Waveplates Selection Guide

Time:2023-06-12 15:29


1.1 Research background and objectives

Waveplates , also known as retarders, are optical devices that alter the polarization state of light. They are crucial components in various optical systems, including telecommunications, spectroscopy, imaging, and laser technologies.

The objectives of the "Waveplates Selection Guide" research include:

  • Understanding the performance parameters: Investigating and explaining the key performance parameters of waveplates, such as retardation, transmission characteristics, wavelength range, polarization purity, and temperature stability.

  • Evaluating material options: Analyzing and comparing different waveplate materials, their properties, and how they affect the performance of waveplates in terms of polarization modification and optical quality.

  • Considering design requirements: Identifying and understanding the specific design requirements and constraints for different applications, such as wavelength range, power handling, environmental conditions, and integration considerations.

  • Providing selection strategies: Developing practical strategies and decision-making criteria for selecting waveplates based on application-specific requirements, including trade-offs between performance, cost, and manufacturability.

Through the "Waveplates Selection Guide" research, the aim is to assist users in understanding the complexities associated with waveplate selection, facilitating the identification of suitable waveplates, and ultimately enhancing the performance and effectiveness of optical systems and applications.

Fundamentals of Waveplates

2.1 Working principles of waveplates

Waveplates, also known as retarders, are optical devices that modify the polarization state of light. Their working principle involves the following simplified steps:

  • Birefringent Material : Waveplates are made of materials with birefringence, which means they have different refractive indices for light polarized in different directions.

Principle of birefringence.jpgFigure 1,Principle of birefringence

  • Polarization Splitting: When light enters a waveplate, it splits into two orthogonal polarization components.

  • Phase Difference: The waveplate introduces a phase difference, called retardation, between the two polarization components. This phase difference depends on the thickness of the waveplate and the wavelength of the incident light.

  • Specific Retardation Values: Waveplates can be designed to provide specific retardation values, such as quarter-wave or half-wave, by controlling their thickness and material properties.


Figure 2. When linearly polarized light is incident on the quarter-wave plate's axis at a 45-degree angle, the output is circularly polarized, and similarly, input circularly polarized light is converted to linearly polarized light.


Figure 3. Half-wave plate rotate linearly polarized light to any desired orientation. The angle of rotation is twice the angle between the incident polarized light and the optical axis.

2.2 Common types and structures of waveplates

Multiple-order waveplates, also known as multiple-order retardation plates, are a type of waveplate that introduce additional phase shifts in addition to the desired retardation value. These waveplates are designed to provide retardation values that are multiples of the desired wavelength retardation, such as double-wavelength or triple-wavelength retardation.It is a single structure with relatively narrow Temperature Bandwidth and Wavelength Bandwidth, but it has high mechanical performance,high damage threshold, and it is very affordable.

The Structures of Multiple Order Waveplate.jpg Figure 4. The Structures of Multiple Order Waveplate

  • Zero Order Waveplate

Zero Order Waveplate, consisting of two piece Quartz with their optical axes orthogonally aligned.A Zero Order Waveplate is constructed with the fast axis of one plate aligned with the slow axis of the other. And the net retardation gained is a function of the thickness difference between the two plates. Utilizing the double waveplates structure, a Zero Order Waveplate effectively offsets the unfavorable sensibility of retardation, since the disturbing retardation shifts in the first plate will be compensated after light emerges from the second plate, thus making Zero Order Waveplates substantially far less sensitive to changes in temperature and wavelength than their multi order waveplate. According to the combination method can be divided into three types:

Figure 5. The Structures of Zero Order Waveplate.jpg  Figure 5. The Structures of Zero Order Waveplate

  • Air Spaced Zero Order Waveplate : Air spaced double-plate structure,Wide Temperature Bandwidth and Wavelength Bandwidth,high damage threshold,relatively expensive.

The Structures of Air spaced Order Waveplate.jpg Figure 6. The Structures of Air spaced Order Waveplate

  • Cemented Zero Order Waveplate : NOA61 cemented structure,Relatively low laser damage threshold,Sensitive to temperature and wavelength,relatively cheap.

