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How to Select The Right Welding Helmet For You

How to Select The Right Welding Helmet For You

Eric Sommers is a helmet specialist from Miller Electric shares some of his knowledge on helmets and safety.

While welding helmets are designed to protect you from the visible and invisible (ultraviolet and infrared) rays a welding arc emits, not all helmets are created equal. There are numerous factors to consider when selecting a welding helmet: passive or auto-darkening lens, fixed or variable shade, two, three or four sensors and viewing area are just a few. Taking the time to find the right helmet for your needs can increase your productivity and weld quality, as well as your fit and comfort.

First of all, you should definitely choose a helmet that meets ABSI Z87.1 – 2003 standards, which ensures that the helmet and lens have passed independent testing to show they can survive high velocity impact from flying objects, provide 100% ultraviolet and infrared filtering regardless of shade setting. and meet advertised switching speeds and darkness shades in temperatures as low as 23F and as high as 131F.

Miller Raptor

*Above is Miller Elite in the Raptor Graphic

Passive vs. Auto-Darkening Lens

Welding lens shade numbers refer to the lens’ ability to filter light and may range from a #8 shade for low-amp applications up to a #13 shade for high-amp applications. Top-line helmets may include additional ranges #3-#8 for grinding and cutting.

A passive lens helmet uses UV- and IR-coated dark-tinted glass with a fixed shade value, usually #10. The passive welding helmet is worn in the up position while the electrode, gun or torch is positioned. Then with a quick nod or snap of the neck, the operator flips the helmet into position immediately before striking an arc.

While passive lens helmets have passed the test of time and provide an economical choice, they have a few shortcomings:

  • For the novice welder, or someone who doesn’t weld often, it can be difficult to position the electrode while the helmet is snapped into place. This can lead to poor weld starts, which may lead to weld defects or the need for excessive grinding.
  • Tack welding, or numerous short welds, can be difficult and inefficient since the welder has to repeatedly lift and lower the helmet.
  • The repetitive task of flipping the helmet up and down can cause neck fatigue, and in some cases may lead to repetitive stress injuries.

An auto-darkening lens directly addresses these issues. In its inactive state, an auto-darkening lens usually has a #3 or #4 shade (light state). When sensors on the helmet sense an arc start, the lens darkens in a fraction of a second (typically 1/12,000 to 1/20,000 of a second) to shade #8 to #13.

Because the helmet stays in position before, during, and after the weld, an auto-darkening welding helmet enables you to set up your welding joint with the hood down. No more head snaps, no more sloppy starts, and no more raising and lowering the helmet for tack welds. It not only has the potential for improving weld quality, it can ease neck strain associated with snapping the helmet into place.

Auto-Darkening Options

Auto darkening helmets are available for every welding level, from the hobbyist to the professional. If you’ve decided to go with an auto-darkening helmet, consider:

Fixed or Variable Shade…

  • Fixed Shade will darken (usually to a shade #10) upon arc strike and is a good solution if you are doing most of your welding with the same process, similar amperage, and material thickness.
  • Variable Shade allows you to adjust the shade depending on process and amperage you are using. The higher the amps, typically means the darker the shade.

Viewing area: This is one of the major considerations in purchasing an auto-darkening helmet and is where a large majority of the costs lie. The larger the viewing are, the more expensive the helmet. Typical view sizes range from 6 sq. in. for light duty applications to 9 sq. in. for industrial use.

Number of sensors: The number of sensors ranges from two for a hobby level helmet to four for an industrial grade helmet. More sensors mean better coverage and quicker changing speed and are especially good for out-of-position welding where a sensor could be obstructed.  

Other Welding Helmet Considerations

Some additional things to consider are:

Helmet weight which averages around 18oz. The larger the viewing area, the heavier the helmet will usually be.

Headgear is a big selling feature. If you are wearing the helmet you want it to fit properly and be comfortable. Look at the number of adjustments the headgear has such as the angle & position adjustments as well as the durability of it.

Skin Coverage refers to the amount of neck coverage that the helmet provides. Keeping your neck protected from the ultraviolet and infrared rays is also very important.

Welding helmets have come a long way in the last decade and offer many additional features and benefits to increase welder protection, comfort and productivity. While it may be tempting to buy the least expensive helmet, taking the time to explore all of your options can have long-term benefits. Check out the most popular Miller helmets here.

About Today's Guest Post Author

Eric Sommers
Product Specialist, Helmets
Miller Electric Mfg. Co. An ITW Company

Eric Sommers has been with Miller for about 6 years and most of his career has been spent with Miller’s welding helmet line. He also had been the product specialist for Miller’s respiratory category but has recently dedicated all of his time to welding helmets.


 2020 Update -- check out the updated head and face brochure from Miller. There has been a ton of updates to technology and gear.

Miller helmet update

Ed C.


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