The Bright Side: Projector vs Reflector Headlight


By  AIS Windshield Experts

Category:  Headlight Installation

What is Projector & Reflector Headlight
When buying a new car or upgrading the headlights on your current vehicle, you may come across terms like "projector headlights" and "reflector headlights." But what exactly do these terms mean, and what are the differences between the two headlight setups? Here we will cover an in-depth explanation of how both projector and reflector headlights work, as well as the pros and cons of each design.

What is a Projector Headlight Setup, and How Does it Work?

A modern projector headlight utilises three main components in its design: a reflector, a lens, and a light source. The reflector inside a projector headlight functions similarly to a flashlight, acting as a reflective half-sphere that directs light from the bulb forward.

Once the light leaves the reflector, it passes through a specially designed projector lens. This lens bends, spreads, and concentrates the beam of light. The distance between the light source, the reflector, and the projector lens determines the exact intensity and focus of the beam.

To clarify this concept, consider how a magnifying glass can concentrate sunlight onto a specific spot, ultimately leading to an explosion in certain situations. Similarly, a projector headlight operates on a comparable principle, using a lens to evenly and intensely distribute light.

There is also a cutoff shield that helps direct the light beam downwards on the road, creating a sharp cutoff line for the projector headlight's beam pattern.

Pros of a Projector Headlight Setup:

  • Distinct and well-defined cutoff between low and high beams, preventing glare for oncoming traffic
  • It can accommodate high-intensity discharge (HID) bulbs thanks to the cutoff shield
  • HID bulbs provide brighter light than conventional halogen bulbs
  • Evens the distribution of light across the beam pattern
  • No extremely bright or dark spots
  • Elegant, high-tech appearance

Cons of a Projector Headlight Setup:

  • More expensive to manufacture than reflector headlights
  • The light source must be carefully matched to the projector for optimal performance
  • Limited to higher-end vehicles from the factory

What is Reflector Headlight Setup and How Does it Work?

Reflector headlights are the more traditional headlight design that has been used as standard equipment on vehicles for decades. A reflector headlight consists of a bulb enclosed in a metal bowl-shaped housing lined with mirrored surfaces.

As the bulb beams, the light reflects off the mirrored surfaces and is directed outwards in the form of a forward-facing beam pattern. Unlike old sealed-beam headlights, modern reflector headlights have removable bulbs that can be accessed by opening the housing.

Some reflector headlight designs also incorporate multiple reflecting surfaces to help shape and guide the beam pattern. However, they need more fine-tuned control over the beam that projector headlights can achieve with their lens technology. The output is simply a diffuse reflection of the light source.

Pros of a Reflector Headlight Setup:

  • They are very affordable and easy to manufacture
  • Simple and robust design
  • Compact size allows flexibility for headlight styling
  • Easy to replace burnt-out bulbs

Cons of a Reflector Headlight Setup: 

  • Beam pattern and low beam cutoff are less controlled and defined
  • Most use conventional halogen bulbs rather than high-output HID bulbs
  • Light output and brightness are often inferior to projectors
  • More likely to have uneven spots across the beam


Projector headlights offer superior lighting performance thanks to innovative optics that finely shape the light beam. However, their higher cost makes them exclusive to higher-end vehicles. Reflector headlights are an affordable and reliable choice that gets the job done, but they cannot match the crisp and bright output of well-designed projectors.

Windshield Experts offers affordable headlight restoration services using high-quality 3M products to restore aged and foggy headlights to like-new condition. Contact AIS Windshield Experts today for more information.

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