The Structures of Cemented Order Waveplate.jpg Figure 6. The Structures of Cemented Order Waveplate

True zero order waveplate is an advanced and improved version of zero order waveplates with superior broadband performance. Although belonging to the zero order category, unlike the net zero order waveplates which generate the desired retardance by stacking two multiple order waveplates and get the resulting retardation from the difference of phase shifts in the two plates, true zero order waveplates feature extremely miniature thickness to provide exactly the required retardation (for example, a phase delay of precisely lambda/2 for a half waveplate). This feature imparted excellent retardation consistencies to wavelength change, ambient temperature change, and changes of incident angle to true zero-order waveplates. 

The Structures of True Zero Order Waveplate.jpg Figure 7. The Structures of True Zero Order Waveplate

Dual band waveplate is a specialized type of waveplate designed to operate at two specific wavelengths simultaneously. Unlike traditional waveplates that are optimized for a single wavelength, dual-wavelength waveplates are engineered to provide retardation values at two distinct wavelengths within a specified wavelength range.A variety of common dual-wavelength-sets: 780/390nm, 800/400nm, 810/405nm, 1030/515m, 1064/532nm, 1550/775nm.

The Structures of Dual wavelength Waveplate.jpg Figure 8. The Structures of Dual wavelength Waveplate

Achromtic Waveplate have a constant phase shift for a range of wavelengths. This is achieved by using multiple layers of different birefringent materials with varying thicknesses. By carefully selecting the materials and designing thicknesses, the waveplate can compensate for the wavelength-dependent phase shifts that occur in a single-layer waveplate.Frequently used wavelength ranges are 450-650nm, 700-1000nm, 950-1300nm and 1200-1650nm.

The Structures of Achromatic Waveplate.jpg Figure 9. The Structures of Achromatic Waveplate

Material Selection and Characteristics

3.1 Commonly used waveplate materials

Several materials are commonly used for waveplates due to their birefringent properties. The choice of material depends on factors such as the desired wavelength range, temperature stability, and application requirements. Some commonly used waveplate materials include:

  • Quartz (SiO2): Quartz is a widely used material for waveplates. It has good transparency across a broad wavelength range, from ultraviolet to infrared. Quartz waveplates offer excellent temperature stability and are commonly used in applications requiring high-performance waveplates.

  • Calcite: Calcite is a naturally occurring crystal that exhibits strong birefringence. It has good transmission in the visible and near-infrared regions. Calcite waveplates are widely used in various applications, including microscopy, spectroscopy, and interferometry.

  • Magnesium fluoride (MgF2)  exhibit a significant birefringence, making them suitable for waveplate applications. Wide Transmission Range: MgF2 crystals have a wide transmission range from the ultraviolet (UV) to the infrared (IR) regions, typically spanning from 120 nm to 7.5 μm.They have different refractive indices for different polarization directions, allowing for the manipulation of polarization states. 

3.2 Comparison of waveplate core characteristics

  • Retardation vs Temperature

The retardation of a waveplate can change with temperature due to the temperature dependence of the refractive indices of the waveplate material. This phenomenon is known as temperature-induced birefringence. The retardation changes versus temperature for Multiple Order Waveplate , Zero Order Waveplate.  Through graphical comparison, it can be observed that the effect of temperature on the phase of zero order waveplates is significantly smaller.

16864869203361963.jpg 16864853984045904.jpg

             Figure 9. Retardation vs Temperature for Multiple Order Waveplate                           Figure 10. Retardation vs Temperature for Zero Order Waveplate

  • Retardation vs Wavelength

Waveplates are usually designed and selected to achieve a desired phase difference over a specific wavelength range. For a waveplate designed for a specific wavelength, the phase delay varies when the wavelength changes. By comparing the graphs, it can be observed that the phase impact of wavelength variation on zero order waveplates is significantly smaller.  And achromtic Waveplate have a constant phase shift for a range of wavelengths.


         Figure 11. Retardation vs Wavelength for Multiple Order Waveplate                        Figure 12. Retardation vs Wavelength for Zero Order Waveplate


Figure 12. Retardation vs Wavelength for achromatic Waveplate 

Waveplate Selection Guide Steps

A comprehensive waveplate selection guide aims to assist users in choosing the most suitable waveplate for their specific application. The guide typically includes the following key steps:

First ,Application Requirements Analysis:

① Determine the specific application and its optical requirements.

