Why are reading glasses so much cheaper than near-sighted glasses

A set of lenses and a frame for near sighted glasses run about $150-400 a pair, assuming you get no discounts. However tons of grocery stores and department stores sell reading glasses for $10 or so. Why are reading glasses so much cheaper? Why can you get frames and lenses for $10 for reading glasses when frames alone cost $80+ for prescription glasses?

Because reading glasses just magnify. And prescription glasses take a dr to get. Seeing as they work just as good as prescription glasses. There might be a racket going on here.

They just magnify? I thought they used convex lenses or something.

Even so, the price differences between frames still doesn’t make sense.

Yes it does. Have you seen the frames on those reading glasses at the supermarket? Hideous.

I don’t wear prescription glasses, so I don’t know what they’re like. Those cheap reading glasses – which I do use – are good for reading, but anything more than a couple feet away is a blur.

First off, in many countries, you can get near sighted glasses without a proscription and in the US you can go to the doctor for reading glasses. Many people who are near sighted could get away with molded lens like cheap reading glasses, it only get complicated for people like me (astygmatism and different diopters in each eye).
In terms of price, you can get them as cheap as 60 or 70 dollars, inclusive, assuming you don’t need special lenses, like lightweight ones due to utter blindness or impact resistant ones for those who have metal grinding as a hobby or are very clumsy. Also, reading glasses from the supermarket seem to be of very poor quality. My mother developed a need for reading glasses about the same time as I got the frames that I have now, or about four years ago. If not for the fact that my vision has gotten progressively worse, I would still be with the original lenses, and not on my third set. In that same time, my mother has been through many pairs of glasses, having broken them in the course of daily life. And it isn’t that I’m good to mine, I fall asleep in them, get hit by stuff in the face and have been known to accidentily leave them on the floor because I’m an idiot and mine are in fine shape.

A lot of it is for the same reasons you can get polyester S/M/or L shirts for a lot less than a tailor-made fine cotton shirt. On the one side, mass production of a few options made with cheap materials. On the other, something made of quality materials by a craftsman to exactly fit your individual needs. This certainly applies to the lenses.

True, frames are mass produced to a degree, but there’s a big difference between choosing among a hundred+ pre-made styles and choosing among 2 or 3 styles. Further, frames for your prescription glasses will be fitted to your face. There’s a lot more overhead, including that sort of service, involved in providing frames through an optical shop than is involved in stocking a rack in a drugstore. Mark-up on frames helps pay for that overhead.

Reading glasses frames are cheap. Remember when cheap jewelry turned your skin green?

The frames do.

I’m amazed no one has mentioned mark up. the markup on glasses is insane. If one were so inclined they could make vending machines that spit out glasses with lenses of fairly good quality. if you look online you can get lenses made from quality materials and a cornicopia of special treatments for far less then any optometrist shop will sell you them.

Economies of scale only explain so much. The rest is simply the insane mark up.

Funny you should mention that. We have a vending machine here that sells eyeglasses for $1.50. No prescription, and not something you’d want to wear unless you were trying to avoid getting something in your eyes.

My husband is an optician. The markup is indeed, at first glance, fairly crazy. We’re talking several hundred percent in most cases.

But keep in mind that a goodly chunk of the markup is going to pay for the trained professionals who discuss your vision needs with you, help you select the best product for you, and then make the eyeglasses, adjust the frames to your face, and resolve any problems you have with your new glasses.

When I was a kid, we got our glasses at an optical shop at the HMO complex. The lenses were cut and the glasses assembled at a lab somewhere else. The people in the shop were qualified to a) adjust the frames to fit your face, b) replace a lost screw and c) that was about it. If you glasses got too badly bent or broke, we hope you have a backup pair, because it’s going to take 6 weeks to order in a new pair. If you were getting headaches from your new prescription, you could go back to the optometrist and your prescription rechecked, then, order a new set of glasses. (That’s another six weeks, in addition to how long you have to wait to get an appointment with the eye doc.)

The glasses sure were cheap, though

By contrast, where my husband works, they have a lab on the premises and are required by law to have a state-licensed optician on the floor at all times. They also have a guy in the lab all day, so most prescriptions can be filled within the hour. If there’s something wrong with your lenses, the opticians can troubleshoot by checking to make sure that the lenses match your prescription, that they were centered properly in the frame, etc. If anything’s wrong, they can cut you some new lenses (probably within the hour.) To be licensed, they are required to either complete an associates degree in opticianry or a two-year apprenticeship with a licensed optician or an optometrist, and take an exam. Then they have to keep up with continuing education to keep their licenses. So these aren’t minimum-wage positions.

My favorite part of the exam is where the examiner takes a frame and basically mashes it into a pretzel, then hands it to the examinee, who has brought his own tools. He the nhas ten minutes to use his mad opticianry-fu to straighten the frame. :cool:

There is also a basic difference between reading glasses and regular glasses. Regular glasses are corrective, they adjust your eyesight to compensate for the problem(s) with your eye’s cuvrature. As such, they will be different for different people. Reading glasses are simply magnifying glasses stuck in a frame. They make everything larger, so that people with poor vision (of any type) can make letters out. Your vision is still just as blurry.


Okay a few people have claimed that reading glasses “just magnify.” This is incorrect.

Reading glasses, and the glasses your optometrist would prescribe for presbyopia or hyperopia are all concave spherical lenses.

The lenses in cheap reading glasses from the rack or from an optical shop are the same (aside from the cheap lenses not being made as accurately, or available in in as many different strengths, etc.)

(This is assuming you don’t have an astigmatism or anything else.)

My hubby the optician disapproves of the off-the-rack reading lenses only because people might keep self-prescribing reading glasses for years and years instead of regularly seeing an optometrist or opthamologist, who can diagnose serious eye problems like glaucoma and cataracts and other diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, which can be detected by examining the retina. He says you should see an optometrist every few years even if your vision is perfect.

I think that’s a little silly, but I’m not the Vision Care Professional.

I am, however, a physicist, so I can tell you this:

If you need reading glasses, the problem is that the lens of your eye is focusing the light rays so they would form an image behind your retina, so that what you see is fuzzy and out of focus. All your reading glasses will do (el cheapos or made from a prescription) is bend the light rays so that the image formed on your retina.

Or here’s another way to think about it. With your glasses off, if you focus on your finger, starting at arm’s length and bringing it closer to your face, you will find that you have a near point, the closest point to your eye that you can actually focus. If you are hyperopic or presbiopic, your near point is uncomfortably far from your face. (The focusing-on-your-finger trick might not even work, if your farpoint is more than an arm’s-length away!) If you put a convex lens in front of your eye and look at something that is close to your eye, the lens create a virtual image that is located at, or beyond, your nearpoint, allowing you to focus on it.

In any case, all you need is a convex lens.