Onboarding with OpticStudio — Introduction


Welcome back, and thank you for joining me again. In this series, we’re going to start learning a bit about a powerful optical design software package, OpticStudio. Recently acquired by ANSYS, OpticStudio has a wide variety of applications including ray tracing, image simulation, physical optics, holograms, and laser component analysis.

While powerful, the OpticStudio interface can be a bit daunting; it’s spread-sheet-like matrix is drastically different than other (non-optics) interfaces, and many of its powerful analysis tools are buried deep within its highly organized menu system. But, like any other software, we can pick it apart piece by piece to reveal the beauty behind its interface. Before we begin, rest assured OpticStudio is supported by a plethora of knowledge and experience via their Knowledgebase and Community forums.

The OpticStudio philosophy

The main interface to OpticStudio is centered around the idea that any optical lens system can be described as a sequence of individual lenses. Furthermore, each individual lens can be described by two surfaces; in turn, each surface is described by aradius of curvature, thickness, material, coatings, and other aperture properties.

Specifically, the thickness of the first surface refers the the distance between the leading edge of the first surface and the leading edge of the second surface, both taken with respect to the orientation of the incident light. The thickness of the second surface refers to the distance between the tailing edge of the first lens and the leading edge of the next component.

The interface: General layout

Opening the legacy version (ver. 22.3) of OpticStudio for the first time will show you the following screenshot. The top row of menu tabs consist of file options (“File”), configuration options (“Setup”), design assessment tools (“Analyze”), design optimization tools (“Optimize”), slop metrics (“Tolerance”), pre-built design tools (“Libraries”), CAD implementation tools (“Part Designer”), scripting tools (“Programming”), and help tools (“Help”).

The interface: System Explorer

On the left-hand side resides a System Explorer window, containing submenus for a wide variety of environment variables to help define the simulation parameters. In the order presented, their titles and descriptions are given below:

  • Aperture — Defines the size of the beam on axis using several different definitions. Also allows the variation in intensity across the aperture to be defined
  • Fields — Enter the field of view of the lens
  • Wavelengths — Enter wavelengths in micrometers defined in air at the system temperature and pressure
  • Environment — Sets the nominal system temperature and pressure as part of thermal analysis
  • Polarization — Sets the default polarization state for sequential analyses which use polarization
  • Advanced — Advanced options (see documentation before use)
  • Ray Aiming — Aims rays at the Stop surface. Normally used with “Float by Stop” aperture definition
  • Material Catalogs — Adds one or more Material Catalogs to the lens file and allows glasses inside these catalogs to be used in the lens
  • Title/Notes — The Lens Title will appear on graphic and text output. Notes are a few lines of text that are stored with the lens file and are printed on some reports
  • Files — Specifies the data files used to define coating, scattering, and gradient index properties for components in the lens file.
  • Units — Sets the lens units to millimeters, centimeters, meters, or inches
  • Cost Estimator — Manage Cost Estimator Providers

The interface: Lens data

To define the array of lenses or other optical components, OpticStudio uses a spreadsheet-like interface consisting of columns for Surface Type, Comment, Radius, Thickness, Material, Coating, Clear Semi-Diameter, Chip Zone, Mechanical Semi-Diameter, Conic, and TCE. For the time being, we’ll concentrate mainly on the layout of the lens arrays, and not worry about the material aspect. Specifically, the “semi-diameter” is the half-size of the surface in lens units. A brief discussion / definition of each of these is given below:

  • Surface Type — This label covers many different types of surfaces, including standard, non-sequential objects, and SOMETHING. Each surface of every lens is defined as a Standard surface.
  • Comment — This is a field to add a comment for clarification and organization. No entry is required.
  • Radius — The radius of curvature for the specified surface.
  • Thickness — The thickness of each surface, defined along the optical axis (unless otherwise specified).
  • Material — The material of the specified surface. If defined for one surface and not defined for the subsequent surface, OpticStudio will assume the area between the two surfaces is the material specified by the first surface.
  • Coating — The name of the coating applied to the specified surface. In turn, the name corresponds to the same name of a coating stored within the coating catalogue.
  • Clear Semi-Diameter — Rays within the lens column will only be allowed to trace through the aperture defined by this parameter.
  • Chip Zone — An extension of the clear aperture; mainly used to provide extra space for mounting the lens such that the mounting assembly does not block light traversing the system.
  • Mechanical Semi-Diameter — This feature provides a comprehensive way to model realistic lens apertures with opto-mechanical apertures.
  • Conic — A parameter useful in creating non-spherical lens surfaces.
  • TCE — The thermal coefficient of expansion (TCE) of the specified surface.


Whew! While this may not seem like the most fun way to jump into OpticStudio, it’s important that we have our bearings before we begin poking around inside the powerful beast that is OpticStudio! In our next tutorial, we’ll jump right into a working lens system with an eye towards some realistic project parameters!

Until then, thank you again for dropping by! I’m excited to start on this journey into the world of lens design and OpticStudio — I hope you’ll join me there! Please feel free to subscribe for updates, like, or comment on my material. Have a great week, friends!

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