How to Build Thermal Image Cameras

Updated February 21, 2017

A thermal image camera is one that can see into the infrared spectrum and pick up the heat signal of people, animals or objects. This technology used to be something that you would only see in spy movies, but you can easily build your own with an inexpensive digital camera and a few other household objects. Although you won't be able to take regular photographs with the camera once it has been converted, the photographs that you do get will have a distinctive and artistic style about them.

Open up your digital camera using a Phillips head screwdriver. If you are using a webcam, it will most likely be glued together. In this case you will need to pry it apart with a flathead screwdriver. Be careful not break any of the components inside.

Find the Charged Couple Device (CCD). This is usually rectangular in shape and generally sits directly behind the lens. If you can't find it, look at your user's manual to see where it is located. This is the device in the camera that is responsible for creating an image.

Remove the infrared filter. This will be a red tinted piece of glass or plastic that sits atop the CCD. It will be glued to it. Pry it loose using a flat edge such as a knife blade or flathead screwdriver. Go slowly and make sure not to break the CCD in the process.

Replace the filter with the processed film negative. This should be roughly the size of a large postage stamp. It will need to cover the entire CCD. Wedge it in tightly against the lens circle so that it cannot move. If this is not possible, you will need to glue it to the CCD with a dab of non-toxic adhesive such as white craft glue.

Put the camera back together and replace the screws. You can now take photos of animals or people in complete darkness. Bear in mind that your photos won't look the same as regular photographs. Instead, you will get colours that are heat images of the subjects that you are photographing.


Once you undertake this process, you will not be able to use your webcam as a normal camera again.

Things You'll Need

  • White craft glue
  • Processed film negative
  • Digital camera
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About the Author

Palmer Owyoung holds a Master of Arts in international business from the University of California at San Diego and a Bachelor of Arts in sociology from the University of California at Santa Barbara and is a trained molecular biologist. He has been a freelance writer since 2006. In addition to writing, he is a full-time Forex trader and Internet marketer.