An optical coating is one or more thin layers of material deposited on an optical component such as a lens or mirror, which alters the way in which the optic reflects and transmits light. One type of optical coating is an antireflection coating, which reduces unwanted reflections from surfaces, and is commonly used on spectacle and photographic lenses. Another type is the high-reflector coating which can be used to produce mirrors which reflect greater than 99.99% of the light which falls on them. More complex optical coatings exhibit high reflection over some range of wavelengths, and anti-reflection over another range, allowing the production of dichroic thin-film optical filters.
The simplest optical coatings are thin layers of metals, such as aluminum, which are deposited on glass substrates to make mirror surfaces, a process known as silvering.The other major type of optical coating is the dielectric coating (i.e. using materials with a different refractive index to the substrate). These are constructed from thin layers of materials such as magnesium fluoride, calcium fluoride, and various metal oxides, which are deposited onto the optical substrate.The versatility of dielectric coatings leads to their use in many scientific optical instruments (such as lasers, optical microscopes, refracting telescopes, and interferometers) as well as consumer devices such as binoculars, spectacles, and photographic lenses.
Dielectric layers are sometimes applied over top of metal films, either to provide a protective layer (as in silicon dioxide over aluminum), or to enhance the reflectivity of the metal film. Metal and dielectric combinations are also used to make advanced coatings that cannot be made any other way. One example is the so-called "perfect mirror", which exhibits high (but not perfect) reflection, with unusually low sensitivity to wavelength, angle, and polarization.