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Translucent, Opaque, and Transparent Materials | What’s the Difference?

Translucent, Opaque, and Transparent Materials | What’s the Difference?
Translucent, opaque, and transparent materials are all different ways to explain how certain objects let visible light pass through them. While some people may think that they’ve similar meanings, they don’t. We have explored and explained all these objects (translucent transparent opaque) with the help of definitions and examples.

Let’s take a look:

What Is Transparent Object?

The word transparent is used to refer to something that is see-through or clear. So, transparent objects are items through which you can clearly see things that are present on the other side by looking through that item.
Almost all the light that comes in contact with transparent materials passes directly through them. As a matter of fact, you even see intricate details such as colors through transparent objects.


Characteristics of Transparent Materials

  • Any item placed on the other side of a transparent object can be seen clearly.
  • Light can pass totally through them.
  • A shadow doesn’t form in transparent objects because they don’t block any light.
  • You can clearly see the other side through a transparent object.
  • They are also called see-through objects because you see through them as clear as day.

Examples of Transparent Materials

  • Cellophane
  • Glass windowpane (Clear)
  • Glass light bulb (clear)
  • Cling wrap
Detailed Examples

  • Prism
Prism is one of the most transparent materials known to man. You can see everything through a prism.

  • Glasses
We use a lot of items made from glass in our daily life such as water glasses, fish tanks, lenses, spectacles, and watches, etc. Light passes completely through these glass objects which is why they are transparent.

  • Diamond
Diamond is the clearest object ever made. If you look at something written on a piece of paper through a diamond, you will be able to read it clearly. Hence, it is transparent.

  • Air
Air is everywhere in our surroundings. If it is clear, we can easily spot everything. For instance, if you ever travel by plane, look outside the window, how clear the air is.

  • Water
If you have ever tried looking at something through the clear water, you will know how clear it is. However, it is important to keep the clarity of the water in mind because if it isn’t clear, you won’t be able to see through it clearly.

What Are Translucent Objects?

The word translucent is used to refer to an object that allows light to pass through it but it doesn’t show clear images on the other side. So, when you look through translucent objects, you can spot the objects on the side but you can’t tell what they are.
When light encounters translucent objects, some of it passes directly through them but some of it doesn’t. As a result, we only see unclear and fuzzy images of the items present across translucent objects.

Why Does Translucency Occur?

  • Non-Uniform Density
Due to the non-uniform distribution of matter, an object can have a different density in different parts. This can cause irregular refraction and inaccurate transmission. The density fluctuations can also result in scattering centers. And where the fluctuations happen, the light rays scatter.

  • Crystallographic Defects
Any fluctuations in the composition of a crystal structure can result in the scattering of light.

  • Boundaries
In a polycrystalline structure, the grain boundaries and in an organism the cell boundaries can act as scattering centers.


Characteristics of Translucent Objects

  • Faint shadow forms in translucent materials because they don’t block all of light.
  • Translucent items let light partially pass through them.
  • Any items placed on the other side of translucent objects can’t be seen clearly.
  • Transparent objects are also called see-through objects because you can partially see through them.
  • You cannot see anything clearly through any translucent object.

Examples of Translucent Objects

  • Vegetable oil
  • Sunglasses
  • A single piece of tissue paper
  • Sauteed onions
  • Wax paper

Detailed Examples

  • Colored Liquids
If you pour some colored liquid into a glass bottle, you will not be able to see clearly through the liquids.

  • Butter Paper
Go to your kitchen, find some butter paper, and look through it. You will not be able to see through the butter paper clearly.

  • Clouds
You can spot both transparent and translucent objects when you are on a plane. While air is transparent, clouds are translucent because you cannot see clearly through them.

  • Tinted Glass
If you have tinted glass somewhere in your house, try looking through it. You will not be able to see the other side of the tinted glass clearly.

  • Frosted Glass
If a glass has some sort of frost or moisture on it, it becomes translucent because you can see through it but you cannot see the opposite side clearly.

  • Coloured Plastic
Everyone has colored plastics present at home. Look through your house and try finding colored plastic, and look through it. You will automatically understand that colored plastics are translucent objects.

  • Coloured Balloons
When was the last time you attended a birthday party that had a lot of balloons? Have you ever tried looking through colored balloons? The images of the items on the other side are hazy and you cannot see them clearly.

  • Stained Glass
You cannot see clearly when you look through stained glass. If you have ever visited an old, historical empire building, you will understand that stained glass is also translucent.

What Is Opaque Object?

The word opaque is used to refer to an object that is not capable of letting light pass through it. When talking in science terms, opaque materials are considered the opposite of translucent and transparent materials.


Why Does Opacity Occur?

  • Absorption
Opaque objects absorb light inside them. As a result, they significantly decrease the intensity of the incident light.

  • Scattering
The molecules of opaque materials can absorb light and scatter it in random
directions. Because of the cumulative scattering, the light waves get dissipated before the light even emerges on the other side.

