Application of Optical Sensors

Application of Optical Sensors
Vishay Semiconductors
Optical Sensors - Reflective
Vishay is a leading manufacturer of optical sensors.
These sensors integrate an infrared emitter and photo
detector in a single package. The most common
types of optical sensors are transmissive and reflective sensors.
Transmissive sensors, also called interrupter sensors, incorporate an infrared emitter and photo detector that face each other as shown in Figure 1. When
an object is located between the emitter and detector
in the sensing path, it interrupts or breaks the optical
beam of the emitter. The amount of light energy
reaching the detector is reduced. This change in light
energy or photo current is used to affect an event in
the application.
Reflective sensors incorporate an infrared emitter and
photo detector adjacent to each other as shown in
Figure 2. When an object is in the sensing area, the
emitted light is reflected back towards the photo
detector, the amount of light energy reaching the
detector increases. This change in light energy or
photo current is similarly used an input signal in the
This application note describes the proper use of
Vishay's reflective sensors. It describes several factors that must be considered when using a reflective
sensor. Vishay manufactures many reflective sensors
in leaded and surface mount packages. One is just
right for your application. Should you have any design
questions, Vishay's Application Engineers are ready
to assist you.
Reflective Object
Figure 1.
Figure 2.
Datasheet Parameter Values
The datasheets of each sensor include the absolute
maximum ratings, and electrical and optical characteristics. The absolute maximum ratings of the emitter, detector and the sensor combined are provided.
Maximum values for parameters like reverse and forward voltage, collector current, power dissipation,
and ambient and storage temperatures are defined.
The reflective sensors must be operated within these
limits. In practice, applications should be designed so
that there is large margin between the operating conditions and the absolute maximum ratings. The elec-
trical and optical characteristics indicate the
performance of the sensor under specific operating
conditions. Generally, the minimum and/or maximum
values are provided. These values are guaranteed
and are tested during the manufacture of the sensor.
Typical values, while sometimes provided, should
only be used as a guide in the design process. They
may or may not be tested during the manufacturing
process and are not guaranteed. Table 2 at the end of
this note provides the symbol, parameter and definition of data found in reflective sensor datasheets.
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06
Application of Optical Sensors
Vishay Semiconductors
Reflective Materials
The reflective sensor parameter values are measured
using a metal mirror or an industry-standard reference surface called the Kodak neutral card also
known as the gray or white card. The white side of the
card has a reflection factor of 90 % while the gray side
has a factor of 18 %. To learn more about the Kodak
neutral card refer to Kodak's publication No. Q-13,
CAT 1527654. Table 1 shows the relative values of
measured reflection of a number of materials. They
were measured with the TCRT1000, with a forward
current of 20 mA, at distance where the collector current was highest and with a wavelength of 950 nm.
While the TCRT1000 was used, these values apply to
all reflective sensors under the same operating conditions. These measurements have important practical
use when designing a reflective sensor application.
The reflection of surfaces in the infrared range can
vary significantly from that in the visible range.
Table 1. Relative collector current (or coupling factor) of thereflex sensors for reflection on various materials. Reference is the white side
of the Kodak neutral card. The sensor is positioned perpendicular to the surface. The wavelength is 950 nm
Kodak neutral card
Plastics, glass
White side (reference medium)
100 %
White PVC
Gray side
20 %
Gray PVC
Blue, green, yellow, red PVC
90 %
11 %
40 - 80 %
Typewriting paper
94 %
White polyethylene
90 %
Drawing card, white (Schoeller Durex)
100 %
White polystyrene
120 %
Card, light gray
67 %
Gray partinax
Envelope (beige)
100 %
Fiber glass board material
Packing card (light brown)
84 %
Without copper coating
Newspaper paper
97 %
With copper coating on the reverse side
Pergament paper
30 - 42 %
Black on white typewriting paper
Drawing ink (Higgins, Pelikan, Rotring)
12 - 19 %
30 %
Glass, 1 mm thick
Plexiglass, 1 mm thick
Foil ink (Rotring)
50 %
Aluminum, bright
110 %
Fiber-tip pen (Edding 400)
10 %
Aluminum, black anodized
60 %
Fiber-tip pen, black (Stabilo)
76 %
Cast aluminum, matt
45 %
Copper, matt (not oxidized)
110 %
Plotter pen
Brass, bright
160 %
HP fiber-tip pen (0.3 mm)
84 %
Gold plating, matt
150 %
Black 24 needle printer (EPSON LQ-500)
28 %
Ink (Pelikan)
100 %
White cotton
110 %
Pencil, HB
26 %
Black velvet
1.5 %
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06
Application of Optical Sensors
Vishay Semiconductors
The phototransistor collector current is also dependent on the distance of the reflecting material from the
sensor. Figure 3 shows the relative collector current
versus the distance of the material from the sensor for
the TCRT1000. This curve is included in each reflective sensor datasheet. The data was recorded using
the Kodak neutral card's 90 % diffuse reflecting surface. The distance was measured from the surface of
the sensor. The emitter current, IF, was held constant
during the measurement. This curve is called the
working diagram. The working diagram of all reflective sensors shows a maximum collector current at a
certain distance. For greater distances, collector current decreases. The working diagram is an important
input to the reflective sensor circuit design. Choosing
an operating distance at or near the sensors maximum collector current will provide greater design flexibility.
