Radiograph Interpretation – And Visual Welds

In addition to producing high quality radiographs, the radiographer must also be skilled in radiographic interpretation. Interpretation of radiographs takes place in three basic steps: (1) detection, (2) interpretation, and (3) evaluation. All of these steps make use of the radiographer’s visual acuity. Visual acuity is the ability to resolve a spatial pattern in an image. The ability of an individual to detect discontinuities in radiography is also affected by the lighting condition in the place of viewing, and the experience level for recognizing various features in the image. The following material was developed to help students develop an understanding of the types of defects found in weldments and how they appear in a radiograph.


Discontinuities are interruptions in the typical structure of a material. These interruptions may occur in the base metal, weld material or “heat affected” zones. Discontinuities, which do not meet the requirements of the codes or specifications used to invoke and control an inspection, are referred to as defects.

General Welding Discontinuities

The following discontinuities are typical of all types of welding.

Cold lap is a condition where the weld filler metal does not properly fuse with the base metal or the previous weld pass material (interpass cold lap). The arc does not melt the base metal sufficiently and causes the slightly molten puddle to flow into the base material without bonding.

Porosity is the result of gas entrapment in the solidifying metal. Porosity can take many shapes on a radiograph but often appears as dark round or irregular spots or specks appearing singularly, in clusters, or in rows. Sometimes, porosity is elongated and may appear to have a tail. This is the result of gas attempting to escape while the metal is still in a liquid state and is called wormhole porosity. All porosity is a void in the material and it will have a higher radiographic density than the surrounding area.


Cluster porosity is caused when flux coated electrodes are contaminated with moisture. The moisture turns into a gas when heated and becomes trapped in the weld during the welding process. Cluster porosity appear just like regular porosity in the radiograph but the indications will be grouped close together.

Slag inclusions are nonmetallic solid material entrapped in weld metal or between weld and base metal. In a radiograph, dark, jagged asymmetrical shapes within the weld or along the weld joint areas are indicative of slag inclusions.

Incomplete penetration (IP) or lack of penetration (LOP) occurs when the weld metal fails to penetrate the joint. It is one of the most objectionable weld discontinuities. Lack of penetration allows a natural stress riser from which a crack may propagate. The appearance on a radiograph is a dark area with well-defined, straight edges that follows the land or root face down the center of the weldment.

Incomplete fusion is a condition where the weld filler metal does not properly fuse with the base metal. Appearance on radiograph: usually appears as a dark line or lines oriented in the direction of the weld seam along the weld preparation or joining area.

Internal concavity or suck back is a condition where the weld metal has contracted as it cools and has been drawn up into the root of the weld. On a radiograph it looks similar to a lack of penetration but the line has irregular edges and it is often quite wide in the center of the weld image.

Internal or root undercut is an erosion of the base metal next to the root of the weld. In the radiographic image it appears as a dark irregular line offset from the centerline of the weldment. Undercutting is not as straight edged as LOP because it does not follow a ground edge.

External or crown undercut is an erosion of the base metal next to the crown of the weld. In the radiograph, it appears as a dark irregular line along the outside edge of the weld area.

Offset or mismatch are terms associated with a condition where two pieces being welded together are not properly aligned. The radiographic image shows a noticeable difference in density between the two pieces. The difference in density is caused by the difference in material thickness. The dark, straight line is caused by the failure of the weld metal to fuse with the land area.

Inadequate weld reinforcement is an area of a weld where the thickness of weld metal deposited is less than the thickness of the base material. It is very easy to determine by radiograph if the weld has inadequate reinforcement, because the image density in the area of suspected inadequacy will be higher (darker) than the image density of the surrounding base material.

Excess weld reinforcement is an area of a weld that has weld metal added in excess of that specified by engineering drawings and codes. The appearance on a radiograph is a localized, lighter area in the weld. A visual inspection will easily determine if the weld reinforcement is in excess of that specified by the engineering requirements.

