See Better and Look Better
Anti-reflective coating (also called AR coating or anti-glare coating) improves both your vision through your lenses and the appearance of your eyeglasses.
Both benefits are due to the ability of AR coating to eliminate reflections of light from the front and back surface of eyeglass lenses. With fewer reflections, more light passes through the lens to the eye for good vision and the lenses look more transparent and attractive.
AR coating is especially beneficial when used on high-index lenses, which reflect more light than regular plastic lenses. Generally, the higher the index of refraction of the lens material, the more light that will be reflected from the surface of the lenses.
For example, regular plastic lenses reflect roughly 8 percent of light hitting the lenses, so only 92 percent of available light enters the eye for vision. High index plastic lenses can reflect up to 50 percent more light than regular plastic lenses (approximately 12 percent of available light), so even less light is available to the eye for vision. This can be particularly troublesome in low-light conditions, such as when driving at night.
Today's modern anti-reflective coatings can virtually eliminate the reflection of light from eyeglass lenses, allowing 99.5 percent of available light to pass through the lenses and enter the eye for good vision.
Anti-reflective coating reduces glare and halos around lights at night and eliminates unattractive reflections on your lenses.
By eliminating reflections, AR coating also makes your eyeglass lenses look nearly invisible so people can see your eyes and facial expressions more clearly. Anti-reflective glasses also are more attractive, so you can look your best in all lighting conditions.
The visual benefits of lenses with anti-reflective coating include sharper vision with less glare when driving at night and greater comfort during prolonged computer use (compared with wearing eyeglass lenses without AR coating).
Anti-reflective coating also is a good idea for sunglasses, because it eliminates glare from sunlight reflecting into your eyes from the back surface of tinted lenses when the sun is behind you. (Generally, AR coating is applied only to the back surface of sunglass lenses because there are no cosmetic or visual benefits to eliminating reflections from the front surface of dark-tinted lenses.)
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Most premium AR lenses include a surface treatment that seals the anti-reflective layers and makes the lenses easier to clean. "Hydrophobic" surface treatments repel water, preventing the formation of water spots. Some anti-reflective lenses have surface treatments that are both hydrophobic and "oleophobic" (also called lipophobic), which means they repel both water and oil. These combination treatments typically contain fluorinated materials that give the lenses properties that are very similar to those of nonstick cookware.
Some eyeglass lenses have factory-applied AR coating on both lens surfaces. Other lenses, particularly progressive lenses and other multifocal lenses (i.e., bifocals and trifocals), have the coating applied after the lenses have been customized to your eyeglass prescription by an optical lab.
How Anti-Reflective Coating Is Applied
Applying anti-reflective coating to eyeglass lenses is a highly technical process involving vacuum deposition technology.
The first step in the AR coating process is to meticulously clean the lenses and inspect them for visible and microscopic surface defects. Even a tiny smudge, piece of lint or hairline scratch on a lens during the coating process can cause a defective AR coating.
Typically, a production line includes multiple washing and rinsing baths, including ultrasonic cleaning to remove any traces of surface contaminants. This is followed by air drying and heating of the lenses in special ovens to further remove unwanted moisture and gases from the lens surface.
The lenses are then loaded into special metal racks with spring-loaded openings so the lenses are held securely but with virtually all lens surfaces exposed for the coating application. The racks are then loaded into the coating chamber. The door of the chamber is sealed, and the air is pumped out of the chamber to create a vacuum.
While the lens racks are rotating in the coating chamber, a power source within the machine focuses a beam of electrons onto a small crucible that contains a series of metal oxides in separate compartments.
Modern vacuum coating machine for applying AR coating to eyeglass lenses. (Image: SatisLoh)
When the coating materials are bombarded by electrons, they vaporize within the coating chamber and adhere to the surfaces of the lenses creating a uniform, microscopically thin optical layer on the lens.
Choose an AR Coating That's Best for You
Each AR coating manufacturer has its own proprietary formula, but generally all anti-reflective coatings consist of multiple microscopic layers of metallic oxides of alternating high and low index of refraction. Since each layer affects different wavelengths of light, the more layers there are, the more reflections are neutralized. Some high-quality AR coatings have up to seven layers in their stack.
Depending on your lifestyle, your optician might suggest a specific brand of anti-reflective coating. If you spend a lot of time working at a computer, you might benefit from an AR coating that filters out blue light. For example, Hoya says its Recharge EX3 anti-reflective treatment blocks high-energy blue light emitted by electronic devices such as computers, e-readers, smart phones, and even energy-efficient light bulbs that could be damaging to the eyes over time.
Depending on the AR coating formula, most lenses with anti-reflective coating have a very faint residual color, usually green or blue, that is characteristic of that particular brand of coating.
Anti-reflective coatings are incredibly thin. The entire multilayer AR coating stack generally is only about 0.2 to 0.3 microns thick, or about 0.02 percent (two one-hundredths of 1 percent) of the thickness of a standard eyeglass lens.
Caring for Glasses With Anti-Reflective Lenses
When cleaning AR-coated lenses, use only products that your optician recommends. Lens cleaners with harsh chemicals may damage the anti-reflective coating.
Also, don't attempt to clean AR-coated lenses without wetting them first. Using a dry cloth on a dry lens can cause lens scratches. And because anti-reflective coating eliminates light reflections that can mask lens surface defects, fine scratches often are more visible on AR-coated lenses than on uncoated lenses.
About the Author: Gary Heiting, OD, is senior editor of AllAboutVision.com. Dr. Heiting has more than 25 years of experience as an eye care provider, health educator and consultant to the eyewear industry. His special interests include contact lenses, nutrition and preventive vision care. Connect with Dr. Heiting via Google+.
[Page updated September 2015]