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Choosing the Best Eyeglass Lenses For You

Updated on March 9, 2014

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Best Eyeglasses Overview

When choosing the best type of lens to go with, there can be a lot of confusion and a lot of misleading rumors spread by opticians, optometrists and even those in opthalmic professions. This guide is geared toward those who want to know more about each type of lens, and what exactly they're paying the big bucks for. The most popular and widely used lens materials are as follows.

-Plastic

-Glass

-Polycarbonate

-Trivex

-High-index plastic

I'll go into intimate detail about what each of these is and their pros and cons as far as when it comes to matters of price, quality of vision, single vision, and lined and unlined progressive bifocals. Plus a few other tidbits of importance. Feel free to skip to a section that interests you most, but hopefully you can come away with some new knowledge of eyeglass materials.

Plastic

Plastic is now the most common lens material. It is what is used for 99.9% of reading glasses and perhaps somewhere between 50 and 60% of all glasses orders. That's why the term "glasses" is becoming a misnomer. Plastic is so easy to make at the labs, so pliable, and available in great quantities for very little price. But is it the best lens type for you?

Price

Plastic is definitely the cheapest, with many patients being able to get a pair of single vision glasses for under $30 at some places, and even cheaper online.

Quality of Vision


At such a cheap price, one would expect there to be a lack of visual quality, but that simply isn't true. Sure, it isn't as clear to see through as glass, but no materials are, currently. It's biggest downfall is its frailty, as in its ability to chip, scratch and break in general, and in its inability to keep clean. Anyone who has ever had plastic lenses knows that they never stay clean for long. Always some dust, dirt, grime, or debris is clouding the vision. This is a problem for many, and for those that only wear glasses for reading, don't really care all too much.

Lasting Worth


Plastic breaks the quickest of all the materials, scratches the quickest, and that makes it the first in line for "I need new lenses, I can't see through these scratches anymore!" So, a pair of glasses, if you take good care of them, may last a year, but a child could ruin them in weeks, easily. That's why children are usually given polycarbonate, which is the next lens I will talk about!

Thickness and Vision Types

Plastic is the thickest of all lens types, so it is not ideal for high prescriptions. It will work, but it WILL be thick. A -8.00 will be over an inch thick at its edges, and that can be cumbersome for wearers, and look odd in turn.

As far as the different types of vision go, we'll start with single vision.

Single Vision


Single Vision means no bifocal reading addition. This means you just need simple correction for intermediate, distance, and in some cases up-close. Single vision plastic is ideal for most people, as it is cheap and unless they have an incredibly high prescription, has a fairly good amount of clarity. The bifocals however....

Lined Bifocal


For lined bifocal, plastic can work. It's not usually a problem, and labs are usually pretty good about making the glaringly obvious line not so visible. The trouble is that most people that tend to need bifocals, also have high prescriptions, and therefore will now be wearing coke-bottle glasses with a giant line through the center. A pair of lined bifocals in plastic can come out as cheaply as $50, and as much as $250, depending on where you go, and which frame you pick.

Progressive Bifocal


For progressive bifocals, plastic is NOT IDEAL. The thickness causes a problem, and also because of that thickness, the position on the lens where the bifocal progression begins has to be moved up higher which in turn leaves you with less room to see, and less reading room on the bottom, as well as absolutely NO peripheral vision through the lenses. NOT IDEAL. A pair of progressive bifocals in plastic will run you perhaps $100 on the low end, and some places will charge upwards of $300.


The decision is yours, as always. Take these tidbits of knowledge from someone who has worked in the field and seen the effects glasses have on patients.

High-index Plastic Including Progressive Lenses

High-index Plastics are becoming very popular due to the fact that they come standard with scratch-resistance coatings, anti-glare coating (I'll be talking about that later), and are the thinnest of all lenses. They aren't as durable as poly, but it's what hunters and photographers use to get the best clarity of vision for scopes and lenses.

Price

You'll be paying for these. For Single Vision, you can expect it to be anywhere between $160 for a pair, and $300 at the max, depending on frame choice. These prices are for complete pairs of glasses.

