What is a projector headlight vs. reflector headlight?

You can’t describe a headlight without including a housing or place to put the lightbulb. This is where the types of headlights come into play. There are two types of headlights on the markets, and those are projectors and the other reflectors. Deciding on which kind of light is going to be determined mainly by your bulb, vehicle model, how much you’re willing to reach into your pocket, alongside some personal and more aesthetic reasons. We will get into what each headlight is, how each headlight type works, its advantages, disadvantages, and some recommendations.

Reflector Headlights

Reflector headlights have been around since the beginning of automotive headlights. A reflector headlight works when a light source, the headlight bulb, fills the cup of a mirrored housing. The result is a stream of light that comes out of the bowl in the direction that light is pointing. This simple yet effective design has weathered time as it has some important reasons to continue to serve in our vehicles.


  • Very simple to design
  • Less expensive to manufacture than a projector design
  • Reflector headlights come standard in most vehicles
  • You can use Halogen and LED headlights
Some cons of a reflector headlight are that the beam cannot be controlled. The light source is Omni-directional, going into all directions, and bounces of the mirrored surface. This provides a less distinct light source that isn’t consistent across the entire width of the light output. What this means is your lights will fade in brightness as they taper away from the center.


  • Less control of your mirrored surface
  • Not as good for oncoming drivers
  • Weak or Intense spots in the beam
  • The brightness fades away from the center, not consistent across the beam

The beam on a reflector headlight often will have weak spots or intense spots depending on your bulb and design. An effective way to upgrade in the case of a reflector headlight is to use an LED headlight bulb. Although directional and may require some play on your install, you’ll find that you can get a consistent light beam that covers the full spectrum of light, thus illuminating your driving experience. With LED headlight bulb prices dropping by the day, it’s no wonder people are rushing to upgrade to LED headlights using their factory reflector headlights.

Projector Headlights

You’re going to want to have a safe driving experience and excellent vision in the dark. The best option is by far the projector headlights. Also, using a simple, efficient design, projector headlights are similar to their reflector counterparts. They contain a headlight bulb inside of a cup with mirrors that reflect off those surfaces. Projector headlights have an added lens that works as a magnifying glass to increase the light beam’s brightness. This lens, known as a condenser lens, increases the brightness and makes better use of it. Otherwise, like a reflector headlight, the light output would fade away from the center. A real downside to such high brightness from a projector headlight’s output is that it might blind the oncoming traffic. In order to fix this, projector headlights use a piece called a cutoff shield to keep light from shooting up and towards drivers. This way, all light output goes down and out towards the road surface. The projector headlight also has a component called a solenoid. This component will drop the cutoff shield to allow all light to escape and therefore give the high beam effect. When you reengage your low beams, the solenoid puts the cutoff shield back up.

There are some serious advantages to the newer projector headlight technology:

  • These are the brightest headlights
  • They’re better for oncoming drivers as they are less likely to blind their field of vision
  • There is an even display of light across the light beam, which will appear as if your light doesn’t fade as the beam reaches the left and right edges, increased visibility left, right and forward
  • Because they use a cutoff shield, you can use Halogen, HID, and LED lightbulbs in a projector headlight
Projector headlights are pretty much awesome and look fantastic on every vehicle. There are some downsides to these types of headlights. Projectors are deeper than reflector headlights, so the fit may come into play when trying to perform an upgrade. What would we recommend? If you’re going to use a reflector headlight, upgrade your light using an LED headlight bulb to maximize brightness and safety. Underground Lighting provides excellent options for quality, long-lasting LED headlights. On the flip side, if you’re using a projector headlight, go for an HID upgrade. In some cases, we see both types of headlights used in the same headlight housing. This Projector-Reflector Hybrid headlight will use a reflector, the low beam, and the projector for the high beam.

The disadvantages of projector headlights are minimal:

  • A partial disadvantage of a projector headlight is the aesthetic look to some. More opinion than anything else, some people just don’t like the way it looks. In most cases, people love the look.
  • There is a case that some LED headlights do not perform as expected inside projector headlights. If this happens, your Halogen lights may be brighter than the LED. 
When looking at the differences between projectors and reflectors, it’s clear to see that the higher performance is going to come from a projector headlight. Reach out to Underground Lighting in any case where you want to know more about installations or upgrades.