Material World

A spectacular primer on all the specs materials that matter today—plus the must-know lens materials, to boot

M49 Bioplastic by Mazzucchelli 1849

Not so long ago, frames were either metal or plastic. Period. End of story.

Today, however, there are multitudes of frame materials—and combinations thereof—to offer your customers. Knowing the basics of the specs materials available now will sharpen your dispensing skills and your sell-through prowess. It will also help you fit patients with the best material for their specific needs.

Here, a quick primer on the key materials used today:

ZYL. Also referred to as cellulose acetate or plastic. This common frame material’s source? The cellulose substance of cotton plants.

METAL ALLOYS. A mix of metal materials, such as monel. Metal alloys currently edge out zyl in the top material spot. Variations include memory alloys that return to their original shape after bending (as do frames made of TR-90 on the plastics side).

NYLON. As a frame material, nylon is durable, flexible, and tough. As a result, it is most often seen used in performance sports eyewear and sunwear.

TITANIUM. One of the most expensive frame materials, this pure metal is used in high-end eyewear. Frames made of 100% titanium perform differently than those with lesser titanium content.

STAINLESS STEEL. In eyewear, “stainless steel” is typically a combination of chromium and stainless steel.

ECO-FRIENDLY. Sustainable frames feature a range of materials that are bio-based, contain recycled content, are otherwise environmentally friendly, or are formulated starting from renewable sources, such as M49. These include bio-based materials crafted of natural elements like corn, frames recycled from materials like single-use plastics or fishing nets, plus other eco-conscious materials like bamboo and sustainably harvested woods.

LUXE materials include carbon fiber, gold, bone, wood, and horn, especially buffalo horn. Precious metals punctuated with luxury gems and crystals are also trending today. These materials have a strong cache with a high price tag attached.

Looking ahead, experts say that most new introductions will be hybrids—combinations of existing materials in fresh combinations designed to improve key characteristics like strength, weight, flexibility, and more.



There aren’t quite as many basic lens materials as there are frame materials. As with frames, however, much that is being launched is proprietary to a manufacturer or supplier.

Here are a few of the most common, across-the-board materials:

POLYCARBONATE, the top-selling (and nearly unbreakable) material.

PLASTIC, which includes standard plastic, plus high-, mid-, and low-index.

TRIVEX, with many features similar to the poly product.

GLASS, the original lens material, which is now used mostly in industrial, high-heat environments and premium sun lenses.

Treatments are a big part of the picture, too. They include photochromic product, anti-reflective coatings, and UV and blue light protection.

Considerations to take into account when matching lens material to wearers include the patient’s Rx, their activities/requirements, and frame size and shape (if already selected).