by Jamie Bartlett November 28, 2018 8 min read

Round tortoise shell spectacles

Shop varifocals


Jump to: How varifocals work  |  Uses for varifocals  |  Bifocals vs. varifocals  |  Getting used to varifocals  |  Driving with varifocals |  Varifocal costs


Ahhh, the enigma of varifocal lenses.

Verging on wizardry, these magical lenses are considered as one of the most effective lens types.

And quite right too.

For people who struggle with short and long sightedness, (that's myopia and hyperopia) varifocal lenses are one of the best lens-options to help you see.


Before you start, have you assessed your close-distance viewing?

Close distance makes up part of your varifocal lens so it might be worth checking if you require prescriptive correction for this.

Here's a free, close-distance sight test for you to try at home.


Reading glasses precription calculator on grey background with green text over the top indicating it's purpose

    Already a member?


    How do varifocal lenses work



    Varifocals are something of a super lens.

    They have a spectrum of focal power.

    Ranging from close reading to distance, the lens graduates between these two corrective powers. These happen between the top and bottom of the lens, so you, the wearer, can use the appropriate part of the lens to assist your vision.


    Rather than having one specific strength across the entirety of your lens (like single vision lenses) you can visually select ‘zones’ within a focal spectrum. This is how varifocal lenses offer multiple visual corrections in one lens so you can focus on objects near or far.


    This focal spectrum is often referred to as a “corridor”. Seen in the image above, varifocal lenses compromise the outer-edges of the lens to create an adaptive vertical window. This occurs in the middle of the lens, often in an organic ‘T’ shaped section.

    Being so advanced, varifocal glasses are understandably more expensive. They’re far more complex to make but boy are they worthwhile.

    Varifocals are like having several pairs of glasses in just one frame.

    For some advice on how to buy varifocals online, you should check out these 4 tips.


    Young Caucasian man wearing varifocal glasses


    What does varifocal lens mean?

    Varifocal lenses contain multiple prescription strengths ranging from close reading, intermediate and distance.

    This variance is achieved by changing thicknesses on the front and back of the lens to create a vertically smooth “corridor” of corrected vision. This variability of focal power is what gives these lenses their meaning and their alternative name; progressives.


    Young Caucasian man wearing grey varifocal glasses


    What are varifocal glasses used for?

    Varifocal glasses are used by people who require multifocal correction.

    We’re guessing this might be you…

    This basically means that your ability to focus at various distances is hindered. This can be caused by the onset of presbyopia, hyperopia, myopia, astigmatism or a mixture of several of these eye conditions.

    To correct all of these conditions individually, you would have to obtain at least two different pairs of glasses.

    Sounds complicated right?

    Having multiple glasses frames can sometimes be quite helpful, however, varifocal lenses can overcome this with their multifocal capacity.

    Varifocal glasses are easily characterised by your intended application; every day or occupational use.


    Woman sitting on her couch at home


    Everyday varifocal lenses

    These general use lenses are for multi-distance viewing for variable life-scenarios.

    These lenses have more to cope with as they can be used to correct all three distances: close, intermediate and distance viewing.

    Contextually, this can involve reading a book, typing at your laptop or looking at the television across the room; all from the same viewpoint.

    Notably, these lenses are ‘busier’ in terms of focal strength. This means that their focal graduation is denser than an occupational lens because they have to correct more distances of vision.

    Everyday varifocal glasses can also be used for driving but we’ll get onto that further down this article.


    Empty office scene with wooden floor


    Occupational varifocal lenses

    Otherwise known as "office lenses" varifocals like these are a little more fine-tuned.

    Offices offer a more consistent environment where you tend to have a static vantage point. Varifocal lenses can be used to help you see intermediate and distanced objects from your “usual-spot” within the office.

    Primarily, this means you can jump between using varifocals with computer screen work to then observing an object further away across the room.

    In short, occupational lenses provide a more concise degree of visual correction suited to a more consistent environment.


    Varifocal lenses being fitted to a grey spectacle frame


    What is the difference between varifocal and progressive lenses?

    Varifocal lenses are sometimes referred to as progressive lenses, but they are actually the same type of lens.

    This alternative name comes from the progressively increasing/decreasing focal capacity of this lens type. From close, to intermediate, to distance correction, varifocals graduate between the maximum and minimum lens strengths to help you see.

    Other names may include multifocals, progressive powers lenses or progressive addition lenses which all refer to the same lens type.

    This multifocal scope is what gives varifocal lenses their name/s.


    Illustrations of different types of bifocal lenses


    What is the difference between bifocal and varifocal glasses?

    The major difference between a bifocal and a varifocal lens is the distribution of prescriptive powers.

    • Bifocals contain a close reading lens segment within the lens
    • Varifocals have no segments within the lens


    How do bifocals work?

    Bifocals have two sections within the lens. This is characterised by a noticeable segment in the lens shape.

    These can be different shapes of segment such as a round shape, a D shape or a dissecting split across the lower third of the lens.

    The lower segment in the lens is usually smaller and is generally used to correct close-distance reading within 35cm. The upper, more major part of the lens is used to correct distance vision for objects beyond arm's reach.

    You can visually alternate between these two lens segments depending on what you wish to focus on, near or far.


    A varifocal lens has no segments


    How do varifocals work?

    Varifocals differ to bifocals as they have no identifiable segments within the lens.

    Instead, they have a gradual change in focal power which graduates from the top of the lens to the bottom. This creates a smooth and gradual spectrum which allows you to find the correct zone within the lens to focus on various distances of objects.

    Without the interruption of segments or divisions, this makes varifocal lenses appear more aesthetically pleasing than bifocal lenses.

    They’re just that bit…sleeker.

