While IR and Thermal films are both part of the Infrared Spectrum, they each have distinct uses and characteristics. Below is a list of 7 key differences to consider when choosing which film will be your best ID protection. 

1. IR and Thermal films are seen with a different camera

  • IR films are seen with Night Vision Devices, also referred to as NVG’s or Night Vision Goggles.
  • Thermal films are seen with Thermal Imaging devices 

2. “Lighting up” the IR Patch

  • An IR film patch will need to “light up” in order to be seen. A NV (night vision) device or NVG goggles will illuminate the IR film on

    IR film illuminated by a NVG laser

    IR film “lights up” by a NVG

    the patch with an IR laser beam. The soldier’s patch will remain hidden until it is “lights up” from the illuminator on the NVG.

  • A Thermal film patch does not need to “light up.”  In some cases thermal films are more covert because no additional light source is needed.

3. Retro-Reflective or Reflective

  • IR film patches are Retro-reflective. The IR patch is visible in the dark when the laser light beam strikes the patch and bounces off the film and goes directly back in the direction from which it came. In the picture above you can see the results when the IR film

    US thermal film flag patch

    Thermal film reflecting energy.

    retro-reflects the NVG laser… a green glow. 

  • Thermal film patches are Reflective. The image to the right shows how the thermal film (dark), reflects energy back to the imager and the US flag(white) is visible.

IR and Thermal films reflect energy differently

4. Inside or Outside

  • IR film can be used inside or outside yet it is harder to see in conditions with lots of light, for example in a city. Thermal film on top of truck in the daylight
  • Thermal film is most effective when used outside. It works best when it is outside looking towards a clear sky. 

6. Environmental Factors

  • The IR Film while versatile in most conditions will lose its effectiveness in smoke, fog or sandstorm. 
  • Thermal film is visible through smoke, fog and sandstorm.

5. Darkness or Daylight

  • The IR film is primarily and best used in the dark.IR patches as seen with an NVG
  • One of the main advantages for using Thermal film is the ability to effectively use it 24/7.



7. Placement on the Uniform

  • The IR film patch should be placed on the back, chest, outside of upper arms, and helmet. IR film patches on upper left arm
  • For best visibility, the Thermal film patch should be placed on the helmet or top of shoulders.  Placement on the outside of the upper arms, upper chest and back can work but there is limited reflection from these areas. 




 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.