Welders Galore

Welders Galore

Auto Darkening Welding Helmet vs Passive: Which One is the Better Choice

A welding helmet is one of the most critical pieces of safety equipment for any welder. But choosing between an auto darkening welding helmet vs passive one can be challenging—especially if you are a beginner. Of course, both types of helmets have similar safety functions. They protect the eyes, face, and neck from sparks, harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays, flash burns, and intense heat.

Passive Welding Helmet and welding gear

Choosing the right welding headgear is essential whether you’re a beginner or a professional. So, you may wonder if it is best to buy an auto darkening welding helmet vs passive one. 

Your choice of helmet typically depends on the type of welding you do, lens quality, and features. Additionally, comparing the pros and cons of welding helmets can help you make an informed decision. 

Auto Darkening vs Passive Shade — What’s the Difference?

The primary difference between an auto-darkening welding helmet and one with a passive shade lens is the lens reaction to intense light.

A welding helmet with passive shade means that the lens is constantly dark. This feature makes it challenging to strike the arcs and start working. The result is that beginners find it difficult to weld with precision from the start. Additionally, you must constantly remove a passive helmet to check the weld quality and accuracy. 

Auto-darkening is a relatively new technology in the welding industry. The protective lens uses a liquid crystal display that is transparent in normal conditions. However, the lens darkens automatically when the sensors detect the arc. The lens instantly turns dark to protect your vision.

The dark protective lens returns to clear transparency when the arc cuts out. Therefore, removing the helmet or lifting the visor to inspect weld quality is unnecessary. 

Passive Helmet vs Auto-Darkening — Overview

Let’s examine the differences between welding helmets with auto-darkening filters  (ADF) and passive shade. 

 Auto-darkening helmetPassive helmet
Cost$50 – $3,000$10 – $50
Power optionsRechargeable batteries or solar power (some helmets have both)Not necessary
ComfortHeavy due to the ADF componentsLightweight
ProtectionFull protection of face, eyes, and neckFull safety features to protect eyes, neck, and face
Shade range#6 to #13Fixed shade #10
VisibilityExcellent pre-welding protectionGood weld puddle vision during welding
Ease of useMay be tricky for beginners to use it effectivelyStraightforward, suitable for beginners
SizeLarge, full helmet-typeSmall and easier to use
MaintenanceRepairs and lens replacements are expensiveCost-friendly

What is An Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet?

An auto-darkening helmet has a protective lens that darkens automatically when exposed to intense light. The primary advantage of a welding helmet with an ADF filter is clarity. The protective lens is clear when not welding. This allows you to strike the first arc with precision.

Although more expensive, auto-darkening welding helmets are better for beginners. Striking the first arc in the correct place can be tricky and requires some skill. Therefore, placing the electrode in the exact spot to start welding is a clear advantage. 

How Do Auto-Darkening Helmets Work?

Auto-darkening welding helmets work using a liquid crystal display powered by a rechargeable battery, solar power, or both. Arc sensors in the helmet detect intense light emissions from the welding arc and automatically darken the viewing pane. Users can pre-set the level of darkness depending on the welding process. 

What is a Passive Welding Helmet?

-Darkening Welding Helmet

A passive welding helmet has a protective lens that is continually darkened—usually at shade #10. Instead of an LCD, the helmet’s lens is typically glass with a protective coating to protect your eyes against potentially harmful UV and IR rays. The only way to see the weld is to lift or remove the helmet. 

One of the advantages of a passive welding helmet is vision clarity while welding. A passive lens has superior vision compared to an auto-darkening welding helmet. Also, there is minimal risk of arc flashes—a condition when the intense UV light burns the eyeball’s outer layer. However, arc flashes with auto-darkening helmets are typically an issue with cheaper models. 

Like auto-darkening welding helmets, passive ones protect the face, head, ears, and neck. And both types of welding helmets offer eye protection that meets international safety standards. 

How Do Passive Welding Helmets Work?

Passive welding helmets work using a glass lens with a fixed shade—usually #10. The lens coating protects against UV and IR radiation. Although the shade level is constant, you can change the lens depending on the welding process. To inspect the weld, you must nod the helmet up and down; however, some welders prefer to hold the helmet. 

Because there are no fancy components to make a passive welding helmet work, they are relatively cheap. In addition, they require no power source, and there isn’t costly LCD technology to break down, making maintenance costs minimal. In fact, some welding kits come with a free visor to get you started. 

Which is Best for Beginners — Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet or Passive?

Choosing the right type of helmet when starting a welding career or hobby is crucial. So should you invest in an ADF welding helmet or one with a fixed shade?

It depends on the type of welding you plan. A good quality ADF helmet is best for starting a welding career. You will quickly learn to make precise, beautiful welds without excessive arc strikes. However, suppose you are a welding hobbyist doing odd jobs in a home workshop. In that case, a passive helmet is probably sufficient. 

Typically, the free welding helmets or visors included in welding kits are low quality and should be avoided. Therefore, include in your budget the cost of purchasing a high-quality welding helmet, whether a passive one or ADF. 

Auto Darkening Welding Helmet vs Passive Helmet – Pros and Cons

Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet Passive Welding Helmet
ProsCons ProsCons
ADF makes it easy to strike precise arcsQuality ADF helmets are expensive AffordableThe lens is constantly dark
Easy for welding because you don’t need to remove itHeavy due to the ADF functions LightweightNecessary to tilt the visor up and down to inspect welds
Full UV and IR protectionExpensive to repair Full UV and IR protectionDifficult for beginners to use
Choose the shade levelMay fail if the batteries are empty Cheap to repairSingle shade level
Easy for beginners  No need to worry about batteries or solar power 
Provides face and head protection  Provides face and head protection 
Lower risk of striking an arc without adequate eye protection  Commonly used throughout the welding industry 

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Welding Helmet

passive shade mean on a welding helmet

Regarding welding helmets, there are two main types to choose from—auto-darkening and passive. Making the right decision can be tricky since each helmet has unique advantages and drawbacks. The main considerations are budget, type of welding, safety features, and the amount of welding you plan to do. 

