Optical Materials

Optical materials - glasses, crystalline materials, polymers or plastic - manipulate the flow of energy (light or electromagnetic radiation) in ultraviolet, visible and infrared spectral regions. Atomic configurations within the material define optical properties like transmission and refraction, and they are fabricated into optical elements such as lenses, mirrors, windows, prisms, polarizers, filters, diffraction gratings, waveplates, waveguides, detectors, and collimators, which act on the transmitted energy in some way.

Key properties used in material selection are transparency, transmission, refractive index, and each property’s spectral dependency. The uniformity of the material, strength and hardness, temperature limits, chemical resistivity, and availability of coatings are also important factors.

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Optical Materials

Features & Benefits

  • Optical Materials

    Crystalline Materials  

    • Naturally occurring crystals such as rock salt, quartz, and fluorite plus suitable detectors permitted the first extension of visible optical techniques to harness the invisible ultraviolet and infrared rays.
    • Single crystals are indispensable for transforming, amplifying, and modulating light. 
    • Fulfill need for hard, tough and thermal shock resistant materials that function routinely in harsh environments in which other optical materials are challenged.
    • Development of large area and other plasma CVD processes has increased the commercial viability of many of these materials.

    Optical Glasses 

    • Glasses developed for use in the visible region have internal transmittances of over 99% throughout the wavelength range of 380–780 nanometers.
    • When dealing with applications involving extreme temperatures and quick temperature differentials, a glass' coefficient of thermal expansion also becomes a key factor.

    Polymers & Plastics  

    • Polymers and plastics are often preferred when difficult or unusual shapes, lightweight elements, or economical mass-production techniques are required.
    • Softness, inhomogeneity, and susceptibility to abrasion intrinsic to plastics often restrict their application.
  • Why S & D Materials
    • High quality, low prices, fast delivery; reliable, dependable, resourceful
    • Experience with crystals, ceramics, polymers & plastics and glass substrates used in optical applications 
    • Ability to supply allocated, constrained and limited source materials
    • Fully integrated solution provider, with full visibility and active management of all production processes
    • Material agnostic – committed only to the best solution available


Specifications & Data

Material Index of Refraction
Trans- mission
Abbe Number
(x 10-6/°C)
(x 10-6/°C)
Melting Point
Available coatings include BBAR for the 0.8 to 2.5, 3 to 5, or 1 to 5 μm, dual-band AR for MWIR and LWIR and triple-band for NIR and MWIR spectral regions. Calcium Fluoride (CaF2) 1.434 180 nm - 8.0 µm 95.1 3.18 18.85 -10.6 158.3 1420
BBAR for 0.8 to 2.5 µm, AR for 1.064 µm. Other coating for UV, VIS & IR available Fused Silica 1.458 185 nm - 2.1 µm 67.7 2.2 0.55 11.9 500 ~ 1650
AR incl.: BBAR for 3 to 5 µm; specialized bands within 0.25 to 5.0 µm range Germanium (Ge) 4.003 2.0 µm - 16 µm N/A 5.33 6.1 396 780 947
Can be AR coated for use in the IR region but often without much improvement in transmission due to its low index of refraction and native high transmission Magnesium Fluoride (MgF2) 1.413 200 nm - 6.0 µm 106.2 3.18 13.7 1.7 415 1263
Available coatings incl: BBAR in 0.8 to 2.5 µm, 3 to 5 and 8 to 12 µm. Other specialized bands possible from 0.4 to 12 µm N-BK7 1.517 350 nm - 2.0 µm 64.2 2.46 7.1 2.4 610 557
Moisture-protection AR and BBAR coatings are available for various wavelengths or ranges within KBr’s transmission range. Potassium Bromide (KBr) 1.527 250 nm - 2.6 µm 33.6 2.75 43 -40.8 7 734
AR coatings for sapphire include BBAR for 3 to 5 μm. Many other specialized wavelength bands are possible within the 0.25- to 5.0-μm range. Sapphire / Ruby (Al2O3) 1.768 150 nm - 5.5 µm 72.2 3.97 5.3 13.1 2200 2050
Most common AR coating is BBAR for 3 to 5 µm. Specialized bands for 1.2 to 7.0 µm range. Si can also be hard coated with protective DLC Silicon (Si) 3.422 1.2 µm - 8.0 µm N/A 2.33 2.55 1.6 1150 1414
Protective coatings incl: DLC for MWIR and LWIR, BBAR for multiple spectral regions; single-wavelength AR coating at 10.6 µm; specialized bands possible from 0.6 to 16 µm Zinc Selenide (ZnSe) 2.403 600 nm - 16.0 µm N/A 5.27 7.1 61 120 1525
Available coatings incl: BBAR in 0.8 to 2.5 µm, 3 to 5 and 8 to 12 µm. Other specialized bands possible from 0.4 to 12 µm Zinc Sulfide (ZnS) 2.631 400 nm - 12.0 µm N/A 5.27 7.6 38.7 120 1185

When choosing the correct material, there are four major, or baseline, factors to consider; thermal properties, transmission, index of refraction and of course, cost. Though there is a much smaller selection of materials for use in the infrared and UV compared to the visible, these tend to be more expensive due to fabrication and material costs.

