Corrective lenses to correct presbyopia and other disorders of accommodation

More than half a century of Progressive lens evolution

Progressive lenses, also called progressive addition lenses (PAL), progressive power lenses, graduated lenses, no-line bifocals, and varifocal lenses, are corrective lenses used in eyeglasses to correct presbyopia and other disorders of accommodation. They are characterised by a gradient of increasing lens power, added to the wearer's correction for the other refractive errors. The gradient starts at a minimum, or no addition power, at the top of the lens and reaches a maximum addition power, magnification, at the bottom of the lens. The length of the progressive power gradient on the lens surface is usually between 15 and 20 mm with a final addition power between 1.00 to 2.50 dioptres for most wearers. The addition value prescribed depends on the level of presbyopia of the patient and is closely related to age.


The first patent for a PAL was British Patent 15,735, granted to Own Aves with a 1907 priority date. Aves' patent included the progressive lens design and the manufacturing process. However this was unlike modern PALs. It consisted of a conical back surface and a cylindrical front with opposing axes in order to create a power progression. This design was never commercialized.

While there were several intermediate steps (H. Newbold appears to have designed a similar lens to Aves around 1913), there is evidence to suggest that Duke Elder in 1922 developed the worlds first commercially available PAL (Ultrifo) sold by "Gowlland of Montreal". This was based on an arrangement of aspherical surfaces.
The Varilux lens was the first PAL of modern design. It was developed by Bernard Maitenaz, patented in 1953, and introduced by the Soci�t� des Lunetiers (that later became part of Essilor) in 1959.

Early progressive lenses were relatively crude designs but modern sophisticated progressive lenses have gained greater patient acceptance and include special designs to cater to many separate types of wearer application: for example lenses may be customized for use with computers, or to offer enlarged near and intermediate view areas. Over the 1980s through today, manufacturers have been able to minimize unwanted aberrations by:

   1. Improvements in mathematical modeling of surfaces, allowing greater design control.
   2. Extensive wearer trials.
   3. Improved manufacturing and lens metrology technology.

Today the complex surfaces of a progressive lens can be cut and polished on computer-controlled machines, allowing "Digital Surfacing" (DS) - also known as "free form" - as opposed to the earlier casting process.

Advantages and use

  • The wearer can adjust the additional lens power required for clear vision at different viewing distances by tilting his or her head to sight through the appropriate part of the vertical progression

  • The lens location of the correct addition power for the viewing distance usually only requires small adjustments to head position, since near vision tasks such as reading are usually low in the visual field and distant objects higher in the visual field.

  • Progressive addition lenses avoid the discontinuities (image-jumps) in the visual field created by bifocal and trifocal lenses and are more cosmetically attractive. Since bifocal and related designs are associated with 'old age', proponents have suggested the lack of segments on the lens surface of a progressive lens appears more 'youthful' since the single vision lenses associated with younger wearers are free of segments or lines on the surface.


Progressive lenses require careful placement relative to the wearers pupil centre for a distance'-viewing reference position. Incorrect specification of the fitting location can cause problems for the wearer including narrow fields of view, clear vision in one eye only, on-axis blur, and the need to adopt uncomfortable head positions.  Many optical practices now use highly sophisticated measuring devices (eg. BBGR EyeMio) to ensure complete accuracy when taking measurements for Progressive lens fitting.


All Eye Care Practitioners (ECP's) offer Progressive lenses, with most now offering a wide array of modern Digitally Surfaced (DS) designs, including individualised options such as BBGR's Intuitiv Mio.


© BBGR UK 2015