Ernst Erb of EiWear produces what he calls ‘wild and crazy designs!’

New edging systems with a milling function can enable the user to design and create unique eyeglasses.

Along with the revolution occurring in free-form lens technology, designing, and lens processing, lens edging equipment is also going through a startling evolution. The most recent innovation is milling, where the machine uses tools, bits, and cutters instead of wheels to cut, shape, and treat the lens. Calling these machines “edgers” is not giving them credit for all they can do. In fact, some eyecare professionals (ECPs) are using these edger systems to obtain startling custom eyewear.


While some opticians have the manual dexterity, patience, and artisanship to produce stunning custom work by hand, contemporary edger systems like those from Briot USA Inc., Santinelli International, Inc., Satisloh North America, Inc., Coburn Technologies, Inc., National Optronics, and Essilor Instruments USA are loaded full of features that greatly facilitate the production of custom eyewear.

What sets these machines apart from other edger systems is their level of automation and features that enable the user to design and create unique one-of-a-kind eyeglasses. Using sophisticated electronics, automation, and computerization, these machines are a platform from which an ECP can craft just about any eyewear design she can envisage using features like bevel positioning, modification of the shape in any parameter, drilling, notching, slotting, grooving, lens polishing, engraving, and the latest feature, milling.

START SMALL If you’ve never done custom work and would like get into it, start small. A great way is to start experimenting with shapes. Since these edger systems store data, when you have a winning shape you can always recall it. Display the shapes you like on the dispensing floor for patients to consider. Another great first project is the setting of stones or crystals.

The art of creating dazzling custom work has its roots in the ability of the person to use design elements like unique shapes, cut-outs, etching, add stones, clear and colored grooving, notches, engravings, unpolished and polished edges, faceting, and more. Used singly or in combination, and applied in different ways depending on the design being crafted, these design features give eyewear a unique appearance.

For obvious reasons, the extreme examples of specialties are created in rimless chassis designs. But do not let that restrict your imagination. Full-rimmed metal frames can still have unique shapes, cut-outs, etching, stones, and creative lens design. Lenses do not need to be fully seated around the entire circumference of the eyewire to be held firmly in place.

Charlie Blankenship of The Spectacle Shoppe uses his edger system to turn lenses into jewelry. The sunglass ‘flame’ lens can be finished off with a red mirror or custom tinted to enhance the flame look.

Lens material choice for specialty work involves getting a balance between strength, results, and tool wear. While Trivex® is the perfect lens material for custom work, it is very hard on tools, which can drive costs up. Polycarbonate is inexpensive, durable, and easy on tools, but due to its soft nature, it can lack edge clarity and tends to build up annoying swarf. Everyone interviewed for this article mentioned that their preferred material is high-index 1.67 for specialty work.

Demand for custom work in most eyecare offices is usually generated two ways: word-of-mouth advertising and displaying your creative work in-house and on your Web site. Danny Harris of Frame Fixer, Inc. in Las Vegas, NV, says, “Remember that specialty work draws attention. The product that you create will be analyzed and critiqued by the patient’s friends, family, co-workers, and even complete strangers. Your work is being displayed on a living, breathing billboard showing the quality of work you can produce. Make sure it is perfect.”

“I like what I can do with my edger,” admits Harris. “For example, I can save shapes and then either reproduce them or tweak them just enough to create another unique shape. The on-size, on-screen design feature lets me get a good sense of what the final product will look like before I run the test lens.” When asked what he can do on this edger system, Santinelli’s Me 1200 that he couldn’t do on his older model, he said: “The intricate cuts, the multi-axis cuts, the relief cuts—these were all things that I was doing by hand that I can now do with the edger, or with the edger and a bit of finish work by hand,” adds Harris.

For the clear lens, by Charlie Blankenship. the shelf was cut and colored to accentuate the stones and make them pop more. For higher myopes, the shelf also makes their lenses thinner.

Ernst Erb of EiWear in Berkeley, CA uses a machine to control bevel placement, back-cutting, handling high base curves, and custom work. He has been doing this for many years and moved from doing it all by hand to using his edger system to perform some very hip design elements.

Erb produces what he affectionately calls, “wild and crazy designs,” but which his patients call amazing. He is a master at envisioning unique lens cut-outs, lens etching, cuts, facets, and other lens embellishments to combine them in beautiful designs. “I have not used the edger in auto mode in years. I prefer creating a custom lens every time,” states Erb.

“Although I do the wild and crazy designs, I actually use my edger system more for perfecting my daily lab work. I change bevel placement, back lap for high minus lenses, play with the A-B relationship, and adjust the Rx to frame,” continues Erb.

Charlie Blankenship of The Spectacle Shoppe in St. Paul, MN uses his edger system to turn lenses into jewelry. He offers these tips for anyone considering specialty work:

1. Push the machine beyond what you were told it can do. Experiment and try new things. Also, push yourself beyond what you think you can do!
2. Build test lenses and breakage into the price of custom work. Patients are willing to pay for custom work, so be sure you do not end up losing money.
3. Test new shapes in the actual Rx, or you will be sorry. What works in a -1.00D may not work in a -3.00D.
4. Don’t worry about breakage: it is going to happen. If you do not push things, you will never get shapes unique enough to drive business.
5. Keep going, even when it looks like things are not going well. You may be surprised!

Santinelli’s Me 1200 lens edger includes step beveling technology which can enable it to do design cut, faceting, and advanced shape editing.

Blankenship states, “My business card says, ‘Lab Artisan Extraordinaire’ and my edger system lets me fulfill that title. I take it quite seriously.” Custom work is not for everyone, but if custom work is something you want to do, then you need the machine that is capable of doing it.

“I can still do anything with an old edger, even one that uses a pattern and my hand tools, but my milling edger lets me do it in much less time. It also helps me keep consistent sizes, symmetry and shapes, even between right and left eyes with the craziest shapes,” relates Blankenship.

Custom eyewear is easily in your reach today through the use of advanced edger systems. Let your creativity run wild!

John Seegers is a licensed optician at Ryan Vision Center in Henrico, VA, and the creator of


Briot USA Inc.,
800-292-7468 •

Coburn Technologies, Inc.,
800-262-8761 •

510-984-2880 •

Essilor Instruments USA

Frame Fixer, Inc.

National Optronics,
800-866-5640 •

Satisloh North America, Inc.,
800-866-5640 •

Santinelli International, Inc.
800-644-3343 •

The Spectacle Shoppe
651-628-4444 •


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