    If you decide to invest in a pair of varifocal glasses, getting used to them can take a little bit of practice.

    Read below for some tips on how to get used to wearing varifocal glasses.


    How do you wear varifocal glasses


    How do you wear varifocal glasses?

    You might have heard the rumours about varifocals problems.

    They have a bit of reputation for being difficult to get used to which is partially true but is perhaps a little bit overdramatic.

    Learning to wear varifocal glasses properly is all about letting your eyes and brain adapt to this new way to see. A boundary-less lens with infinite viewing options. All it takes is some practice and patience to figure it all out

    Here are some pointers on how to look through varifocals.


    Distance: How do varifocals work?

    If you want to focus on distanced objects, you’ll need to use the top section of your lens. You might experience the temptation to tilt your head forward to do this but eventually, your eyes will become trained to do this instead.


    Near: How do varifocals work?

    If you want to see closer objects such as your phone, you’ll want to use the close-reading section in the lowest portion of your lens. For a while, you might find yourself tilting your head back to use this section of the lens.



    How long does it take to get used to new Varifocals

    Model A - GRY varifocal glasses frame.



    Are varifocals easy to get used to?

    If you’ve never worn them before, getting used to varifocals can feel a bit like you’re living in a fish tank or you’re underwater.

    Sure, these aren’t examples of a sales pitch but these are common problems with varifocal glasses if you’re a beginner.

    This aquatic sensation is created by distortions in the outer-edges on either side of your lenses. These deformations can feel a little disorientating, however, this is the compromise of having all that focal power in just one lens.


    Take the time and persevere with your new glasses. Eventually, you’ll unlock the potential of your new varifocal lenses.


    If you’ve worn varifocal glasses before, it can take just a few hours to acclimatise to your new lenses.

    If, however, you’re new to the game, it can take about two weeks to get a feel for your new varifocal frame.

    Adaptation will eventually happen if you allow yourself to form the necessary habits of helping you see through your new varifocal lenses.

    Here’s some tips to help you get used to the new side effects of varifocal glasses.


    Consistency is key: It will take perseverance but you have to allow yourself to create this new pattern. If you persist and deliberately practice each day, you’ll adapt to your new glasses quickly.


    Start at home: Initially, you might want to practice with your varifocals in a familiar environment such as your home. With varifocals, your peripheral vision will be narrower than with other lens types. At home, you’ll remember where things are and are less likely to bump into things as you walk around.


    Stairs: To negotiate a flight of stairs, it’s a good idea to use the middle part of your varifocal lens. This should aid you with the intermediate distance of each step in- front of you. If you find it more comfortable, another option is to use your natural eyesight by removing your glasses or lifting them up.


    Take it outside: As you become more confident, you’ll have begun to learn the new ways to be able to see things near or far. Objects in the edges of your lenses will be distorted so walking down the street will be the next challenge here. Take it outside and take it slow. You’re nearly there.


    Abstain: Apparently it can take anywhere between 18 to 154 days to create a new habit. Whatever you do, avoid the temptation to revert back to your old glasses. It might seem like a momentary relief but it will just take longer to get used to your new varifocals.


    Wearing varifocals for driving


    Varifocals and driving.

    Wearing varifocals for driving is a common usage.

    With their graduating focal power, varifocal glasses will be able to help you see at various distances which can be very helpful when driving your car.


    Before you jump behind the wheel, it’s best advised that you become fully accustomed to using your varifocal lenses.


    This might seem like common sense but you need to be fully adjusted to them in order to safely operate a car.

    As varifocals graduate between focal strengths, it’s a good idea to choose a large rimmed frame. This will give you the maximum amount of lens-area to use; whether you’re in or out of the car.


    Grey varifocal glasses frame sitting on pink paper

    Model A - GRY varifocal glasses frame.


    For some people, the peripheral distortions of varifocal glasses are too difficult to confidently use when driving. If this is the case, you might want to consider having two pairs of glasses.

    It very much depends on your prescription, your preference and whether you’re comfortable with how your lenses perform. For some, a pair of driving glasses with single vision or varifocal lenses is a better solution.

    The main thing to remember is your safety and what you think will give you the most confidence whilst on the road.


    Round tortoise glasses frame on pink paper


    How much do varifocals cost?

    The cost of your varifocal lenses primarily depends on your prescription and any additional lens coatings you may require.

    You'll be glad to know that all our lenses come with anti-scratch and anti-glare as standard. (Free)

    To calculate the cost of your lenses, you can enter your prescription in the lens-calculator with any of our varifocal glasses frames via the button below.




    Check your close distance vision with your free PDF sight test.


    Reading glasses precription calculator on grey background with green text over the top indicating it's purpose

      Already a member?



      accuracy kit.

      Ordering online? Align your pupils & lenses with this PD ruler & OC height guide.

        Occasional news & promotions, straight from our workshop

        Jamie Bartlett
        Jamie Bartlett

        Co-founder of Banton Frameworks.

        Also in Varifocal glasses

        Varifocal sunglasses
        A guide to varifocal sunglasses

        by Jamie Bartlett August 26, 2020 4 min read

        Taking things up a notch? Follow these 4 helpful tips for buying the perfect pair of varifocal sunglasses for smooth summer views.
        Different types of varifocal lenses
        Different types of varifocal lenses

        by Jamie Bartlett February 16, 2020 5 min read

        Discover our different types of varifocal lenses, how they work and how they can be tailored to help you in your day to day life.
        How to measure your ocular height
        How to measure your ocular height

        by Jamie Bartlett February 06, 2020 4 min read

        Ordering varifocals online? Learn to measure your OC height to maximise accuracy, perfectly align your pupils and get the most from your progressive lenses.