Cracks can be detected in a radiograph only when they are propagating in a direction that produces a change in thickness that is parallel to the x-ray beam. Cracks will appear as jagged and often very faint irregular lines. Cracks can sometimes appear as “tails” on inclusions or porosity.

Discontinuities in TIG welds

The following discontinuities are unique to the TIG welding process. These discontinuities occur in most metals welded by the process, including aluminum and stainless steels. The TIG method of welding produces a clean homogeneous weld which when radiographed is easily interpreted.

Tungsten inclusions. Tungsten is a brittle and inherently dense material used in the electrode in tungsten inert gas welding. If improper welding procedures are used, tungsten may be entrapped in the weld. Radiographically, tungsten is more dense than aluminum or steel, therefore it shows up as a lighter area with a distinct outline on the radiograph.

Oxide inclusions are usually visible on the surface of material being welded (especially aluminum). Oxide inclusions are less dense than the surrounding material and, therefore, appear as dark irregularly shaped discontinuities in the radiograph.

Discontinuities in Gas Metal Arc Welds (GMAW)

The following discontinuities are most commonly found in GMAW welds.

Whiskers are short lengths of weld electrode wire, visible on the top or bottom surface of the weld or contained within the weld. On a radiograph they appear as light, “wire like” indications.

Burn-Through results when too much heat causes excessive weld metal to penetrate the weld zone. Often lumps of metal sag through the weld, creating a thick globular condition on the back of the weld. These globs of metal are referred to as icicles. On a radiograph, burn-through appears as dark spots, which are often surrounded by light globular areas (icicles).

Radiograph Interpretation – Castings

The major objective of radiographic testing of castings is the disclosure of defects that adversely affect the strength of the product. Castings are a product form that often receive radiographic inspection since many of the defects produced by the casting process are volumetric in nature, and are thus relatively easy to detect with this method. These discontinuities of course, are related to casting process deficiencies, which, if properly understood, can lead to accurate accept-reject decisions as well as to suitable corrective measures. Since different types and sizes of defects have different effects of the performance of the casting, it is important that the radiographer is able to identify the type and size of the defects. ASTM E155, Standard for Radiographs of castings has been produced to help the radiographer make a better assessment of the defects found in components. The castings used to produce the standard radiographs have been destructively analyzed to confirm the size and type of discontinuities present. The following is a brief description of the most common discontinuity types included in existing reference radiograph documents (in graded types or as single illustrations).


Gas porosity or blow holes are caused by accumulated gas or air which is trapped by the metal. These discontinuities are usually smooth-walled rounded cavities of a spherical, elongated or flattened shape. If the sprue is not high enough to provide the necessary heat transfer needed to force the gas or air out of the mold, the gas or air will be trapped as the molten metal begins to solidify. Blows can also be caused by sand that is too fine, too wet, or by sand that has a low permeability so that gas cannot escape. Too high a moisture content in the sand makes it difficult to carry the excessive volumes of water vapor away from the casting. Another cause of blows can be attributed to using green ladles, rusty or damp chills and chaplets.

Sand inclusions and dross are nonmetallic oxides, which appear on the radiograph as irregular, dark blotches. These come from disintegrated portions of mold or core walls and/or from oxides (formed in the melt) which have not been skimmed off prior to the introduction of the metal into the mold gates. Careful control of the melt, proper holding time in the ladle and skimming of the melt during pouring will minimize or obviate this source of trouble.

Shrinkage is a form of discontinuity that appears as dark spots on the radiograph. Shrinkage assumes various forms, but in all cases it occurs because molten metal shrinks as it solidifies, in all portions of the final casting. Shrinkage is avoided by making sure that the volume of the casting is adequately fed by risers which sacrificially retain the shrinkage. Shrinkage in its various forms can be recognized by a number of characteristics on radiographs. There are at least four types of shrinkage: (1) cavity; (2) dendritic; (3) filamentary; and (4) sponge types. Some documents designate these types by numbers, without actual names, to avoid possible misunderstanding.

