12 Replies Latest reply on Apr 15, 2019 9:37 AM by Harold Brunt

    what is your favorite optical design tool

    Shane Kozlowski

      Hi guys & gals, my new company is looking into an optical design tool to further our prototyping capabilities. I was wondering if there is a group of people who use an optical design tool and which of the available programs is the "best" (your favorite). talking to salesmen for the programs never helps because all of them thinks their software is the best, so I came here to get unbiased opinions. We are a lighting solutions company so the closer we can get to real life illumination the better. Obviously price is a point but we aren't necessarily on a budget. I look forward to seeing what we get here.

        • Re: what is your favorite optical design tool
          Jeff Mowry

          What's an "optical design tool"?

          • Re: what is your favorite optical design tool
            Rick Campbell

            Shane, our optical engineers use Zemax and CODE V to design our lens systems.


            There's a lot of optical design software out there, but the above two seem to be the most popular. I've tinkered with Zemax a little over the years, and know enough to be dangerous (as an ME), and like it the best of the few I've used.


            Zemax/Optics Studio has a two-week free trial. I'm not sure if Code V offers one.


            Hope this help a little.

            • Re: what is your favorite optical design tool
              Daen Hendrickson



              I am interested in any feedback you get from this post.


              I generate direct and reflected light paths for rear-projection displays all the time. I use SolidWorks. However, my end goal is in determining if the light engine output can make it to the display screen without distortion or interference. The artistic side (light level, scattering from shades / prisms, hues, light patterns on surfaces, etc) does not come in to play so SW is more than adequate.


              I have seen some software advertised in the past but I have zero exposure to provide any valid feedback.



              • Re: what is your favorite optical design tool
                Harold Brunt

                Thanks John and Anna. The notifications were like being Beetlejuice for a day!


                Shane, I do have a good amount of experience with optical / ray trace add-ins. I’ll assume you are most interested in illumination simulation software and not so much optical design software for imaging systems.


                I have used the Zemax LensMechanix add-in that Anna mentioned primarily for packaging imaging and laser based designs generated in Zemax OS. It is an excellent software for importing the native Zemax OS files and generating the optical components including the material definitions and the source and detector definitions in order to run a ray trace within the SolidWorks environment. You can design the mechanical components and then verify the performance of the system and export the complete optical and mechanical design back to Zemax OS. I am not certain if the add-in is a capable software for illumination systems. For example you can design an illumination system and determine the energy distribution projected on a target area but if the application is a backlit display or a light pipe Zemax OS or LensMechanix will not show you a simulation of the lit appearance in my experience. I do believe there is a demo for a light pipe on the Zemax website. Also, Zemax LensMechanix is not intended for designing optics as there is no optimization available. Here’s a white paper I wrote for Zemax after using the beta release: https://customers.zemax.com/ZMXLLC/media/Lens-Mechanix/PDF%20Brochures/Machine-Vision-Applications-Packaging.pdf?ext=.pd…


                We have a seat of LightTools with the bridge for SW. I have not used the software but the resulting simulations compare very well with the systems I have generated in SPEOS for SW. The system is designed in SW then opened in LightTools for simulation and optimization. The translation process is a bit of a pain but is manageable although it slows the iterative process of designing freeform optics.


                The add-in I am most familiar with is SPEOS for SW formerly OptisWorks. The latest iteration of the SPEOS Premium software includes all of the individual packages I have used plus many more. It is a very powerful tool that will allow the user to create very accurate simulations of the illuminated system. I have used the add-in to design light pipes for the automotive market, backlit user interfaces for appliances and illumination systems for machine vision systems as well as several other applications. I highly recommend the add-in. The one issue you might have is that OPTIS is no longer owned by Dassault and is now owned by ANSYS so support for the SW application is not a sure thing. Here’s a presentation I did for SPEOS a couple of years ago that shows just a small sample of how I use the software: http://www.lumenflow.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/LumenFlow-OPTIS-Industry-Day-Presentation.pdf


                The other add-ins I am aware of but not familiar with are Photopia and APEX by Breault Research.

                • Re: what is your favorite optical design tool
                  Christian Chu

                  When I did lightpipe design, I basically used physic laws to analyze the lights travel thru the material - its not perfect but got very closed

                  and let our vendors do the final adjustment for best results from their experiences -  Can't recall the name of the software they use for light analysis

                  edit: it's TracePro

                  • Re: what is your favorite optical design tool
                    Shane Kozlowski

                    Thank you all for the feedback. We have not made any decisions yet but we are looking at trace pro, light tools, and ANSYS optis. We are not looking into Zemax because it is limited to lens design as far as our researcher can tell. trace pro is cheap and would work well if we were a smaller company who only had engineering goals for the software. Light tools and ANSYS are higher end products that give much more accurate results and have reverse ray tracing power as well as realistic rendering capabilities. They are very similar in their capabilities with ANSYS just being slightly better at just about everything. Light tools slightly cheaper than at first glance but after all of the add on programs required it comes very close to the price of ANSYS. It is also connected with and runs inside of sollidworks, and has dynamic ray tracing capability that will give speed to the prototype process. ANSYS seems to be the leading software as far as light mapping and photorealistic renderings. as far as I can tell the price increase from light tools is more than worth the amazing power of the ANSYS software. we will validate the extra money spent by pushing the advantages of the rendering to sales and marketing to try for interdepartmental budgeting assistance. ANSYS has renderings that you can move around at will as if you are in a 3D space, cool!