Quality of Vision


You get what you pay for. They're sharp, they're thin, and they're light. People who have never used high-index lenses usually get the "whoa" effect when they first put them on. It's like a whole new world.

Lasting Worth


Being plastic, and thin, they do run the risk of breaking, so it is not recommended for patients to order these lenses with their rimless or semi-rimless frames. They still do, of course, but we always stress poly for those types of frames because of the durability.

Now, this is a tidbit of knowledge that may intrigue you. Nikon offers a special high index lens that is crafted using computers so that it is thinner than any other lens, and at the same time, allows for progressive bifocals to have the maximum seeing ability, but I'll get to that later. Another perk that is provided on these lenses is an anti-static coating that wards off any unwanted dust or grime, which is the bane of every normal plastic wearer's life.


Zeiss offers a high index option that allows for their new velocity transitions tinting, but I'll get to that later.

Thickness and Vision Types

These are the thinnest! You won't find any lenses thinner than high index, and for people with very high prescriptions, the only way they can avoid having mondo-glasses is by going with high index. High index lenses are 40% or more thinner than regular plastic.

Single Vision


Many people go for these simply because they want to be cool, or have the antistatic coating, but unless you have an incredibly high prescription, the cost isn't really worth it. For the average wearer, the thinness is waste on them, and the acuity can be found in regular plastic with an addon of anti-glare coating. So don't make them force you into something you don't need.

Lined Bifocal


For Lined Bifocals, high-index plastics work quite well. They are thin and light, and as such, the line is hardly noticeable. You'll expect to pay in the hundreds minimum, though. Somewhere around $250 minimum.

Progressive Bifocal


These are the BEST BEST BEST lenses for progressive bifocal (especially the Nikons). You will enjoy thinner lenses, brighter vision, more peripheral vision, and more reading room on the bottom, as well as eliminating that nauseating feeling that poorly-made progressive bifocals tend to give. You can't go wrong, but you WILL be paying for these. $350 to $500 is a minimum.

An example of Lens Thicknesses

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is the second most popular lens type in use today. Why? Because it's durable and fairly inexpensive. But there's more to that story that most Opticians aren't willing to say.

Price

Poly (as I will call it from now on) is cheap to make, but is being sold for more than it is worth usually. All childrens lenses are poly because of the durability bonus. Children's lenses are usually marked down to a reasonable price, but when converted to adult lenses, most optical shops mark the lenses up to unreasonable levels. A pair of glasses with polycarbonate for children can be as inexpensive as $30, but the minimum you'll spend for a pair of adult glasses with poly lenses is $130. An added $100 that is unreasonable.

Quality of Vision


So, for the price, what can you expect in terms of visual acuity? You can't expect much, unfortunately. My coworkers in the profession liken vision through polycarbonate lenses, especially at higher prescriptions to looked through a fuzzy fishbowl. Absolutely unacceptable.


There is, however, for usually a $15 to $30 upcharge, another version of poly that makes it thinner and have more visual acuity, but is it worth it? Only you can say that.

Lasting Worth

Poly is good for this, though. They are durable as it gets. The MOST durable. I've hit one lens with a hammer before and it didn't phase or scratch it. I wouldn't recommend doing such things, but with poly, you don't have to worry about dropping and breaking your glasses, the lenses at least. The lenses usually outlive the frame, which can take 2-3 years of consistent wear.

Thickness and Vision Types

Poly is about 60% as thick as plastic, so you shave off about a third of the thickness right away. If you go with the higher end poly option, it's perhaps another 10 percent thinner.

As far as the different types of vision go, we'll start with single vision.

Single Vision


For single vision, I've had more turns on these than anything because most wearers were talked out of plastic and into poly for simple everyday wear, and simply couldn't get used to how their vision looked.. It can be disorienting, and the again, some children grow up wearing poly and don't want to switch.

Lined Bifocal


Unfortuately, or fortunately, depending, poly does not come in lined bifocal. Trivex came about as an answer to that dilemma.

