We report on steady-state absorption and emission measurements for two infrared (IR) dye molecules, IR5 and IR1051, incorporated in hybrid organic/inorganic zirconia-based thin films synthesized with a sol-gel technique. For comparison, measurements in liquid solutions have also been carried out, and an estimation of the relative quantum efficiency in solid glassy material with respect to liquid solution is reported. Absorption and emission spectra are discussed in terms of physical and chemical interactions with the host matrix. The present work provides the evidence of successful doping of solid films with dyes for planar waveguides emitting in the infrared region up to 1.3 μm. © 1999 American Institute of Physics.