Cavity shrinkage appears as areas with distinct jagged boundaries. It may be produced when metal solidifies between two original streams of melt coming from opposite directions to join a common front. Cavity shrinkage usually occurs at a time when the melt has almost reached solidification temperature and there is no source of supplementary liquid to feed possible cavities.

Dendritic shrinkage is a distribution of very fine lines or small elongated cavities that may vary in density and are usually unconnected.

Filamentary shrinkage usually occurs as a continuous structure of connected lines or branches of variable length, width and density, or occasionally as a network.

Sponge shrinkage shows itself as areas of lacy texture with diffuse outlines, generally toward the mid-thickness of heavier casting sections. Sponge shrinkage may be dendritic or filamentary shrinkage. Filamentary sponge shrinkage appears more blurred because it is projected through the relatively thick coating between the discontinuities and the film surface.

Cracks are thin (straight or jagged) linearly disposed discontinuities that occur after the melt has solidified. They generally appear singly and originate at casting surfaces.

Cold shuts generally appear on or near a surface of cast metal as a result of two streams of liquid meeting and failing to unite. They may appear on a radiograph as cracks or seams with smooth or rounded edges.

Inclusions are nonmetallic materials in an otherwise solid metallic matrix. They may be less or more dense than the matrix alloy and will appear on the radiograph, respectively, as darker or lighter indications. The latter type is more common in light metal castings.

Core shift shows itself as a variation in section thickness, usually on radiographic views representing diametrically opposite portions of cylindrical casting portions.

Hot tears are linearly disposed indications that represent fractures formed in a metal during solidification because of hindered contraction. The latter may occur due to overly hard (completely unyielding) mold or core walls. The effect of hot tears as a stress concentration is similar to that of an ordinary crack, and hot tears are usually systematic flaws. If flaws are identified as hot tears in larger runs of a casting type, explicit improvements in the casting technique will be required.

Misruns appear on the radiograph as prominent dense areas of variable dimensions with a definite smooth outline. They are mostly random in occurrence and not readily eliminated by specific remedial actions in the process.

Mottling is a radiographic indication that appears as an indistinct area of more or less dense images. The condition is a diffraction effect that occurs on relatively vague, thin-section radiographs, most often with austenitic stainless steel. Mottling is caused by interaction of the object’s grain boundary material with low-energy X-rays (300 kV or lower). Inexperienced interpreters may incorrectly consider mottling as indications of unacceptable casting flaws. Even experienced interpreters often have to check the condition by re-radiography from slightly different source-film angles. Shifts in mottling are then very pronounced, while true casting discontinuities change only slightly in appearance.

Radiographic Indications for Casting Repair Welds

Most common alloy castings require welding either in upgrading from defective conditions or in joining to other system parts. It is mainly for reasons of casting repair that these descriptions of the more common weld defects are provided here. The terms appear as indication types in ASTM E390. For additional information, see the Nondestructive Testing Handbook, Volume 3, Section 9 on the “Radiographic Control of Welds.”

Slag is nonmetallic solid material entrapped in weld metal or between weld material and base metal. Radiographically, slag may appear in various shapes, from long narrow indications to short wide indications, and in various densities, from gray to very dark.

Porosity is a series of rounded gas pockets or voids in the weld metal, and is generally cylindrical or elliptical in shape.

Undercut is a groove melted in the base metal at the edge of a weld and left unfilled by weld metal. It represents a stress concentration that often must be corrected, and appears as a dark indication at the toe of a weld.

Incomplete penetration, as the name implies, is a lack of weld penetration through the thickness of the joint (or penetration which is less than specified). It is located at the center of a weld and is a wide, linear indication.

Incomplete fusion is lack of complete fusion of some portions of the metal in a weld joint with adjacent metal (either base or previously deposited weld metal). On a radiograph, this appears as a long, sharp linear indication, occurring at the centerline of the weld joint or at the fusion line.