from 90 % Ic1 to 10 % of Ic2. This distance is predominantly dependent on the mechanical and optical
design of the sensor, and the distance to the reflecting
surface. The resolution of the sensor is the capability
to recognize a change in reflectivity. If the width of a
black line on a spinning shaft is less than Xd, then the
change in collector current may not be large enough
and recognition by the sensor uncertain. The shorter
the switching distance, the higher the sensors resolution.
reflection 2
reflection 1
direction of motion
plane of reflection
Operating Range and Peak Operating
collector curret
displacement X
I C - Collector Current (mA)
VCE = 5 V
I F = 20 mA
10 %
(Xo - Xd)/2
(Xo - Xd)/2
switching distance
Figure 4. Abrupt reflection change with associated IC curve
Cross Talk
95 11077
d - Distance (mm)
Figure 3. Collector Current vs. Distance
Switching Distance and Resolution
As an object moves over a reflective sensor the radiation reflected back to the detector changes gradually. For example, imagine a surface with an area high
reflectivity and low reflectivity. As it moves over the
sensor, Figure 4, the emitted radiation is reflected
back to the detector. As the low-reflective surface
moves into the sensing area of the detector, the collector current begins to drop-off. As this motion continues, a point is reached where the low-reflective
surface completely envelops the detectors field of
view. The edge of a sheet of paper, a black line on a
shaft or the gaps in an encoding wheel will all see this
gradual rise and fall in collector current. The switching
distance, Xd, is the displacement relating to the width
90 %
The lowest light current that can be processed as a
useful signal in the sensor's detector determines the
weakest useable reflection and defines the sensitivity
of the reflective sensor. This light current is determined by two parameters: cross talk and dark current.
Whether the reflective sensor is lead-frame or PCB
based, some of the emitted light will be internally
reflected or channeled within the package to the
detector. This is called optical cross talk. It is measured by operating the sensor without a reflective
medium. While Vishay's sensors are designed to minimize crosstalk, the current must be considered when
defining the circuit. The maximum cross talk current
for each of Vishay's reflective sensors is specified in
data sheets.
Reflection of the emitted light off of windows or surfaces surrounding the sensor is another source of
cross talk to account for in the application design. In
many applications this ambient crosstalk will be much
higher than internal crosstalk of the sensor components and will determine signal to noise ratio or operating distance.
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06
Application of Optical Sensors
Vishay Semiconductors
When a phototransistor is placed in the dark, or zero
ambient illumination, and a voltage is applied from
collector to emitter, a certain amount of current will
flow. This current is called the dark current. It consists
of the leakage current of the collector-base junction
multiplied by the DC current gain of the transistor. The
presence of this current prevents the phototransistor
from being considered completely "off" or being an
ideal "open switch". In datasheets, the dark current is
described as being the maximum collector current
permitted to flow at a given collector-emitter voltage.
The dark current is a function of this voltage and temperature, Figure 5. Vishay phototransistors are tested
at a VCE applied voltage of 20 V. All reflective sensors
which use a phototransistor specify a maximum dark
current of 200 nA at 25 °C (typical 1 nA).
must be reduced according to changes in the ambient
temperature. If the ambient temperature is 60 °C, the
maximum current is 25 mA. This means a current
exceeding 25 mA must not flow into the emitter. In
practice, the actual current should include a large
safety margin and the lowest possible current should
be used.
