Eyeglass Frames: A Material View of Technology

By Deb Klug

Frame manufacturers are working hard to keep up with lens technology to provide patients with the best choices of features and benefits for function and fashion.  There is something for every customer, from the person looking for lightweight simplicity, to the sports participant in need of increased flexibility, safety and fit.  This article outlines the facts on each material to help you select the best eyeglasses for your lifestyle.  

The following materials are currently used to manufacturer eyeglasses available in the marketplace.

MAGNESIUM is the eighth-most abundant metal element on earth. Lighter than both titanium and aluminum, magnesium is either extracted from the ocean or recovered from minerals such as dolomite or magnetite.  Because of its unique properties and high cost, it has been used in the high-end frame market. 
Pros:  This super-lightweight material is strong, durable and hypoallergenic. 
Cons:  Magnesium costs almost 50 percent more than aluminum or steel.

BERYLLIUM is six times stronger than steel and more than 30% lighter than aluminum.  Beryllium resists corrosion and tarnish, making it an excellent choice for wearers who have high skin acidity or spend time in or around salt water. It is also the only memory metal containing no nickel and can withstand very high temperatures.  This material is used as a component in the alloy Trilaston™ used to manufacture EasyTwist™ memory metal. 
Pros:  It is lightweight, durable, flexible and is available in a wide range of colors.
Cons:  A very small number of people are allergic to beryllium.

PURE ALUMINUM is soft enough to carve. However, mixed with small amounts of alloys, it can provide the strength of steel with only half the weight. Because it can be "sculpted," the softer properties of aluminum break down the creative barriers present with many other strong materials.
Pros: In addition to its aesthetic merits, this material is also strong, lightweight. The fact that it can be recycled also makes it increasingly desirable. 
Cons: Aluminum can get rigid, especially in lower temperatures. Thus, integrating elements like flex hinges into an aluminum frame can be challenging.

TITANIUM is a high-strength, lightweight material commonly used in everything from hubcaps to eyewear. Because titanium ranks seventh in abundance among industry elements in the earth's crust, it is easily accessible. This material has picked up speed in the eyewear industry as a lightweight option that lends itself to unique designs and colorations.
Pros:  Titanium is as strong as steel, lightweight, hypoallergenic, and corrosion-resistant.
Cons:  This material is more expensive than other materials.  Beware of the difference between "pure titanium" and "titanium alloy." 

TICRAL, an alloy of titanium, copper and chrome is relatively new to the eyewear industry.  It is nickel-free and thus hypoallergenic. It's also extremely lightweight and offers many of the features of titanium without the high cost. It can be cut a bit thicker than titanium, which enables it to have the popular look of a thin plastic frame while still offering lightweight.
Pros:  The material is also strong, durable and available in a variety of colors. 
Cons: Not yet well known.

STAINLESS STEEL material is an alloy of iron and carbon steel with chromium and other elements. The addition of at least 10 percent chromium makes this alloy less prone to stain or rust, a factor that results in a long life compared to that of traditional steel. Because of its durability, light weight, and sleek appearance, stainless steel has long been a choice of eyewear designers. 
Pros: Stainless steel is non-corrosive, durable, strong, lightweight, and hypoallergenic. It can also be easily shaped into ultra-thin eyewear styles and has flexibility, which adds to the wearer's comfort.
Cons: Stainless is still not as lightweight, heat-resistant or flexible as titanium.

NICKEL TITANIUM or NI-TI is used to manufacture Flexon™ eyewear.  Ni-Ti, or titanium-based alloys, are more flexible than steel and 25% lighter than conventional metals.
Pros: Flexibility removes the need for spring hinge and increases comfort and durability for patients who are hard on their eyewear. 
Cons:  Since all Ni-Ti is nickel based, allergies and pitting may be an issue.

MONEL™ is a nickel alloy containing 68 percent nickel, 30 percent copper and two percent iron.  Monel,™ the most commonly used frame material today, is often used for components that require sturdiness and rigidity, such as temples and bridges. 
Pros:  This alloy is strong and it can also be welded, brazed, and soldered.
Cons:  Surface discoloration can occur from exposure to atmospheric conditions. Pitting can also occur if exposed to salt water.

PLASTIC materials have many style and material options.  Easily colored, laminated, patterned, or even layered with fabrics, this material is one of the more creative and workable options.  The two commonly used plastic frame materials are called zyl and propionate.  Zyl, also known as cellulose acetate, is the most commonly used plastic frame material and is available in every color of the rainbow.  Propionate is the second most common materials and is a nylon-based, hyperallergenic plastic.  It's lightweight and has a different look and feel than other plastic
Pros:  Plastic is easily molded into today's popular wraparound styles. 
Cons:  Plastic frames have some drawbacks in fit.  Be certain of proper fit initially since the adjustments are limited.

GLIAMIDES and GRILAMID® is also a premier material for sports and performance frames.  Typically made of a high quality thermoplastic material that is shock resistant, lightweight and non-allergenic.  This material used to manufacture Rudy Project sunglass frames. It provides structural integrity and stability that is very resistant to hot, cold and chemical damage. 
Pros:  Nylon is easily molded into today's popular wraparound styles. 
Cons:  Nylon frames do have some drawbacks in fit.  Be certain of proper fit initially since the adjustments are limited.

COMBINATION FRAMES help you get the best of both materials with frames that combine the sleek sophistication of metal with the colors and thickness of plastic.  The cool contrast of these popular material duos adds visual interest.

Never before has there been such a variety of frame materials to use for informed, technologically driven patients.  Ask us about the features and benefits of each frame material and what best meets your lifestyle requirements. 

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