Photograph by Ned Matura; Bespoke Eyewear by Tom Davies
By Barry Santini
For most of its 700-plus year history,
eyeglasses have been priced from inexpensive, premade models sold by
peddlers to the masses, to custom personalized items that are sold to
those with the means and the mind to afford them. Today, despite the
appeal of both over-the-counter readers and made-to-order prescription
eyeglasses for less than $10, quality conscious consumers are
increasingly seeking out those eyecare professionals (ECPs) who are
fluent with the technology of custom-fitted, digital free-form lenses.
Although they're already familiar with the basics and benefits of
monocular PDs and heights, many eyecare professionals have yet to
embrace using basic position of wear (POW) measurements—tilt, wrap and
vertex distance—and thereby realize the promise of improved acuity and
vision utility delivered by customized lenses when using POW values in
Rather than just passively being dictated by
base curve, ECPs can optimize eyewear in ways rarely considered before.
From maintaining a frame's authentic fit and appearance, to reducing
anisiekonia and other issues of binocularity originating in even mildly
disparate Rxs, using tailored base curves in your lab orders is becoming
a valuable new exam and dispensing tool. Further, with the integration
of biometric and/or lifestyle data, you can begin to approach the
pinnacle of personalization possible in prescription eyewear today.
why have so many eyecare professionals shied away from making position
of wear values part of their daily routine? One factor is an old friend:
risk management. "Why mess around with what's not broken?" and "What
difference do these measurements REALLY make?" are comments often heard.
To answer these questions, we'll take a new look at how personalized
measurements and other lens variables contribute to optimizing the
optics in free-form single vision and progressive lenses.
TAKING MEASUREMENTS: WHO'S ‘DEFAULT' IS IT?
in the years before ECPs thought about measuring anything other than
PD, lens designers were on their side. Since eyeglass optics, fashion
and fit make most prescription lenses deviate from the shape, tilt and
plane of lenses in the exam room, lens designers had to make certain
assumptions about how most eyewear would look and fit. By definition,
the values they assumed for base curve and position of wear meant
averaging to a mean value.
The common values for position of wear are as follows:
Pantoscopic Tilt: 5 to 7 degrees
Frame Wrap Angle: 5 to 7 degrees
Vertex Distance: 13 to 13.5 mm
a recent study conducted by Essilor found that five out of six wearers
departed from these assumed values. The study concluded that more than
78 percent of eyewear sold will benefit from the use of tailored
position of wear measurements. Many eyecare professionals responded by
saying, "My patients aren't complaining, so why do all this extra work?"
Perhaps they are complaining, but in ways not easily recognized. For
example, it is clear that even small adjustments can often illicit
patient comments such as "That feels better!" The reason is that eyewear
satisfaction is really a complex recipe of many interrelated factors.
When we allow that more than three-quarters of all eyewear is not
aligned with the lens designer's intentions, we can begin to understand
how deviations in just alignment alone—and not including prescription,
prescription change, material and lens choice—can bring our patients
close to the invisible border that separates "satisfied" from
"unsatisfied." Anything we can do to prevent "crossing-over" is
paramount to maintaining patient trust and satisfaction.
OPTIMAL LENS MAPPING: USING TRACE DATA AND VERTEX DISTANCE
lens engineers supported us by optimizing their designs to presumed
fitting defaults, they were also faced with the challenge of not knowing
just how much the lens' surface may be exposed within the final frame
selection, which impacts consideration of eye excursion angles.
Therefore allowing the possibility of large eye excursion angles within
wide and tall eyewear fashion meant compromising lens optimization.
Today, the broad availability of libraries of actual frame shapes
together with digitally-enhanced, free-form lenses make this type of
compromise completely surmountable. Even without finding a specific
frame in a lab's library, a digital frame tracer allows any frame style
to enjoy the increased optimization possible from knowing precisely how
much lens area is involved, as well as its exact coordinate location.
Traditional lens measurements such as A, B, DBL and ED represent five
elemental shape defining points. Even just a two-axis frame tracer
enables optimization software to use as many as 512 points, an
improvement of several magnitudes.
Using a tailored value for
vertex distance additionally contributes to optimal lens mapping. Both
the actual geometry of the chosen lens shape and its distance from the
eye help to define which parts of the visual field should be prioritized
in a personalized lens' overall optimization. No longer is taking a
vertex distance to be relegated for use only in lens power compensation.
BIOMETRICS AND LIFESTYLE: THE NEXT STEP IN DYNAMIC EYEWEAR PERSONALIZATION
position of wear measurements is a great way to start personalizing
lenses. But pantoscopic angle, frame wrap angle and vertex distance are,
at their most fundamental level, only a set of static values. Knowing
the specifics of an individual's proportion of eye-turning versus head
turning allows a progressive lens to be properly weighted in design. For
example, a person who is primarily an eye turner benefits or prefers a
slightly harder progressive design which features larger areas of stable
Another personal biometric is head cape.
Whether due to eye dominance, suppression, postural restrictions or
personal habit, a progressive lens engineer knows that some people do
not focus their gaze of attention where their nose is pointing. Making
assumptions about normal head cape are about as valid as the ones using
default position of wear values.
Metrics are but one way to
arrive at dynamic lens optimization. Another way is through the use of a
weighted lifestyle questionnaire. By asking a prospective wearer to
evaluate their various interests, hobbies and visual activities,
including cycling, art, reading, computer, sports, etc., and assigning a
degree of importance to each one, lens engineers can then use custom
software to help calculate an overall utility rating to a lens design.
In this way, highly-weighted activities can be optimized while not
negatively impacting others receiving ratings of less importance.
