7 Different Types of Headlights Explained

Different Types of Headlights

Headlights are pretty evident and well-pronounced features of any vehicle, be it a sedan, bus, truck, and so on. They are your safety guard when cruising at night.


You will probably never see that pretty huge bump sitting so silently on the road if you are driving at night without headlights.

How would you even stay in the lane properly if you do not see the road ahead of you?

Different types of headlights are installed in all cars, no matter how old. Car manufacturers are bound by law to establish this critical safety feature.

The law also mandates drivers to ensure that their headlights work correctly before taking their car out for a night drive.

This ensures the safety of the driver and the safety of other road users such as pedestrians and even animals.

Scared of running off the road into the trees by the side while driving at night? Headlights are your best bet at preventing such.

Despite the illumination from the installed street lights, that is no excuse to keep your headlights on while driving at night.

Going back to the early days of car manufacturing, the old cars were equipped with almost similar headlights, and headlights were thought of simply as safety features.

However, headlights have evolved to be safety features and iconic symbols that define car brands giving birth to types of headlights.

New technology has allowed the more recent models of cars to be equipped with some pretty high-tech and cool headlights.

In some ways, they even define vehicles’ social and luxury status today. Today, some of the most expensive cars come equipped with highly technologically advanced headlights.

Despite the varying options from the different headlights, their primary function is to give adequate illumination of the road ahead to the driver.

However, manufacturers differ in the technology used to achieve this illumination, operation mechanism, and overall design.

A driver must be familiar with the type of headlight on their car as they are vital parts of any vehicle, especially if the need for replacement arises.

Even if you are not a driver, this article will tell you all about the different types of headlights available for consumer use today. So, sit tight and get your screen scrolling.

Headlights are made up of different components such as the type of bulb, the number of bulbs present, and the housing.

We will look at the different types of headlights based on these components, like what kind of bulbs are incorporated and what type of housing is used.

Types of Headlights based on the Bulb type

1. Halogen Bulb Headlights

If you pass by ten cars on the road today, the chances are that seven of them are probably using halogen headlights. If the vehicles are older models, that is 2006, and the chances increase further to 9 out of 10.

These were and probably are the most common headlight type among the different types of headlights.

These halogen bulbs are different from the regular filament bulbs found in homes, and they are much more heavy-duty brothers than standard filament bulbs, having more illuminating power.

These bulbs were the go-to bulbs for car headlights for many years despite their relatively high inefficiency, running hot, and having a yellowish illumination.

Halogen bulbs use either one filament or a pair of filaments to provide bright and dim headlamps functions.

Unlike the regular filament bulbs, the halogen bulb uses a pressurized halogen gas instead of a vacuum.

Halogen gas is chemically reactive gases such as bromine or iodine. However, inert gas is also added.

The combination of the reactive and inert gas allows the bulbs to have a brighter and longer burn without causing blackening of the bulb’s inside and preventing the thinning and breaking of the filament.

Some manufacturers even go as far as applying a blue coating to increase the brightness of the halogen bulbs virtually.

The bulb’s filament is commonly made out of tungsten which lights up once electricity flows through it, heating up to 2500-degree Celsius.

Halogen bulbs are pretty cheap to manufacture and easy to get a replacement. They can produce relatively bright and adequate illumination, and their small size means they take up less space in the vehicle.

Among the different headlights available today, halogen headlights are the most affordable.

Due to the heat generated, halogen bulbs typically have a service life of about 2000 to 4000 hours, and they do not travel that far.

2. Xenon Headlights

One common factor that differentiates this from other different types of headlights is that these xenon headlights are commonly found in higher-end vehicles. Xenon headlights are also called High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights.

Amongst different options for headlights, these sets of lights are among the ones that travel far, giving the driver the farthest visibility possible. Due to this capability, many drivers install them by the day as they are getting quite popular.

The xenon headlight is different from the halogen counterpart because it does not have a filament bulb. Rather than filaments, the xenon headlight uses electrodes caged in a glass tube.

The tube is filled with a mixture of xenon and argon gas. Illumination comes from forming an arc as electricity passes through the pair of electrodes.

Because of these, do not be surprised if some people refer to the xenon headlight as arc headlights.

Along with the xenon and argon gas, vaporized metals like mercury and halides are also mixed. These metals melt to form a plasma when electricity passes through the electrodes.

Due to this, the High-Intensity Discharge headlights can also be referred to as plasma headlights, albeit less popular. Wow, another name for one headlight.

Could there be more names? Only one way to find out is to keep reading. Now, you probably think the arc created gives the light, which will be quite a short-lived light.

The glow from the plasma produces the famous shade of white-blue brilliant light. A reflector is incorporated to bounce the light to the right spot to get the light directed on the road.

Before you get all excited about xenon headlights, please note that the light produced by the HID headlight is highly intense.

Strikingly bright lights are sure to irritate oncoming drivers. The light can also distort the driver’s night vision capabilities as the driver can struggle to see anything dimmer than the light.

However, the Xenon headlights are pretty versatile as their focus can be adjusted from either a narrow beam to a broader beam that lights up the area ahead of your vehicle.

Yes, clarity of vision for the driver is top-notch, but you may be blind to everything else outside the boundaries of the light beam.

This can be a significant cause of accidents. The lifespan is sure to be longer than the halogen headlights as there are no filaments that need burning.

The High-Intensity Discharge headlights can take a while to turn on. So, if you are not the patient type, look elsewhere.

