Discover affordable options for buying stylish reading glasses online, and review how to tell if you need cheaters or prescription lenses in this essential guide.
What are reading glasses?
Non-prescription reading glasses are basically two magnifying lenses set in a frame that make it easier to read. Over-the-counter readers offer magnification, also known as refraction, in a range from +1.00 to up to +7.00 diopters. (A diopter is the unit for measuring the magnification strength of a lens. The higher the number, the greater the magnification.) In ordinary over-the-counter readers, the refraction is the same strength for both eyes.
Over-the-counter reading glasses, commonly known as readers or cheaters, aren’t meant to be worn for long periods of time.
Prescription reading glasses are an alternative to over-the-counter reading glasses. While prescription glasses generally cost more, they can address a broader range of eyesight issues and can often be worn for longer periods of time than over-the-counter readers.
How do reading glasses work?
The way reading glasses work is straightforward: A reader’s lenses simply magnify words and images, making text and pictures on a printed page, computer, tablet or phone appear larger to the wearer. The higher the diopter, or reading power, the greater the magnification.
Where and when were reading glasses invented?
In the 1st Century, Roman philosophers Pliny the Elder and Seneca were among the first in recorded history to mention using magnifying tools in order to see better. Seneca was reported to have said he read “all the books in Rome” by magnifying the words through a glass bowl filled with water.
The first wearable eyeglasses were likely invited in Northern Italy towards the end of the 13th Century. (Italian Salvino D’Armate is often erroneously credited with having invented the first wearable eyeglasses around 1284.)
Where to buy reading glasses
Here are a variety of top options to purchase over the counter reading glasses, including readers with bifocal, blue light, anti-glare and sun technologies.
With the motto “Happy eyes, happy wallet,” Readers.com offers a huge variety of more than 500 styles of reading glasses for under $20. Their selections include men’s and women’s over-the-counter reading glasses, bifocals, computer glasses and sunglasses in a range of magnifications. (Last I checked, their offerings start as low as $4.99 on sale.)
ICU Eyewear, founded by Patricia Kesten in 1997, offers hundreds of exceptionally stylish readers’ glasses for under $20, including a full selection of full-frame, rimless and semi-rimless frames. They offer free shipping for orders over $49, and has magnification strengths up to +7.00 diopters.
Of all of the companies listed here, ICU’s glasses are among the most unique and stylish I’ve found. I particularly like the play of the crystal-blue rectangular frames with a flame-red outer layer on ICU’s Ankara readers, which sell for an super-affordable $19.99.
Receive a 15% coupon off of your ICU Eyewear order with discount code 15OFFICUMRR.
Their reading glasses are so thin they can fit in a case on the back of your iPhone.
CliC readers have remained revolutionary since their introduction nearly 20 years ago: The company developed glasses that feature a magnetic connection on the front of the glasses frame, between the two lenses. (See the above images for details.) Give a twist, and the lenses separate, allowing you to keep your reading glasses around your neck when you aren’t using them. They are a great solution for misplacing your glasses.
Lookoptic claims to make the “World’s Most Comfortable Reader.” At $68 and up, their affordable luxury glasses aren’t the cheapest on this list, but I love their stylish look. Lookoptic also offers readers with blue-light protection and reading sunglasses.
Sign up for emails and get a 15% discount coupon off of your Lookoptic order.
The story of Foster Grant eyewear dates back to 1929. Though they may be better known for sunglasses, today Foster Grant sells more than 150 varieties of “fashionable, functional” reading glasses with anti-glare protection and other available features, including computer glasses.
Save 30% off Foster Grant eyewear including readers, sunglasses and blue light glasses with code FASHION30 on its website.
A pioneer in direct-to-consumer eyeglasses, Warby Parker sells reading glasses for $95 — the same price they charge for glasses with prescription lenses installed. They’re not cheap, but they are stylish.
Helpfully, Warby Parker is one of a number of companies that let you try on eyeglasses at home, so you can test out their frames via their home try on kit before purchasing your readers or prescription glasses.
Eyewear startup Felix Gray is best known for its focus on blue light glasses. Felix Gray offers computer reading glasses that integrate their their glasses with the option of reader lenses, which the company indicates may be helpful in reducing digital eye strain.
Eyebobs, a Minneapolis-based startup. specializes in funky and unique handcrafted readers from $89. They offer free shipping and 90 day returns. Eyebobs also operates stores in Minnesota and Bethesda, Maryland.
