The many applications of X-rays immediately generated enormous interest. Workshops began making specialized versions of Crookes tubes for generating X-rays and these first-generation cold cathode or Crookes X-ray tubes were used until about 1920.
Whenever charged particles (electrons or ions) of sufficient energy hit a material, X-rays are produced.
The maximum energy of the produced X-ray photon is limited by the energy of the incident electron, which is equal to the voltage on the tube times the electron charge, so an 80 kV tube cannot create X-rays with an energy greater than 80 keV. When the electrons hit the target, X-rays are created by two different atomic processes:
Both of these X-ray production processes are inefficient, with only about one percent of the electrical energy used by the tube converted into X-rays, and thus most of the electric power consumed by the tube is released as waste heat. When producing a usable flux of X-rays, the X-ray tube must be designed to dissipate the excess heat.