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What are the Different Types of Eyeglass Lenses?

By Jessica Pestka
Updated May 21, 2024
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Selecting eyeglasses may seem to be just a matter of finding a fashion that the wearer likes, but anyone who walks into an optical store will soon discover that there is a dizzying array of lens choices available. Although the types of eyeglass lenses a person can choose is somewhat dictated by her prescription, even those with the most difficult of requirements have many options. Two of the key things for a shopper to consider are lens design and material.

When a person is buying lenses, the first order of business is to choose the lens design and brand. Those who wear single vision lenses will usually find the options to be fairly simple, and a store that has a laboratory on site can often have them made relatively quickly. Individuals with bifocal or multifocal prescriptions, however, have several options to choose from. The most inexpensive lens is a lined bifocal (or trifocal), which has strengths in it — a reading strength and distance strength. These strengths are separated by a line that can be seen pretty easily.

Once the most popular style of bifocal, the lined bifocal has taken a back seat to an advanced lens design, the progressive addition lens or PAL. Also called a “no-line bifocal,” this type has multiple strengths in one lens that change gradually as the user moves her eye down to the bottom of the lens. They have several advantages over lined bifocal, including the fact that they offer more than just a reading strength and distance strength. This allows users to see at arms-lengths and often eliminates the need for a lined trifocal. PALs also have a distinct aesthetic advantage over lined bifocals as they have no visible line.

The next choice is the selection of lens material. An optician will often make several recommendations based on the style of frame the buyer has chosen and her prescription. The advantages and disadvantages of the most common lens materials are summarized below.

Lens MaterialAdvantagesDisadvantages
Plastic (CR-39)Affordable, good optical clarity, easy to tintThick and heavy in high prescriptions
PolycarbonateThinnest material available, lightweight, best impact resistance, can be used in special frame designs, blocks UV light Scratches easily, cannot be tinted dark, poorest optical quality
Hi-Index PlasticThinnest material available, lightweight, easy to tintExpensive
TrivexImpact resistant, thin, lightweight, excellent opticsExpensive, limited availability
GlassExcellent optics, the most scratch resistant lens, blocks UV lightHeavy, thick, dangerous if broken, cannot be used in certain frame styles

Once the style and material of lens has been chosen, several lens options may be added to your eyeglasses. These options, with both visual and aesthetic benefits, including the following:

  • Photochromatic Lenses: Lenses that changes color when exposed to sunlight, often eliminating the need for separate sunglasses.
  • Anti-Reflective Coating: Reduces glare, improving visual clarity and making the wearer's eyes easier to see. An excellent coating for nearly all types of lenses, especially for high prescriptions, as it makes lenses look less obvious.
  • Scratch Resistance Coating: Extends the life of eyeglass lenses by providing a tough layer of protection. Scratch coatings often include a warranty.
  • UV Coating: Important for individuals who spend a significant amount of time outside. Not necessary for polycarbonate or glass lenses, as these materials inherently block UV light.
  • Tint: Added color for style or use as sunglasses.
  • Polarized Lenses: A colored form of lens that reduces glare of off flat surfaces such as wet roads. The best choice for sunglasses.

There are so many different types of eyeglass lenses that, with a little information, it is easy for nearly everyone who wears glasses to get just the right thing to fit their prescription and lifestyle needs.

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Discussion Comments
By anon991899 — On Jul 27, 2015

Yes! Most anti-reflective products have a scratch resistance built in and most have a one year warranty that covers everything except lost, stolen, or animal bite marks!

By anon337122 — On Jun 03, 2013

I'm also fond of using eyeglasses like this. Using colored and patterned frames is more popular nowadays. Stylish frames provide your face a more attractive look.

By anon331415 — On Apr 22, 2013

My husband and I went shopping for glasses today. There were so many add ons we didn't purchase anything. How can we tell what to purchase and what we don't need. Can anyone make a suggestion? Yes we want no line.

By reader888 — On Feb 12, 2011

I really like all of the extras that you can have added to the lenses for glasses, and I see a couple of options that I really like. For example, the polarized lens. The glare off of a wet road in the sunlight can be near to blinding! Do all of these extras make the glasses a lot more expensive?

By geronimo8 — On Feb 11, 2011

I'm so glad they came out with bifocal and trifocal eyeglasses that don't have a line on the lens. I think I may be getting close to having to have bifocals, and I have always dreaded that noticeable line.

Now, I think I can finally get used to the idea.

By upnorth31 — On Feb 08, 2011

I haven't bought new glasses in years and years -- my eyeglass prescription really hasn't changed -- but I think it's finally time. My current glasses are just about ready to fall apart. I didn't realize there were so many choices available. I don't remember having so many options before.

I really like the idea of an anti-reflective coating. I really don't want to draw attention to the fact that I have glasses on, so the less noticeable they are, the better.

I think I should probably get a scratch resistant coating too, though. I've never been very good at keeping track of my glasses, and they have ample opportunity to get scratched up.

Is it possible to get both of these coatings on the same lens?

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