DEAR ABBE: HOW POLYCARBONATE GOT A BUM RAP
the 1980s, as frame fashions evolved to new heights of size and
novelty, our trusted non-glass lens offering was centered on standard
plastic lenses. But issues of increased thickness, excessive curvature,
warping and impact resistance paved the way for polycarbonate to become a
dominant player in our lens arsenal. Offering reduced thickness,
flatter curves, light weight and resistance to impact and warping,
polycarbonate appeared to have it all. After a time however, almost
every ECP became acquainted with patients who couldn't or wouldn't
tolerate polycarbonate lenses for apparently unknown reasons. These
individuals also resisted our efforts to determine in advance whether
they might experience problems with polycarbonate lenses.
we know why. The optical errors introduced by polycarbonate's chromatic
aberration, caused by its low Abbe value, were being layered on top of
other unintended optical errors. Most of these originated from one or
more of the following:
- Overly flattened base curves that departed from orthodox best form choices.
- Inattentive vertical optical center placement violated Martin’s rule for lens tilt, resulting in a compounding of off-axis lens errors.
- The inherent inability of simple spherical curves to fully correct off-axis aberrations, especially with stronger or more astigmatic prescriptions.
free-form lens technology along with personalized measurements enables
optimized digital designs to conquer the compounding effect of these
errors. Now, off-axis chroma errors created by using any lower Abbe
material including poly, 1.67 and 1.74 are no longer added to errors
originating from poor fitting or a lack of global lens optimization.
With personalized measurements and good free-form, digitally-optimized
design, you may be surprised to find your formerly finicky patients no
longer have complaints with polycarbonate lenses.
PERSONALIZING EYEWEAR WITH BASE CURVE
strict best form/corrected curve fitting, the selection of the proper
lens base curve was left up to either the lens manufacturer or the lab
fabricating the lenses. One did not normally alter the base curve
supplied, except for the following reasons:
Perfect for Personalization
The inherently complex and multifaceted recipe that constitutes a pair of prescription eyewear makes it perfect for personalization. By using the base curve flexibility of free-form lenses we discussed previously, we can begin to more closely match the base curve of an Rx lens to the bevel or groove curve of a frame, thereby maintaining a style’s intended appearance and fit. Whether in-house or at your favorite lab, today’s advanced edgers can further personalize the lens placement within the frame, allowing a larger variety of lens materials to be considered in achieving optimal appearance and vision. Since personalized free-form technology can be applied to just about any lens substrate, eyecare professionals are no longer limited in their choice of lens index or Abbe value. Eyewear with optimal optics, fit and fashion—the imagination boggles at the possibilities. And if you have doubts about the potential for profits in personalized eyewear, you need not look any further than the success of authentic Rx programs of companies like Maui Jim, Oakley, Kaenon, Ray-Ban, Rudy Project and others. They’re running two and three shifts a day to keep up with consumer demand.
Further, prescription problems that previously remained outside our domain to handle optimally such as aniseikonia, meridonal anisometropia and the reduction of pin cushion or barrel distortion are now possible to address. These are but a few of what I call optical “oxymoronics”—optical problems that are at once more common than we know, but also more esoteric. Of course, optimizing and personalizing gasses in this way is best done in a working partnership with a doctor. Perhaps personalized eyewear will be the catalyst bringing together the different but complementary talents of the three “O’s” into a partnership whose goal is delivering the best eyecare and eyewear available.
We live in an age of personalization, and eyewear is perfectly situated to become the ultimate personalized product. Can you think of any other item more intimate and personal than the eyewear placed upon the windows to one’s soul?
- Eyelash clearance: A steeper base curve would create more vault, but at the expense of departure from ideal off-axis optics.
instruction to "match base curve": Essentially a catch-all notation,
the intent of which was to reduce problems in perceptual adaptation. May
have also resulted in poorer, off-axis optics.
- Overly flat or
steep frame curves: The priority to deliver a finished pair of glasses
and ensure the lenses tracked the frame and stayed secure often resulted
in a departure from best-form optics.
- Aniseikonia: Some
specialists and eyecare professionals would play with base curve to
reduce image disparity issues in antimetropic prescriptions. This almost
always degraded optics for the sake of optimizing image size.
using free-form, digitally-enhanced lenses, we no longer need to be a
prisoner to base curve matching, or have to accept inferior optics for
the sake of the above solutions. In fact, not only can free-form lens
technology allow the freedom to choose a base curve easily across a
range of 2 diopters on either side of the target best form curve, now we
can even address retinal image size disparities and more in moderately
anisometriopic prescriptions (see side bar).
THE END OF COMFY, COZY AND COMPROMISE
we begin to leave behind the introductory "getting to know you" phase
of free-form, digitally-optimized lens technology, we're entering a time
where consumers have not only heard about these new "HD" lenses from
their family, friends or the Internet—they're now coming in and asking
for them by name. It behooves every eyecare professional to move out of
their traditional comfort zone and become familiar with the tools and
techniques of creating truly optimized eyewear through personalized
measurements—and sooner than later. The comfy, cozy and simpler times of
making eyewear using just PDs and heights are as gone as are the days
before Amazon and Google. Sure, there's a lot to learn and master. And
it will require investment in the latest tools and training so your
office can get started on the right foot. And there will be times that
you and your staff will scratch your heads trying to figure out why even
this terrific technology doesn't deliver a "wow" factor for every
But one thing I can promise you: If your practice
doesn't ante up soon, your competition certainly will. Personalized
lenses are the future of our eyecare industry, and it is wise to get
into something new and exciting while it's still on the ground floor. ■
Barry Santini is a New York State licensed optician based in Seaford, N.Y.