Melt-through is a convex or concave irregularity (on the surface of backing ring, strip, fused root or adjacent base metal) resulting from the complete melting of a localized region but without the development of a void or open hole. On a radiograph, melt-through generally appears as a round or elliptical indication.

Burn-through is a void or open hole in a backing ring, strip, fused root or adjacent base metal.

Arc strike is an indication from a localized heat-affected zone or a change in surface contour of a finished weld or adjacent base metal. Arc strikes are caused by the heat generated when electrical energy passes between the surfaces of the finished weld or base metal and the current source.

Weld spatter occurs in arc or gas welding as metal particles which are expelled during welding. These particles do not form part of the actual weld. Weld spatter appears as many small, light cylindrical indications on a radiograph.

Tungsten inclusion is usually more dense than base-metal particles. Tungsten inclusions appear very light radiographic images.  Accept/reject decisions for this defect are generally based on the slag criteria.

Oxidation is the condition of a surface which is heated during welding, resulting in oxide formation on the surface, due to partial or complete lack of purge of the weld atmosphere. The condition is also called sugaring.

Root edge condition shows the penetration of weld metal into the backing ring or into the clearance between the backing ring or strip and the base metal. It appears in radiographs as a sharply defined film density transition.

Root undercut appears as an intermittent or continuous groove in the internal surface of the base metal, backing ring or strip along the edge of the weld root.

Real-time Radiography

Real-time radiography (RTR), or real-time radioscopy, is a nondestructive test (NDT) method whereby an image is produced electronically, rather than on film, so that very little lag time occurs between the item being exposed to radiation and the resulting image. In most instances, the electronic image that is viewed results from the radiation passing through the object being inspected and interacting with a screen of material that fluoresces or gives off light when the interaction occurs. The fluorescent elements of the screen form the image much as the grains of silver form the image in film radiography. The image formed is a “positive image” since brighter areas on the image indicate where higher levels of transmitted radiation reached the screen. This image is the opposite of the negative image produced in film radiography. In other words, with RTR, the lighter, brighter areas represent thinner sections or less dense sections of the test object.

Real-time radiography is a well-established method of NDT having applications in automotive, aerospace, pressure vessel, electronic, and munition industries, among others. The use of RTR is increasing due to a reduction in the cost of the equipment and resolution of issues such as the protecting and storing digital images. Since RTR is being used increasingly more, these educational materials were developed by the North Central Collaboration for NDT Education (NCCE) to introduce RTR to NDT technician students.

Real-time Radiography: An Introductory Course Module for NDT Students

Computed Tomography

Computed Tomography (CT) is a powerful nondestructive evaluation (NDE) technique for producing 2-D and 3-D cross-sectional images of an object from flat X-ray images. Characteristics of the internal structure of an object such as dimensions, shape, internal defects, and density are readily available from CT images. Shown below is a schematic of a CT system.

The test component is placed on a turntable stage that is between a radiation source and an imaging system. The turntable and the imaging system are connected to a computer so that x-ray images collected can be correlated to the position of the test component. The imaging system produces a 2-dimensional shadowgraph image of the specimen just like a film radiograph. Specialized computer software makes it possible to produce cross-sectional images of the test component as if it was being sliced.

How a CT System Works
The imaging system provides a shadowgraph of an object, with the 3-D structure compressed onto a 2-D plane. The density data along one horizontal line of the image is uncompressed and stretched out over an area. This information by itself is not very useful, but when the test component is rotated and similar data for the same linear slice is collected and overlaid, an image of the cross-sectional density of the component begins to develop. To help comprehend how this works, look at the animation below.

In the animation, a single line of density data was collected when a component was at the starting position and then when it was rotated 90 degrees. Use the pull-ring to stretch out the density data in the vertical direction. It can be seen that the lighter area is stretched across the whole region. This lighter area would indicate an area of less density in the component because imaging systems typically glow brighter when they are struck with an increased amount of radiation. When the information from the second line of data is stretched across and averaged with the first set of stretched data, it becomes apparent that there is a less dense area in the upper right quadrant of the component’s cross-section. Data collected at more angles of rotation and merged together will further define this feature. In the movie below, a CT image of a casting is produced. It can be seen that the cross-section of the casting becomes more defined as the casting is rotated, X-rayed and the stretched density information is added to the image.

