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Eyeglasses Lens Guide

Updated on November 24, 2013

Prescription Basics

In order to determine the type of lenses you need, it obviously depends on your prescription. Here's a quick summary, but you can find much more in depth information at the link below.

Types of Vision Impairments

  • Myopic- Nearsighted. You can't see that street sign 35 feet away (or maybe 5 feet away, depending the severity). Your eye is too long and the light of an image doesn't reach your retina in the back of your eye without the help of corrective lenses. The prescription is written with a minus (-) sign in front under the part of the Rx titled "Sphere". Your lenses tend to be thick on the outer edges, especially in more angular shaped frames and also in larger sized lenses.
  • Hyperopic- Farsighted. You have difficulty focusing on things closer to you and possibly things further away as well. Your eye is too short and the light goes past your retina before becoming clear unless you're wearing correction. The prescription is written with a plus (+) sign before it under "Sphere". Your lenses tend to be thicker in the middle of the lenses, especially in rounder shaped frames.
  • Astigmatic- Things at all distances are not crisp and clear. You tend to get headaches throughout the day, especially when reading. Astigmatism often times occurs with other vision impairments so you may see additional numbers listed under "Cylinder" on your prescription. Your eye is shaped more like a football instead of a baseball making the light distort as it tries to reach you retina. Anything more than about a 1.25 cylinder power can add thickness to your lenses.
  • Presbyopic- You may not know it by this term, but you know who you are. Typically, over the age of 40, you're the one holding menus and newspapers entirely too far from your face. When your arms become too short, you finally give in and purchase a pair of reading glasses. Over time, the lens in your eye hardens and doesn't flex like it needs to in order to accommodate for reading and other close up work. This requires magnification to make that image clearer for you. Your prescription will have a number usually between +1.00 and +2.75 written in the "Add" portion of the Rx. If you already wear correction, you will need to be fit with a multifocal lens.

Shoppers' Anxiety?

Does the thought of picking out your glasses make your nose wrinkle in disgust? Perhaps a nauseous feeling overwhelms you? Or maybe you deal with it the old fashioned way- avoidance? Well, fear no more fellow visually-impaired shoppers. The answers to your eyeglass lens questions are here.

And no. The answer is not, "Continue wearing the same glasses for 6 years until all you see are scratches and the frame breaks when you sneeze".

I'll discuss prescription basics because this is the largest factor in determining your lens choice. Then on to lens focal types, digital lenses, material choices and their benefits, lens options, and sunglasses education.

Remember... a perfect frame is complimented by a pair of lenses as aesthetically attractive as the frame itself and, most importantly, give you the best vision possible. How silly does it seem to invest in a beautiful frame and not be willing to spend on the part you will actual look through. All. Day. Long. Also keep in mind, as discussed in Part 1, you may need multiple pairs of glasses to meet all of your vision needs just as you need different shoes for different tasks.

Focal Types

  • Single Vision- these lenses correct one field of vision, either distance or near.
  • Bifocal- these lenses correct distance and near with a visible lined section at the bottom of the frame, typically a half moon shape, that you look through when reading. Anything at arm's length (called intermediate distance, the distance of your computer and dashboard in your car) will be blurry, especially the higher your "Add" power.
  • Trifocal- these lenses correct distance, intermediate, and near with visible lined segments.
  • Progressive- these lenses are basically a "no-line" trifocal. The vision "progresses" down the lens from distance right in front of your pupil, to intermediate, and then to near vision at the bottom of the frame.

Lens and Focusing Education

Lens Materials

Material is important in ensuring you get the best optics as well as an attractive, functional lens within your frame. The type of frame you choose and the strength and focal type of your prescription determine the material(s) that would work best for you. I've listed the most popular lens materials available. Of course there are others not listed, such as mid-index plastics and thin glass lenses. For more information, consult your local optician.

Some prescriptions may not work with some frame designs. If you are a -10.00, you will be best to avoid drilled rimless and semi-rimless designs in order to achieve the best cosmetics.

A general rule of thumb if you have a significantly high prescription (approximately greater than -6.00 or +4.00). High myopes should select a round or at least softer shaped frame. Distance between your pupil and the outer edge of the frame greatly impacts the edge thickness. Choosing a smaller frame will cut down on unnecessary excess. High hyperopes should select a more angular shape to minimize the center thickness. Something less deep from top to bottom will also help with the aesthetics. An optician can help you find the happy medium between the best shape for your prescription and the best style for your face and personality. And thankfully, so many of the customizable lens designs and the newer hi-index lenses all for more room to bend these rules.

