Which Eyeglasses Are Right For You? Bifocal, Progressive or Single-Vision Reading Glasses?

  • BY Matthew Surrence


Single Vision

Single vision is the most common type of prescription lens. This lens type features a single field of vision, or one prescription power throughout the entire lens, for correcting nearsightedness (myopia) or farsightedness (hyperopia).

Single-vision lenses are also used for reading glasses. Reading glasses may either be prescription or over-the-counter. Over-the-counter reading glasses are the same power in both eyes, and often use powers such as +1.00, +1.50, +2.00, or +2.50 (or quarter steps in between). Prescription reading glasses are tailored to you, and may require some math to order. Visit our FAQ.

Some people need glasses for distance as well as reading. Instead of having a separate pair of single-vision glasses for each, bifocals or progressives may be a more convenient option. Unlike single vision, bifocals and progressives are multifocal lenses that have more than one point of focus, such as distance and near.

People who have numbers listed for the “ADD” portion of their glasses prescription need either bifocals, progressives, or reading glasses. This, quite simply, is because your eyes need ADDitional power added on top of your distance prescription to see up-close.

Near versus Farsightedness


When your eye doctor says you should consider bifocals, your first thought might be, “OMG, I’m getting old!” That’s because bifocals generally conjure up one of two stereotypical images: that of the sweet old granny in a rocking chair or Benjamin Franklin (largely credited with inventing bifocals). It doesn’t help that ‘presbyopes’—the technical term for people who wear bifocals or progressives—comes from the Greek word, presbyopia, which basically means “trying to see as old men do.”

You’re not old—you just need reading glasses now on top of your other glasses, and bifocals are a more convenient option than carrying around two pairs of glasses.

Bifocal lenses have two viewing areas divided by a visible line: a larger viewing area for distance with a smaller segment for reading.

It may take first-time bifocal wearers some time to adjust to the lenses. This is largely due to learning how to move your eyes between the distance and reading portions of the lens. Some people also find the “image jump” that occurs at the visible line between the distance and the reading areas obtrusive, especially for those with mobility issues that must look down when walking. The best thing to do to get used to your bifocals is to wear them as much as possible.

A trifocal, which is fairly uncommon, is similar to a bifocal with an added lined segment for intermediate vision on top of the lined portion for reading. Zenni does not sell trifocals.

Bifocal lenses


Standard progressives are multi-focal lenses with three viewing areas: distance-, intermediate-, and near-vision. Unlike bifocals, there is no visible line between each viewing area. They have a seamless, invisible design where the power “progressively” changes throughout the lens. Many people confuse the terms “bifocal” or “trifocal” with “progressive,” but it is key to remember that bifocals and trifocals have a visible line in the lens, while progressives do not. People also confuse Transitions®, a brand of photochromic lenses that turn dark in sunlight, with progressives. Because progressives have no line in the lens, they are a much more popular type of multifocal lens than bifocals.

Progressives are typically prescribed for people over age 40 who already wear distance glasses but now need enhanced near vision for reading, as well as enhanced intermediate vision for computer use, for example. Instead of having three pairs of glasses for each need, progressives offer all-in-one convenience.

The primary viewing area in a progressive lens is for distance, with a smaller area at the bottom of the lens for near vision, and an even smaller area for intermediate vision in the middle. Standard progressives are great for all-purpose glasses, with the emphasis on distance-vision activities like driving and walking, and adequate areas in the lens for near-vision activities such as reading and computer use. The left and right sides of the lens, or “lobes,” are intentionally blurry to achieve the invisible design. The clearest vision in a progressive is top-to-bottom in the center of the lens.

There is typically an adjustment period when wearing new progressives. For new wearers, try to get used to the glasses gradually. Build up wear-time every day for the first 2-3 weeks to adjust to the lenses. For example, wear them 1-2 hours the first day, and increase an additional 2 hours a day until you are comfortable. Try them out at home before getting behind the wheel of a car. Remember that you’ll need to turn your head and move your eyes in order to find the “sweet spot” for the activity you are focusing on.

For experienced wearers, a new progressive pair – even in the same prescription – often takes some readjustment as well. This is because progressive lenses, like shoes, are all different. Buying a pair of shoes in a Size 8 from 2 different companies are not going to feel the same due to shape, style, brand, fit, material, and more. Likewise, the progressive lens design, frame shape, and many other factors contribute to the adjustment period.

In short, when adjusting to new progressives, it helps to wear the glasses as much as possible.

Progressive Lenses

Workspace Progressives

Zenni’s Workspace Progressives are specialized progressive lenses designed for up-close activities at work or home.

If you already wear standard progressives, you know what it’s like to search for that ‘sweet spot’ of clear vision when doing certain up-close activities like computer work or interacting with others for long periods. Workspace Progressives are designed to supplement standard progressives, providing more comfort and visual clarity in these special situations.

Zenni offers two Workspace Progressives lenses: Near-Range Progressives and Mid-Range Progressives.

Near-Range Progressives offer greater comfort and visual clarity within 3 feet. They are designed for those who spend long periods at a desk or other confined workspace.

With a wider field of up-close vision, this specialized lens is great for prolonged reading, using hand-held devices like mobile phones and tablets, detail work like sewing, as well as heavy computer use and reading.

The Mid-Range Progressive lens features narrower near-range vision with greater mid-range vision for comfort and visual clarity within 10-14 feet. This lens is designed for those who need enhanced up-close vision with the ability to see the entire room more clearly.

This specialized lens is great for those who work in an office environment because it not only helps you see the computer clearly, it allows you to see around a conference room.

Workspace Progressive lenses do not have distance vision, so they are not recommended for driving. Like standard progressives, it may take some time to adjust to a Workspace Progressive.

Zenni Workplace Progressive Lenses

In addition to this guide, we recommend consulting with your eye doctor to determine the best lens solution for you.