Sign up for emails on the company’s website to receive a 10% discount off of your Eyebobs order.
As you might expect, Amazon carriers a huge selection of reading glasses of all stripes, including several brands on this list.
How to tell if you need reading glasses
There are a couple of ways to determine whether you need reading glasses:
- Get an eye exam: The best way to determine whether you need over-the-counter or prescription reading glasses is to get an eye exam. If you are having trouble reading newspapers, books, and magazines, you may be tempted to buy cheap reading glasses or cheaters from CVS or Amazon. It’s far better for your health to get an eye exam and talk to a qualified optometrist or ophthalmologist about whether you need prescription glasses for reading or if you can get away with relying on over-the-counter readers.
- Use a printable guide, known as a diopter chart, to find what power reading glasses you need: Every reading glasses company worth its salt offers a printable “test” to help you identify the right strength for your reading glasses. Generally, you will be instructed to print out a chart on a piece of paper, hold it 14 inches from your face, and choose the smallest line that you can see clearly. The diopter, or reading power, associated with that line is supposed to be the right strength for you. (You should choose the weakest diopter strength that works for you.) See Lookoptic’s diopter chart, ICU Eyewear’s reading strength estimator, Peepers Vision Test, EyeBobs “Find your power” tool, ThinOptics Reading Glasses Test Strength Guide, and Readers’ “What power reading glasses do I need?” printout for examples of these printable guides to determine your reading glasses strength.
- Utilize an online questionnaire: Companies also offer online tools to help customers identify their correct strength for reading glasses. For example, Readers.com Powerfinder tool claims to make it easier to “point you in the right direction and help find your reading glasses prescription.” They promise that, if you answer a few questions, they’ll get you to the correct power “in minutes.”
Just remember that self-diagnosing by utilizing an online questionnaire or printable guide does not account for differences in reading strength between eyes or for a variety of other eye issues, which could get worse if left undiagnosed and untreated. Also, if you self-diagnose and choose the wrong refraction strength, you could actually increase the strain on your eyes.
That’s why it may be best to get an eye exam and speak with a competent professional about whether reading glasses, prescription lenses, or other treatments are right for you.
What strength reading glasses do you need?
Reading glasses may be offered with a reading strength or magnification from +1.00 to +7.00 diopters. The best way to determine the correct strength is to get an eye exam. Alternately, you can use online tools like Readers.com’s “find your power” feature or a printable diopter chart to gauge the proper reading strength for your reading glasses.
Warning: Experts caution that, if you require a high degree of magnification (for example over +3.00 diopters), you should absolutely consult a medical professional rather than purchasing them on your own. “It isn’t a good idea to go to these higher values without getting advice,” according to Dr. Eliezer Peli, an Ophthalmology Professor at Harvard Medical School.
Types of reading glasses
Reading glasses come in a variety of flavors:
- Over-the-counter reading glasses are your original, run-of-the-mill, plain vanilla readers (aka cheaters) that you can pick up online or in stores like Costco, Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens.
- Bifocal reading glasses contain lenses that are not magnified on the upper portion, allowing you to see as you would normally for distance, with refraction in the lower part for reading. (I personally find bifocals distracting, but to each their own.)
- Sun reading glasses are a combination of magnified lenses and sunglasses to read outdoors.
- Blue light reading glasses are readers combined with a coating that inhibits the passage of blue-and-violet light, which companies like Felix Gray and experts claim may help reduce digital eye strain caused by staring at electronic devices. (See my comprehensive guide to the science behind blue light glasses.)
- Computer reading glasses: Some companies like Readers.com and Gunnar advertise “computer reading glasses.” (Foster Grant calls them “eReaders.”) Generally, these glasses combine readers with blue light filtering technology and anti-glare coatings with the goal of reducing eye strain.
- Prescription reading glasses: Prescription reading glasses are a far more flexible tool than reading glasses to correct vision problems. Prescription glasses can correct for different levels of magnification between your two eyes and address issues like an astigmatism. Prescription glasses are also generally designed to be worn for much longer periods than reading glasses. See Modern Fellows’ guide to where to buy prescription glasses online and separate guide to where to buy the most affordable eyeglasses online for tons of options.
These categories of reading glasses are not mutually-exclusive. For example, you could buy bifocal, blue-light-reducing reading sunglasses.
Who makes your favorite reading glasses?
I’d enjoy hearing your experience with reading glasses in the comments. Thanks for reading.
About JakeJake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.
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