Welding Helmets 101: Shade Numbers, Sensors, & Everything Else To Know

Last Updated: by Alfred Byron

For a welder, selecting the right welding helmet is one of the essential choices you have to make. Welding helmets are personal protective equipment that protects the wearer from sparks and the ultraviolet and infrared rays that are harmful to the eyes. 

There have been many technological developments on these helmets which make them even safer and more comfortable to use. Some of the latest designs may also increase the welder’s productivity. There are many options you can choose from, depending on the environment or kind of welding needed. As welding operators, there are many factors that you have to consider to find the welding helmet that suits your needs. 


First, let’s talk about ANSI/ISEA Z87.1-2015. These are a set of standards for safety eye and face products which include welding helmets. These are regularly updated to ensure that the quality of different pieces of personal protective equipment continuously follows the global standards. Also, they are updated to make sure that innovations are recognized and incorporated into the list. 

The standard also gives some help for welding operators in choosing the best welding helmets for them by providing tools such as “Selection Guide” and “Protector Markings”. People who opt to read these tools will be able to recognize and evaluate the capabilities of the equipment. 

Welding Shade Number

Welding shade numbers indicate the darkness of the glass used in the equipment. The higher the number, the darker the shade is. Various operations or processes require a certain welding shade number. Welding shades range from 8-13, cutting from 5-8, and for grinding it is 3.

Differences Between Passive and Auto-darkening Lenses

Welding lenses are available in two main types: passive and auto-darkening. Passive type is the traditional type where the glasses are always dark. Although these are cheaper and usually sufficient for the job, they have some disadvantages. 

  1. May cause neck stiffness. When you utilize this type of helmet, you would have to make a quick snap of your neck up or down to open or close it, respectively. Since it has a fixed dark tint, you would have to lift the helmet to check the weldment repeatedly. The repetition of this movement will result in a fatigued neck.
  2. Difficulty to utilize in limited spaces. Because of the need to lift and lower the helmet repeatedly, you will need a bigger space. In a small area, you won’t be able to make the neck motions as well as when you are in an ample space. 
  3. Higher chances of poor results for beginners. For less skilled welders, it will be challenging for you to place the electrode in the correct position, which would lead to weld defects and would entail more work to do to correct the mistake. 
  4. Nearly impossible to do tack welding. Tack welding is when you do multiple short welds, and since you always have to check your weldment, it would be inefficient to utilize this type of helmet. 

The other type of weld helmet is the auto-darkening one. This technology is a more advanced kind where the lens shifts shade automatically. The auto-darkening welding helmet has sensors which detect when an arc starts and directly adjusts it to a darker shade. In some models, you have the option to set the tone yourself, depending on the kind of welding you have to do.

Because you could see what you are working on even when the helmet is in the down position, you won’t have to open and close the gear often. Using this type would eliminate the chance of neck strain for the users. You could also finish your work faster and get better results. 

Auto-Darkening Helmet Features

  • Fixed shade. These helmets still have the auto-darkening function but can only change or switch to a set tone which is usually a #10 shade. If the projects or work you have to do are similar in terms of material, thickness, and technique, then this type would be efficient for you. 
  • Variable Shade. If you use different processes for each job you are doing, then this would be the better choice. Offering a variety of shade lens allows the welders’ eyes to be protected well and be able to have a clear view of their work no matter which process they are using. These usually range from a #9 to a #13 shade. 
  • Viewing size. Since you will be wearing the auto-darkening helmet throughout the whole welding process, you will need one which grants you sufficient view of your work. 
  • Number of Sensors. Different models have different amounts of sensors depending on its use. The higher the number of sensors, the more space covered and the lesser chance for the helmet to fail to darken. For people who do welding for fun, helmets with two sensors are sufficient, but for professional work, you need one with at least five sensors. 
  • Adjustable Sensitivity and Delay Controls. You have the option to set at which brightness the sensors could detect to change the shade and also to set how long the helmet continues to stay dark after the arc. 
  • Operational Modes. You could use a single model for various types of welding jobs by switching the modes which make them flexible in use.

General Considerations When Choosing a Welding Helmet

  • Weight. You have to make sure that your helmet is not too heavy because it could strain your neck. 
  • Fit. Trying on the helmet could help you evaluate if it fits comfortably on your head. 
  • Balance. Try to check if the helmet cover balances well in both the up position and the down position. 
  • Personalization. You have the option to make it your own. Choose the right color that suits you, and you can even add designs to personalize the gear. 

If you work professionally as a welder and you’re in search of an auto darkening welding helmet, you have to think about which model to use carefully. Remember that you will be using this multiple times and so you need one that is best for you.