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Prescription Lens Types, Materials, and Treatments

Lenses are the most important component to consider when shopping for new prescription eyeglasses or sunglasses. Various materials, coatings, and lens tints will affect the way your lens functions, and you can fine-tune your lens to best suit your needs. Allow our guide to help you decide which features you need in your next set of prescription lenses. 


SmithLensAnatomy


Prescription Lens Types

A prescription lens type is referring to the type of vision being corrected by the lens. Whether you just need a little extra help reading street signs, or need a boost reading up close as well, one of the key three following lens types is sure to appeal to you.

Single Vision: This type of lens will correct for one type of vision, either near or farsightedness.

Progressive: This lens will correct 2 types of vision, both near and farsightedness. These lenses are also known as lineless bifocals, because instead of a visible line separating your distance power from your reading power, a progressive lens gradually progresses to your total reading power at the bottom. This also provides you with intermediate sight to make reading your computer easier.

Lined Bifocal: This lens type is the original dual-power lens, which corrects both distance and near vision, separated by a visible line.

Progressive vs Bifocal

Have an ADD power on your prescription, but uncertain if you should opt for multi-focal lenses? If you need a little extra help reading up close, chances are you will love the convenience of distance and near correction all in one lens. This means less pairs of glasses to carry around with you at all times, and fewer pairs to take care of.

If you are shopping for sport-specific glasses, multi-focal lenses tend to be preference based. For example, cyclists love progressive lenses as they can see obstacles in the distance as well as read their cycling computers. Golfers however tend to prefer single vision lenses because reading magnification can distort depth perception when looking down to address a golf ball on the ground.

For sport-specific recommendations, or to track down that new pair of lifestyle shades you’ve been wanting to with multi-focal lenses, check out our SHOP BY SPORT and SHOP BY TREND pages. 

Prescription Lens Materials

All of the above lens types are offered in various lens materials. Some eye doctors make it easy by recommending a lens material and notating this on your prescription, but if yours doesn't, we'll step in with the assist.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate lenses are the most popular in today’s market for a number of reasons including impact resistance, weight, and 100% UV light blocking power.

Polycarbonate was originally designed for canopies in fighter jet cockpits, which as you can imagine require the utmost impact resistance. Because the aircraft needs to fly, it also needs to be lightweight, and when you are above the clouds, you have no protection from the sun’s brutal UV rays. When it was discovered that polycarbonate material was also optically clear, it made sense to repurpose the material for eyeglasses.

  • Oakley uses a high-grade polycarbonate lens material that they call Plutonite
  • Ray-Ban’s premium prescription lenses are also made of polycarbonate
  • Bolle’s polycarbonate material is called B-20.3
  • SPY uses this material in their prescription Happy lenses
  • Wiley X uses a premium polycarbonate material in all of their Z87.1 safety frames

Trivex: Trivex is very similar to polycarbonate in many ways thanks to its superior impact resistance and 100% UV light blocking abilities. There is an age-old debate on Trivex vs. polycarbonate, and proponents for Trivex say that it is slightly lighter weight, but we have truly found the difference to be unnoticeable. The debate continues into optical clarity, as Trivex does rate a bit higher on the ABBE scale, but again, most find the difference to be negligible. If your doctor recommends Trivex lenses, or if you’d like to give them a shot and don’t see them as an option on the frames you are looking at, give us a call or send us an email. We are a full service optical lab and can make Trivex lenses in just about any frame. We’d be happy to further assist you. (888) 507-1230 or info@saltcityoptics.com

  • Smith uses Trivex in all of their ChromaPop prescription sunglasses lenses. This is also the lens material in their non-prescription ChromaPop+ line.
  • Serengeti’s polarized Trivex lenses go by Polar PHD

Glass: Glass is the original eyeglass lens material, but over time many labs have entirely phased glass out due to a higher demand for impact resistant lenses. Glass is still somewhat in demand due to its unparalleled optical clarity and scratch resistance, but again, most people prefer a safer, and considerably lighter weight lens. While fewer and fewer labs are making prescription glass lenses these days, there are a few brands who still see the benefit and have found a way to make glass lenses lighter than ever before.

