Projector Headlight vs. Reflector Headlight

Projector Headlight vs. Reflector Headlight

by Recon on October 25, 2022 Categories: 

Upgrading your headlights is a great way to improve your car’s appearance and safety, but trying to decide on what headlights to go with is difficult. Heck, before you even get to think about the style, you have to figure out the type. Who would have thought it could get so complicated, so quickly? We took the time to explain some of the key differences between the types of headlights, so take a look below to learn more.

When it comes to headlights, there are two main types: projector headlights and reflector headlights. They both have their own advantages and disadvantages, so which one is better? A lot of it comes down to how you want to use the headlights and whether or not you want to admit it, style is just as important — if not more important — than functionality.

What Is a Reflector Headlight?

A reflector headlight is the type of headlight housing we are all used to and has been the standard for decades. This type of headlight uses a parabolic reflector to bounce light off a bulb in the center and through the lens, usually made of glass. The result is a beam pattern that offers good distance but isn’t very wide.

The Advantages of Reflector Headlights

The following are just a few of the advantages you can enjoy when your vehicle has reflector headlights installed:

Cost

Because reflector headlights have been around for so long, the technology is well-developed and therefore inexpensive. There will, of course, be exceptions to this benefit, but generally, these are less expensive options that can be upgraded with LED or HID bulbs.

Range

The beam pattern from a reflector headlight is focused more on the distance and width, making them great for highways and illuminating the outer edges that a projector headlight would be unable to illuminate. For best results, reflector headlights are best paired with LED bulbs.

Simple Bulb Changes

Since the bulbs are in the center of the housing and not behind the lens, they’re easy to change when they burn out. This may not actually be a significant factor in newer vehicles, though, as manufacturers continue to crowd engine bays and sacrifice ease of work in exchange for clean aesthetics.

The Disadvantages of Reflector Headlights

The following are just a few disadvantages of reflector bulbs when compared to projectors.

Brightness

The beam pattern from a reflector headlight is not very wide, so they don’t light up the sides of the road as well. This can make them less safe for city driving. They can also have dull or bright spots that can make driving at night more difficult.

Style

Reflector headlights are often not as stylish as projector headlights, which can impact your decision to choose this option when considering replacing your OEM headlights with something with a bit more flair.

What Is a Projector Headlight?

A projector headlight is a newer type of headlight that uses a reflector similar to classic headlights but then projects the light forward through a lens. This type of headlight offers a wider and more focused beam pattern than a reflector headlight.

The Advantages of Projector Headlights

Keep in mind that these advantages might not scratch your itch, so if you don't see the following as benefits at all, you may already know the answer to your own question of whether to choose projectors or reflectors for your vehicle.

Bright

The beam pattern from a projector headlight is wider and more focused, so they offer better visibility than reflector headlights and more consistency across the area they are illuminating.

Safe

The wider beam pattern from a projector headlight is great for city driving, as it lights up the sides of the road better. It is also nice that there are clearly defined edges to a projector headlights coverage which can

Stylish

Projector headlights often look more stylish than reflector headlights and may have more exciting or attractive elements than the basic reflector assembly that we all know so well.

The Disadvantages of Projector Headlights

The following are a few disadvantages to projector headlights but keep in mind that these are only disadvantages if they don't align with what you consider to be important for your vehicle. Some people might think that a cleanly defined edge to their high beam is a non-negotiable, while others may not like how complicated it is to change the bulbs in their projector headlights.

Price

Because projector headlights are newer, the technology is still developing, and they can be more expensive than reflector headlights. However, the cost may work out in the long run because of how much longer an LED bulb lasts when compared to filament bulbs.

Range

The beam pattern from a projector headlight is focused more on the sides of the road, making them less ideal for highways. If you are planning to travel at high speeds on long, open roads, you may want to consider a reflector headlight so you can be confident that you are illuminating the furthest distance possible, although you will be sacrificing the clean edge of your beam that comes with a projector.

Bulb Replacements

Since the bulbs are behind the lens, they’re more difficult to change when they burn out. Luckily, LEDs last 25x longer than filament bulbs, so you won't need to worry about changing your bulbs for a long time.

Projector Headlight vs. Reflector Headlight: Which Is Better?

So, which is better? Projector headlights or reflector headlights? The answer is ... it depends. It really comes down to how you want to use the headlights and what your priorities are. Yeah yeah, we know we're avoiding a committed answer, but the question needs more context!

If you’re looking for headlights that will offer the best visibility, then projector headlights are the way to go. They’re also a good choice if you want something that is more modern and stylish. Since this style is so new, they exude a bit of a "premium" vibe, and even a non-car person can see that they look a lot sleeker than your standard reflector housing.

On the other hand, reflector headlights may be a better choice if you’re looking for something that is more affordable or has a longer range. They’re also easier to change the bulbs on and look more consistent with older model vehicles.

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to decide which type of headlight is best for your needs. It's also important to think about what kind of look you are going for with your vehicle. Do you want a modern headlight housing on a classic project car? Do you want to throw "old" looking headlights on a 2022 luxury car? Context, people. Context.

Reflectors vs. Projectors: RECON's Verdict

Here at RECON, we love all of our products equally :)

BUT, if we really have to choose, we're going with projectors... for new cars, and reflectors for the classics. Sure, it's a cop-out, but the reality is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer for any style decision for your vehicle, and your personal preferences are going to weigh heavily in the decision-making process for which headlights you want to buy.

Always remember that no matter what your vehicle lighting question is, our team is ready and waiting to help you understand your options, installation process, and anything else you might need to know!

We hope this article helped clear up some of the confusion about projector vs reflector headlights and helped you make a decision about which is best for your needs! Contact RECON today for more information about our projector and reflector headlights and how they can fit into your current project!