6 Things to Know Before You Buy Glasses Online

You can save a bundle on cheap glasses online, especially if your prescription isn't complicated. All you need are a few measurements.
eye exam

If you're shopping for prescription eyeglasses, you may get sticker shock when you pick up a pair of frames at your optician's office. Worse yet, vision insurance doesn't always cover glasses — and when it does, it may not cover the whole cost.

Opting to buy prescription glasses online often means you'll get a better selection and lower prices. Here are six tips to help you order eyeglasses online.

Get a Prescription Before You Order Glasses Online

You'll need a current prescription to buy glasses online. Typically, a prescription for glasses is valid for a year or two; the exact time frame depends on your state. If your eyeglasses prescription doesn't have an expiration date noted, contact your eye doctor to ask. This might sound like a hassle, but it's important to have up-to-date information about your sight.

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What Measurements Are Needed to Buy Glasses Online?

Finding Frames That Fit

When you're shopping for glasses in-store, you can try frames on to see how they fit. Fortunately, when you opt for cheap glasses online some stores will mail you frames, so you can find the perfect style.

What if you've found a great sale at an online glasses retailer that doesn't offer this service? Here's a solution: Take a pair of eyeglasses that fit and shop for frames in the same size.

These are the three measurements used for frame sizing:

  • Lens width: Exactly what it sounds like.
  • Bridge width: The size of the piece that fits over your nose.
  • Temple arm length: The length of the arms that extend back toward your ears.

Assuming you currently own a pair of glasses that fit, you'll find these measurements written inside the frame from left to right (lens width, bridge width, and temple arm length). They'll typically be on the inside of one of the temple arms, but may also be on the back of the nose bridge.

Know Your Pupillary Distance

Pupillary distance (PD) is the distance, in millimeters, between the centers of the pupils of both eyes. It's a crucial measurement whether you're buying glasses online or in a store, as your lenses need to be centered on your pupils. If they aren't, the glasses will likely cause eyestrain.

Pupillary distance is a crucial measurement whether you're buying glasses online or in a store, as your lenses need to be centered on your pupils.

Your PD may be written on your prescription. If not, you can typically call your prescriber and ask. Alternatively, you can go to a local optician's office and get a measurement there. (They may charge a small fee for measuring.)

You can also find plenty of online tutorials and do this yourself. Retailers that sell prescription glasses online may offer their own methods for finding your PD. Warby Parker, for example, lets you submit a photo that its staff will examine to determine your PD.

glasses on laptop

These Extras Make Cheap Glasses Expensive

Premium Lenses for Prescription Glasses

Whether you buy prescription glasses online or offline, someone will probably try to upsell you on lenses and coatings. Anything beyond a basic, single-strength lens will add to the overall cost, but some upsells can be worth it. Here are the lens types you're most likely to encounter:

Polycarbonate and Trivex lenses
These lightweight plastic lenses offer great durability. They're an ideal choice for kids or for general wear when playing sports or doing other outdoor activities.

High-index plastic lenses
As the name implies, these lenses have a higher index of refraction. In plain English, that means they're the thinnest lenses you can get — and they can stay thin while providing clear vision for people who need stronger prescriptions. The higher the refractive index of these lenses, the thinner they are.

Progressive lenses
Made for people who wear bifocals (glasses that have two strengths for seeing near and far) or trifocals (which have three strengths), progressive lenses don't have lines where one strength lens meets the next. This is definitely a cosmetic improvement, but can also make things easier to see because there isn't a line in the middle of your lens.

Photochromic lenses
These lenses change color in the sun, eliminating the need to also buy prescription sunglasses online or in-store — though they won't necessarily get as dark as traditional sunglasses. The biggest brand in photochromic lenses is Transitions.

SEE ALSO: 7 Ways You Can Prepare for Unexpected Medical Expenses

Basic Lens Coatings Are Fine

Some — if not all — of the coatings we're about to list may be included with your lenses when you order glasses online. However, that doesn't mean you won't be offered better (and more expensive) versions of these coatings. Also be aware that the more you customize your prescription glasses online, the more likely it is you won't be able to return them.

Anti-reflective coating makes your eyes more visible, but can also help you see by reducing glare. The latter can be especially good if you work with computers frequently, and includes a filter against blue light.

Scratch-resistant coating is just what you think it is. No glasses are fully scratch-proof. But having some scratch resistance is good, especially if you're hard on your glasses.

Ultraviolet protection is important, because your eyes can be damaged by exposure to UV light the same as your skin can. Many lenses are capable of blocking 100% of UV light without any additional coating, though.

Anti-fog coating can keep your glasses from fogging up when you come in from the cold.

eye exam instrument

Getting Adjustments When You Buy Glasses Online

Even the perfect pair of specs could require some adjustment to get the right fit, but ordering cheap eyeglasses online doesn't mean you're out of luck. You can make adjustments on your own if you have some idea of what you're doing, and most eyewear retailers — like Zenni Optical — offer instructions on how to get your lenses just right.

Most opticians will adjust glasses — even if you didn't buy from them — for a small fee.

If you aren't keen on the DIY option, most opticians will adjust glasses — even if you didn't buy from them — for a small fee. Some online eyewear retailers partner with local stores to provide in-person adjustments (or they have their own retail locations); others may refund you the cost of an adjustment. Check before you buy!

Buy Glasses Online From Trustworthy Retailers

A web search for the "best place to buy glasses online" brings up dozens of stores across a variety of lists, but which one's right for you? Look at the retailer's Better Business Bureau rating and read any independent reviews you can find.

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Also check the store's return policy and warranty. Some retailers won't allow you to return prescription lenses, while others offer generous return windows. When ordering prescription eyeglasses or prescription sunglasses online without the opportunity to try them on in person, it's important to have a good return policy available. A solid warranty is also a good sign that the company stands behind its glasses.

Readers, have you bought glasses online? Share your experiences in the comments below!

Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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We bought our glasses from Zenni . Instead of five or six hundred it was around one hundred per pair. Now my wife and I both have multiple pairs. Measure your own pd, it's easy. Great deal.
SO so selection. GLasses arrive in a cheap but sturdy case with cleaning cloth in a plain package.

Request clipons for no added cost but they're kinda cheap looking. Glasses arrive in a nice-plastic case and nice bubble wrap envelope.

Glassesshop.com. Some frame styles come with magnetic clipons, kinda neat. Glasses arrive in a nice-looking translucent plastic cases with cleaning cloth (don't remember the packaging). SALES!

Eyebuydirect.com Pricier but good value. Rare sales. Glasses come in a nice looking box, cloth, upgrade for the carrying case for a little more.

All have good customer support, returns no questions asked, virtually try on glasses. Very good for single vision and progressive rx. Submit out of network claim of you have vision insurance