Projector vs reflector headlights. Understanding the difference between reflector and projector headlights.
Last updated: August 9, 2023
When looking to upgrade your car’s headlight bulbs from halogen to either HID or LED technology, it is important to know whether your car’s headlight housing employs projector or reflector technology.
Although LED technology is newer and more efficient than HID, the type of headlight housing (reflector or projector) will ultimately determine which bulb type will result in better lighting for your vehicle.
|Beam Pattern||Clear Cut-off||Scattered|
|Best for||HID, Halogen||LED, Halogen|
Projector and reflector headlights are two different types of headlight assemblies.
They both use the same core technology - a mirrored bowl that reflects the light emitted from the headlight bulb.
The main difference between projector and reflector headlights is that projector-type headlights have a lens over the mirrored bowl to better focus the light while relfectors reflect the light directly from the bowl onto the road.
As you can see, projectors emit a more focused and dense light with a clear cutoff point whereas reflectors are less bright and the beam pattern is scattered.
A good analogy to compare the two is the spray settings of a garden hose.
Projectors are like the jet mode, strong and precise, while reflectors are more like the shower mode, less intense, and more scattered.
A projector-type headlight consists of a bulb placed within a small, curved reflector called a projector bowl. This reflector focuses the light onto a lens and emits it in a controlled and precise manner.
The lens, known as a condenser lens, is used to focus the light. By using a lens, a bulb will shine brighter and will exhibit less waste (scattering).
Projectors are the latest technology for headlight assemblies and are becoming increasingly popular in newer and luxury vehicles.
A reflector-type headlight consists of a bulb placed within a large, curved mirrored bowl. The bulb's light is reflected into the bowl and back onto the road.
The light produced by reflector-type headlights is less focused, illuminating a wider range compared to a projector but with less precision and intensity.
Reflector headlight technology has been in use for decades and is still found in most cars and trucks.
Reflectors are cheaper to manufacture and take up less room compared to projectors, which explains why they are still very popular.
A common question we frequently get is whether a car has projector or reflector headlights.
The simplest way to determine which type of headlight you have is by looking at it, even if you are not a car expert.
Projector headlights can be identified by the lens, which almost resembles an eye. They have a clean, simple, and modern design as shown below.
Reflector headlights can be identified by their open design, which reveals the reflector bowl (compared to projectors where the lens conceals it).
If your car is equipped with projector-type headlights, it's best to upgrade your lights to HIDs.
Although LEDs will fit and work, from our experience, they will not perform as expected. In most cases, your stock halogen bulbs will be brighter than LEDs in projector-type headlights.
You may come across many LED bulbs for projector headlights but they simply won't perform as well as HIDs.
If your car is equipped with reflector-type headlights, it's best to upgrade your lights to LED.
HIDs will also work very well in reflector headlights but they will not be as bright as LEDs and the installation is slightly more complicated.
If you are looking to upgrade to LED headlights but your car has projector headlights, you will not get the desired results and we strongly recommend considering HID lights.
Some vehicles come equipped with headlights that are a projector-reflector hybrid.
This only applies to vehicles that have separate high and low beams (single-beam headlight systems).
When taking into account that LEDs are better for reflectors and HIDs for projectors, which lighting technology should you choose if your vehicle is equipped with a projector-reflector hybrid headlight?
The answer is simple, choose both.
Mixing and matching LEDs and HIDs in your headlights is perfectly fine and will give you the best overall results when compared to having LEDs, HIDs or halogens for all your beams in a hybrid headlight.
For the best results when mixing LEDs and HIDs for hybrid headlights, we recommend getting:
This way, the lights will be the exact same color and be the brightest option for both your high and low beams, regardless of whether they are projector or reflector.
When looking at the two types of technologies side by side, projectors are definitely preferred over reflectors.
Projectors use new and improved technology that results in brighter and more focused light output with less waste.
However, when looking to upgrade your headlight bulb to either HID and LED, it is important to remember that LED conversion kits perform better for reflector headlights and HID conversion kits work well in either type of headlight assembly.
Disclaimer: The information contained on this page is provided free of charge to our visitors. It was prepared to the best of our abilities and with all the information available to us at the time of writing. We reserve the right to change, remove or update any information contained on this page at any time and without notice to improve its accuracy. The most reliable method to determine the bulb size is by pulling your actual bulb(s) and reading the part number indicated directly on the bulb. The information compiled on this page comes with no guarantees or warranties.