What Are Projector Headlights and How Do They Work?

Ian Mutuli
Updated on
Ian Mutuli

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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Headlights have become a standard feature of vehicles on the road. They illuminate by projecting light onto the road from the headlight, also called a headlamp, via thick concave mirrors and magnifying lenses. As technology has evolved, more and more cars are using projector lights for their existing headlights. So, what are projector headlights?

Projector headlights are a design that has been around since the early 1980s, but the idea has been around for over a century. The elliptical lens used in projector headlights allows for a sharply focused beam less likely to interfere with oncoming traffic.

In this article, you’ll learn about projectors, from their historical roots to their practical applications in modern vehicles.

What Are Projector Headlights?

What Are Projector Headlights?

Projector headlights, called poly ellipsoidal and bi-xenon headlights, are high-performance headlights typically found in high-end luxury and sports automobiles but are also available as aftermarket improvements.

They can use high-intensity discharge (HID) and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs that are too intense to be used in traditional reflector headlights.

Projector headlights have a different design than traditional reflector headlights, which allows them to illuminate more of the road surface at an even further distance. Additionally, they are more effective than reflector headlights because they cast a narrower beam of light forward, where it is needed, and less out to the sides, where it isn’t.

Features of Projector Headlights

1. Bulb

A projector headlight utilizes a single bulb in place of the two bulbs used in a traditional dual-beam design (one for a high beam and one for a low beam). Most projector headlights use HID Xenon bulbs. However, halogen and, more recently, LED systems are also available.

2. Reflector

Unlike traditional parabolic reflectors, the projector headlight’s single bulb is positioned in front of an elliptical one. All the light from the bulb is directed toward a single point in front of the elliptical reflector, where a shutter meets it.

3. Shutter

A projector headlight has a shutter that protrudes upward from the bottom, partially obstructing the beam so that it shines downward toward the road.

Additionally, the top of the shutter is tapered, which lowers the beam on the left (or right, in nations where traffic is driven on the left) and lessens light that is shone into the path of oncoming vehicles. The shutter is lowered when the driver selects a high beam, allowing the headlight to shine without obstruction.

4. Lens

Projector headlights can use a basic objective lens whose only purpose is to equally disperse the pre-shaped beam, as the shutter regulates the beam’s shape.

How Do Projector Headlights Work?

How Do Projector Headlights Work?

While conventional headlights use flat, concave lenses to focus light, projector lamps use spherical lenses to focus and intensify the light. The lenses act like magnifying glasses, allowing you to see finer details. As a result, a narrower, more concentrated beam of light is emitted after being absorbed.

The lenses of projector headlights are another reason for their distinct and high-end appearance. From the front, the car will look like it has real, round eyes.

As an added safety measure, projector headlights have removable covers. This enables the light to be shone farther down the street. This innovative design element also shields other drivers and motorists from being blinded.

Types of Projector Headlights

Types of Projector Headlights

To accommodate a wide variety of preferences, projector headlights come in various styles and sizes. For your convenience, we have compiled a list of the various alternatives available.

1. Halogen

The projector headlight design can also use a halogen bulb, which is the same kind of bulb used in reflector headlights. However, more recent advancements in modern bulbs have made halogen projector headlights less prevalent for projector designs, even though these headlights offer a more even light beam than reflectors.

2. HID

Compared to halogen bulbs, HID bulbs are brighter and last longer. Currently, this type of bulb is used in many vehicles. However, car owners should take care to prevent installing HID bulbs in projector headlights made to work with halogen bulbs.

When HID bulbs are inserted in a halogen projector headlight, they can make it difficult for oncoming vehicles to see because they are brighter than halogen lights.

3. LED

One of the most popular types of projector headlights for modern vehicles is the LED type. They last longer than halogen and HID headlights and are more energy-efficient than other types of bulbs. LED lights have an operational lifespan that can even surpass that of a standard car.

4. Halo or Angel Eye

The term “halo” describes the glow around the edges of some projector headlights. Many manufacturers use “halo” or “angel eye” projector headlights to describe these, but the ring does not use projector technology.

About half a dozen different technologies, including LEDs, incandescent bulbs, and cold cathode fluorescent lighting (CCFL) tubes, are used to make these rings.

How to Choose Projector Headlights

How to Choose Projector Headlights

The most popular options for projector headlights are HID and LED. Here are some factors to take into account when deciding which of these headlights to use:

1. Efficiency

LED bulbs are more energy efficient than HID bulbs but are brighter and can illuminate a wider area. When it comes to lighting, HIDs are the most powerful. However, HID headlights only last a quarter as long and are not as sturdy as LED alternatives.

2. Longevity

Unlike HID bulbs, LED bulbs endure longer than they do, frequently outlasting the usefulness of the vehicles in which they are installed. There is no other form of commercially available headlight that can compare to the longevity of LED bulbs.

3. Your Car

Not all cars are equipped with the necessary hardware to run LED lights. Many older cars lack the heat sink necessary for LED lighting. HID bulbs might be a better alternative because they’re simpler to install if you pick projector headlights for an older vehicle without a portable car heater.

Projector Headlights vs. Reflector Headlights

Projector Headlights vs. Reflector Headlights

The question of whether reflector or projector headlights are superior is a natural one to raise, given that these are the two most common types. Each year, more and more cars are fitted with projector headlights. After all, the light output of projector headlights is far higher than that of reflector headlights.

Pros of Projector Headlights

  • They are less prone to cause blind spots for other drivers.
  • The light produced by projector headlights is more uniform. There may be darker patches in reflector headlights.
  • Superior to reflector headlights in terms of brightness.

Cons of Projector Headlights

  • They cost more than headlights with reflectors.
  • The headlight assemblies often occupy more area and are deeper.

Projector headlights are almost always preferable to reflector headlights when shopping for new cars. The debate is more heated when comparing HID projector headlights to LED ones.

Projector Headlights vs. Reflector Headlights

When it comes to reflector headlights, a lot of vehicles have used them since the very first ones were made. In order to distribute the light beam over a larger region, reflector headlights use a series of slanted mirrors that bounce and redirect light from the bulb to the mirrors.

For a reflector headlamp to function, the housing’s mirror must be completely filled by the light from the headlight bulb.

When you point a light into a bowl, it will shine in the direction you point it. This timeless design has stood the test of time for good reason: it performs an essential function in our cars.

Pros of Reflector Headlights

  • They cost less to produce.
  • They’re more compact.
  • Reliable and durable

Cons of Reflector Headlights

  • Light is not projected as far
  • The attractive “blue” HID look is absent.

It’s common for drivers to look for the brightest headlights possible without blinding oncoming traffic while shopping for new lights. Reflector headlights are less likely to blind approaching vehicles since projector headlights are brighter.

It’s also important to note that drivers can replace the older halogen bulbs with xenon HID bulbs when using projector headlights. All things considered, projector headlights are superior to reflector headlights.

Installing Projector Headlight- Projector Retrofitting

Installing Projector Headlight

Projector retrofit is the process of adding projectors to a headlight. This could entail upgrading a projector or adding projectors to a headlight that uses reflectors.

A projector retrofit could be the solution if you already have a reflector headlamp and are looking for ways to increase illumination. There are three primary types of headlight retrofitting:

1. Retrofitting a Projector Into a Reflector Housing

This type of retrofitting can be the most labor-intensive. First, this process requires removing the reflector internals by opening the headlight. Then, to make the projectors fit, you’ll probably need to cut or trim something. A universal retrofit kit would come in handy. These kits include projectors, bulbs, shrouds, and everything else you’ll need.

Installing Projector Headlight

2. Vehicle-Specific Retrofit Kits

Installing a retrofit kit designed specifically for your car will be much simpler than using a generic one. In addition, vehicle-specific kits are tailor-made for their intended use, so no additional adjustments should be required.

3. Projector Swap

If you own a headlight with the best projector inside, you can replace it with a better projector. The most frequent replacement is projector headlights that use halogen.

Many halogen projectors owners will replace them with HID or LED models instead. With this change, the driver will have a lot more practical light for driving.


Projector headlights are ideal for installing an HID kit or an LED upgrade. However, due to several considerations, high-intensity discharge headlight bulbs cannot be installed in reflector headlights.

Here, the light would be too intense and dispersed in all directions, blinding drivers from opposite directions. Of course, this won’t be an issue if your vehicle has projector headlights. Hopefully, you have a better understanding of “what are projector headlights” after reading this article.

Ian Mutuli

About the author

Ian Mutuli

Founder and Managing Editor of Archute. He is also a graduate architect from The University of Nairobi, Kenya.
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