Can I Get A More Powerful Laser?
Brought to you by Dr. Santino Cantalupo

Understanding Laser Classes

If you're like me when you think of lasers it brings to mind Light Sabers and Death Stars that can obliterate an entire planet with the flick of a switch. Maybe this is why I receive calls each week asking "can I get a more powerful laser!?!?" This article will untangle the misinformation about lasers and give a clear understanding on different laser classes.

Lasers are very powerful instruments that in the wrong hands (I'm looking at you Vader) can cause massive harm and damage. Thankfully, in the USA, the FDA/CDRH (Food & Drug Administration/Center for Devices and Radiological Health) have placed lasers into classes to protect people from causing irreparable harm to themselves or others. To simplify things, classes have been listed under hazards, numbered as I, II, III and IV.


Class I lasers are relatively harmless and are used in laser printers, CD players (they still sell those??) and DVD players. If used in a laser pointer the beam would be relatively weak, hard to see in regular light and would probably not cause eye damage unless viewed through some sort of magnification. According to the IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission) one country in Europe, Switzerland, has banned all lasers but Class I use.

Class II lasers are the standard in Europe according to the IEC and are still relatively harmless if accidentally flashed into the eye. Extended flashing in the eye and/or using optical aids could cause severe eye damage. These laser types are found predominately in bar code scanners and some laser pointers. The power output of these laser must be less than 1 milliwatt (mW) and the visible distance is usually around 500ft.

Class III lasers are the most powerful laser class that can be LEGALLY used in laser pointers! The power of Class III lasers must be under 5mW and the distance of a red beam can be up to 1500ft. Avoid direct eye exposure to a Class III laser as it can cause irreparable damage to the eye! There is little to no risk for skin exposure at this power level. Almost every laser pointer made at Alpec falls within this Class III range, giving you the most power and range legally available on the market today! Laser color makes a difference in perceptible range and will be explained in a future article, stay tuned!

Class IV lasers are used in laser light shows, medical devices, industrial devices and research purposes that are more powerful than 5mW. These lasers can instantly burn and cut many different materials. A quick search online and you can find videos galore of people burning things, popping balloons and showing off their powerful "beams."

Why aren't pointers made in Class IV? Well, for one, that screen you'd be pointing at would potentially start to burn, objects you are pointing out could explode (think chemical container in a warehouse) and people could be seriously injured. Do you know how many times in a meeting I've rolled my laser pointer pen on its side and it inadvertently hit me or another coworker? At a Class IV, eyes, skin and clothing have the potential to immediately burn or be seriously damaged! With that being said, let's be thankful there are regulations in place to prevent "Laser Apocalypse 3000" from happening!

Happy (Safe) Pointing!