Abstract Ion implantation is a postgrowth processing technique which, when combined with annealing, can be used to tune the absorption wavelength of quantum well devices. We have implanted and annealed, three different quantum well infrared photodetector structures, and measured the absorption spectra of the samples by Fourier transform spectroscopy. The peak absorption wavelength shift of each structure has been calculated as a function of diffusion length by simulating the diffusion processes. We found different diffusion rates for the structures and attribute this to different numbers of as-grown defects. Our results indicate that agglomeration of single defects into defect clusters limits the ability of ion implantation to tune the wavelength of a structure with a higher number of as-grown defects. Thus, a structure with the lowest number of as-grown defects is most useful for fabricating a multi-color quantum well photodetector by ion implantation, because in this case ion implantation can enhance the diffusion rate considerably leading to large red- shift in peak absorption wavelength.