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Material changes plastic


lenses of the last decade
46

Philip Gilbert FBDO

14/02/14 CET

With a rapidly changing lens market it can be difficult to keep on top of the vast range of products available. This
article gives a concise overview of the latest lens materials in common use, identifies those that are falling out of
favour, and looks at what the future may hold.

Course code: C-34968 | Deadline: March 14, 2014


Learning objectives
To be able to guide patients towards appropriate lens choices by meeting their
expectations (Group 1.2.1)
To be able to interpret and respond to patient records and provide a suitable
optical correction (Group 2.2.5)
To be able to dispense a range of lens forms appropriate to the refractive error
(Group 4.1.5)

Learning objectives
To be able to guide patients towards appropriate lens choices by meeting their
expectations (Group 1.2.1)
To be able to interpret and respond to patient records and provide a suitable
optical correction (Group 2.2.5)
To be able to dispense a range of lens forms appropriate to the refractive error
(Group 4.1.2)

About the author


Phil Gilbert is a qualified dispensing optician with over 40 years experience. He currently works as an ophthalmic lens consultant for Carl Zeiss Vision
UK Ltd. He is a committee member of BSI TC/172 Ophthalmic lenses and the chairman of the Standards Panel of the Federation of Manufacturing
Opticians (FODO). He has numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals and is the editor of ABDOs, Ophthalmic Lenses Availability, which lists
and describes every spectacle lens available in the UK.

Advances in lens materials in the last half


of the 20th century have allowed eyecare
professionals to offer their patients higher
performing lenses than ever before. The
introduction of plastic lenses by Univis
in the 1960s began the revolution by
presenting a lighter, thinner option than
glass lenses. Polycarbonate, introduced in
the 1970s, provided an impact-resistant
option for patients, although lacked the
optical performance of CR39 or glass.
Within the past decade, dozens of plastic
lens materials in higher refractive indices
have been developed, enabling thinner and
lighter lenses than ever before, though they
have failed to rival the impact resistance of
polycarbonate.

Materials
2005

1.55

1.56

AO

Nikon

SOLA

Essilor

1.7

47

Signet Armolite
2009

Changing times
Past and present copies of the ABDO
publication Ophthalmic Lenses Availability
(OLA) from 2005 to 2013, demonstrate
the incremental changes to the refractive
index of plastic lens materials over time.
This has led to a completely different menu
being offered by major lens casters and
optical laboratories over the past 10 years.
Referencing the 2005, 2009, 2012 and 2013
copies of the OLA allows us to understand
the products offered in 2014.
The most notable change over the last 10
years is how the mid-index market has been
affected. Increased availability from 2005
to 2009 was followed by depletion in more
recent years, particularly with regard to

1.54

1.54

1.55

1.56

1.7

AO

Essilor

Hoya

SOLA

Shamir

Rodenstock

Lentoid
Norville
Signet Armolite

2012

1.54

1.55

1.56

1.7

AO

Norville

Lentoid

Norville

Lentoid

Norville

Hoya

Rodenstock

Shamir
Signet Armolite

2013

1.54

1.55

Rodenstock

1.56

1.7

Lentoid

Hoya

Shamir
Signet Armolite
Jai Kudo
Figure 1 Internal stress with a
polycarbonate lens

Table 1 Plastic lens availability from 2005 to 2013

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Introduction

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clear stock and prescription lenses (see Table


1, page 47).
There were two main reasons for the
changes to the mid-index materials market:
the introduction of TrivexTM lenses and the
reduction of production costs of 1.6 index
material. Previously, 1.6 index lenses were
expensive to produce and represented a
considerable increase in retail cost compared
with CR39. The subsequent price reduction
allowed major manufacturers to migrate from
the production of other mid-index materials.
More recently, the introduction of TribridTM
1.6 index material in 2013 has reduced the
demand for lower mid-index clear lenses even
further.

Types of plastic lenses


Plastic or organic spectacle lenses can be
divided into two distinct categories termed
thermosetting and thermoplastic, each
with their own characteristics and different
manufacturing processes. Thermosetting
materials for example, hard resin are cast
in moulds as a liquid monomer and then

cured or polymerised. This is performed


using either a photo or chemical catalyst
that turns the liquid into a solid. Crosslinked molecules form the lens, resulting in
a lattice structure, which has good scratchresistance at the expense of impactresistance.
Thermoplastic lenses, such as
polycarbonate on the other hand are
injection-moulded as a hot liquid, which is
then cooled; this material forms long chain
molecules that can slide past each other.
In contrast to thermosetting material, it
is often less scratch-resistant but more
impact-resistant, though it can be melted
down and remoulded.
The arrival of TrivexTM, a hybrid
design, creates a third material category
and captures the best properties of
thermosetting and thermoplastic. The
polymer chains in TrivexTM material are
lightly cross-linked with strong polar
interactions between the polymer chains
to allow energy to be absorbed when
pressure is applied to the material. The