  • Reflection
The incident light can reflect from the surface of opaque materials. Opaque objects look colored because a particular wavelength gets reflected. The rest of the wavelengths either scatter or get absorbed.

Characteristics of Opaque Objects

  • Any item that is placed on the other side of opaque objects cannot be seen.
  • Light cannot pass through opaque materials.
  • Dark shadow forms in the case of opaque objects because they fully block the light that passes through them.
  • You cannot see anything when you look through opaque materials.

Examples of Opaque Materials

  • Steel cupboard
  • Wooden door
  • Closed textbook
  • Stone wall
  • Plastic chairs
  • Metal roof
Detailed Examples

  • Paper Cup
Have you ever seen or used a paper cup? You cannot see anything when you look through a paper cup. You can even try looking through a paper cup right now.

  • Mirror
When you comb your hair every morning, before going to school, what do you see? You see yourself. Have you ever seen the backside of a mirror? No. Never. Why is that? There is a coating at the backside of a mirror. The coating doesn’t let any light pass through a mirror. Therefore, light cannot pass through a mirror and it’s opaque.

  • Apple
Have you ever held an apple in front of a light bulb? Can you see through the apple? No, you cannot view anything through an apple. Therefore, apples are opaque materials.

  • Can
This one is pretty easy, right? We all drink coke from cans. Can you see through a can of coke or any other drink? No, you cannot because can is an opaque material

Difference Between Transparent Opaque and Translucent Objects

Let’s summarize all the differences between the three objects: transparent translucent opaque.

Transparent Materials/Objects
Translucent Materials/Objects
Opaque Materials/Objects
Light can pass through transparent materials completely.
Light can pass through translucent objects only partially.
Light is not able to pass through opaque objects.
You can see things placed on the other side of transparent objects clearly.
You can see things placed on the other side of these objects only partially.
You cannot see any items that are placed on the other side of opaque materials
There is no shadow formation in the case of these objects.
There is a faint shadow formation in the case of translucent items.
There is a dark or very dark shadow formation in the case of these objects.
Examples of transparent materials include daily life things such as lenses, water, and glass, etc.
Examples of translucent materials include daily life things such as tinted glass, colored balloons, and frosted glass, etc.
Examples of opaque materials include daily life things such as wood, books, and bricks, etc.

An Interesting Experiment!

You can perform a simple experiment in the classroom or at home with your siblings to see whether a certain item is transparent, translucent, or opaque. Here is what you have to do for the experiment:

  • Gather the items you want to find out about.
  • Put a vibrant, full-contrast picture in a picture frame. Position that picture frame steadily on a table in a well-lit room.
  • Hold the object that you have between the picture and your eyes.
  • Note down what you can see of the picture through the object you are holding.
  • Based on your observations, your result can be:

Did You Know?

  • The level of absorption of light in different kinds of materials actually relies heavily on the molecular and atomic structure of the object or material under consideration.
  • Electrons are capable of making transitions into various levels of energy by absorbing the corresponding wavelengths of light.
  • Another way with which energy can be absorbed is the resonance that occurs in molecular vibrations.
  • Metals house a whole lot of free electrons. As a result, whenever light rays pass through or encounter a metallic object, those free electrons in the metal absorb the light rays and re-emit them frequently. This behavior results in a quick attenuation of the incident light rays, and, therefore, makes the said substance opaque to radiation.
  • Optical fibers, which are very commonly used in communication, have a transparent cladding and core.
  • Optical fibres utilize the phenomenon of total internal reflection of light to work. The electromagnetic waves that travel through them are of specific frequencies and they can travel through the optical fibres with minimal dissipation of energy.
  • Some marine animals are also nearly transparent because their transparency allows them to protect themselves from predators. The best example, in this case, is of Jellyfish.
  • Surprisingly, animals are not just the only example of one of the three phenomenons under discussion. As a matter of fact, humans have translucency, to some extent. Pale skin in humans is translucent which is why you can see the blue or green veins present in the human body through the skin.
  • Opaque and translucent glasses have great applications in real life. They are oftentimes used in houses to make the windows difficult to look through for the protection of privacy. These special types of glasses are opaque from the outside but they are, interestingly, transparent from the inside.
  • Objects get blurred when they are looked at through fog or smoke. Fog and smoke are also examples of translucent substances.


And this is everything that you need to know about transparent opaque and translucent objects. If you find the concept of translucent, opaque, and transparent materials confusing on its own, we recommend remembering the definitions and differences with the help of examples. Look around for these objects around your house. This way you will be able to associate them with objects of common use and remember them effectively.

Best of Luck.

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With over 3 years of experience in teaching, Chloe is very deeply connected with the topics that talk about the educational and general aspects of a student's life. Her writing has been very helpful for students to gain a better understanding of their academics and personal well-being. I’m also open to any suggestions that you might have! Please reach out to me at chloedaniel402 [at]