Digital Vs Traditional Lens Surfacing

Lens Surfacing: The Difference Between Digital and Traditional

Digital lens surfacing is mostly relevant to progressive prescription lenses because the major difference between digital and traditional surfacing is digital’s ability to do custom regions within a lens to suit an individual. Sound a little complicated? It can be.

It’s important to note that, just because a lens is made digitally does not automatically mean it is better than a traditionally surfaced lens. In many cases, there is no difference.

Here’s what sets digital and traditional lens surfacing apart:

  • In traditional surfacing, a prescription is polished into a lens using a “tool” that is tailored to a specific prescription. In other words, traditional surfacing labs have pre-made tools stocked for every prescription imaginable.
  • For a progressive prescription, a traditional lab must use a semi-finished progressive lens that has the progressive bifocal on one side, then it works the prescription into the side opposite the progressive. This means the size and shape of the bifocal is limited to what’s available in pre-made, semi-finished progressive lenses.
  • A digital lab has the ability to surface the progressive bifocal and the rest of the prescription on the same side. The progressive can be altered or tailored to suit an individual’s requirements, and the lab has the freedom to use a semi-finished single vision lens instead of a pre-made progressive.
  • The ability to use semi-finished single vision lenses means digital labs have more options for lens colors and sizes. Semi-finished progressives limit the pupil distance and lens size of a prescription; digital surfacing removes this limitation almost entirely.
  • If you are comfortable with standard progressives and your pupil distance works in a specific frame, you will be hard-pressed to find a difference between digitally and traditionally surfaced progressive bifocals.
  • If you have single vision or use a lined bifocal, there is no difference for you between digitally and traditionally surfaced lenses.
  • In a small number of cases, digital surfacing can create stronger prescriptions than traditional in highly curved wraparound frames. For this reason and to increase the options for those with pupil distance conflicts, we are partnered with a digital surfacing lab, allowing us to offer digitally surfaced lenses to our customers for an added fee.

Our lab uses advanced surfacing and edging technology, but we do not do digital surfacing. The major reason is that the vast majority of prescriptions do not need digital surfacing. For the small few who do, we have an outside lab available to accommodate their needs.

One of the biggest misconceptions about digital surfacing is that digitally surfaced lenses are always better than traditionally surfaced lenses. This is simply not the case. Because digital surfacing is so much more complex, it is possible to over complicate a relatively simple prescription, creating poorer vision for the wearer. We bow to digital surfacing for its ability to make better progressives for those with smaller pupil distances, but beyond that there is no difference between the lenses our lab produces and the lenses produced by a digital lab.



If you have more questions or any comments about digital or traditional lens surfacing, please leave us a comment below! We’d love to hear what you have to say. Thanks for reading!

12 Responses to Digital Vs Traditional Lens Surfacing
  1. siri
    December 23, 2013 | 2:42 am

    My optical shop offers digitalized lens surfacing on 1 side of the lens ($425 for lens and frame), and digitalized lens surfacing on both sides of lens ($514 for lens and frame). Would my vision be any better if I get digitalized lens surfacing on both sides?

  2. Ryan Phillips
    December 31, 2013 | 2:21 pm


    Digital surfacing doesn’t make your vision any better especially on single vision they are a little more accurate on the rx but most times not enough to tell the difference. If you getting a digitally surfaced progressive than I would say spend the extra money they do have some advantages over regular progressives. As for one side digital surfaced or two sides that is just for cosmetics so it will not effect the vision. My eyewear to go does do digital surfacing and its 100.00 extra fee so if you want call our customer service department and they can send you a price.

  3. David
    August 28, 2014 | 9:56 pm

    I am shocked how misinformed the author of this article is. Digitally surfaced lenses will offer EVERYBODY sharper vision, no matter they’re lens style or prescription. You are able to get edge to edge clarity, without the waves or distortion that traditionally surface lenses have. They also create less glare due to less aberrations. Clearly it is time to do a little more research.

  4. Carmen
    April 15, 2016 | 3:48 pm

    I’ve always had verilux progressive lenses. Last year I bought digital lenses and I’ve had problems with my eyes. I use my old, scratched glasses. Do other people have problems with digital lenses?

    • Ryan Phillips
      April 19, 2016 | 2:52 pm

      I have not heard of this. I would say have the lenses check maybe there is a mistake or if you have a new prescription it could be off. The Digital lenses are far superior optically and easier to adjust too. Also varilux has digital progressives the same as there conventional so maybe you just need to ask for a verilux digital progressive.

    • Deborah
      September 18, 2016 | 1:06 pm

      My first pair of digital lenses blurred everything at about 3 to 4 foot distance and I had to remove them to read. The second pair from the same optician were slightly better but still caused extreme eye strain. They refunded the cost and I purchased the ones from a much more expensive optician. After months of eye strain I am back to wearing very old scratched glasses. I have worn multifocal lenses for over fifty years both with and without lines and this is the only time I have had problems with new prescriptions or lenses.

    • Andrea
      September 21, 2016 | 6:29 pm

      I always used verilux progressives lenses and absolutely hate the digital lenses. This is my second try with did it’ll lenses. I would rather use my old scratched up lenses also!! I am having trouble seeing clearly with my new glasses…

  5. Ray Hunt
    May 4, 2016 | 6:42 pm

    My optical shop is telling me that a Digital Bi focal is like a standard single powered bi focal without a line and that the power isn’t graduated but a single power. I’m suspicious; is this true?

    • Ryan Phillips
      May 5, 2016 | 2:26 pm


      That’s not true. Although they are similar, the digital bi focal IS graduated and is a better overall product.

  6. Kimberly Senatore
    May 31, 2016 | 11:21 pm

    I have worn glasses for since the age of two.

    I just went to get new glasses (same script). Was basically BULLIED into getting HD lenses.

    Needless to say, the progressive reading is too blurry to read (and they have checked scrip many times). Finally – gave me non-progressive HD – and I still can not read! If I don’t look at something dead on straight – I can not see! I have a high script and now I am stuck with glasses that cost over $600 (after insurance paid their portion) that I can not use!

    The glasses have been sent back 4 times, and are still not correct. Same script as what I was wearing – same frames. Only difference is the HD. So, for those of you who say there is no difference – you are incorrect!

    I would like to get regular polycarbonate and Pearl Vision is refusing to do it. So people, be very careful about what you purchase, make sure they are right for you.

  7. Jenna
    November 2, 2016 | 12:24 am

    I’m glad to have found this discussion. My first time in bifocals – they gave me the HD progressives. They’ve now re-made the lenses twice, and I still can’t use them. Strangely, the drug store trifocals are MUCH better than these prescription lenses. I just picked up my third iteration of the rx lenses, and they’re going back. I’ll just go back to taking my readers on and off all day, and not being able to read my GPS display while driving (I only have a reading prescription). I’m pretty fed up with the whole experience.

  8. Souleymane
    November 11, 2016 | 12:08 pm

    Hi everybody,i need some help. I’m working in a traditional laboratory but my co-workers don’t want to show me how to use the software for the Rx calculation. They are ‘afraid’ of me because they think if I know how to use it, they could loose their job but that is not the case. So calling for all of you to give me some help. Thanks y’all.

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