How To Read An Airport Security X-Ray Image


An airport x-ray image, or security x-ray images, are not as hard to read, or interpret, rather, as you might think. Many people have caught a little glimpse of the images when passing through security, and though it might look like chaos and jumbled up strange colors, there’s a definite order to it.

It does take a lot of training to interpret these pictures accurately, and it takes even more training to be able to do it as fast as the security personnel at airports do it, but we’ll take a stab at a quick walk-through here.

Example 1

Basic X-Ray Image Interpretation


The basics of image interpretation means knowing what the strange colors stand for. Here it is;

- Blue equals hard materials. Metal (blue/black), hard plastics, alloys etc. For example, your gun or your metal knife will show up as blue or black or a mix. So will wires, your sunglass case, batteries, etc.

-  Orange is biological material. Anything that is natural, that is, and some things that aren’t. Rubber, leather, food, dynamite and other explosives (except plastique – that’ll turn slightly blueish), all liquids and gels and organic powders (like flour, for example).

- Green is for plastics and alloys, where the density isn’t great enough to make it blue or black. This can also be ceramics, though only the densest of them. Normally, ceramics (think ceramic knives) will show up as orange.


After being able to separate the materials by looking at the colors, the rest lies in locating and seeing the outline of the object you want to identify. If you look at the example above, the concept is pretty clear.

To identify something on the airport x-ray images, you need to be able to see the outlines, even though the objects inside may be tilted at an odd angle, and the image of the object might be unusual. In Example 1, try to find the gun, and both shoes, the cologne and the other objects. Also, is there something strange about the shoes? Wink wink.

Example 2

Once you have mastered the art of interpreting the colors and the outlines, there’s really only the practice that is left. A normal x-ray image interpreter, or an x-ray machine operator, will have approximately three weeks of practice and tests before going into the field, so to speak, and even then there’s about another month with someone hanging over his or her shoulder, making sure that everything is being done and seen correctly.

Colorful Differences

As you can see in example 2, the colors in airport security x-ray images will vary a little depending on the version of the machine, and most of all depending on the manufacturer.

The fact is, however, that if you’ve managed to learn enough about the mechanics, the colors, the shapes and how the image is affected by how an object is placed on the conveyor, then these little differences will not even slow you down.

More about Airport Security

How to get Illegal Items Through Airport Security


{ 117 comments… read them below or add one }

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Matt August 14, 2014 at 10:35 pm

Hope it’s not too late to reply to the last commenter.

I screen baggage in a Canadian airport. The items you mention are all fine here, so long as they are not assembled in a manner that might be taken suspiciously. It may help to communicate with a screening officer that will be examining your bag first.

This is easiest of course if your airport has a front of house baggage system or front of house oversized (out of gauge) setup. If they do, to get your bag screened as out of gauge (when it is not) simply advise your airline that the contents are fragile. Bear in mind every airport is vastly different in that respect.

I would advise against taking these items as carry-on.

Anonymous July 28, 2014 at 5:36 am

I am an engineering undergraduate student(Electronics). On my flight back to college,I’ll be carrying a box full of electronics components that I work with.Those include many ICs,resistors,capacitors,wires,some basic tools,sodlering rod, development boards.If it gets caught they might confiscate it.I have put in a lot of money and time in collecting these.What should I do ?

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and e-bookstores can be increasing. February 26, 2014 at 3:52 pm

Asking questions are genuinely nice thing if you are not understandinng something fully, however this paragraph provides pleasant understanding even.

Claribel February 26, 2014 at 3:39 pm

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Tammi February 14, 2014 at 8:07 pm

Not sure about that I would not take a chance with that

Tammi February 14, 2014 at 8:02 pm

At first I had a little trouble with the small object but I saw a phone cord shoes with the materials inside of it I saw a knife headset just to name a few but I do need to study the x-ray more

SS November 5, 2013 at 6:29 am

Well…you see that they’re shoes. And you see that there’s a gun and stuff also, in Example 1. So you’re on your way to learning how to read that kind of x-ray image. That’s the point of the whole article. Now, there’s a subtle difference between the shoes, as you may have noticed, and if you read the text and think about it, you’ll see that one of the shoes (to the left) has organic matter inside it, more than the other shoe. That’s a red flag. So. Example 2: there’s a phone cord, headphones, some clothes, a discman (top middle – you can see the laser lens and the tracks for it to move back and forth), a couple of pressurized cans of some sort (from context I’d say the bag has a toiletries kit in it). Learning this stuff to the core takes about a month of continuous training – this little article is just the tip of the iceberg.

Chris November 3, 2013 at 6:20 pm

What’s wrong with the shoes in Example 1? and What are all the items in Example 2? This is useless without you pointing out where things are.

are e cigarettes gluten free October 18, 2013 at 7:04 am

I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but good
topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more.
Thanks for excellent information I was looking for this information for my mission.

Melissa August 17, 2013 at 12:19 am

For the response to having no respect for a TSA, that is a really stupid thing to say on a public database considering they are part of the Federal Government. Good Luck with getting that job. hahahahaha

Mike Da Plink June 24, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Dummy. Why would you want to try to hide money. If they find it they will steal it. I’m applying for a job with them and trust me if I get hired it’s only to get my foot in the door. I have absolutely no respect for this agency.

SS February 13, 2013 at 10:05 pm

No, but remember that there are nuances and overlays that may produce strange combinations.

sims February 13, 2013 at 6:15 pm

I hope this information helps me a bit on the cbt test that I am scheduled to take real soon. Are there any other colors that may show up for objects or substances on the machine besides these 3 colors?

SS December 12, 2012 at 6:41 pm

What cash looks like and ways to hide it has actually been thoroughly explained in the “How to get illegal items through the airport” pages, and the comments. Take a look! :)

JJ December 12, 2012 at 3:12 am

Hi, say you have more than $10k cash and are flying internationally, and you just don’t want to go through the hassle of explain why you have all that cash and where the money came from, I’m thinking its just easier to conceal it somewhere in the luggage and just check it in, so how is a good way of concealing it and blending it in with other objects so the screener does not pick it up?

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