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Picosecond Lasers

Definition: lasers emitting pulses with picosecond durations

Alternative term: ultrafast lasers

More general terms: pulsed lasers, mode-locked lasers

German: Pikosekundenlaser

Categories: lasers, light pulses

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A picosecond laser is a laser which emits optical pulses with a duration between 1 ps and (usually) some tens of picoseconds. It thus also belongs to the category of ultrafast lasers or ultrashort pulse lasers.

Sometimes, other laser-based sources for picosecond pulses – for example synchronously pumped OPOs – are also called picosecond lasers, even if they are strictly speaking no lasers.

A variety of laser types can generate picosecond pulses, with other performance parameters varying in wide ranges:

Compared with femtosecond lasers, picosecond laser sources are often more economical. In applications such as micromachining, they often offer similar performance. However, there are applications where femtosecond lasers are clearly superior.

Applications of Picosecond Lasers

Picosecond lasers are used in a wide range of applications. Some of these lasers are industrial lasers, while others are scientific lasers. Some typical examples are discussed in the following.

Laser Material Processing

In laser material processing, it is often advantageous to use very short light pulses having correspondingly high peak powers for a given pulse energy. Nanosecond pulse durations (from nanosecond lasers) are often too long, allowing a substantial spread of deposited energy by thermal conduction during the pulse duration. This is quite different for pulse durations of e.g. 10 ps or less, where there is minimum heat diffusion during the pulse duration. As a result, substantially finer structures can be processed with high quality (micro-machining). Note, however, that high quality results require an optimization in various respects.

In some cases, femtosecond lasers are preferable or strictly required. For example, they may be needed for processing optically transparent materials. On the other hand, picosecond lasers are available at lower cost for a given pulse energy and repetition rate.

Medical Applications

There are some medical applications where picosecond pulses have advantages. A common application is the removal of tatoos, and similarly one may reduce pigments of natural origins. There are also surgical procedures where precise material ablation can be achieved with picosecond pulses.

Laser Microscopy

Some laser microscopes are operated with picosecond pulses, although femtosecond pulses have substantial advantages in some cases.

OPO Pumping

Many synchronously pumped optical parametric oscillators are pumped with picosecond lasers. Sometimes, the whole setup is still called a picosecond laser, even though it also contains an OPO.


Picosecond laser pulses are useful for a very wide range of measurements. For example, distance measurements with LIDAR, e.g. based on time-of-flight measurements, can be performed. Picosecond pulses are also often used in pump–probe measurements on timescales of multiple picoseconds to nanoseconds.


In the area of optical fiber communications, picosecond lasers can be used in different ways. For example, picosecond lasers may be used for generating soliton pulses in optical fibers, which propagate without dispersive broadening. For such purposes, compact and cheap lasers with gigahertz repetition rates, often with emission in the 1.5-μm telecom bands, are required.


The RP Photonics Buyer's Guide contains 77 suppliers for picosecond lasers. Among them:

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See also: mode-locked lasers, mode locking, ultrafast lasers, femtosecond lasers, ultrashort pulses, nanosecond lasers, solid-state lasers, mode-locked fiber lasers
and other articles in the categories lasers, light pulses


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