Accessing ZEMAX/ OpticStudio from Python using PyZDDE


ZEMAX (also known as OpticStudio), a leading tool for design and analysis of optical systems, provides an in-built DDE server that enables access to ZEMAX’s features externally using any Windows application. The ability to access and control ZEMAX externally allows it to be used in many interesting and powerful ways, some of which has been documented in the “ZEMAX Extensions” chapter of the ZEMAX manual. An excellent toolbox called MZDDE, developed by Derek Griffith at CSIR, already exists for users of MATLAB. When I tried to look for an equivalent toolbox in Python, I couldn’t find one, so I decided to write one myself.

PyZDDE is a Python-based toolbox for communicating with ZEMAX using the DDE messaging protocol. It is similar to MZDDE and very much inspired by it. Currently PyZDDE is not as extensive as MZDDE as it is a work in progress. However, it has some distinguishing features — it can be used with regular Python scripts and also in an interactive environment such as an IPython shell, QtConsole or IPython notebook. The ability to interact with ZEMAX from an IPython notebook using PyZDDE can be a powerful tool for both teaching and documentation. Please visit the github repository for downloading and using the code. The github repository also contains an accompanying wiki page which describes briefly on how to use the PyZDDE toolbox.

Here I would like to briefly document the communication process between ZEMAX and Python using PyZDDE. But before that I would like to show you how simple it is to communicate with Zemax using PyZDDE using a “Hello world” example (it gets and prints the running Zemax version):

import pyzdde.zdde as pyz
link = pyz.createLink()
print("Hello Zemax version: ", link.zGetVersion())

ZPL Macro syntax highlighting using Notepad++

Using macros, written in the Zemax Programming Language (ZPL), is a powerful way to extend the functionality of ZEMAX. Zemax doesn’t provide a special editor for writing ZPL macros, and it recommends using text editors such as the NOTEPAD editor.

I love editors with syntax highlighting. Since there are no standard editors (with syntax highlighting) for writing ZPL codes, I decided to use Notepad++. It also allowed me to create a style-file which enabled syntax highlighting and support minimal code folding as shown below. The style-file contains the latest keyword, numeric function and string function definitions (as of April 2013). I have shared the style-files here in the post.

In order to download the files and see the quick instructions to use them, please continue reading.


Today (05/06/2014) I got to know about another project, created by Xinda Hu, for syntax highlighting and code folding of macro programs for both Zemax and Code V. It seems to be quite sophisticated and uses a modified form of Solarized theme. It also provides auto-complete and function calltips in the editor, which I believe can be of great help while coding. He has uploaded the required files at his GibHub page here (Zemax) and here (Code V). He has also created a GIF animation to demo the capability of his highlighter project, which can be found here. I highly recommend using his project for ZPL syntax highlighting.

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