Types of Frame Materials for Sunglasses: Comparative guide

When shopping for eyeglasses either in a local store or on the internet you will likely encounter a wide range of different types of frame materials. It can be confusing to figure out what type of frame you may want and the benefits of each type of material. Choosing the right frame material is essential to ensure that your glasses will last for as long as you expect them to, so they are comfortable to wear for however long you need to wear them. In this quick guide, we will review some of the most common materials used for all types of eyeglasses. This includes popular materials that are used for contemporary glasses as well as materials that you may find on vintage eyeglasses or sunglasses.

1. Cellulose acetate

We use Italian cellulose acetate for many of our frames, and this material is widely considered to be the highest quality option for a multitude of reasons. Cellulose acetate is a hypoallergenic plant-based plastic that was first used in the 1940s.

Previous plastics had a wide range of problems including being too brittle or flammable. For example, before the 1940s, many types of eyeglasses were made with celluloid, which had the disadvantage of often deteriorating after a few years and being flammable.

Cellulose acetate has none of these disadvantages while also being lightweight, easy to mold, and easy to color with an infinite range of hues and patterns. Cellulose acetate has turned into a much more versatile material and is widely used on designer frames, offering excellent durability compared to many other materials.

Cellulose acetate is also superior to plastic injection molded glasses which are made with petroleum-based plastic. Injection-molded frames are often found on cheaper eyeglasses; however, they are considered to be lower quality due to their “cheap” look and feel. Injection-molded glasses often break down faster than other types, and they have less of a natural feel compared to cellulose acetate glasses.

The process used to produce cellulose acetate involves several steps performed by hand including cutting the various parts of the eyeglasses from a large sheet, polishing them by hand, and assembling them. The process used to create injection molded glasses is largely machine-driven with few if any steps performed by hand, because of how easy it is to inject the petroleum-based plastic into an injection mold. Different molds are created for each type of frame, and the frames are mass-produced very easily with this method.

2. Plastic injection-molded

As previously mentioned, injection-molded glasses are an inexpensive option compared to cellulose acetate because of their lower production cost. However, that lower cost comes with several disadvantages. The frames are not as durable as other materials and can easily break or deform when subject to high heat or cold. Because they are so easily mass-produced, they can often be found at very low prices compared to cellulose acetate glasses or metal alloys, which offers consumers a wider number of choices.

Exposure to the sun can decrease their strength slightly and warp colors over time. Like handmade cellulose acetate glasses, they are lightweight and comfortable to wear for extended periods. Those who plan on wearing their glasses often and in environments where they may be subject to heat or cold should consider a different option other than injection molded glasses.

If you are shopping for glasses online, you normally can find out more information about the material that is used to construct your glasses in the product description, and if the glasses are made with petroleum-based plastic it should mention it somewhere on the company’s website.

3. Nylon

Nylon is the nickname for acetate, a plastic. Nylon is another popular material that has been used for glasses because it is durable and resistant to hot and cold temperatures. Nylon was first used for eyeglasses in the 1940s, and the initial material that was used was more brittle, but more durable material was introduced later.

The material is typically used for sports sunglasses because it can be easily molded into wraparound styles. The plastic can be stiff and feel unnatural or uncomfortable. It can also only be dyed with simple colors. Although nylon eyeglasses and sunglasses are strong, in some cases, they can become brittle over time and with exposure to low humidity.

4. Titanium

Titanium is commonly used in some of the most expensive designer glasses, or a titanium alloy. This is a strong, high-tech, and highly durable metal that is often used in the most technologically advanced types of manufacturing including aerospace, medical and military applications. For eyeglasses, titanium makes an excellent material for frames and hinges.

It is very lightweight but strong and resistant to corrosion, as well as being hypoallergenic. The downside for titanium is that it is a very expensive material for frames and can drive up the cost of glasses significantly. Thus, titanium alloys are often used, which are a combination of titanium and other metals, which still offer many of the benefits of titanium at a lower cost. It is also usually available in a much more limited selection of colors compared to cellulose acetate because of the lower quantity that is produced and the higher difficulty of dying it with complex patterns.

5. Monel alloy steel

Monel steel alloy is another one of the top materials used for frame construction. This material is composed of nickel that also contains 20-29 percent copper and small quantities of iron, manganese, zinc, and silicon.

Monel alloys are used in a wide range of different applications including aircraft production, valves, springs, wind instruments, water tanks, sinks, clock parts, roofing, and more. The alloy offers several different beneficial properties including being stronger than steel, resistant to corrosion, malleable, highly resistant to thermal expansion or deformation.

This type of metal is excellent for use in glasses and sunglasses but it is more expensive than cellulose acetate which can drive up the prices for glasses constructed with it. Also, because frames made with the material are usually thin and difficult to color, there are limited options in terms of color patterns available for Monel steel frames.

Color options are also usually much more limited compared to either plastic injection molded glasses or cellulose acetate. The feel of Monel alloy frames is also less natural compared to cellulose acetate and other materials. It can be adjusted just like other materials.