IR and Thermal films?

What you want to know and need to learn.

Each film will protect you, but grasping the differences assures your safety for the job at hand. 

IR and Thermal films are part of the Electromagnetic Spectrum: Near, Mid and Far Infrared. These infrared energies are invisible to the human eye.  To view them, you need a high tech camera.

While technically thermal is part of the infrared spectrum, our common definition distinguishes infrared from thermal. Infrared or IR is from the “Near” side of the spectrum. Thermal is from the “Mid and Long” side of the spectrum.  

Below are 5 key differences to consider when choosing your critical IFF protection. 

1. Different cameras detect IR and Thermal films

Thermal film is detected by a Thermal Imaging Device or Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR).

Learn the difference IR and Thermal films

Infrared Film is detected by Night Vision device. The most popular are the NVG’s.

2. Inside or Outside?

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

Thermal film is most effective when used outside. It works best when the film looks towards a clear sky. Detection 24/7.

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

Infrared film is effective inside or outside. But it is hard to see in well lit areas. The darker the better for your IR glow to stand out. 

3. How the film reflects energy

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

Thermal film is reflective. Above, the thermal patch is reflecting the energy back to the imager. The patch appears cold and dark while the officers appear white hot. 

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

Infrared film is Retro-reflective.  The illuminator laser on a Night Vision device will bounce or retro-reflect back to the device from the film on the patch. IR Patch appears with a green glow.

4. Environmental Factors

Thermal film is detected through smoke, fog and sandstorms. Water will temporarily disable film but will not damage it. 

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

Infrared film while versatile under most conditions, does lose reflection or glow in rain, smoke, fog.

5. Placement for Identification

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

For overhead observation, the Thermal film patch should be placed on the helmet or top of shoulders. Upper arms, chest and back works best for ground observations. 

IR.Tools™ IR and Thermal films

Infrared film patch is placed on the back, chest, outside of upper arms and helmet. The glow of the patch is less dependent on observers location. 

Yes, Thermal and IR films are from the same family… same DNA.

But their distinct differences and functions do matter to your safety and operation completion. 

And ultimately your family reunion. 

Don’t hesitate to contact me, Tom, I will discuss and discover which film is best for you.

Stay safe!


 The Author

Tom Boyer profile picture

Tom founded IR.Tools™ in 2006. He has embraced manufacturing premium IR patches, panels, thermal markers, and thermal targets to better protect and train the military and law enforcement communities.  Always the innovator, he is always thinking out of the box. Currently he has 21 awarded patents, and 14 patents pending. Tom received his BS and MS in Mechanical Engineering from the Univ. of MD, College Park and his MBA from Regents Univ.