Many wholesale labs are installing digital surfacing equipment these days. The next step after a lab “goes digital” is to produce their own private label, free-form progressive lenses. Although these house brand lenses are made with the same equipment and techniques used to make name brand free-form lenses, the labs typically sell them for much less. Consequently, they are an increasingly popular choice for eyecare professionals who want to offer their patients an affordable, digitally designed and produced lens at a good margin.

The new wave of value priced, private label, free-form PALs is already fueling a free-form free-for-all among labs. Just the other day I received a promotional e-mail from a lab touting its house brand as “the most affordable free-form progressive.” This particular lens was being offered in standard plastic with a “premium” AR coating for as low as $65 wholesale. That’s about half of what many labs charge for a name brand free-form PAL in standard or mid-index plastic. By comparison, a top-of-the-line, name brand free-form PAL and coating in a high-index material can wholesale for $150 to $250.

Although low prices are attractive, ECPs need to remember that not all free-form PALs are created equally. Digital designs range from atoric front surface to optimized to fully optimized with position of wear, wavefront, lifestyle or other biometric data. The quality of the design can also vary, depending on the ability of the lens designer.

Lens quality can also vary from lab to lab. A lot depends on how accurately the lab calibrates its surfacing equipment, and how it verifies the accuracy of the lens designs it is producing.

It’s important to do your homework before selecting a free-form lens, whether it’s a private label or a name brand. These products deliver some of the most advanced lens technology on the market, and can represent the best your practice or business can offer. Be sure to know what you’re buying, and choose your brands carefully.

—Andrew Karp