For the highest beam quality, the diode bars should be as close to each other as possible. On the other hand, efficient cooling requires some minimum thickness of the heat sinks which need to be mounted between the bars. Due to that minimum spacing, the beam quality of the combined output of a diode stack in the vertical direction (and subsequently its brightness) is much lower than that of a single diode bar. There are, however, several techniques for significantly mitigating this problem, e.g. by spatial interleaving of the outputs of different diode stacks, by polarization coupling, or by wavelength multiplexing. Various types of high-power beam shapers and related devices have been developed for such purposes.
Depending on the application, a diode stack may be used with or without attached optics. A common option is the use of fast axis collimation lenses, which are directly attached to the bars (see Figure 2). Further optics can be used for collimation also in the slow axis (horizontal) direction, or even for coupling the output into a multimode fiber.
Diode stacks can provide extremely high output powers of hundreds or thousands of watts, as used for pumping of high-power solid-state lasers, or used directly e.g. for material processing. There are also fiber-coupled diode stacks, delivering e.g. several kilowatts from a multimode fiber with a core diameter of 600 μm. Some applications such as welding of metals or plastics, where a high beam quality is not required, can directly utilize the output of such a laser system, which can have a very high wall-plug efficiency. This is also attractive for other direct laser diode applications such as hardening, alloying, and cladding of metallic surfaces. If laser radiation with much higher brightness is required, the laser radiation may be used for pumping a high-power fiber laser based on a double-clad fiber. Such a device can serve as a brightness converter, delivering a somewhat reduced output power but with much higher beam quality.
There are also horizontal stacks, where the diode bars are arranged side-by-side, leading to a long linear array of emitters. Such an arrangement is more easily cooled, and may thus also allow for a higher output power per emitter. The emission pattern of a horizontal stack is suitable for, e.g., pumping of rod lasers, whereas it is probably less convenient when an approximately circular output beam is required. The number of diode bars in a horizontal stack (and thus the total output power) is more limited than in a vertical stack.
The cooling of such diode stacks is somewhat challenging for continuous-wave operation, but less so for quasi-continuous-wave operation with pulses of e.g. a few hundred microseconds duration and a pulse repetition rate of some tens of hertz. The latter mode of operation makes it possible to obtain very high peak powers, which can be used e.g. for pumping Q-switched high-power solid-state lasers.