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What's the Difference Between Projector and reflector headlights?

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?


When you're trying to figure out which type of headlight bulb to get for better lighting, it's crucial to understand if you have a projector headlight or a reflector headlight.

That's our focus today: A basic understanding of the difference in technology, style, and what you get out of each one.

 

It doesn't matter if you have a projector headlight like this 4Runner or a reflector headlight like this Dodge Ram.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights? 

Chances are they're going to take the same or very similar light bulb.

Usually, a projector headlight would take an H11, a 9005, or a 9012 single beam halogen light bulb. So even though a lot of the different projector headlights use the same type of halogen light bulb, if you're interested in getting your headlights brighter, you might be looking at other LED bulb options


This LED headlight bulb replaces this halogen headlight bulb. However, the problem is that there are hundreds of different LED headlight bulbs. Some don't even fit inside the headlight housing, make a good beam pattern, and aren't even as bright as the original halogen bulb.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

A projector does both low and high beams even though it uses a single filament light bulb. Inside the projector, there's a shutter that opens and closes to show you all of the light output or only half. 

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

So, even though you have an ordinary, single filament light bulb, you can still get a dual-beam from a projector headlight.

That's not the case with a reflector. Projectors can either make one beam or two depending on their design, whereas with reflector headlights, a reflector equals one beam. If you want a reflector to do both high and low beams, you have to use a different type of light bulb.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

 

Now, many vehicles can come with a reflector or a projector on the same vehicle. For example, both of these headlights are from a Dodge Ram.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

They're the same shape and replace each other.

The modern-day composite reflector headlight is a descendant of the original reflector sealed beam housing. You could take this reflector-style headlight out and install the projector if you want. It's a pretty common upgrade to do because some people like the way the projector looks.

It's also theoretically a better beam pattern. Many times people will even open up the reflector headlight to install a projector. We'll get to that in a minute.

Here's a new version of a sealed beam replacement.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

It's an aftermarket piece to replace the old seal beam, but you can see inside the reflector design.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

The light bulb goes inside, and when it turns on, it illuminates all of the chrome surface areas on the reflector. Each of the individual reflector surfaces directs the light a certain way. This redirection creates the beam pattern and is relatively inefficient, not very focused, and well, not as concentrated as a projector.

Here I have another Dodge Ram projector headlight, and I'm going to show you what the inside looks like so you can understand more about what a projector headlight is.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

The word "Reflector" is pretty simple to understand. A light source bounces off a bunch of shiny surfaces that creates a beam pattern. Now, let's take a look at what makes a projector headlight work.

The fascinating part about many projector headlights is that sometimes they incorporate both projector and reflector technology like the Dodge Ram. The low beam uses a 9005 or 9012 halogen light bulb in this projector and then uses another 9005 halogen bulb in the reflector for the high beam.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

So when you're on low beam, you get just the projector, and when you go to high beam, you get the projector plus the reflector to create the desired beam pattern that Dodge intended.

Now, many people think that the lighting from this stock headlight isn't good quality, and there are different LED and HID upgrades that you can do to make it better.

Many people think that this headlight is terrible, and a terrific way to upgrade the lighting is to install an LED headlight bulb. If you have a Dodge Ram and want to know how to make your lighting go from good to great, contact us.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

On the inside, you have a module that holds the projector so you can see it in the back. This is where the light bulb sits.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?


The bulb goes into place like that, and then this big metal bowl is the reflector, but usually, it's smooth. What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?


What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

Instead of having a vast horizontally laid out reflector like this one (shown below), where you have a lot of surface area to create a big beam pattern, we have a tiny reflector bowl on a projector.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

As you can see, it doesn't even go in very far. The source of the light is at about here.
What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

Many people might think it's way out here, but that's not true. When the light bulb creates light, it's captured inside this small intense bowl, and then it gets focused through this lens. It's the same idea as using a magnifying glass in the sun to start a fire, except the desired effect of this is to create a razor-sharp beam pattern.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

If we look at the backside, there's one significant characteristic of the different projector lenses; you have a single beam and a dual-beam. That's just like a single reflector beam and dual beam, or just like a light bulb, single beam, or dual beam.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?


The dual-beam projector has a solenoid and some wiring coming out. (shown below)

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

If you give this connector 12 volts, it'll activate the solenoid inside the projector, and it will lower the cutoff shield. In a low beam position, not energized, the cutoff shield is upright and creates a sharp cutoff line like what you can see here.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights? 

On your vehicle, when you switch it from low to high beam, that solenoid energizes, and the shield pulls down. This action opens up 100% of the projector lens to the light output of the halogen bulb.

In a dual-beam projector, this is what creates your different high and low beams. Now in a single beam projector, you would not have that solenoid. You would not have that cutoff shield. 

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

You would have one static projector for low beam and either another projector for high beam or a reflector for high beam.

The Ram is even more interesting because it uses all three styles: projector, reflector, and dual-beam projector. People will often open up their reflector headlights to add a projector, but on the market today, many aftermarket options are even better than the OEM projectors. This is called a projector retrofit.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

You can do a projector retrofit on a projector headlight by replacing the original projector with an aftermarket one, but the biggest bang for your buck and transformation is when you take the reflector headlight and add a projector to it.

That's where Morimoto comes in. Morimoto has specific kits with different sizes of projectors designed to retrofit into the existing housing.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

If you went to the junkyard and pulled this projector out of Ram and tried to install it in another headlight, that'd be kind of tricky. The Ram projectors are not designed for that.  The Morimoto projectors are specifically designed to be installed in a reflector-type housing to do a retrofit.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

Here are a couple of last things to remember about the difference between reflector and projector. 

Usually, a reflector headlight will use a halogen bulb, but there are certain circumstances where a vehicle will come from the factory with a reflector with HID. The same goes for projectors. It's about 50/50.

What’s the difference between projector and reflector headlights?

Many projector headlights from the factory come with a halogen light bulb, but many times they have LED or HID right off the lot. Sometimes you can convert a reflector headlight to LED or HID with just different light bulbs, and sometimes you can do the same thing with a projector.

Generally speaking, you're guaranteed an increase in light output if you convert your projector halogen bulb to HID. If you do LED, the odds aren't that good.

More and more products come out all the time that are suitable applications for an LED bulb in a projector. However, if you already have projector headlights and want to make them brighter, your guaranteed best bet is an HID conversion kit.

I hope you learn something, and if you have any questions, you can always visit us at www.headlightrevolution.com.