Projector vs Reflector Headlights (LED, Halogen, HID) - Alla Lighting Automotive LED Bulbs

There are 2 types popular headlamp housing: projector headlights and reflector headlights. Reflector headlamps are the old style found on cars or trucks made earlier.

Projector headlamps are newer, but not every new car has projector headlight. High-performance projector headlamps that were originally only available in luxury vehicles since 2000, and now become more and more vehicles are equipped. They are able to work with the extremely super bright HID (high-intensity discharge) headlamps and LED (light-emitting diode) headlights bulbs. Some vehicles' low beam headlights are projector type, and high beam headlights are reflector type.

So, we are always asked what is the difference between projector and reflector headlamps? And, whether our LED headlights bulbs will have great performance in projector or reflector headlamp housing? This article will discuss what is the projector headlight? what is the reflector headlight? What is the difference between projector and reflector headlights? How the LED headlights bulbs work inside the projector and reflector headlamp housing?Projector-vs-reflector-headlamps-comparison-led-headlights-lens

What is the reflector headlights?

Reflector headlights have been featured as standard since the invention of electric headlights in 1898. Reflector headlamps have two main components: a light source (bulb) and a reflector bowl.  reflector-headlamp-halogen-led-headlights The reflector bowl is a hollow hemisphere shape. The inside is painted with reflective chrome paint and covered in precisely-located mirrors. The bulb sits right in the center of this device. Mirrors are place within the bowl to reflect light out onto the road.

How do the reflector headlights work?

In older reflector headlights, the shape of the light beam was determined by the lens in the front of the headlight. With this type, known as a sealed-beam headlight, the casing cannot be removed to replace a burnt-out bulb.

In the 1980s, improvement in LED technology at reflector headlights is to use mirrors inside the headlight housing itself to guide the beam, that means it was no longer necessary for the lens and the headlight housing to be sealed, and bulbs could be easily removed or replaced. When the bulb is switched on, beams of light hit the mirrors and are reflected in front of the vehicle and onto the road.

Because of this, reflectors headlights produce a wide beam that covers a large surface area, but also cause the light less intense and focused, which wastes a lot of light.  reflector-headlamps-led-headlights-design-theory.

Advantages of reflector headlights (headlamps)

Until now, many new vehicles are still equipped with reflector headlamps due to its advantages:
  • Much less cost compared to projector headlamps, which can meet different requirements
  • Saver more space, for the reflector headlights don't require too much space and it has smaller design

What is the projector headlights?

    Projector headlight is a newer development in auto headlights development. Projector headlamps are like reflector headlights, they consist of a headlight assembly with a replaceable bulb, and also include a reflector component, but that's at the similarities end.
The overall design of a projector headlamp is based around the idea of focusing light with a specially shaped reflector, then using a shutter to project it on the road with a beam pattern that is evenly distributed and light focused. And adding a lens acts as a magnifying glass, increasing the brightness of the light beam. A projector headlight includes below components:
  • A replaceable bulb: a bulb as light source. Projector headlamps can adopt halogen, HID, and LED headlights bulbs as the light source. The bulbs in projector headlamp housing is much brighter than the bulbs in reflector headlight.
  • Reflector: Projector headlight includes a reflector component. The difference is that the projector headlight use an elliptical-shaped reflector instead of a parabolic-shaped one. The difference in shape causes the light emitted from the bulb in a projector headlamp to focus on a narrow point near the front of the reflector, where it meets a shutter.
  • Shutter (cutoff shield): The shutter is one of the most important components for projector headlight, and classic reflector headlight housings don't have it. This component is inserted into the light beam from below, which causes a sharp cutoff and effectively aims the light at the road instead of allowing it to blind other drivers. In some vehicles, the shutter can be raised and lowered to switch between high and low beams.
  • Lens: This is at the end of the projector headlight, and it's designed to evenly distribute the beam of light that has already been shaped and aimed by the elliptical reflector and the shutter. Some projector headlight's lenses can also soften the cutoff line between light and dark when the headlights shine on the road.

How do the projector headlight work?

Unlike the reflector headlights, projector headlamps are equipped with round lens that magnify the intensity and focus of the light beam. Think of those lenses as a magnifying glass. The light is absorbed and projected in a smaller yet more focused and concentrated beam. The lens also shapes the unique and premium look of projector headlamps.

A projector headlight is also equipped with cut-off shield (shutter). This allows the beam of light to be directed further down the road. This unique feature also prevents the light from glaring other drivers on the road. This cutoff shield is responsible for the sharper cut off beam of reflector headlights.projector-headlamps-led-headlights-design-theory

Advantages of projector headlights (headlamps)

  • More vision, better focused beam pattern, much brighter than reflector headlamps
  • Reduce the chances of blinding other drivers due to the cutoff shied for better beam
  • Due to cutoff shield, Halogen, HID, and LED headlights bulbs can be put inside the projector headlamp housing
    Projector headlight is also perfect if you are looking for an HID kit or LED upgrade. In some places, installing HID(high-intensity discharge headlight) bulbs in a reflector headlight is illegal. In this case, the light will be too bright and scattered in all directions, which will  blind oncoming traffic. However,  it won't be a problem if your vehicle is equipped with projector headlight.

Types of Projector Headlamps (Halogen, HID headlights, and LED Headlights)

All projector headlights have the same basic design, but they can replace different light source like halogen, HID or LED projector headlight.
  • Halogen projector headlights: The halogen projector headlight has adopted halogen bulbs inside the headlamp housing. These headlights typically project a more even beam of light than reflectors, with a sharper cutoff between light and dark, even though they use the older halogen bulb technology.
  • HID projector headlights: The second type of projector headlight have HID bulbs (HID refers to high-intensity discharge headlight) inside the headlamp's housing, and they are still available today, known as Xenon HID headlights. The HID bulbs are much brighter than traditional halogen bulbs. Xenon HID bulbs can only be used with projector headlight. HID bulbs are too bright when used in reflector headlights, for the light they emit can blind other drivers.
  • LED projector headlights: This is the newest technologies. The LED projector headlight uses LED headlights bulbs inside the headlamps' housing, and it consumes much less power, and they last far longer than halogen or HID headlights.
  • Halo or Angel Eye projector headlights: This refers to the distinctive ring, or halo of light that you see from some projector headlamps. Even though manufacturers sometimes define these as halo or angel eye projector headlight, the ring itself does not use projector technology. These rings are created with about a half dozen different technologies like cold cathode fluorescent lighting (CCFL) tubes, LEDs, and even incandescent bulbs.

Projector headlight vs Reflector headlight


Projector Headlight

Reflector Headlight
  • New Technology
  • Old Technology
Bulb's Position:
  • The headlight bulb sits in the middle of the reflector cup
  • The headlight bulb sits in the front of the fishbowl lens
  • Reflector bowl
  • Light bulb
  • Reflector bowl
  • Light bulb
  • Shutter
  • Lens
  • Smaller, less space
  • Deeper, more space
Light Effects:
  • Less intense and focused beam
  • Has dark spot
  • Less bright
  • More intense and focused beam
  • No dark spot
  • Much brighter
Best Light Source:
  • HID
  • LED
As to how to choose the best and brightest led headlights bulbs, please click here for more details.

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