How do I get online prescription glasses?
November 30, 2010 9:58 AM   Subscribe

Walk me through getting prescription glasses online, please.

I have a very strong prescription that's just recently gotten even worse (-9 in one eye, -8.5 in the other). So I need new frames and new lenses. The glasses I'm currently wearing, which I've had since 08, are 9 West and kind of wobbly at this point. I wear glasses whenever I am awake and have since I was 6, except for the years of contacts which no longer work very well for me. The severe myopia I was born with is now complicated by presbyopia, oh joy, and so these glasses must also be line free bifocals. Because the lenses are thick even with modern lens technology (and you have no idea how much I, the original bottle bottom glasses girl in middle school with resultant self consciousness scars that are only barely healed, love modern lens technology) I cannot have metal rims or rimless or any big frames.

I am unemployed and can't face another $500 for glasses, which is what I paid for the ones I have. I got those at the optometrist. I hear that it is possible to do this whole thing now online for considerably less but I am wary and unclear on how it works. I have the new prescription in my pocket. What do I do now? How do I tell if the frames will look okay? I am also vain although not, really, all that picky in general. What sites will not land me in glasses hell? And roughly how much is this all going to cost?
posted by mygothlaundry to Shopping (25 answers total) 99 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I've bought three or four pairs from Zenni Optical with no problems. It walks you through how to enter your prescription and you can even upload a picture of yourself to 'try on' the frames you pick out.

Only thing I had to have my wife do was measure my pupil distance (the distance between the center of my pupils), as it was not on my prescription.

They have a chat feature on their site if you need help.
posted by Twicketface at 10:06 AM on November 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

Checking is a good idea for getting info about an online retailer that you've never heard of.
posted by puritycontrol at 10:11 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: I use the Glassy Eyes blog as my guide, which I think I originally found when mathowie linked to it. There's always coupons on the sidebar there, posts about people having bad/good experiences with various vendors, and a lot of information about how to actually do the process of buying glasses.

I have a very mild prescription (like -.05), so your mileage is going to vary some, but I have five pair of glasses from several online retailers for which I paid $14-$40 each. $39 Glasses just had a two-for-one where I got two more pair of the Prague frames, my preferred day-to-day glasses (but they break after you bang them getting into the car 20-30 times, and they don't tape back together very well) for $39 plus $6 for shipping. I don't get coatings or tintings, unless I'm making sunglasses.

You may not be able to get the dirt-cheap poly lenses with your prescription, so your costs may go up some. But you can put all kinds of stuff in your shopping cart and see what it does to the price, you're not having to commit without seeing the total or anything.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:12 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: Like Twicketface, I know several people who have had good success with Zenni Optical. The business is well-known for their $8 frames.

That said, I have never bought glasses there. I am even blinder than you (-12 in both eyes) but without additional complications. The high-index lenses Zenni recommends for anyone with a prescription higher than -5 mean that my lenses would cost $87. And that starts to seem like real money for lenses that go in $8 frames I can't try on beforehand.

Your prescription seems even more complicated than mine, with the bifocals. Give Zenni a shot, go through their process and see how it feels. (I found it somewhat intimidating to have to measure my pupillary distance.)

Even though I've flirted with glasses from Zenni several times, I always end up buying my glasses at Costco. Last time I bought two pairs for cost about $300 total, even with nice frames and my ridiculous prescription. If this is a possibility for you, I recommend it. (Some Target stores in my area now have optical departments too; they might be worth checking out for budget frames.)

As a side note: You may be able to do wire rims these days; I discovered to some delight that I can because of the wonders of modern glasses technology.
posted by purpleclover at 10:13 AM on November 30, 2010

IThis guy Matt Haughey explained it in this blog post.
posted by chrchr at 10:14 AM on November 30, 2010

Ugh, edit: I bought two pairs for cost about $300
posted by purpleclover at 10:15 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: I've bought glasses from Opticals4less, Zenni Optical, and Goggles4U and have been very happy with the results.

On Zenni and Opticals4Less, you can upload a picture of yourself to get an idea of how you'll look in your new frames. You still won't know how comfy they'll be, but I find that it takes a few hours of wearing before that becomes clear anyway.

The one bad experience I had was due to my misunderstanding my prescription and typing it in wrong. Optical4Less didn't take them back, but they did give me a discount on my next order. But hey, it was my fault.