Index

Lens type

Density

V-value

UV abs

1.50

CR39

1.32

58.0

355nm

1.53

Trivex

1.11

43.0

400nm

1.54

Rodenstock ColorMatic IQ

1.21

43.3

400nm

1.56

Corning Sunsensors

1.19

40.0

380nm

1.59

Polycarbonate

1.20

31.0

385nm

1.60

Plastics mid index

1.30

41.0

395nm

1.60

Tribid

1.23

41.0

400nm

1.67

Plastics high index

1.36

32.0

395nm

1.74

Plastics very high index

1.47

33.0

395nm

1.76

Tokai

1.49

30.0

400nm

Table 2 Properties of plastics lenses

properties of TrivexTM allows for drilling,


making it a suitable choice for rimless
glazing.

Spectacle lens properties


The main material properties of plastic
spectacle lenses fall into several categories,
including:
Refractive index
Specific gravity or density
Reflectance
Abbe number or V-value
UV absorption
Impact resistance
Durability.
The main aim of the spectacle lens
producer is to manufacture lenses that
satisfy all of these criteria to the highest
possible standard within the confines of
the material being used and the available
production techniques. The resultant
product must then be usable and perform
well, not only across a broad range of
prescriptions, but also accommodate the
glazing requirements for modern spectacle
frames.

Refractive index
Refractive index is the relationship between
the speed of light in a vacuum and the
speed of light in the lens. At present, in
the UK and the USA, refractive index is
measured on the helium d-line (wavelength
587.56nm) whereas in Continental Europe
it is measured on the mercury e-line
(wavelength 546.07nm). Note that the value
for lenses followed by ne is a little greater
than for nd, so that when the value of ne is
given, the material appears to have a slightly
higher refractive index.
A principle demand from the consumer
is for optimal cosmetic appearance and the
thinner the lens, the more acceptable it is
likely to be. However, as the manufacturers
race to produce thinner lenses, with higher

refractive indices, the materials become


softer, reflect more light, have lower V-values
and incur more dispersion.

refractive index of lens materials to satisfy the


demand for thinner lenses, but at the same
time taking care to ensure that this is not to
the detriment of other lens properties.

Specific gravity or density

Reflectance
A disadvantage of higher refractive index
material is the proportional increase in
surface reflectance. Whereas the light
reflected per surface on a 1.5 index is just
over 4% per surface, it reaches a very high
9% per surface on a 1.9 index glass lens. This
denotes the need for anti-reflection coatings
on all lenses with higher indices. Light is
reflected from the front and the back surfaces
and generally most plastic lenses have
transmission levels of between 85-92%. The
formula for calculating reflectance is shown
below:

P=

(n -1)2
(n +1)2

x 100%

1.53 TrivexTM

Figure 2 Minimal internal stress with a TrivexTM


lens
exposure and its association with changes
to the eye such as cataract and pterygia.
UVA and UVB rays are considered to be
the most harmful and lens casters are now
adding UV inhibitors into their higher index
lenses. Inhibiting a plastic lens up to 380nm
can usually be done without affecting the
clarity of the lens; however, up to 400nm it
usually creates a yellowing of the lens, which
can be masked by over tinting with brown.
The UV absorption of lens materials differs
between casters, depending upon the UV
inhibitor that is added to the monomer. The
various properties of current plastic lenses are
detailed in Table 2, page 46.

P = (1.67-1 / 1.67+1)2 x 100 = 6.3%


Abbe number or V-value
A further disadvantage of higher indices is
the lowering of the Abbe number or V-value.
This indicates the amount of dispersion that
a lens produces. Lenses with a low refractive
index have high V-values but an increase in
refractive index lowers the V-value, creating
greater dispersion and results in noticeable
chromatic aberration towards the lens
periphery.

UV absorption
The issue of ultraviolet (UV) protection is
becoming increasingly important due to
public awareness of the thinning of the
ozone layer and the correlation between UV

1.54 Index

Today, a number of materials are available on


the market.

Rodenstock now exclusively offer lenses


produced in 1.54 index for their photochromic
ColorMatic IQ. It is mass tinted and activates
from 8% - 85% absorption. It lightens to
57% after two minutes and to 45% after four
minutes. It is available in single vision, bifocal
and progressive formats.

1.5 CR39

1.56 Index

At present, CR39 is still the material of


choice for standard plastic lenses. Every lens
supplier offers products made of CR39 as
this material has a good optical quality, with
a high V-value and is easy to surface, edge,
drill and coat. The main drawbacks of the
material are its low refractive index and low
tensile strength. CR39 still has the highest
market share of materials in Europe because
the prices are attractive and the properties
are adequate for most users. But the run for
highest index is very important as it enables
the lens manufacturers to demonstrate their
capability.
In the last decade the main focus for
manufacturers has been to increase the

This material is manufactured by Corning


and distributed as Sunsensors photochromic
lenses. It is available in single vision,
aspheric, bifocal and progressive lenses and
a number of suppliers offer this material. The
photochromic molecules are within the lens
body as opposed to a surface coating with an
86% faded indoor light transmission factor.