Material Guide

Optical Quality
Impact Resistant/Shatterproof
Standard Glass
CR-39 Basic Plastic
Very thick
Thinner than CR-39
Thinner than CR-39
Hi-Index 1.67
Thinner than above
Very Good
Hi-Index 1.74
Thinnest avail in USA

Frames vs. Materials

Full Plastic
Full Metal
Drilled Rimless
Glass or CR-39
Yes, rx dependent
Yes, rx dependent
Polycarbonate or Trivex
Yes, rx dependent
Yes, rx dependent
Yes, rx dependent
Yes, rx dependent
Hi Index 1.67
Hi Index 1.74
These are general rules. Some labs and/or optical shops are willing to break these rules to satisfy their patient. Keep in mind any frame in which the lenses are exposed should NOT contain glass or basic plastic lenses because your lenses are likely

Specialty Frame Mounts Need Specific Lenses


CUSTOM VISION- Your Progressive Can Truly Be Yours

Everything is going digital. Cell phones, TVs, cars, music… The quality and technology is ever-improving. If you still love your tube TV, this section is not for you. This is for anyone who can appreciate the switch from regular tube TVs to LCD screens and then to HD. Image quality has come a long way. Don't you want to see your whole life in HD?

Progressive lenses have drastically improved since they arrived on the optical scene in the 80s. Until recently semi-finished lenses would be used in combination with generators and forms to create the complex curvature of the progressive portion of the lens. Wearers only had a tiny "sweet" spot to look through for each field of vision and your peripheral vision was a distorted disaster if it existed at all.

Today there are hundreds of brands and designs available. If you are interested in receiving the ultimate in visual acuity and accuracy, do not accept anything that is not digital free form. In simple terms, a digital progressive lens is lens surfaced with a computer instead of injecting the lens material into the same form used for every person wearing that lens design.

Digital free form allows the optician and lab to fully customize the lens to you- perfectly suiting your prescription, pupil distance, the distance between your eyes and the frame, as well as taking into account the size and shape of the frame you've selected. All of this while achieving prescription accuracy never before seen.

Gary Heitling, OD at All About Vision describes it well:

"The most popular type of high-definition eyeglass lenses are called free-form lenses. The term "free-form" refers to an advanced manufacturing process that reduces higher-order aberrations such as spherical aberration that occur in eyeglass lenses created with traditional eyeglass lens manufacturing tools and processes.

With free-form lenses (also called digital high-definition lenses), the fabrication of the lenses from wearer's eyeglass prescription is optimized with computer-controlled surfacing equipment that is much more precise than conventional tools. In fact, free-form technology can surface lenses in power increments of 0.01 diopter (D), compared with 0.125 to 0.25 D increments of conventional eyeglass lens tooling."


Digital Progressive Vision


Design Choices

With hundreds of progressive lens designs to choose from, the ultimate decision is usually based on the lenses offered by your local optical shop. Some practices have specific brands and designs they feel work best for them. If you've found an optician you trust, the simplest solution would be to allow them to guide you to the specific design that works best for you. There's so much to know about progressive designs it could fill a lengthy book. Your optician is there for consultations and explanations of the options their practice suggests.

Some digital progressive lens designs get a lot of recognition-

  • Carl Zeiss Vision Individual 2
  • Hoya Vision Care Hoyalux iD MyStyle V+
  • Essilor Varilux S Series
  • Signet Armorlite Kodak Unique DS
  • Shamir Autograph III

I've found that these lenses are excellent, but another great option is a lab brand digital lens. At the optical shop where I work, 95% of our progressive orders are our lab's digital progressive lens. We've found the design is beautifully crafted and is easily adapted to by our customers. It's technologically advanced in it's design yet it allows us to offer more savings to our patients. Lab brand digital lenses can be the best of both worlds.

Trust your optician and local optical shop to provide you with the best, customizable product and hopefully your worry over glasses shopping will be a thing of the past!

An Example of Lab Brand Quality


♦CUSTOM VISION- Single Vision Digital Lenses ♦

These awesome customizable lenses aren't just for the presbyopes. This is the wave of the future for all lenses. Nearly every material and lens option is available in a digitally surfaced design. This is especially beneficial to those of you who with moderate to severe astigmatism, a high myopic rx, and/or are purchasing a wide or wrapped frame. The digital surfacing will provide you with much less peripheral distortion than a standard lens. They will be significantly more accurate to your complex prescription. And they will look as attractive and thin as possible. Like the progressive versions, they also take into account your pupil distance and the vertex distance between your eyes and the frame, plus the frame size and shape.