I've heard complaints about the quality of cheap glasses, but I've found them to hold up about as well as any of my past pairs: really well until I sit on them.

How much do they cost? At Zenni, I found $7 frames with $22 progressive lenses that look like they'd work with your prescription.
posted by Jonathan Harford at 10:16 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: Here is a blog that all about buying glasses online including reviews of the each of the different major sellers plus information about discounts and sales. You can go the stores, fill out an order to get the price and then just not buy - that will give the real cost, including any protective coatings, charges for lighter weight lenses etc.

My eyes aren't as bad as yours (-5.5). I decided to try out $39glasses with a sunglass order - lightweight progressive lenses. They work fine and cost about half as much. You need to get a calculation of your pupilliary distance and you probably need to get the frames adjusted once they arrive so you need to find a friendly optometrist that will do that for you (often for free).

I got most recent pair for the optometrist since they covered by insurance which paid the half the cost. Same style frames, the only change was a small increase in the reading part. When they came, they were just awful. I went back to the store and manager did some tinkering and marking the lenses and ordered a new pair of lenses which are working OK. Since the lenses did meet the ordering specifications, I'm not sure what would have happened if I had bought them on-line.
posted by metahawk at 10:17 AM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have had really good success from I have ordered two pairs from them. One I felt was too small for my face so I gave them to the Shriners and I have worn the second pair for months now. They nearly always have a 10% off coupon, so you can actually get a pair (w/out coatings) for less than 39$ shipped.
posted by Duffington at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: I've bought from EyeBuyDirect, another place I can't remember and Zenni. I stopped at Zenni. Great selection and even their $7 glasses are shockingly good quality. I've bought glasses for myself, my husband and my mother--all told about 20 pair. My mother's were bifocals and she said they were perfect. I thought they would be harder to order than single vision but nope. I had a question and called Zenni and the rep was knowledgeable and nice.

How to determine what will look good: I spent some time on Flickr looking for people who had bought frames from Zenni. My first order consisted only of frames I saw on Flickr and liked. They have a handy dandy tool on their site now that let's you search by shape also, so the next order I looked at shapes to suit my face shape. I LOVED all the glasses in my second order, whereas the first was 50/50.

I just bought six pair (I know, I know) for about $120. My mom's bifocals with frames in the $12 range with bifocal lens were $30 with shipping.

Zenni also has a little PD ruler they sent with my order. If you don't have/can't get your PD from your eye doctor (because that's critical for online ordering, right?) Memail me and I'll send you one of mine.
posted by hecho de la basura at 10:25 AM on November 30, 2010

Another vote for Zenni here. I just wish they sold historical/costume frames as well. (Join the Facebook group!)
posted by Faint of Butt at 10:39 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: The other thing you will need to know is what size glasses fit your face. If you look up the manufacturer and style of your current glasses online, you can probably find the sizes listed. If not, you can print a ruler here with instructions for how to measure your glasses. I find the best measurement to look at is the total width.

Here's a link for measuring pupillary distance.

The Glassy Eyes Forum did have a particular question about extreme prescriptions. Looks like some places may do them better than others, but my experience has been that the customer service is decent on these sites most of the time, and if you order something that they can't make, they will tell you.

I used Goggles4u and Zenni. I swear I'm not shilling for either of them, but goggles4u worked best for me. I get tons of compliments on my glasses and sunglasses. I went with goggles4u mostly because of all the features-- you can search by total width measurement, you can "try online", and they had the most easily available measurement tools. Good luck!
posted by sarahnade at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2010

Stay away from these guys.
posted by donovan at 11:00 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: Two weeks ago I ordered two pairs from I had a great experience with them, both using the website and with customer service.

You've already got your prescription, so you're mostly set. Your current glasses should have some of the measurements that you will need printed on the inside of the arm - it will look like "55 16-135" or similar. Those numbers are measurements, in millimeters, of the width of each lens opening, the width of the nose bridge, and the length of the arm. Use the numbers of your current glasses as a guide. You can search for a range of sizes, for example lens openings between 50 and 60 mm.

You will then take some other measurements that are not printed on the glasses arm, like the total width of the glasses, using a regular ruler and use an online in-mm calculator to convert. As mentioned by others, the pupillary distance is the only thing that you might need help gathering. Fill in all this info in the form (it will save your measurements if you login, so you don't have to retype them each time) and order.

