Anti-reflective coating (AR coating), can make a significant difference to the quality of vision as well as the cosmetic appearance of spectacles.

AR coating eliminates reflections from the front and back surfaces of your spectacle lenses. With no reflections, more light can pass through your lenses which will improve your vision, especially at night. It makes the lenses look invisible and draw attention to your eyes.

The higher the prescription or lens power, the greater amount of light will be reflected. High minus lenses have thick edges, which cause a lot of aberrations and reflections, making the spectacles look ugly.

In higher powered lenses, high-refractive index material is used to make the lenses thinner, but this material also tends to cause more reflections. AR coating is ideal in this situation and should be considered essential.

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 spectacle lenses, allowing 99.5 percent of available light to pass through the lenses and enter the eye for good vision.

By eliminating reflections, AR coating also makes your lenses look nearly invisible, so people can see your eyes and facial expressions more clearly. Anti-reflective glasses 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.

When applied to photochromic lenses, AR coating enhances the clarity and comfort of these premium lenses in all light conditions without reducing their reaction to sunlight.

Anti-reflective coating works well for sunglasses, because it eliminates glare from sunlight reflecting into your eyes from the back surface of tinted lenses. 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.

Most premium AR lenses include a surface treatment that seals the anti-reflective layers and makes the lenses easier to clean.

Modern vacuum coating machine for applying AR coating to eyeglass lenses. (Image: SatisLoh)

How Anti-Reflective Coating is applied

Applying anti-reflective coating to spectacle 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.

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.

Some spectacle lenses have factory-applied AR coating on both lens surfaces. Other lenses, particularly progressive lenses and other multifocal lenses (bifocals and trifocals), have the coating applied after the lenses have been customized to your prescription by an optical lab.

Choose an AR Coating that is 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.

Depending on your lifestyle, your optometrist 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.

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 spectacles with Anti-Reflective Lenses

When cleaning AR-coated lenses, use only products that your optometrist recommends. Lens cleaners with harsh chemicals may damage the anti-reflective coating. Don’t attempt to clean AR-coated lenses without wetting them first. Using a dry cloth on a dry lens can cause lens scratches. 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.

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