I personally have 3 diopters of cylinder and I've found that nothing comes close to my digital lenses. They are thinner looking and I don't get that uncomfortable fishbowl effect when I switch frames or get a new prescription. I can look through every square millimeter of my lenses and get the same crystal clear vision. If you have a script like mine, you know that doesn't happen with your average eyeglass lenses.

Don't wait until your first progressive prescription to enjoy your customized lenses. You can now take advantage of lenses tailored to your eyes.


Anti-Reflective Explanation

Lens Options

Once the focal type and lens material has been selected, the last part is to select the options that will complete aesthetics and function of your eyewear.

Most Popular and Beneficial Lens Options:

  • Anti-reflective Lenses- This is pretty much a necessity for anyone wearing glasses for more than 10 minutes every week. The non-glare quality enables you to wear these for night driving, inside under artificial lighting, and outdoors without glare or reflections negatively effecting your vision. They will also look absolutely stunning compared to lenses without anti-reflective. Instead of light bouncing of the lenses and reflecting in to your eyes and the eyes of those looking at you, it reflects the light away so you so clearly and someone looking at your sees straight through the lens into your eyes. The perfect compliment to a beautiful frame and excellent lens material and design. ♦ AR today does more than just remove glare. If you get a high quality product like Crizal or other lab brands, they are more scratch resistant, they repel dirt and water, and they are easier to clean than other lenses, especially outdated AR coatings.
  • Photochromic Lenses- Lenses that darker under UV light can be beneficial. If you spend a lot of time going in and outdoors and don't always have time to put on your sunglasses, this is an option for you. They typically come in brown and grey so you can compliment your frames as best as possible. ♦ While getting quite dark outside, keep in mind these lenses do not change in the car. The UV protection in the windshield prevents them from darkening. Photochromics are not a replacement for sunglasses.
  • Edge Treatments- High luster edge polishes make a pair of eyeglasses look complete. They especially add the right look to a semi-rimless or drilled rimless frame. ♦ Some people dislike the way the polish can accentuate light in the edges of your frame, but if you give it time, your brain won't notice that anymore. Roll and Polishes are available to those with high scripts (the lab will roll the edges of the lenses to remove additional thickness), but keep in mind this can create very obvious light aberrations. If you don't currently wear a roll, I wouldn't suggest it.
  • Scratch Resistant Coating- This is applied to lenses to give them an extra barrier of protection. Please realize: Nothing is scratch proof. Most new anti-reflective coatings already possess scratch resistant coatings and qualities.

Multiple Pairs. Ohhh the Possibilities!


The reasons why you may need an additional pair (or 11) are endless. A good enough reason is a desire to have multiple looks. I'm guessing you wouldn't want to wear the same outfit every day for the next year.

Having multiple looks gives you new opportunities to express yourself. It gives your nose and coworkers a break from the same frame. It gives you the chance to dress up with a beautiful pair of Barton Perriera, Lunor, or Cartier frames that are jewelry for your eyes. Get funky with a unique style from Matsuda, Theo or Mykita. Or go sleek and stylish with a Bellinger, Zero G, or Freudenhaus. One popular trend right now is retro-vintage. You can satisfy your desire for a blast from the past with a multitude of lines, ranging from Seraphin to Oliver Peoples to a true vintage frame from Retrospecs.

Sometimes the reason is more function than form. Not only is customization available to just the lenses. You can also customize your glasses to your life. Here's a few common needs for additional eyewear.

  • Occupational Purposes- If you spend more than 4 hours a day looking at a computer, you could benefit from one of the many occupational progressive lenses on the market. Ask your optician about office lens options. Some labs have even designed progressive lenses that give you clarity from near all the way to 13 feet away without any of the peripheral distortion or small corridors in a full progressive lens. Go between your computer screen, your client across the desk, and your cell phone seamlessly.
  • Backup Pair- Everyone needs a backup pair of glasses. If you enjoy quality products and you break your glasses, the chances of getting an equivalent replacement the same day is near impossible. Though lens production times have decreased significantly, it still takes a few days to manufacture your custom lenses.
  • Safety Eyewear- For the safety of your eyes and your glasses. Perhaps you work in a hazardous environment. You probably already own a pair of safety glasses. But if you only wear the shields over your glasses, consider an actual prescription pair to eliminate the possibility of damage to your everyday pair. You'll also get much better vision looking through only one set of lenses.
  • Hobby Specific Pair- Head to the shooting range regularly? Love golfing? Maybe you horseback ride or do other outdoor activities that require eyewear with more durability and lens coverage than a traditional pair. Don't risk breaking your favorite handcrafted frame 4-wheeling in a mud pit. Consult your optician about what type of frame and lens options that would enhance your hobby experience.
  • Near Vision Only or Distance Vision Only- Suppose your day is filled with hours of editing papers or reading manuscripts. Or you find yourself driving for long hours at a time. Maybe you teach music or love to spend hours crocheting. Consider a pair with only one field of vision specific to your task. It will eliminate much of the eyestrain you would incur if you wore progressives for these tasks.
  • And one of the most popular multiple pair needs...

