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.

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