© 2016 IEEE. Protection heaters are essential elements of a quench protection scheme for high-field accelerator magnets. Various heater designs fabricated by LARP and CERN have been already tested in the LARP high-field quadrupole HQ and presently being built into the coils of the high-field quadrupole MQXF. In order to compare the heat flow characteristics and thermal diffusion timescales of different heater designs, we powered heaters of two different geometries in ambient conditions and imaged the resulting thermal distributions using a high-sensitivity thermal video camera. We observed a peculiar spatial periodicity in the temperature distribution maps potentially linked to the structure of the underlying cable. Two-dimensional numerical simulation of heat diffusion and spatial heat distribution have been conducted, and the results of simulation and experiment have been compared. Imaging revealed hot spots due to a current concentration around high curvature points of heater strip of varying cross sections and visualized thermal effects of various interlayer structural defects. Thermal imaging can become a future quality control tool for the MQXF coil heaters.