Sunglasses, anyone?!


Photo Facts

  • Snow can reflect up to 80% of UV
  • Sea water reflects 25% of UV and sand 15%
  • Haze in the atmosphere can increase UV reflection
  • 80% off UV can penetrate light cloud cover

Sun Fun[ction]

Let's not forget an important part of eyeglasses and lenses- sunglasses! Stylish and functional at the same time. Do you enjoy golfing rain or shine? Vacationing in the Caribbean? Maybe you're more into snowboarding down the steepest mountain around. Whatever your outdoor loves include, you know you need the right sunwear to enjoy it fully. Even if you don't endeavor in extreme sports, don't neglect the importance of sunglasses for your everyday life. Walking the farmers' market, driving to work, or spending an afternoon at a football game (watching or playing!)- protection and style should make daily appearances.

For some reason, sunglasses tend to bring out the braver side in us. It gives us a chance to go bolder, trendier, funkier. Everyone looks great in dark lenses. And everyone needs protection from the sun, your eyes especially. Sunglasses can help prevent premature eye diseases not too mention wrinkles around your eyes and forehead all that squinting can create.

Important sunglass lens qualities:

  • Polarization- Layers of lenses that eliminate glare from sunlight and reflective surfaces like water and snow. Think you don't need sunglasses because you live nowhere near a beach? Or because you (like me) live in a small town that's overcast more days than the "Rainy City" of Seattle? Think again. UV rays shine through, even on cloudy days. And snow reflects more UV rays than water.
  • Backside Anti-Reflective- It's important to eliminate glare on the back of your sunglasses to allow the polarized lenses to work their best. It makes your vision through the lenses as clear as possible by reflecting away the light that hits the back of the larger, darker sunglasses lenses. This is an excellent option if you enjoying fishing, boating, or snow sports. Or if you enjoy especially clear vision in bright sunlight.
  • Mirror Coating- This serves two purposes. Cosmetically, it gives your lenses a different look while eliminating the ability to see your eyes. The second is to reflect away even more light than a typical sunglass lens could. Some brands, like Maui Jim, even add flash mirrors to the front of all their lenses. A flash mirror is not as bold as a standard mirror, but can "do the squinting for you" by reflecting away much of the extra light.

Don't forget to select similar lens material and edge treatment choices to your clear glasses whenever possible. If you need thinner lenses, you'll definitely need them in a larger sunglass frame. And polished edges look much more attractive than the white-grey or white-brown edges on an unpolished dark lens.

Costa del Mar's capture the sunset in Boca Grande, FL
Costa del Mar's capture the sunset in Boca Grande, FL | Source

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Hopefully your new lens education will make future eyeglass shopping less nauseating. Speaking the language and understanding your options will enable you to understand your optician and make the best decision for your new eyewear. Go forth, choose wisely and enjoy your new customized eyewear.

Stop by again for my future Hubs including articles on understanding insurance and how fashion and celebrities influence eyewear design.

Thanks for reading!


    0 of 8192 characters used
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    • profile image

      Susan Hirst 

      5 years ago

      Thank you for this advice. I need to buy a new pair of eyeglasses and I want to choose ones that will be very flattering on me. I'll be sure to get ones with a scratch resistant coating, like you mentioned.

    • Bethany DeWolfe profile imageAUTHOR

      Bethany DeWolfe 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thank you! Happy to hear that :)

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      nice hub . very informative:)

    • Bethany DeWolfe profile imageAUTHOR

      Bethany DeWolfe 

      6 years ago from Pennsylvania

      Thanks, glad it helped! It's definitely fun and functional to have different pairs for different uses. Thanks for reading :)

    • Ruby H Rose profile image

      Maree Michael Martin 

      6 years ago from Northwest Washington on an Island

      Good to know, for sure helps with the decision making. I like the idea of having different glasses for reading and outside. I love my prescription sunglasses.


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