Major Factors

  • Thermal Properties – Frequently, optical materials are subjected to varying temperatures, and many IR applications produce a large amount of heat. Index gradient and coefficient of thermal expansion (CTE) are considered to ensure the desired performance. 
  • Transmission – Different applications operate within different regions of the UV, VIS and IR spectrum. Certain substrates perform better depending on the spectral range. 
  • Index of Refraction – Optical materials vary in terms of index of refraction in IR far more than materials used in the visible do, allowing for more variation in system design. Unlike visible materials (such as N-BK7) that transmit throughout the entire visible spectrum, IR materials are often limited to a small band within the IR spectrum, especially with AR coatings.
  • Cost – Primary factors are material cost (per g or kg) and the rolled-up cost of all the production steps needed to transform raw material into a finished part
    • Material cost factors – scarcity, quality grades, color, dopants, defects, variable attribute values
    • Processing cost factors – near-net shape growth, hardness, equipment customization, impact on equipment 
    • Final Specifications - size, shape, surface finish, flatness, 

Other Factors

  • Chemical resistivity 
  • Available Coating Options 
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Tariffs and Governmental Restrictions

Transmission Ranges For Different Optical Materials

Wavelength Range Material
150 nm - 5.5 µm Sapphire (Al2O3)
180 nm - 8.0 µm Calcium Fluoride (CaF2)
185 nm - 2.1 µm UV Fused Silica
200 nm - 6.0 µm Magnesium Fluoride (MgF2)
300 nm - 3.0 µm Infrasil®
350 nm - 2.0 µm N-BK7
600 nm - 16 µm Zinc Selenide (ZnSe)
1.2 µm - 8.0 µm Silicon (Si)
2.0 µm - 16 µm Germanium (Ge)
3.0 µm - 5.0 µm Barium Fluoride (BaF2)

Applications and Industries

Crystalline Materials

Material Application / Use Industry / Market
Fused Silica (SiO2), IR Grade Visible, thermal imaging, astronomy, laser Life Sciences, Defense & Aerospace, Semiconductor Mfg
Single crystal Sapphire (Al2O3) High mechanical shock and vibration, thermal imaging, FLIR windows, semiconductor & solar mfg. chamber components, epitaxial substrate Automotive, Life Sciences, Space & Defense, Industrial
Ruby (Al2O3 w/Cr) Laser components Optics & Photonics
Calcium Fluoride (CaF3) Excimer laser systems, fluorescence imaging, thermal imaging, spectroscopy, camera & telescope lenses, oil and gas detector windows Laser Systems, Life Sciences, Semiconductor Mfg.
Magnesium Fluoride (MgF2) Rochon polarizers, prisms, lenses, optical windows, diffusers, UV radiation device components, excimer laser components Photonics, Lasers
Silicon (Si) Semiconductor devices, solar cells, thermal imaging, FLIR systems, hi power lasers, neutron target, semi mfg components Semiconductor Mfg, Materials, Power & Energy
Zinc Selenide (ZnSe) CO2 laser systems, Thermal Imaging, FLIR, lenses, Prisms, Beamsplitters, IR windows Optics, Lasers, Defense & Aerospace
Germanium Thermal imaging, Spectroscopy, Longpass Filters, Prisms, Lenses, Laser components 141Sensors & Imaging4
Barium Fluoride Scintillating Detectors, Windows, Lenses Semiconductor Mfg.
Potassium Fluoride CO2 Laser Windows, FTIR Spectroscopy, metals production, Optical Deposition Oil Refining, Etching, Pharmaceuticals


Material Application / Use Industry / Market
N-BK7 (Borosilicate Crown) Glass
Corning Gorilla Glass®
AGC DragonTail™
Borosilicate Float
Soda Lime
Visible applications, Cover screens, Tablet screen protection, Lenses Aerospace, Automotive, Medical, Optics, Lighting, AR/VR, Consumer Electronics, Touch Screen, Wafer Substrates, Defense, Aerospace
Various Plastics, Polymers Visible applications, Cover screens, Tablet screen protection, Lenses, Optical Components Consumer Electronics, Sensors & Imaging, Photonics

Polymers And Plastics

Material Application / Use Industry / Market
Various Plastics, Polymers Visible applications, Cover screens, Tablet screen protection, Lenses Optical Components

Contact Info

S&D Materials, LLC.
39 South Main Street Suite 222
Rochester, NH, 03867 USA

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