② Define the desired polarization state or modification needed.

③ Identify the wavelength range of operation.

Second ,Waveplate Types, Materials and Performance Parameters:

① Understand the different types of waveplates (e.g., quarter-wave, half-wave) and their characteristics.

② Explore various waveplate materials and their properties (e.g., quartz, mica, calcite).

③ Understand key performance parameters, such as retardation, retardation tolerance,transmittance, and wavefront distortion.

④ Consider the practical aspects of waveplate size,thickness, mounting options, and integration into the optical system.

⑤ Evaluate coating options for antireflection properties or polarization enhancement.

⑥ Consider the cost-effectiveness of different waveplate materials and manufacturing processes.

⑦ Assess the availability and lead times from suppliers.

Third ,Consultation :

Seek advice or consult with CRYSMIT ' Wave plates researchers for further guidance.

By following a systematic waveplate selection guide, users can make informed decisions and choose waveplates that meet the specific requirements of their applications, ultimately optimizing the performance and effectiveness of their optical systems.

The Classical Applications of Waveplates 

Waveplates find important applications in the field of telecommunications, particularly in fiber-optic communication systems. Some key applications include:

  • Polarization Mode Dispersion Compensation: In fiber-optic communication, polarization mode dispersion (PMD) can cause signal distortion and limit data transmission rates. Waveplates are used to compensate for PMD by adjusting the polarization state of the light, aligning it with the fiber's principal axes and reducing the effects of polarization dispersion.

  • Fiber-Optic Communication Systems: Waveplates are used in various components of fiber-optic communication systems, such as polarization-maintaining fibers, optical amplifiers, and wavelength division multiplexers/demultiplexers. They help control and manipulate the polarization state of light for efficient transmission and reception of optical signals.

Waveplates are extensively used in spectroscopic techniques for studying the interaction of light with matter. Some notable applications include:

  • Raman Spectroscopy: Raman spectroscopy provides information about molecular vibrations and structural properties of materials. Waveplates are utilized to control the polarization state of the incident laser beam and selectively excite Raman-active modes, enhancing the sensitivity and specificity of Raman measurements.

  • Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR): FTIR spectroscopy is widely used for chemical analysis and material characterization. Waveplates are employed to modulate the polarization state of the infrared radiation, allowing the investigation of anisotropic materials and probing different sample orientations.

In laser systems, waveplates are crucial for controlling and manipulating the polarization state of laser beams. Some notable applications include:

  • Laser Polarization Control: Waveplates enable precise control of the polarization state of laser beams, including the generation of linearly polarized, circularly polarized, or elliptically polarized light. This is important for various applications, such as laser spectroscopy, microscopy, and material processing.

  • Nonlinear Optics and Frequency Conversion: Waveplates play a vital role in nonlinear optical processes, such as frequency doubling and parametric amplification. By controlling the polarization state of the incident laser beam, waveplates optimize the efficiency and selectivity of these nonlinear interactions.

  • Material Processing and Laser Micromachining: Waveplates are used in laser systems for precise material processing, such as cutting, drilling, and surface patterning. By manipulating the polarization state of the laser beam, waveplates help achieve desired material modifications and control the quality of processed structures.

Waveplates are essential components in various optical instruments used for polarization analysis and manipulation. Some notable applications include:

  • Polarimeters and Polarization Analyzers: Waveplates are integral to polarimeters and polarization analyzers, which measure and analyze the polarization state of light. They enable the calibration, alignment, and conversion of different polarization states, facilitating accurate polarization measurements.

  • Interferometers and Wavefront Manipulation: Waveplates are used in interferometers to control the relative phase and polarization of interfering beams, enabling precise measurements of optical properties and wavefront manipulation for applications like wavefront correction and adaptive optics.


In conclusion, the waveplate selection guide provides a systematic approach for choosing the appropriate waveplate for a specific application. By considering factors such as the application requirements, waveplate types, material options, performance parameters, design considerations, performance optimization, cost and availability, and consultation, users can make informed decisions for waveplates, leading to optimal performance and effectiveness in their optical systems.

Leave a message
Your name * :
Your E-mail * :
What kind of products/service you are looking for?
Success !
One of CRYSMIT team
menbers will contact you ASAP !