Material review

An example of the reflectance per surface


of a 1.67 index lens would be:

TrivexTM has a high impact resistance, and


due to the crosslink design has a much
better chemical and stress resistance than
polycarbonate, coupled with an acceptable
V-value of 43. The basic TrivexTM monomer
price is high, approaching the level of
1.6 index materials. The monomer can be
difficult to cast and did lead to a few early
processing problems with regard to surfacing,
coating, tinting and edging, although these
difficulties have now largely been overcome.
In comparison to polycarbonate the chemical
resistance is very good and there is no
cracking due to stress, essential for rimless
glazing. Overlaying a polycarbonate lens
with a polarising filter demonstrates the
high degree of inherent internal stress within
this type of lens (see Figure 1). In contrast, a
similar test with a TrivexTM lens shows minimal
internal stress (see Figure 2).

1.59 Polycarbonate
Polycarbonate is renowned for its impact
resistance. It was developed in 1957 by
General Electric (Lexan) and used in the 1960s
for helmet shields. The first spectacle lens was
made in 1978 by Gentex USA. Polycarbonate
lenses are manufactured using an injection

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Specific gravity refers to the particular weight


of a material. Generally, higher refractive
index materials have a greater specific gravity,
as the material is denser. Ideally, a lens should
be produced using material with the lowest
possible specific gravity. The density shows
the specific weight of the lens material in
g/cm. The weight of a spectacle lens depends
also on the refractive index.

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moulding process with high volumes


produced in a short time. However, they have
a lower optical quality compared with other
lenses and suffer with higher levels of internal
stress. Due to its high impact resistance the
market share of polycarbonate in the USA
is now over 30%. In Asia and the majority of
Europe the market penetrance of this material
is subdued by its low V-value, poor chemical
resistance, and susceptibility to cracking,
particularly on contact with metal. The
material requires a unique dry edging process
in the glazing lab and applying a robust,
tintable, hardcoat is difficult to achieve.

1.6 Index
1.6 Index material is rapidly becoming the
entry-level index for modern practitioners.
Recommended for rimless and in-line supra
glazing, the benefits of increased resistance
to breakage, combined with a thickness
reduction of 17% compared with CR39, this
index is gaining market share. To produce
lenses with refractive index of 1.6, there are
different materials in use. Notable materials
are MR6 and MR8 from Mitsui Chemical in
Japan. It is important to remember that even
if different casters use the same materials,
the final lens can differ in optical design
and optical quality. The lenses are produced
in a casting process as liquid monomer
where different reactive components are
mixed and a defined temperature controls
the polymerisation process. MR6 was the

most popular material for 1.6, prior to the


development of the next generation, MR8,
with a higher V-value. These materials have
a very high tensile strength, good optical
properties and can be tinted using a defined
process.

1.6 Index TribridTM


Newly launched in 2013, the TribridTM
lens material merges elements of Trivex
technology with traditional high index
processes to deliver a lens with excellent
clarity, reduced thickness and strength,
while also being lightweight. The arrival
of this material allows the eye-care
professional to make lens recommendation
with limited compromise.

1.67 Index
The materials that are used for 1.67
index lenses are also made using the
thermosetting process. The lenses are
produced in a casting process with a liquid
monomer similar to the 1.6 materials.
Almost all lens manufacturers that sell
lenses in Europe use the same material
for their 1.67 lenses. The material can be
manufactured using monomer MR7 with
good tensile strength, or MR10, which is
more temperature resistant.

1.74 Index
Formerly the highest commercially available
refractive index for some time, a 1.74

material can yield an impressive 40%


saving in edge thickness compared to
the same prescription in CR39. It has a
creditable V-value of 33 but can appear
to have a yellowish tinge to the lens,
is more brittle when drilled, and has
a distinctive, unpleasant odour when
being edged.

1.76 Index
Manufactured by the Japanese company
Tokai Optical, this material, which has
the ingredient Alkylene Sulfide Polymer,
is currently the highest available
refractive index plastic, and is supplied
by several UK laboratories. Tokai was
established in 1939 in Aichi, Japan
and the company launched their 1.76
material in 2006. Relatively unknown in
the UK, they started trading in Europe
through Tokai Optecs N.V. in Belgium
in 1995. Tokai supply both stock single
vision and progressive designs and the
material can be tinted in the mass up to
15% light transmission and is up to 47%
thinner than standard CR39.

Conclusion
Needless to say the research and
development of plastic lenses with
even higher refractive indices is taking
place as we speak and the race is on to
develop the next generation of Super
High Index materials. Watch this space.

MORE INFORMATION
References Visit www.optometry.co.uk/clinical, click on the article title and then on references to download.
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