It is also important to check that the welding helmet meets the industry standard ANSI Z87.1. For example, ADF helmets must provide IR and UV protection even when not in a darkened state.

Let’s look in more detail at things to consider when deciding which type of welding helmet to buy. 

BudgetTo spend on Welding Helmet

The cost of a welding helmet can be an important factor when making your purchase decision. You may be tempted to choose the least expensive option if you’re on a tight budget. However, it’s important to remember that you get what you pay for, and not all helmets are created equal.

Auto-darkening welding helmets are more expensive than their passive counterparts and offer greater convenience. Some beginners prefer auto-darkening helmets because it’s easier to strike an arc. However, suppose you only do occasional welding. In that case, the lower price tag of a passive helmet may be the better option for you.

Amount of Welding that you intend to do

The amount of welding you plan to do can impact your decision of which type of helmet to buy. For occasional welder hobbyists, a passive welding helmet should be sufficient. Although it is trickier to use, a good quality passive helmet is a fraction of the price of an auto-darkening one.

However, suppose you plan to start a professional welding career. In that case, an auto-darkening helmet might be the best choice. The ADF features make it easy to learn precision welding, and high-quality helmets come with many additional features like voice commands and visual displays.

Plastic or Glass Lens on Helmet

Always choose a welding helmet with a glass lens if you can afford it. Although plastic lenses are usually cheaper, they can sometimes distort the light and color profile, making it difficult to weld accurately. On the other hand, a glass lens provides consistent clarity and protection against sparks and ultraviolet radiation. 

Size of the viewing area

The viewing area is an important factor to consider when choosing a welding helmet. The field of vision, or the viewable area, is the amount of visibility you have when looking through the lens. Welding hoods come in a range of viewing area sizes. Consider the welding environment, type of welding, and personal preference when determining what to look for.

Welding with a large viewing area allows more visibility of the arc, puddle, and piece being worked on. If you are a hobbyist, one view pane might be adequate. However, if you plan to do out-of-position work, a welding hood with a wide field of vision may be the best option. 

Of course, the basic purpose of a welding helmet is to protect your face and eyes from sparks and UV and IR radiation. However, the right helmet can greatly impact your welding success. For example, cheaper helmets have small lenses offering limited vision. However, more expensive ones have large lenses, making welding easier and more comfortable. 

Power Source

When choosing an auto-darkening welding helmet, consider the power source. Most ADF helmets use rechargeable AAA batteries to power the arc sensors and LCD. However, more expensive models also have solar power to charge the batteries. And some models have more expensive lithium batteries. 

A model with rechargeable AAA batteries is ideal for an economical ADF welding helmet. However, suppose you need extended battery life. In that case, the best choice is a welding hood with a lithium battery and solar panels. 

Safety Standards

Safety and wearing the correct PPE are crucial when welding. Therefore, ensure that the welding helmet you plan to buy meets the required safety standards. In the United States, the industry standard is ANSI Z87. 1 – 2003, which covers the criteria that all eye and face protection devices must comply with.

Auto Darkening Welding Helmet vs Passive — FAQs

What does passive shade mean on a welding helmet?

A passive shade lens on a welding helmet means the darkness level doesn’t change. For most welding applications, shade #10 is the industry standard. However, depending on the welding type and amperage, you may need a lens with shades #11, #12, or #13.

Can you look at the sun with an auto-darkening welding helmet?

Generally, looking at the sun with an auto-darkening welding hood is not advisable. According to NASA, shade #13 or #14 is the recommended shade level for viewing a solar eclipse. However, not all auto-darkening helmets go to shade #13. Therefore, it is best to use recommended viewing equipment—not an auto-darkening welding helmet—to observe the sun. 

Can you get arc-eye through a welding helmet?

Auto Darkening Welding Helmet vs Passive

Welding helmets protect against arc-eye or flash burns—the equivalent of sunburn on your eyes. In addition, safety lenses in auto-darkening helmets must protect against harmful UV and IV rays even when in a non-darkened state. Remember—never strike an arc without wearing a welding mask to minimize the risk of eye damage while welding. 

What about the delay on auto-darkening welding helmets when the arc is struck? Choose a high-quality helmet with a response time of 4/10ths of a millisecond. And avoid cheap welding helmets with automatic lenses as they can increase the risk of arc-eye

What color lens is best for welding?

The best lens color for welding is gold. Gold welding lenses block out all UV and IR radiation, provide excellent shade levels and reflect most of the heat from welding. However, the best color lens for welding depends on the welding type and metal. 

For example, some welders prefer red lenses for MIG welding. In contrast, others say that “CoolBlue” is an excellent choice for aluminum. 

Buying a Welding Helmet — In Conclusion

After reading this article, you should have a better understanding of the differences between an auto-darkening welding helmet and a passive one. So, which would be the best one to buy? The answer depends on your requirements. 

Most beginner welders buy a good quality, reasonably priced auto-darkening helmet. This lets you pre-set most features and start learning your welding craft uninterruptedly. You will also save valuable time and increase productivity. However, remember that these ADF welding hoods can be expensive to repair. 

Many experienced welders choose a passive welding helmet. The primary reason is that its vision clarity while welding is superior to an auto-darkening model. And even if you decide that an automatic lens is best for your needs, a good passive helmet is always recommended as a backup. 

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