officer and is an infraction to point a laser pointer at a moving vehicle.

In Arizona
Arizona ; is a state located in the southwestern region of the United States. It is also part of the western United States and the mountain west. The capital and largest city is Phoenix...

 it is a Class 1 misdemeanor if a person "aims a laser pointer at a police officer if the person intentionally or knowingly directs the beam of light from an operating laser pointer at another person and the person knows or reasonably should know that the other person is a police officer." (Arizona Revised Statutes §13-1213)

On April 30, 2010, Clint Jason Brenner, 36, of Prescott, AZ was found guilty of two counts of endangerment, each a class 6 felony, and it was also found that each was a dangerous offense, for shining a handheld laser pointer at an Arizona Department of Public Safety helicopter in December 2009. He was given a sentence of two years in prison for each count, to run concurrently.

On November 2, 2009, Dana Christian Welch of Southern California was sentenced to 2.5 years in a federal prison after being found guilty of shining a hand-held laser light into the eyes of two pilots landing Boeing jets at John Wayne Airport
John Wayne Airport
John Wayne Airport is an airport in an unincorporated area in Orange County, California, with its mailing address in the city of Santa Ana, which is also the county seat, hence the International Air Transport Association airport code. The main entrance to the airport is off of MacArthur Blvd in...


External links