Progressive Bifocal


Very few people go for progressive bifocals in poly. It's because of the cost. They hear that they must pay hundreds of dollars for glasses that are thinner, and that's when they decide to step it up to the high-index plastic options that I'll get to next. You can do Progressive poly, but for only a few dollars more, why not just go for the thinner, lighter, brighter, high-index plastic? It's a question that most patients have no problem answering.

Glass

Glass has become antiquated and only used in special circumstances or by request. While the clarity of glass is unparalleled, the thickness and weight of glass outweighs the benefits. Glass is not able to do transitions properly, or any sort of tinting really. In a year, I sold only two pairs of glass, and that was to people who had worn it their whole life and weren't about to switch up to anything else. Glass also takes longer than other lenses to be made at a lab, so its worth is invalidated.

Trivex

Trivex is the answer to the poly lined-bifocal problem. They're great lenses. Think of it as a hybrid between plastic and poly, and that's exactly what it is. A fusion between the two. It provides higher vision than poly, while thinner than plastic or poly, but it also comes at a price. The lenses alone will run around $250 for a lined bifocal. That's on the low end.

Miscellaneous Lens Coatings

Lenses can be tinted various colors. Rose, blue, yellow/amber, green, brown, gray, just to name a few. Only certain lenses allow tints though. Those would be regular plastic and high index plastic. Tints can work on glass, but it's usually pretty faint and not worth the surcharge. A tint usually costs $20.

Transitions lenses are when your lenses turn dark when exposed to ultraviolet light, and turn back to normal under regular conditions. There are usually two options for tinting colors, Gray and Brown. Gray is darker, and Brown lets more light in, but both serve the same purpose.

As mentioned before, Zeiss high index lenses have the ability to do velocity transitions which is their own technology which makes them turn dark and light much quicker, in a matter of seconds.

Anti-glare coating is a specially additive coating that can be put on any lens, but usually comes standard on poly, high-index plastic and trivex (so it is factored into the price already), but to add it to regular plastic, it usually costs around $50. Anti-glare coating is unique in that it allows more light to enter the lens, and gets rid of the halos and glares that come off of lights such as fluorescent lights; light bulbs, and street lights namely. The only downside to anti-glare coatings is that they can be defective sometimes. When this happens, within six months of receiving the glasses, the coating starts coming off in specks, which can be very annoying as they are noticeable flecks missing in the middle of your vision. This is usually covered under an optical shop's warranty, though.

Which lens type do you use currently?

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Conclusion

It's all about your budget, and your needs. You have your prescription, and hopefully the optician that is working with you to meet your needs isn't more interested in your wallet than your eyes. But at any rate, here's some information for you so that you can be more prepared when going in for your next eye check-up and not fall prey to some of the trickier optical sales techniques. Have a great day!

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    • Jesmo profile image

      Jesmo 4 years ago

      Thanks very much, I´m new to all this buying glasses business, it´s all quite confusing but you´ve cleared a few things up.

    • profile image

      Adrian 3 years ago

      Great and detailed info. Thank you very much.

    • profile image

      gailarita 3 years ago

      Excellent, in-depth info! Thanks a bunch!!

    • profile image

      Ana M. Reachi 3 years ago

      Thank you so much for being interested in the eyes more than the wallet!

    • profile image

      Veronica Pruitt 3 years ago

      This information was very helpful. I have polycarbonate lenses with anti-glare on them. But with the pair I just got, the green glare on the lenses is very obvious. I have never had ARL that showed so much green glare before. When I look in the mirror, the bright lights show as very green reflections. Any idea why?

    • Arghness profile image
      Author

      Edward 3 years ago from O'Fallon

      Yeah I got complaints about that from customers very often. For some reason the chemicals that they treat Polycarbonate lenses with at the lab can be really annoying. To reduce glare, they have to add that chemical coating on the outside that can really mess with your eyes. We didn't sell Poly without Anti-reflective coating, even by request, sadly. That's one of the many reasons I told people not to go with Poly.

    • icv profile image

      IRSHAD CV 3 years ago from India, Kerala

      nice hub for me. i am wearing glass, so it is mush attractive subject to me

    • profile image

      Debvrat Chaturvedi 2 years ago

      Great and a very useful blog for me. Thanks a lot for sharing the blog.

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