I e rel ; Φe rel
Dark Current
IF = 20 mA
V CE = 10 V
IF = 0
- 10 0 10
T amb - Ambient Temperature (°C)
94 7993
Figure 6. Rel. Radiant Intensity/Power vs. Ambient Temperature
10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 90 100
96 11875
Tamb - Ambient Temperature (°C)
Figure 5. Collector Dark Current vs. Ambient Temperature
Photo transistors and infrared emitting diodes are
temperature dependent. As temperature increases,
the light and dark current increases while emitter output decreases. An increase in the light current of the
phototransistor is off-set by a decrease in the output
of the emitter, Figure 6 and 7. Consequently, the
change in the output of reflective sensors due to temperature change is comparatively small at less than
10 % from - 10 °C to + 70 °C, Figure 8. Because of
this, it is not recommended to try to compensate for
changes in temperature in the design of reflective
sensor circuit.
Temperature also plays an important role in determining the emitter forward current in the application. As
an example, for the TCRT1000, the maximum forward current at an ambient temperature of 25 °C is
50 mA. As shown in Figure 9, the forward current
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06
Ica rel - Relative Collector Current
ICEO - Collector Dark Current (nA)
VCE = 5 V
Ee = 1 mW/cm2
λ = 950 nm
94 8239
Tamb - Ambient Temperature (°C)
Figure 7. Rel. Collector Current vs. Ambient Temperature
Application of Optical Sensors
CTR rel - Relative Current Transfer Ratio
Vishay Semiconductors
I F = 20 mA
d = 0.3 mm
- 30 - 20 -10 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80
96 11913
Tamb - Ambient Temperature (°C)
Figure 8. Rel. Current Transfer Ratio vs. Ambient Temperature
background's reflective factor can differ. The background may reflect ambient light much more than the
object. In this case, ambient light may reduce the contrast between the object and the background and the
object may not be detected. Conversely, the sensor
may detect a non-targeted feature because it reflects
the ambient light much more than the surroundings.
Therefore, the influence of ambient light must be minimized by using optical filters, inspired mechanical
design and, if necessary, AC operation. Vishay's
reflective sensors are molded from epoxy that blocks
visible light. Still, a large portion of sunlight is in the
infrared. Locate or house the sensor so it is recessed
to eliminate direct light. Pulsed operation can be helpful in some applications. AC operation is the most
effective protection against ambient light.
Emitter Intensity
I F - Forward Current (mA)
- 25
Tamb - Ambient Temperature (°C)
Figure 9. Forward Current vs. Ambient Temperature
Ambient Light
Ambient light can impair the sensitivity of the reflective sensor. Steady light falling directly on the detector
reduces the sensor's sensitivity. Strong light can saturate the phototransistor and, in this condition, the
sensor is blind. Varying ambient light results in incorrect signals and non-existent reflection changes. In
applications where the ambient light source is known
and relatively weak, in most cases it is enough to estimate the expected power of this light on the detector
and to consider the result when defining the circuit.
However, in many applications, it is difficult to precisely determine the ambient light and its effects.
Ambient light is not only a problem when falling on the
detector but can also be a problem when falling on the
reflective surface. If the ambient light affects the
object's and background's reflective factor in the
same way, the ambient light effect can be ignored for
low intensities. On the other hand, the object and
Emitter intensity depends largely on the forward current, IF, optical efficiency of the lens and an internal
reflector cup if included. The absolute maximum forward current of Vishay's TCRT1000, TCRT5000 and
CNY70 is 50 mA, while the TCND5000 is 100 mA at
an ambient temperature of 25 °C. The lower limit of
the forward current of the emitter of any reflective sensor must be 5 mA minimum. If the forward current is
too low, the optical output of the emitter will not be stable. A current limiting resistor is required. Without it,
the current of the diode is theoretically limitless and
the diode will burn out. The value of the current limiting resistor is calculated using the formula
RL = (VCC - VF) / IF
where the forward voltage of the emitter, VF, typically
1.25 V, is subtracted from the supply voltage, VCC,
and divided by the forward current. Again, design in
safety margin between actual operating conditions
and the absolute maximum ratings. The external current limiting resistor defines the light intensity of the
emitter. Driving the emitter with higher forward current
to obtain larger reflected signal strength is not always
be the best solution.
