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KODAK Progressive Lenses: Digital Freeform Tech Enhances Innovative Legacy

Couple wearing glasses with KODAK lenses

October 31, 2023

The KODAK Lens story is an interesting one. Previously known for photographic printing, photographic film, and later, a very fast NASCAR race car, KODAK entered the ophthalmic lens business in 1993. The company’s initial sales and marketing tactic was clever and previously untried. Behind the leadership of the charismatic Ed DeRosa, KODAK started by introducing its products to optometric key opinion leaders and political leaders. Key opticians were also included on the early list of recruits. Several AOA past presidents tried the lenses and found them to be easy to fit, high quality, and customer friendly. Slowly, but surely, the KODAK message spread through the ophthalmic community.

Early Designs Used Progressive Molds
KODAK split the United States into three sales and marketing regions and hired a trio of competent and product knowledgeable regional managers. My personal experience was with Dave Reed, a translocated Brit who soon got to know practitioners throughout his Eastern region. His personality, customer style, and product knowledge soon gained a large market share for the young company. KODAK lenses soon became a clinic staple in several key geographic locations, and company-sponsored events brought like-minded practitioners together for both learning and recreational activities. The KODAK story gained traction in just a few short years.

The early KODAK message focused on bringing innovation by leveraging digital technologies to develop prescription lenses, especially progressive lenses. KODAK lens designers, located in Ireland, worked very hard and got up to speed in developing a portfolio that offered various levels of technology and adapted to the ever-evolving lifestyles of lens wearers.

The early progressive lens designs were cast progressives, meaning material was poured into individual progressive molds. A limited number of corridors were available, usually a maximum of two, to accommodate one short corridor for smaller frame designs and one standard corridor to accommodate standard frame designs.

Digital Progressive Lenses
Early cast progressive lens designs have been superseded by utilizing technologies where a complex surface can be directly machined onto a semi-finished blank. This technology increased the performance and the viewing capabilities of progressive lenses, leading to a decrease in non-adapters and an increase in the viewing area. Thus, the first KODAK Digital Progressive Lenses were invented. In my Clayton Eye Center, we used several different companies’ lenses, and this new digital progressive lens made a world of difference to our opticians and patients alike.

Digital lenses from all companies rely on computer software programs to apply the design to the lens blank during the surfacing process. The ability to leverage a consistent blank for several different designs enabled the production process to be improved and enhanced service to the eye care professional. More than 24 million pairs of KODAK Progressive Lenses have been sold throughout the world since the early 1993 licensing agreement.

How Are Digital Lenses Made?
Digital freeform is a manufacturing process that allows the production of complex surfaces and designs. Processing is achieved by a single point diamond tool, precisely guided by a computer software program allowing three-dimensional surfacing along x, y, and z coordinates. As the lens spins, the diamond cutting tool tracks across the lens, providing an ultra-smooth finish to the lens design, which can then be polished using a conformable pad.

Woman wearing glasses with KODAK lenses
Early lens molds became degradable over several uses, and this digital technique eliminated that problem. This also meant that manufacturers no longer needed to carry an extensive inventory of lens blanks. As consumer lifestyles changed, this enabled a greater range of materials, and multiple corridor lengths became available for all frame sizes. The direct application of the patient’s prescription to the lens surface allows for greater accuracy and thus better vision.

Special Curve Control and Variable Decentration
The introduction of the original KODAK Unique Lens in 2006 was an immediate hit. This was the first KODAK lens featuring a full backside, digitally created and easy to-adapt progressive lens design. This full-backside design and proprietary technology allowed the KODAK Unique Lens to offer many features and benefits to the eye care professional and especially to the patient. Multiple corridor options, a vast amount of materials as well as clear vision at all distances, while helping to minimize any possible swim effect, led to an early success of the lens. Freeform machinery and computer software are able to control and design complex 3D surfaces, meaning for some prescriptions the power can be created using a flatter base curve. This allowed for a much more physically attractive lens design. This concept is known as Special Curve Control.

Freeform also allows the computer software to recalculate and move the optical center of the lens design away from the geometric center of the blank. This meant that a smaller lens blank could be used, which resulted in a thinner lens. This concept of Variable Decentration meant manufacturers could stop stocking so many different lens sizes.

Finally, the best optimized lenses, in terms of thickness and aesthetics, require the frame shape, dimensions, mono pupil distances, and heights. Several instruments are becoming available to help the prescriber gather this information.

The KODAK story is continuing to unfold as EssilorLuxottica  has acquired it and leant its vast resources to continue the dynamic processes and capabilities. The companies have signed a perpetual worldwide license agreement granting EssilorLuxottica the exclusive right to use the KODAK registered trademarks for products and services in connection with EssilorLuxottica’s business.


  • Kirk Smick, OD

    Dr. Smick is a retired Air Force Colonel and pilot. He has held several key leadership positions in optometry and has lectured both nationally and internationally. He is a past president of the Georgia Board of Optometric Examiners, the Georgia Optometric Association, and SECO International. Dr. Smick believes that post-graduate education is the key to best practices and therefore has dedicated much of his professional life to continuing education. He served as the chairman of continuing education for SECO International, the American Optometry Association’s Optometry’s Meeting, and the Vision Expo meetings. In total he has dedicated more than 30 years to continuing education, both as a facilitator and a lecturer. He was the first optometrist to be certified by the American Academy of Certified Procedural Coders and an original founder of the Omni Referral Center System. He continues to consult with several industry partners, including Allergan, Optical Connection, and ScienceBased Health. He views presbyopia as a unique opportunity for optometrists because of the new technologies available.

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