In the image below left is a set of cast aluminum tensile specimens. A radiographic image of several of these specimens is shown below right.


CT slices through several locations of a specimen are shown in the set of images below.

A number of slices through the object can be reconstructed to provide a 3-D view of internal and external structural details. As shown below, the 3-D image can then be manipulated and sliced in various ways to provide thorough understanding of the structure.

X-Ray Inspection Simulation

One of the most significant recent advances in NDT has been the development and use of computer modeling that allows inspection variables to be scientifically and mathematically evaluated. In a few cases, these models have been combined with a graphical user interface to produce inspection simulation programs that allow engineers and technicians to evaluate the inspectability of a component in a virtual computer environment. One such program, XRSIM, was designed and developed at Iowa State University’s Center for Nondestructive Evaluation. The program simulates radiographic inspections using a computer aided design (CAD) model of a part to produce physically accurate simulated radiographic images. XRSIM allows the operator to select a part, input the material properties, input the size, location, and properties of a defect. The operator then selects the size and type of film and adjusts the part location and orientation in relationship to the x-ray source. The x-ray generator settings are then specified to generate a desired radiographic film exposure. Exposure variables are quickly and easily revised allowing the operator to make and see results of defect size, material, and part or defect orientation.

The almost instantaneous results produced by simulation programs make them especially valuable in education and training settings. Successful radiography depends on numerous variables that affect the outcome and quality of an image. Many of these variables have a substantial effect on image quality and others have little effect. Using inspection simulation programs, inspections can be modified and the resulting images viewed and evaluated to assess the impact these variables have on the image. Many inspection scenarios can be rapidly modeled since the shot setup and exposure can be quickly accomplished and the film-developing step is eliminated. Not only can a greater number and variety of problems be explored, but also the effects of variables can be learned and self-discovered through experimentation, which is one of the most effective modes of learning. Results are not complicated by unnecessary variables such as film processing variables and artifacts. Distractions unrelated to the primary learning exercise are eliminated. Through the use of simulation programs a more effective understanding of the scientific concepts associated with radiography will be developed.

Another important aspect of the program is that it does not require a real part for the inspections. Inspections can be simulated that would otherwise be impossible or too costly to perform outside the computer environment. Flaws of various shapes, sizes, and materials can be easily introduced into the CAD model to produce a sample set for probability of detection exercises.

It should be noted that densities produced in the simulated images may not match exactly the images produced in the laboratory using similar equipment settings. The difference between the actual and simulated radiographs are due to variations in the X-ray spectrum of various tubes and approximations made in the scattering model used to keep the computation times reasonable. As scattering effects become more dominant, the predicted density will agree less with the actual density on the radiograph. For example, when a one-inch steel sample is radiographed at 250 keV, over half of the total flux reaching the detector is due to scattering.

For more information on how the XRSIM program operates, the users manual is available here for downloading. The educational version of the program is available commercially.

Download the XRSIM Users Manual

Ten X-ray inspection exercises have been developed by the Collaboration for NDT Education that make use of XRSIM program. Educators can download these lessons from this site. More information on the XRSIM lessons.

References and Resources

Radiography in Modern Industry, Fourth Edition, Eastman Kodak Company,
Rochester, New York, 1980

Nondestructive Testing : Radiography, Ultrasonics, Liquid Penetrant, Magnetic Particle, Eddy Current by Louis Cartz, ASM Intl; ISBN: 0871705176

Introduction to Radiation, the Health Physics Society, The University of Michigan,

Tables of X-Ray Mass Attenuation Coefficients and Mass Energy-Absorption Coefficients, NIST Physics Laboratory,


Visual Welds

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA IdadequateReinforcement IMAG0391





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