My order ended up being two pairs for just under $50 including shipping. The first pair came in four days. I emailed customer service to find out about the second pair since I was expecting both in the same package, and a rep emailed me back within ten minutes. She said that the second pair came from a different lab that took longer, and would arrive within a week. They did, and all was well. I love my new, cheap glasses and will never buy from a rip-off store again.
posted by CheeseLouise at 11:13 AM on November 30, 2010

I'm in much the same boat. I've been setting aside some money to visit America's Best, which has a "2 pairs plus eye exam for $75" deal. Not quite what you were asking for, but pretty cheap nevertheless!
posted by ErikaB at 11:15 AM on November 30, 2010

I am wearing my new pair as I type. The glasses look and feel much better than the $250 fancy-brand pair I recently got at a brick-and-mortar store attached to my optometrist's office. The total cost came to a little over $60 for my rather vanilla prescription with protective coating.
posted by onepot at 11:23 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: Even though I always get my glasses on Zenni, I found this guide to be extremely helpful in walking me through the process.

The high-index lenses Zenni recommends for anyone with a prescription higher than -5 mean that my lenses would cost $87. And that starts to seem like real money for lenses that go in $8 frames I can't try on beforehand.

I honestly didn't notice much difference between the medium index lens (which is free) and the high index. My prescription is -4.5, not sure if there would be a bigger difference between the two in higher number prescriptions.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 11:26 AM on November 30, 2010

My prescription's a tad worse than yours, about -10. I also have gradient bifocals, and my lenses are typically $500. The biggest problem I have is centering the lens -- that critical step where the opticion puts a Sharpie dot on the old lens, right at the pupil -- and it's traumatic for me because my eye follows the pen, coming in, and we often end up marking the wrong spot, so they have to be remade.

Because of this procedure, I'm relectant to try ordering new glasses online. The method I found to get 'em cheaper was buying them in India (Palace Opricions, New Delhi) where good Zeiss replacements only cost me $260 -- Zeiss because they make the highest-index lenses.
posted by Rash at 11:53 AM on November 30, 2010

Best answer: I've bought glasses from Zenni and and have been very, very happy.
I went from paying $400 for trendy glasses to less than a tenth of that.
Once, I went nuts at Zenni and bought ten pairs of $8 glasses, some in crazy designs, on the theory that for $80, something would look and feel good. And several did. I ended up liking one pair more than the rest and really only wear those on a daily basis, but I now have some sky blue argyle frames in case I feel whimsical and some futuristic frameless ones and a metric ton of different prescription sunglasses. Whenever I get off my duff, I plan to send the misfires to a charity that sends unwanted eyeglasses to the third world.

(Zenni even caught that I had screwed up my prescription on one order and emailed me to double check it.)

I can't recommend switching to internet glasses too highly.
posted by CunningLinguist at 12:27 PM on November 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I bought from Eyebuydirect and am very happy with the glasses. For my first pair, I picked a frame that was very similar in style to my old frames, both so I wouldn't have to worry about sizing and also because I knew how they would look on my face.

For my PD, I actually called up my old glasses shop (Lenscrafters) and asked if they had it recorded on my old prescription. They were able to give me their numbers, so I didn't have to measure the PD myself.
posted by philosophygeek at 12:59 PM on November 30, 2010

I bought my mum several pairs at Zenni - progressive high-index - and she loves them. They were about $80 and still going strong over a year later.
posted by Dragonness at 1:29 PM on November 30, 2010

I am a Zenni customer several times over. Many of my co-workers now buy their glasses from them. I've always been very pleased. Never pay retail again!
posted by JujuB at 3:20 PM on November 30, 2010

Huh - we're looking at using Warby Parker for my husband this winter. We like the site because they have a "virtual" try on feature (upload a photo of yourself to try with their frames), and they also do home tryons - they'll send you frames to try on before deciding. Hubby has pretty bad eyesight too, we'll be paying the base $95 plus a $30 upcharge for thinner lenses.

Anyone else used them yet?
posted by hms71 at 9:56 AM on December 1, 2010

Perhaps they've improved, but I had ordered a pair of glasses from Zenni two summers ago, and the lenses were horrible. Thick, distorting, magnifying, headache inducing, and my prescription was not very high.
posted by aesacus at 12:07 AM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks, everyone, this was really helpful! I'm going to order glasses from Zenni today.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:41 AM on December 2, 2010

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