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06
Application of Optical Sensors
Vishay Semiconductors
Response Time and Load Resistor
The speed of response of a phototransistor is dominated by the capacitance of the collector-base junction and the value of the load resistance. A
phototransistor takes a certain amount of time to
respond to sudden changes in light intensity. The
response time is usually expressed by the rise time
and fall time of the detector. As long as the light
source driving the phototransistor is not intense
enough to cause optical saturation, characterized by
the storage of excess amounts of charge carriers in
the base region, rise time equals fall time. If optical
saturation occurs, fall time can become much larger
than rise time. The selection of the load resistor, RL,
will also determine the amount of current-to-voltage
conversion in the circuit. Reducing the value of RL will
result in a faster response time at the expense of a
smaller voltage signal.
End-users purchasing a reflective sensor want an
accurate estimate of how long the sensor will last.
Many will have minimum life requirements. Unlike
most traditional light sources, infrared emitting diodes
do not fail catastrophically. Instead, the light output
degrades over time, Figure 10. Therefore the useful
life of a reflective sensor can be defined by the time
when it fails to provide sufficient light for the intended
application. Infrared and visible light emitting diode
life is often quoted to be 100000 hours but this is
based on the average life span of a single, 5 mm
epoxy encapsulated emitter. Vishay's reflective sensors also have a single emitter that is epoxy encapsulated. With some similarity, average life span can be
considered comparable. As a rule-of-thumb, plan for
30 % degradation of the emitter over the life time of
the sensor.
Relative IC / IF (CTR)
IF = 50 mA
Ta = 40 °C
The three main causes of degradation are:
• A loss of efficiency caused by mechanical stress
deforming the crystal structure
• A loss of optical coupling caused by delamination
between epoxy and chip
• A loss of efficiency caused by thermal stress on
the crystal structure
The rate of degradation or aging is affected by:
• Chip technology: GaAs and GaAIAs Double Hetero (DH) technologies result in lower rates, while
GaAIAs and GaAIAs/GaAs technologies result in
higher rates of aging
• Package technology: metal can packaging technologies result in lower rates, and epoxy packaging technologies result in higher rates of aging
• Chip size: The smaller the chip, the higher the current density. A higher current density results in
faster aging
There are a number of ways to minimize emitter degradation or aging. First, minimize the junction temperature. As long as the junction temperature, TJ, is kept
below 100 °C, heating of the pn-junction will cause no
significant degradation. To reduce junction temperature, minimize the forward current and the ambient
temperature. Second, in applications where there is
temperature cycling, keep the forward current for the
corresponding temperature well below that shown in
Figure 9. This is especially important since degradation due to mechanical stress and delamination is
potentially greater in epoxy-based sensors. Third, in
applications where response time is not critical, pulse
the emitter instead of constant current operation.
Reflective sensor datasheets include a curve showing
Total Power Dissipation versus Ambient Temperature. Use this curve as a guide to minimize degradation.
Vishay features state-of-the-art chip technologies and
high quality standards in the assembly process resulting in low degradation rate of our sensor components.
Life Test Hours
Figure 10.
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06
Application of Optical Sensors
Vishay Semiconductors
Table 2.
Reverse voltage
The maximum permissible applied voltage to the anode of the LED such that the
current flows in the reverse direction
Forward Current
The direct or continuous current flowing in the forward direction of a diode, from the
anode to the cathode
Forward surge current
The maximum permissible surge or pulse current allowed for a specified temperature
and period in the forward direction
Power dissipation
The maximum power that is consumed by the collector junction of a phototransistor
Junction temperature
The spatial mean value of the collector junction temperature during operation
Collector emitter voltage
The positive voltage applied to the collector of a phototransistor with the emitter at a
reference potential and open base
Emitter collector voltage
The positive voltage applied to the emitter of a phototransistor with the collector at a
reference potential and open base
Collector current
The current that flows to the collector junction of a phototransistor
Ambient Temperature
The maximum permissible ambient temperature
Storage Temperature
The maximum permissible storage temperature without an applied voltage
Forward voltage
The voltage drop across the diode in the forward direction when a specified forward
current is applied
Collector dark current
The current leakage of the phototransistor when a specified bias voltage is applied
so that the polarity of the collector is positive and that of the emitter is negative on
condition that the illumination of the sensor is zero
Cross talk current
The output current measured at a specified voltage and forward current when there
is no reflective medium
Collector emitter
saturation voltage
The continuous voltage between the collector and emitter when the detector is in its
"ON" state as measured with the Kodak neutral test card, white side
Rise time
Amount of time it takes the output voltage to go from 10 % of the lower specified value
to 90 % of the upper specified value
Fall time
The time required for the output voltage to go from 90 % of the upper specified value
to 10 % of the lower specified value
Document Number: 81449
Rev. 1.0, 27-Sep-06