Encyclopedia … combined with a great Buyer's Guide!

Sponsoring this encyclopedia:     and others

Optical Density

Acronym: OD

Definition: a logarithmic measure of the power attenuation, or the refractive index

Alternative term: absorbance

Category: general optics

How to cite the article; suggest additional literature


The term optical density is used with two different meanings:


Optical density may mean the absolute value of the logarithm with base 10 of the power transmission factor of an optical attenuator:

optical density

For example, an optical density of 3 means that the optical power is attenuated by the factor 103 = 1000. That would correspond to an attenuation by 30 decibels.

If several attenuators are used in series, their optical densities can simply be added.

To avoid ambiguity, it is better to use the term absorbance.

Optical Density and Refractive Index

A transparent medium is sometimes said to have a high optical density (or to be relatively dense) if it has a high refractive index. For example, one may say that total internal reflection is possible only if the beam comes from the optically more dense medium. This use of the term has nothing to do with attenuation.

See also: absorbance, decibel, optical attenuators, refractive index, optical thickness
and other articles in the category general optics


If you like this article, share it with your friends and colleagues, e.g. via social media: