Projector vs. Reflector: Plan to upgrade your headlights? Read this first!

(Last Updated On: March 13, 2024)

Are you considering replacing your halogen bulb with a more advanced option?

I really wouldn’t blame you. Halogens’ got nothing on LED and HID bulbs, No kidding. 

One crucial factor to consider before changing your car bulb is your headlight housing. Of course, the battle for the best headlight housing is still between projector and reflector headlights.  

This isn’t a hype charade. But you are about to find out how to make your “car headlight transition” a massive success.

Well, not to worry, you just landed in a hub of quality info, so in this article, you’ll discover:

  • The difference between Projector and Reflector headlights
  • All you need to make an informed choice

Let’s dive deep into it!

Reflector vs. Projector headlights comparison chart

Gone are the days when all cars had reflector headlights. In the wake of technology, an alternative was launched. Now there are two types: Projector and Reflector headlights. As expected, there are notable differences, and we have unveiled them in the chart below:

Reflector vs. Projector key differences
Reflector vs. Projector key differences

How do I know if I have a projector or reflector headlight?

The physical features of both headlights housing make it easier to tell them apart. How can you tell if your car has a reflector headlight or a projector? It’s not a hard nut to crack. 

A projector has an obvious fishbowl lens sitting right in front of the headlight bulb. It’s not hard to miss.  

On the flip side, a reflector has a more open design. A reflector bowl is riddled with mirrors in place of a lens, which acts as a reflector. 

Just take a good look at your headlights, and voila! The difference is evident.

How does the lens make projector headlights different from reflector headlights?

The clear fishbowl lens on your projector headlights isn’t there for only aesthetic purposes. This lens is an integral part of your headlight. Just imagine holding a magnifying glass on a sunny day. A magnifying glass concentrates or spreads the rays of the sun, and avid campers can even start a fire with it! Now you get the idea!

The lens is just like a magnifying glass in the projector housing. It accurately concentrates the light, casting the light in a definite direction. 

Projector structure
Projector headlight with the “magic” lens

Before you travel down a lit road with a top-notch headlight, a lot of factors are involved. Asides from the lens, the cutoff shield and solenoid equally contribute to an effective headlight. 

The cutoff shield organizes and concentrates the light to keep it down. Of course, this stops you from shining the light up into the faces of other motorists. The solenoid, on the other hand, regulates a switch from low to high beams. 

While the cutoff shield functions with low beams, the solenoid provides access to the high beams. It sidelines the cutoff shield and lets the full light pass through.

Read more: Low beam vs. High beam: When should I use them?

Pros & cons of reflector/projector headlights

These are pros (+) and cons (-) of projector and reflector headlights.

LEDs and HIDs: Which is the best for a projector/reflector?

If you are hoping to get rid of your halogen bulb, you can either go for a LED or HID bulb. Making the best choice is hinged on the kind of headlight housing your car is equipped with. 

Best bulb for projector headlights

Remember how you carefully pick a tie or a shoe that suits your outfit the most? This is exactly like that- or a tad more important. Just assume you are trying to find a suitable accessory for your car’s outfit. 

For a projector headlight, a High-Intensity Discharge (HID) bulb is the missing piece that completes the puzzle. Choosing the best HID bulbs are also important. They play an important role in making your puzzle better. Therefore, I have written a detailed review of the best bulbs for your projector headlight.

The combination of HID and projector housing delivers top-notch lighting. Why? Because the projector lens was designed to amplify HID bulb tech. The projector housing is characterized by a confined space that keeps heat entrapped. This makes it even more suitable for HID’s temperature. It also has a cutoff shield that helps guide the beam from an HID bulb in the right direction (down).

A bulb’s brightness is measured by lumens, and HID seems to have it in abundance. A “high-intensity discharge” bulb dispenses 3000 lumens, making its visibility outstanding. 

LEDs are better for reflector headlight

Will a reflector housing repel a LED light? 

Frankly speaking, No. A LED light functions well in a reflector headlight. However, there’s a significant condition attached to it– A retrofitted LED bulb requires an upgraded reflector bowl. If you default, chances are you’d dazed other drivers everywhere you go!

While HID might seem like the most suitable choice for reflector housing, don’t make the mistake of assuming. 

A rightly aligned LED light creates an impressive lightning, and it experiences no delay while coming on. 

HID, however, doesn’t come on immediately as most HIDs take between 10 to 20 seconds to achieve full brightness. You turn it on, which makes it unreliable when urgency creeps in.  

A LED light in a reflector housing eliminates the possibility of an extremely blinding headlight- largely. On the flip side, HID light’s outcome in a reflector housing would be a blindingly dangerous headlight.  

 Fahren H11/H9/H8

Fahren H11/H9/H8





Read more: Halogen vs. HID vs. LED: Never upgrade your headlight before reading this guide

Can LEDs be used in the projector headlight?

LED technology is proof that technology can create magic. Though LED isn’t the best match for projector housing, it’s not impossible. So yes, you can use a LED in a projector headlight; of course, but there are some factors you need to put into consideration.

Using an LED light with a projector leads to a distortion in the appearance of the beam. As a result, the highest distance of projection will reduce drastically. If your car is equipped with projector housing, we would recommend a HID bulb.

However, if you must upgrade to a LED light, ensure you get it done via a trusted source.

Why HID shouldn’t be used in reflector headlight?

A reflector headlight is incompatible with HID. The reason is simple, the brightness of the light becomes amplified, and it dazes other motorists. Simply put, you’d be creating an accident-prone headlight if you combine those two.

A bright and far-reaching light while driving is desirable. But the compatibility of the housing headlight and bulb should be considered- always. 

Which of these two headlights housing ( Reflector or Projector ) is out top-pick? Which one is the best? I have answers to these questions in my next post. But you’ll have to read it to find out. So what are you waiting for?

Projector vs. Reflector: Which is the best for my car?

Which headlight housing is the best? This question has left a trail of arguments in its wake. It seems to be an unending one. Aren’t you curious to figure out the best choice for your car? You are in luck! I don’t intend to leave any stone unturned. 

So which housing is more promising?

These two headlights have evolved over the years. Even though they perform similar functions, one is more effective than the other. 

The features mostly inform my verdict of both headlights. Before I state the best headlight, let’s have a thorough run-through comparison.

Reflector headlight has a simple design, but simplicity doesn’t necessarily mean functionality. In this case, the reflector headlight gets the job done, but the projector headlight is more effective. 

Unlike the reflector, a projector headlight is known for its outstanding brightness. In terms of brightness, the reflector headlights got nothing on the projector housing. 

reflector vs. projector light output
Reflector vs. Projector light output: a projector emits light to every nook and cranny

A projector headlight doesn’t blind other road users even though its brightness can slice through darkness effortlessly. This is consequent on the fact that it works perfectly with High-intensity discharge.

Another critical factor is that reflector housing leaves some dark spots unlit. On the flip side, a projector emits light to every nook and cranny.

Aesthetically, the projector housing is more lovable. Oh, don’t get me wrong, reflector also has some credible features. Unlike a projector housing, which takes more space, a reflector is small and can easily fit into smaller cars’ structures. 

In projector headlight, the cutoff shield enhances focus and visibility, especially while driving at night. It also covers a larger surface area, while the reflector headlight is not vast with its road coverage.

The steady beams and their compatibility with HID bulbs, and the classy appearance are largely responsible for my choice. The fact that you can regulate the flood of light through the shutter makes it even more reliable.  

Wrapping It Up

It’s evident that a projector headlight is a better choice. Performance-wise, lightning wise, we’d recommend a projector headlight.

Although this headlight is quite expensive, it has undoubtedly checked all our boxes. The best headlight for your car is a projector headlight. 

 If your car is equipped with a reflector headlight, you can replace it whenever you are ready. A trip to an aftermarket would get that done.

The beam from your headlight is a necessary part of your car. It really shouldn’t be neglected. To be candid, there’s a lot more to learn about Projector and Reflector headlights. To learn more, check out our equally explicit articles about the different types of headlights.

Projector vs. Reflector headlights: Detailed clarification 

Technology did a lot of “abracadabra” globally, and the automobile world wasn’t excluded. Headlights have evolved with time, and a trip down memory lane isn’t a bad idea. 

History of reflector headlamp

The headlight had experienced a significant improvement since the 1880s when the acetylene headlamp was in vogue. Imagine relying on an oil-fueled lamp as your headlight on a dark-lonely road, difficult to picture, right? 

After this flimsy light provider hopped out of the picture, electric headlamps came to the rescue in 1904. It wasn’t much of a rescue, but it was better than a burning light and a mirror for lightning. This innovation ushered in reflector headlights. 

In the archaic reflector headlight, the casing was sealed, hence the name “sealed-beam” headlight. This rigid feature made it impossible to replace burnt-out bulbs. This wasn’t the only disadvantage of this model; the light beam formed the lens’s shape in front of the headlamps.  

The 1980s was the golden era for reflector headlights. This was when technology introduced an upgraded version. This time, the mirrors in the reflector housing headlights directed the light beams. Light bulbs can now be replaced at will. This birthed the advanced and modern reflector housing headlights.

History of Projector headlamp- Significant improvement of headlight technology

In 1911, a projector beam was designed for the archaic acetylene lamp. However, this was nothing compared to the modern projector headlight. The Modern projector headlights debuted in 1969 when Chrysler first used it. But it gained traction in the 1980s when some luxurious cars introduced it. In retrospect, a projector headlamp is the more recent housing headlight. 

Structures and design 

Reflector headlights

The first appearance of reflector headlamps was when an electric lamp was launched. Thought the old reflector headlight was more inflexible. As expected, the old design can’t hold a candle to the modern design. 

Reflector design
Reflector headlight design: reflectors elicit wide light beams which cover more road surface

A reflector headlight has a well-defined structure. It has a bulb located in the middle of a chrome-coated reflector bowl. The reflector bowl houses strategically-placed mirrors which reflect light to illuminate your path.  

Consequently, reflectors elicit wide light beams which cover more road surface. 

One notable fact is that they are relatively small when compared with projector headlights. 

Projector headlights

Since it became a trend in the 1980s, the popularity of projector headlights hasn’t waned. The structure has also experienced considerable upgrades since its first appearance in the automobile world.

A projector headlight bears a resemblance to reflectors. But of course, they are quite different. It also consists of a light bulb, sitting in the middle of a steel cup, lined with mirrors that cast the road’s light. That’s where the similarities end.

Projector design
The lens that functions as a “magnifying glass” in projector headlight

A projector headlight has a lens that functions as a magnifying glass. It “magnifies” the brightness of the light beam.

It also comes with a cutout shield, which ensures lightning is well guided and angled. 

How reflector headlight works

A Reflector is quite straightforward. It’s characterized by a bulb, a reflector bowl, and mirrors. 

Now, this is how it works:

Bulb: Obviously, the bulb supplies the light immediately after your headlight comes on. 

Reflector bowl: A reflector bowl holds the bulb and mirror. It’s like a conduit that firmly secures everything needed to supply light.

Mirror: The mirror reflects the light beam on the road. This is the icing on the cake. Without a mirror, the light bulb is just another bulb. 

How projector headlight works

The projector headlight is high-end; hence it’s mainly found in deluxe automobiles. It possesses admirable features like its mechanics and structure. Most of these basic features aren’t present in reflector headlights.

Here’s how a projector headlight operates:


Unlike the classic dual-beam headlight, a projector headlight has only one light bulb. It’s more compatible with HID and the old halogen bulbs. LED could also be used on some occasions.


The shutter slides from the lower part of your headlight to partly block the light beam. This ensures the beam is directed downward on the road and not otherwise. 

A shutter aids a smooth switch from a low beam to a high beam and vice versa. The implication is that a low beam restricts how the light shines. On the flip side, the high beam allows the headlight to flood the road without restrictions. The shutter also molds the shape of a light beam.


The bulb is located in this oval-shaped bowl. So the beam from the bulb is reflected on a focal point in front of the light. 


It spreads the already shaped beam equally. It is already shaped mainly because the shutter determines the shape of the light.

Final thoughts

Not all lightning bulbs are compatible with headlight housings. Don’t ever forget that, or you’d end up blinding everyone you encounter while driving. 

If your car is equipped with projector housing, it’s advisable to upgrade to HID bulbs. Contrarily, if your car uses reflector housing, don’t consider an upgrade to High-intensity Discharge (HID) bulbs. You can either go for LED or stick to halogen bulbs. 

Here’s why; reflector housing can’t regulate an HID bulb– It’d be too blinding, and you’d probably end up causing more harm than good to people around you.

To get the best deal with headlights, a projector headlight is preferable and is undoubtedly the best choice.

Read more: 5000K Vs. 6000K Vs. 8000K: Which bulb suits you best?

2 thoughts on “Projector vs. Reflector: Plan to upgrade your headlights? Read this first!”

  1. Finally! I’ve been looking everywhere for a good list of headlights that will help me to decide to pick the best one. Thank you for doing the effort of coalescing these. I agree with most of the listed above. I’ve been through on these and today and I was so happy to learn those things you mentioned. Thank you!

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