Using a Green’s function solution to the photoacoustic wave equation, we compare intensity-modulated continuous-wave (CW) lasers with a chirped modulation frequency to pulsed lasers for photoacoustic imaging applications. Assuming the same transducer is used in both cases, we show that the axial resolution is identical and is determined by the transducer and material properties of the object. We derive a simple formula relating the signal-to-noise ratios (SNRs) of the two imaging systems that only depends on the fluence of each pulse and the time-bandwidth product of the chirp pulse. We also compare the SNR of the two systems assuming the fluence is limited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) laser safety guidelines for skin. We find that the SNR is about 20 dB to 30 dB larger for pulsed laser systems for reasonable values of the parameters. However, CW diode lasers have the advantage of being compact and relatively inexpensive, which may outweigh the lower SNR in many applications.
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