Zemax: The Software Solution to Find the Ideal Lens


When creating an optical system, there are many challenges an engineer faces when choosing how to design a lens. Choosing the correct lens without the right tools can prove to be very difficult and costly. Zemax, a ray-tracing optical design software program, provides designs and analyses for imaging and illumination systems. This allows for the user to view the way different lenses work while providing analysis diagrams documenting a variety of data sets. Zemax is a great tool to improve performance, shorten time to market, and reduce production costs.

Zemax works as a design program that allows the user to create their own lenses and imaging systems ranging from camera lenses to illumination systems. The program can model the effect of optical elements such as simple lenses, aspheric lenses, gradient-index lenses, mirrors, and diffractive optical elements, and can produce spot diagrams and ray-fan plots for analysis. By using the propagation of rays through an optical system, a ray-tracing algorithm tests the system’s performance computationally, allowing engineers to optimize both lens selection and physical system layout.

The use of the Zemax material library is extremely beneficial in the creation or modification of a specific lens. Zebase, the library database, has an extensive catalog of well-designed lenses from which a solution can be derived. This gives the user a starting point for creating design modifications. Ross Optical’s standard lenses are conveniently available in the Zemax Stock Lens Matching Tool. The Stock Lens Matching tool will swap out the lenses in a design for the nearest equivalents in the selected vendors’ catalogs, and offers the potential to create great cost savings in the finished design by eliminating the need for custom manufacture. This helps streamline the workflow and communication between optical and mechanical engineers.

Zemax's programs improve the speed and accuracy of optical product design by enabling engineering teams to simulate how light travels through the complete optomechanical system before building a physical prototype. We at Ross Optical understand the importance of lead time and the production of a quality product. Using Zemax’s library stock, it is simple to view what lenses we have in stock and analyze their performance in your specific system. Zemax takes pride in its comprehensive technical support and also provides hands-on training to better utilize its program. Using this software will save you time and, in turn, money.

Despite Zemax being an extremely useful tool during the design and modification phase of lens design, there are some restrictions the user needs to be aware of. The Zemax program has the ability to design lenses that Ross Optical does not have the power to create. For example, we recently had a customer who wanted a 300 mm diameter lens, but the largest raw material blank available was about 160 mm. Material availability and the science behind the creation of the material are two factors that need to be taken into consideration when designing optics. Read our Secrets of Optical Design: Understanding Optical Manufacturing blog to learn more about different aspects and difficulties of optical manufacturing and assembly, or contact us for assistance.

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