  • Smith’s glass lenses are called TechLite as they are 20% lighter than traditional glass
  • Serengeti has a glass lens called Mineral, or Ultra-Light Glass which also claims to be 20% lighter than traditional glass

High Index: High Index lenses are made from a denser lens material. To get techy for a moment, this denser material gives the lens a higher refractive index (hence the name) which means less material is needed to bend light to correct your vision.

This is why we recommend high index lenses to those with strong prescriptions. Strong prescriptions tend to be too thick in polycarbonate lenses, which causes distortion as light fights to bend through all of the material. High index lenses will make a strong powered lens thinner than a polycarbonate or Trivex lens.

The 2 most popular high index options are 1.67 and 1.74. The good news, is if you need high index lenses, we help you out by selecting the best performing index for your prescription. 1.67 is typically recommended for those with prescriptions stronger than -3.50 or +2.50 and 1.74 is typically recommended for those with prescriptions stronger than -7.00 or +4.00.

  • While no branded labs make high index lenses, our full-service lab offers high index for most frames on our site in any lens tint including polarized and transitions.

SR-91: SR-91 material is very unique, as it was actually developed by a smaller consumer brand, Kaenon. Kaenon was driven to develop SR-91 because they felt that the market demanded a polarized lens that never compromised in performance. Kaenon felt that polycarbonate was too prone to scratching, and found glass too heavy for all day, every day wear. SR-91 is a material all its own, which boasts optical clarity and scratch resistance similar to glass, yet maintains a light weight and impact resistance akin to polycarbonate.

  • Kaenon is currently the only brand using SR-91 as it is their proprietary material.

Eyeglass Lens Enhancements

Anti-Reflective Coating: Also known as A/R, anti-reflective coatings reduce reflections and improve optical clarity. Through reducing reflections, other people will be able to see your eyes and expressions through your lenses and you won’t have to worry about distracting light getting caught between your lenses and your eyes. Added bonus: A/R coatings can also be smudge and scratch resistant.

All of our clear lenses come with a standard A/R coating for no additional charge! We also offer a premium A/R coating which is smudge and scratch resistant, and also features a 1 year scratch warranty.

A/Rcoating

Blue Light Coating: The average person spends about eight to ten hours a day looking at a screen, whether it is the television, a computer, or a cell phone or tablet. These devices emit harmful blue light which can lead to eye fatigue, dry eye syndrome, and loss of night vision. A blue light blocking coating, like our BlueShield, blocks this harmful blue light. Added bonus: your lenses will be completely clear, not yellow like older computer glasses. BlueShield is a premium coating that is smudge resistant, and it also assists with reducing glare especially for night driving.

Photochromic/Transitions: A photochromic lens will lighten and darken according to the amount of UV light present. Many patients know these lenses as Transitions lenses, which is the name of the brand who really put photochromic lenses on the map. A traditional photochromic lens will be completely clear indoors, or at night, and will darken in direct sunlight. Because the tint of the lens adapts to sunlight, this reduces eye fatigue. We use Transitions branded lenses, which come in 3 different versions:

  • Transitions Adaptive: This is known as the original Transitions lens, transitioning from clear to grey or brown.

  • Transitions Xtractive: If you intend to do any driving in your new Transitions lenses, you will want to opt for the Xtractive version. Traditional Transitions lenses will not darken in the car while driving because modern windshields have UV blockers present, which prevent the chemical reaction necessary to darken your lenses. Xtractive is the exception! Not only will these lenses work while driving, they get a bit darker than the original Transitions lenses too, making them ideal for those with light sensitivity.

  • Transitions Vantage: Transitions Vantage lenses are great for patients seeking a versatile lens but who still need polarization in their sunglasses. When these lenses are clear, the polarization filter will not work, which allows you to use your computer uninhibited, but once the lenses darken in the sun, the polarization works in full force.

Transitions

Sunglass Lens Enhancements

A standard sunglass lens is a non-polarized, tinted lens, made of any of the materials listed above. While there are almost infinite lens tint choices, here are the most popular:

Grey: Most popular sunglass lens tint due to its neutral color perception and darkness. Many people enjoy grey lenses for everyday use as it does not alter color perception all. Those with light sensitivity tend to prefer lenses with grey base tints because they are naturally darker than other more contrast-enhancing tints.

