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Infrared vs. Laser Thermometer: What You Need to Know

Since the pandemic, infrared thermometer guns have become familiar items to many people. Infrared thermometers are versatile tools because you can use them in various applications, such as culinary and industrial settings. Despite being common tools in the kitchen, laboratories, and other facilities, there are plenty of things that most people have yet to find out about them. In particular, they are commonly confused with laser thermometers. Most people think that they are interchangeable, which is not true at all. 

This guide walks you through infrared vs. laser thermometers to help determine how and when to use them. 

What is an Infrared Thermometer?

 benefit of using an infrared thermometer

An infrared thermometer is distinctive because of its gun-like shape. It comes with a built-in laser, which facilitates instantaneous reading of temperature data. However, there are some models without a laser pointer. No matter which model you use, the thermometer offers non-contact surface temperature reading with various accuracy levels.

The primary benefit of using an infrared thermometer is the ability to read temperature at a distance. It’s an excellent choice when contact with the object being measured is not possible using a standard thermometer. You can also use this thermometer to detect hotspots behind surfaces or to get the average temperature of a given surface area.

The working principle of an infrared thermometer is based on black body radiation. The concept states that any material with above absolute zero temperature reading contains moving molecules. The molecules move faster when the temperature rises on that material. When these molecules move, they emit radiation, and that radiation is emitted in the form of visible light. This radiation is measured and read by an infrared thermometer. 

An infrared thermometer contains a thermopile that is responsible for absorbing infrared energy. Once the infrared energy is absorbed, it is converted into the temperature reading. The infrared thermometer technology has many applications, such as in the HVAC, agriculture, food safety, industrial, and culinary industries. 

What is a Laser Thermometer?

A laser thermometer is a type of non-contact, infrared thermometer. Therefore, it is important to know the different types of infrared thermometers to understand how it works.

There are three main classes of infrared thermometers, such as the following:

  1. Spot infrared thermometers – measure the temperature of a small area or surface. 
  2. Infrared scanning system – measure the temperature of a larger section or surface.
  3. Infrared thermal imaging cameras – creates a two-dimensional image using the temperature readings of multiple spots in one area.

Spot infrared thermometers are the most commonly used type of infrared thermometer. They use a laser pointer to target the specific area that you want to measure. Guessing the area within the scope of the temperature reading can be difficult if you don’t have a visual reference. Therefore, it is important to use a laser thermometer to have a laser pointer as your visual guide and get a more accurate reading. 

It’s also important to point a laser thermometer as close to the surface as possible. The farther you are from the surface being measured, the less accurate the reading becomes. 

most commonly used type of infrared thermometer

When to Use an Infrared Thermometer

Infrared thermometers are highly valuable tools with many applications. You can use this tool to determine the temperature of a moving object, or those that are surrounded by an electromagnetic field. It is also an essential tool if you require an instantaneous reading. 

Infrared thermometers are best used when the use of contact thermometers is not possible due to the extremely high temperature of the source object.

FAQs on Infrared vs Laser Thermometer

Are laser thermometers accurate?

Yes, as long as you consider emissivity and the distance of the thermometer from the object. When the conditions are right, experts agree that they can be as accurate and effective as traditional thermometers.

What is a laser thermometer used for?

Infrared and laser thermometers enable you to quickly read the temperature of a surface area at a distance. Therefore, you can use it on almost any application when using contact sensors is not possible.

How far can a laser thermometer read?

Most non-contact laser thermometers are designed for close range use. Some can measure the temperature of the source object within two to six inches. The closer the thermometer is to the source object, the more accurate the temperature reading.

Can I use a laser thermometer for cooking?

Yes. A laser thermometer has plenty of uses including in the kitchen. You can use it for tracking the heat of a frying oil or for food safety purposes (such as making sure that food does not get too cold). 

Can you use a laser thermometer to measure water temperature?

No. Infrared and laser thermometers cannot measure temperature through water or any type of liquid. It can only measure the surface temperature between the thermometer and the object (water or liquid).

Can a laser thermometer check oil temperature?

Yes, you can measure the temperature of oil with a laser thermometer. However, you cannot expect a 100% accurate reading because the thermometer does not come into contact with the oil. It only measures the infrared energy emitted by the heated oil.

What is the difference between infrared and laser thermometers?

Infrared thermometers measure the infrared radiation emitted by a particular object and give you an instantaneous reading based on the external factors. An infrared thermometer is also called a laser thermometer because the built-in laser allows the user to aim the gun directly at the object being measured. This step gives tremendous accuracy for the device when in use at the correct distance. 

Do you need to calibrate a laser thermometer?

Yes. It is recommended that you frequently calibrate a laser thermometer to ensure the accuracy of its readings. Make sure you have someone who is fully qualified and an expert to perform the calibration on the thermometer for the best results. 

The Bottom Line

Infrared and laser thermometers have similarities that overlap, which is why they are often interchanged. It’s important that you distinguish their similarities and differences so you can pick the right tool for your intended purpose. 

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