What is a projector headlight? Learn more about this stylish light

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What is a projector headlight

Headlight Types

Hey there I’m Matt and today we’re talking about the windows to the soul of your vehicle…  Headlights. 

Modern vehicles are equipped with either one of two headlamp types:


  • Reflector lights
projector headlight
Projector Headlight – You’ve seen these. They usually look sleak and modern with a little round bulb in the housing.
  • Projector headlights
reflector headlight
Reflector Headlight – A classic. These have been installed more many years and still work great!

Reflector headlights are easy enough to understand. It only consists of a bulb encased inside a reflective steel bowl. The light is then reflected to mirrors or reflective surfaces inside the housing.

But what is a projector headlight? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Should you buy an after-market set of projector headlights for your vehicle?

All the answers are right here.

What are projector headlights for cars?

Projector headlights for cars were first seen in luxury vehicles in the 1980s. I believe the first car to utilize projector housing were the 1981 Audi Quartz. Look at that beauty!

1981 audi quartz with Projector lights
1981 Audi Quartz – look at those Projector lights! More info on this car here

These lights consists of a bulb inside a steel bowl. There are mirrors in the bowl that act as reflectors. The uniqueness is where the light bulb goes; see how it’s a circular, marble shaped bug eye? This design is also very functional because it works like a magnifying glass that can “throw” light further. It also looks pretty darn sweet!

How do projector headlights work?

But unlike ordinary reflector headlights, projector lamps are equipped with round lenses that magnify the intensity 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 lenses are also responsible for the unique and premium look of projector headlamps. The car will basically look like it has actual round eyes when viewed from the front!

diagram of a working projector lens
Here’s a crude diagram of how a Projector Headlight works. Don’t mind my bad Paint skills!

Projector headlights are also equipped with cut-off shields. This allows the beam of light to be directed further down the road. This unique feature also prevents the light from dazzling other drivers on the road. This shield is responsible for the sharper cut off beam of reflector headlights.

Benefits of projector headlights

There are reasons why projector headlights are slowly becoming standard equipment on most modern cars. Besides the fact is will give your vehicle a more expensive and premium vibe, projector headlamps are also brighter than reflector headlights.

But it’s not brighter in the sense that it gives off more light. Since the beam is magnified and projected in an orderly fashion, the amount of the light that is actually projected on the road is significantly better. In some cases, reflector headlights will have certain dark spots, whereas a projector headlight will give a more evenly distributed beam of light.

Projector headlights are also perfect if you are looking for an HID kit or LED upgrade. In some places, installing HID or 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 inevitably blind oncoming traffic. However, this will not be a problem if your vehicle is equipped with projector headlights.

Read more about Why You Should Upgrade Old Halogen Headlights to an LED or HID Kit

Disadvantages of projector headlights

You’ll wonder why you didn’t upgrade sooner!

Alright so the main problems you’ll run into is the cost and retrofitting them. DO NOT buy a cheap pair of projectors because you’ll regret it

The projectors from the factory are designed and tuned to fit the specifications of a certain vehicle. Adjusting or changing the location and height of the projector unit (as is the case with most aftermarket projector lamps) will also affect the angle and scope of the beam. In order to be sure, you should only buy aftermarket projector headlights from trusted and known brands.

Which is better: projector headlights vs reflectors with halogen?

In terms of performance, projector headlights have an advantage over reflector housings. However, this doesn’t mean reflector headlights are somewhat inferior. This will also depend on the design of the headlights.

I may be nitpicking here, but if the projector bowl inside a projector headlight ages or warps with excess heat, you’ll need to spend a lot of money to get it fixed. In most cases, it is better to buy a new set of headlights. You won’t have this problem with reflector headlights.

Projector headlights pros and cons:

  • Very bright lights with good distance
  • Looks more stylish
  • More expensive to replace HID bulbs and other parts

Reflector headlights pros and cons:

  • Reliable and durable (usually)
  • Bulbs and housing are cheaper to replace
  • Doesn’t beam light as far
  • You don’t get the cool “blue” HID look


Headlight Revolution made a great resource comparing these these two housing styles:

If your vehicle is equipped with HID projector headlights, you should never downgrade to halogen bulbs. I know some people who do this to save money since HID bulbs are many times more costly than a pair of basic halogen bulbs. Doing so will significantly affect the service life of the projector housing since halogen bulbs will emit more heat than HID bulbs. The heat may be severe enough to damage or melt the projector housing.


Is it true that reflector headlights are more prone to fogginess or clouding?

It doesn’t matter if your vehicle is equipped with reflector or projector headlights. Yellowing, staining, fog, or cloudiness on the clear plastic lens is caused by oxidation.

Read more about removing headlight haze and fog here

It has nothing to do with the type of light. Dirty, yellowed, or hazy headlight lenses are caused by UV damage from the sun. The problem can also be exacerbated by dirt, environmental pollutants, and neglect.

Nothing ruins the look of a car more than faded or foggy headlights. Dirty or hazy headlights will also reveal the true age of your vehicle. Luckily for you, it is easy to restore the clarity of car headlights using common household items or by simply purchasing a headlight restoration kit. This is cheaper than buying a new set of headlights.

In order to prevent this incident from happening, always wash your vehicle at least once a week. It is also a good idea to polish or wax the headlight lenses at least once every six months. For

The acrylic lens in projector and reflector headlights are treated with a layer of clear coat from the factory. As the vehicle ages, the clear coat will wear off, leaving the surface vulnerable to UV damage. This is the reason why professionals will insist on reapplying a layer of clear coat on the headlight lens. This is also standard practice after wet-sanding the lens to remove haze and fog.

Can I install an HID kit in a reflector headlight?

Yes, as long as it is legal in your area. Since HID bulbs are rated at approximately 3000 lumens, it is brighter and more intense than halogen bulbs (which are only rated at 700 lumens in low beam configuration), so your HID’s might blind or dazzle other drivers on the road.

HID and LED kits are pretty common in reflector headlights but if you want to replace your halogen bulb, check out our guide: Why You Should Upgrade Old Halogen Headlights to an LED or HID Kit

Main Image by xenostral from Pixabay

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