Brown: Second most popular lens tint for everyday use, and a top pick for sports use due to contrast enhancement and neutral aesthetics. Brown lenses are as great for everyday use as they are for active lifestyles as they enhance contrast, allowing you to differentiate between objects easier. Those with light sensitivity can still enjoy a brown lens, but we recommend pursuing a dark brown, or adding a mirror finish to further darken your lens.

Grey-Green: Ray-Ban is the company that really put grey-green on the map with their G-15 tint. Grey-Green is a great lens option for those who like grey lenses but want a little bit of contrast enhancement. The green undertones help enhance contrast without drastically altering color perception.

Rose: This tint is a hyper-contrast enhancing tint which is best suited for sports use because it tends to be a bit too light without a mirror finish for everyday use, and alters color perception a bit. Smith and Oakley have increased rose’s popularity with the Smith Ignitor and Oakley VR28 Black Iridium lens tints. Smith’s Ignitor is a more low-light lens while Oakley’s is better suited for all light conditions with the darker rose base and black mirror finish over top.

Amber: Amber is essentially a brown lens with more yellow undertones, but the tint itself will vary from company to company. Some amber’s are a dark brownish-yellow, while others are quite light which more closely resemble honey-colored fossilized amber.

Copper: While Amber is brownish-yellow, Copper is a more rosy-brown. The rosy undertones paired with the brown base really enhance contrast to make colors pop. Copper is a desirable tint among fresh water fishermen especially, but also makes a great lens for everyday use if you like the added contrast.

Grey/Brown Gradient: These lenses are darker on top than they are at the bottom of the lens and they gradually lighten from top to bottom. These lenses do not adapt to sunlight (see Photochromic/Transitions below) but rather always have a darker top and a lighter bottom. These lenses are best for those who do not suffer from light sensitivity and are most popular in fashion-forward frames.

Polarization: A polarized lens drastically reduces glare from the sun as it reflects off of bodies of water, ice, snow, or pavement. This type of glare can actually be more harmful to our eyes than the light which comes directly for the sun! Polarized lenses also tend to make colors a bit more crisp and vibrant, and most eye doctors recommend polarization as it is better for the eye’s overall health. The only tints that polarization won’t work in are clear and gradient lenses.

polar vs non

Photochromic/Transitions: A photochromic lens will lighten and darken according to the amount of UV light present. Many patients know these lenses as Transitions lenses, which is the name of the brand who really put photochromic lenses on the map. A traditional photochromic lens will be completely clear indoors, or at night, and will darken in direct sunlight. Because the tint of the lens adapts to sunlight, this reduces eye fatigue. We use Transitions branded lenses, which come in 3 different versions:

  • Transitions Adaptive: This is known as the original Transitions lens, transitioning from clear to grey or brown.

  • Transitions Xtractive: If you intend to do any driving in your new Transitions lenses, you will want to opt for the Xtractive version. Traditional Transitions lenses will not darken in the car while driving because modern windshields have UV blockers present, which prevent the chemical reaction necessary to darken your lenses. Xtractive is the exception! Not only will these lenses work while driving, they get a bit darker than the original Transitions lenses too, making them ideal for those with light sensitivity.

  • Transitions Vantage: Transitions Vantage lenses are great for patients seeking a versatile lens but who still need polarization in their sunglasses. When these lenses are clear, the polarization filter will not work, which allows you to use your computer uninhibited, but once the lenses darken in the sun, the polarization works in full force.

Transitions

Mirror Coatings: Mirror coatings are the hyper-reflective treatments applied to the front of a lens, and they are beneficial for a number of reasons, the first of which being aesthetics. Many people enjoy mirror finishes as they make a lens totally opaque, meaning that lookers on cannot see through the lenses. Aesthetics aside, mirror finishes also enhance contrast, repel glare, and darken the lens. Mirror finishes come in various colors from subtle black and bronze mirrors to vibrant blue, orange, and purple mirrors.

mirrored

Whenever a mirror coating is applied to the front of a lens, a backside anti-reflective coating will be applied to the back of a lens. Because mirror finishes are so reflective, the backside A/R prevents reflected light from becoming trapped on the inside of the lens which can be distracting.

Fun fact, you can also add a mirror coating to a transitions lens! At their clearest, the mirror will look like a standard A/R coating, but when the lenses darken, you’ll have a darker lens that lookers on can’t see through. 

Transitions With Mirror