Projector vs Reflector Headlights: Key Differences

When you buy a car, you have to buy it with the factory headlights. You can always change or modify them but knowing the differences between projector vs reflector headlights is necessary to make the right decision. The performance of these lights is quite different from each other. So, it’s better you know about their technology, and pros and cons before changing the stock headlights.

Projector vs Reflector Headlights: The Differences

There are some crucial factors to consider when choosing between reflector and projector. Learn about those aspects in detail before picking one.


It’s easy to identify whether the headlights are projector or reflector style by simply looking at them. Projector headlights have a modern design with a clean, minimal interface. Their fishbowl lens, which conceals the reflector bowl, facing the headlight bulb is quite prominent from the outside.

On the other hand, reflector headlights have a clearly different “open” design. They have mirrors instead of lenses, which don’t hide the reflector bowl. These mirrors reflect the illumination from the bulbs.

If you still can’t identify the type, check the owner’s manual or call the dealership.

projector vs reflector headlights
A reflector headlight. (Credit: Bicanski / Pixnio)

The Housing

Another difference between projector vs reflector headlights lies in their housing design. Reflector headlights have there been for decades. So, it’s obvious that they use old technology. However, you will find this type in many modern vehicles because of low manufacturing costs and small size. On the other hand, the projector headlight housing takes larger space and costs more than its counterparts.

The headlight bulbs in the reflector style sit on a bowl-like housing that is tinted with chrome paint. The housing is known as the reflector bowl that reflects light toward the front of the vehicle. Because of diffusing the illumination at a large angle, reflector headlights light up a wider area on the road.

Projector headlights are a newer invention that uses advanced and modern technology. The slick and smaller housing of these lights looks good on expensive luxury cars. Both headlight types are similar in the sense that the bulbs shine in a chrome-painted reflector bowl and spread light on the road. However, the illumination passes through a lens in a projector while it goes through mirrors in a reflector.

The wider angle of reflectors spread the light, making it less focused and less intense. The mirrors in these lights, in a sense, waste some illumination. But this does not happen with projectors. It will produce a more concentrated beam of lights.


Type of Lights

LEDs work better for reflector headlights while HIDs are the best option for projector headlights. You can exchange the types but will never get the desired results. For example, despite LEDs’ being the best light types, even stock halogen produces brighter illumination than LEDs in projector headlights.


The illumination produced by projector and reflector headlights is completely different. They both use a chrome-tinted housing bowl but how the light passes through makes the real difference.

A reflector spreads the illumination, so a wider area of the road will be visible to the driver. However, this illumination is less heightened and less precise. Although, you can have better performance by using LED headlights.
On the contrary, the use of condenser lenses in projector headlights helps them create an intense beam focused on a small area. The clear fishbowl lens works as a magnifying glass, which can cast the beam in a specific direction by concentrating the illumination.

With projector headlights, you will notice a significant increase in how well you can see at night. This is due to less waste of light being produced by these types of lenses as opposed to reflectors.

Which Is the Better Option: Projector vs Reflector Headlights?

Headlights are designed in one of two ways: reflector or projector. Reflector headlights utilize a series of angled mirrors that bounce and redirect light from the bulb to the mirrors, making the light beam spread across a wider area. Projector headlights use a more technological approach that allows for a more focused and true beam of light to shine directly on the lens. This leads to increased clarity and visibility while driving.

Comparing side by side, projectors seem a better option for their advanced technology and less light waste. You should go with them if you want to have a better vision at night.

projector vs reflector headlights
Enjoy a better vision at night with projector headlights. (Credit: dietmaha / PixaBay)

However, reflectors are cheaper and come readily available in most vehicles, even these days. Except for luxury models, most models are equipped with reflector headlights. This is the best option for budget shoppers and for people who drive less at night.


Are you going to purchase a car with projector or reflector headlights? Well, the choice ultimately comes down to your budget, driving habits, and how frequently you drive at night.