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Prescription glasses buying guide

With a flood of cheap deals and online prescription glasses on offer, do you need to spend up big to get a good pair of specs?

prescription glasses

Looking good

Back in the not-too-distant day, buying a trendy pair of prescription glasses used to be quite the ordeal – not to mention a budget-buster. Your options were a basic pair of glasses that your grandma might find hip, or blowing hundreds of dollars on decent, wearable-in-public specs from a designer fashion label.

But no more! With the boom in online optical stores offering high-quality frames and lenses at reduced cost thanks to lower overheads and a broader market, you can take advantage of the countless great deals online to get you a pair of designer specs that won't break the bank.

Whether you're planning to buy online or in store, a bit of knowledge about your options will see you choosing well and looking good.

Designer frames versus generic frames

The first question you might have when going glasses shopping is: Does forking out for designer frames get you better quality?

Designer frames dominate optometrists and optics stores. Manufacturers license a brand such as Prada, Versace or Dolce & Gabbana, and these licensing fees mean higher prices. Paying a premium for a designer brand, however, does not guarantee superior quality. Manufacturers often make both designer frames and no-name ones with the same equipment and material, and apply the same quality tests to all products, which means you can get a good pair of glasses without blowing the budget – sometimes all you're paying for is the little name on the arm of your new glasses.

What to look for when buying glasses


Spectacle frames are generally made from the following materials:

  • Plastic – less durable than metal and can fade.
  • Metal – can cause allergic reactions and may be heavier than plastic.
  • Stainless steel – widely used, both for its hypoallergenic qualities and because it's comparatively cheap.
  • Titanium – most expensive type. They're lightweight, durable and hypoallergenic, but harder to adjust and repair.


There are several different types of lenses to choose from:

  • Standard plastic lenses are the cheapest lenses and generally the ones you'll see advertised in super-cheap offers – usually with an anti-scratch coating included. Made from lightweight plastic – which has good optical qualities – they're suitable for single-vision, small- or medium-strength prescriptions. However, without a coating they're prone to scratches and usually not suitable for the more serious end of the prescription scale.
  • Polycarbonate lenses are impact-resistant and used for safety eyewear, kids and sports glasses. The material is identical to bulletproof glass, but their visual quality is not as good as other lenses due to the rainbow effect they can produce in peripheral vision. Good for rainbows, bad for reading.
  • High-index lenses are made from special plastic that uses less material to correct a prescription, so they're thinner, lighter and very good for strong prescriptions. They're more resistant to impact and give good UV protection, and are the first choice for rimless or semi-rimless frames to avoid chipping. The higher the index number the thinner, lighter and more expensive they are. Index lenses range from 1.6-1.74.
  • Aspheric lenses are thinner and flatter, which reduces the cosmetic appearance of "large eye" if you're far-sighted, or "small eye" if you're near-sighted.
  • Multi-focal (progressive) lenses correct both near- and long-distance vision, usually in the 40+ age group. The most expensive progressive lenses are referred to as "tailor-made" or "free-form", "high-definition" or "latest technology lenses".


After deciding on the type of lens you want, choose the coating:

  • Anti-scratch (known as "hard" or "super-hard coating") is usually standard. It reduces scratching, although no lenses are entirely scratch-proof.
  • Anti-reflective (known as "ultraclear") reduces reflection, increasing light passing through and making your eyes more visible (letting other people see your pretty peepers). It also helps night and computer vision by reducing reflections from overhead, street and car lights. These will usually cost you more.
  • UV eye protection is usually included in a "multi-coat" coating. High-index, progressive and polycarbonate lenses are already UV-resistant. UV protection can't guard against all the harm that comes from direct sunlight, so always use sunglasses outdoors.


Glasses bought online range in price from $40 to $600+. Similar glasses from physical retailers start at $125.

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