Even after coming on, they can take several seconds to warm up and boot to full brightness. Nevertheless, they remain unbeaten as far as performance goes.

But be on the lookout as the blinding effect is sure to cause an increase in the risk of accidents.

3. LED Headlights

Famous among the different types of headlights are these tiny modules that produce bright and white lights and even lasting longer than rivals.

As you may choose to call them, the LED or the Light Emitting Diodes are very highly efficient headlights that are very compact and can instantaneously turn off and off.

The instant control makes this headlight far ahead of the High-Intensity Discharge headlights that take a while to come on.

The speed at which the LED light bulbs produce light is in the nanosecond’s category, capable of producing an array of different focuses within the blink of an eye. Now that is exceptionally fast.

LEDs are semiconductors. Unlike other types of headlights, using LEDs as headlights for cars offers a potential unlike any other.

They do not need filaments, electrodes, or vaporized metal plasma to produce light. Instead, they rely on diodes right inside the headlights to deliver light through a conversion process known as electroluminescence.

This is a highly efficient process of converting electricity into light, and light is years ahead of halogen conversion technology.

The electroluminescence produces almost no heat. Hence, LED headlights are sure to last way longer than their counterparts, except you picked up a hammer and smashed right through it. I would not do that if I were you.

Incorporating Light-emitting diodes into car headlights is still a pretty new technology leaving only the rich people who can purchase high-end vehicles to enjoy its glory.

Do not call it off just yet; the technology is quickly making its way down to affordable cars, but low and high beam settings are still restricted to the upper-end cars.

Wondering why the LED technology is expensive, a tiny bit of a complicated system is required.

LEDs have high resistance, which causes the emitter chip base to get pretty hot. If this heat is not dispersed, the diodes will melt off. To release this heat, a sink is required.

LED headlights are small and relatively compact, allowing more freedom to car designers as to how they want to incorporate them into their cars.

They immediately shoot up the status of any vehicle you find them on without lifting a finger, a literal one, I mean.

This headlight’s worthy advantage over the xenon headlights is that it does not blind or dazzle oncoming drivers, thank goodness. The LED headlights have a wide area of vision beyond focusing on what is directly in front of the driver.

LED headlights can be implemented using any color spectrum, and that is why you can use them as brake lights and turn signals.

However, you will need to reach deep into your pockets to get these as they are not as cheap as halogen or xenon headlights.

4. LASER Headlights

If you thought LED headlights were probably the brightest headlight option out there, you are about to be shocked that there is something even brighter than LEDs.

Well, you might think if they are that bright, will it not affect the eyes?? The answer is no, and they are as bright as safe.

Laser headlights are probably the most innovative headlight technology among the different types of headlights in the automotive industry.

They require less power than LEDs but can produce a light brighter than LED by a thousand times.

Through a process called chemiluminescence, laser lights come to life. This process involves the production of light through a chemical reaction. Sounds fun!! Now, let us learn some chemistry.

Now, get a chamber and fill it with a yellow-colored phosphorus gas that is phosphorescent, which means that it glows in the dark.

Next, shoot three blue-colored laser beams into the chamber filled with phosphorus gas.

The phosphorus gas lights up due to this reaction, and the chemical reaction continues as long as the laser beams are still directed at the gas. All this happens well within the confines of the chamber.

The final light you see from your laser headlights is not the light from the laser beams but the light produced by the reaction of the laser beams on phosphorus.

To further enhance this light, mirrors and lenses create even stronger laser beams. Please note that phosphorus does not in any form store up light. Now, away from the chemistry, let us go back to the fun part.

Laser headlights can focus their beams as far as 2000 feet. That is incredible, super amazing. Not just that, laser lights are so similar to natural daylight as it burns within the range of 6500 Kelvin, which is also the same as LED lights.

Laser lights are capable of giving instant flashes. Versatility is a significant characteristic of laser headlights, and they can be molded into different designs and shapes. So, get creative with your setup; laser sure has your back.

However, reality kicks in once again. How much do these beautiful marvels of lighting technology cost? To upgrade your car headlights to laser headlights, the whole process might set you back 10,000 dollars or more.

Laser lights give off more heat and require cooling than LED lights. Just a thought, how come superman’s eyes never melt from his laser beams? Let us leave comics for comics. Laser lights cannot replace LED lights in brake lights and turn signals despite their versatility.

5. Matrix Headlights

The first thing to note is that matrix headlights use LED lights. However, the implementation of the lighting system is what differentiates this headlight from LED headlights and other different types of headlights.

Some car manufacturers like Land Rover offer a combination of matrix-laser LED. Matrix headlights can have a cluster of up to 25 LEDs per beam unit.

In any case, you hear of pixel lighting; they are the same thing as matrix lights. The remarkable difference between matrix and LED lights is that the individual LEDs in the matrix lights are controlled independently.

Now, to the cool stuff. A camera is installed behind the rearview mirror to capture on-coming traffic to receive the visual signal needed to control the LEDs.

The sole purpose of this camera is to detect oncoming headlights or the tail lights of other vehicles in front of you.

When an oncoming headlight is seen, certain portions of the matrix lights or specific LEDs are turned off. Turning off specific LEDs against on-coming vehicles prevents the dazzling of the other drivers.

Rather than being projected as a beam as obtainable in other headlights, the matrix headlights light up horizontally and vertically.

The most significant advantage of the matrix headlights is that the driver can still use the high beam to maintain visibility while reducing the dazzling on other on-coming drivers.

Types of Headlights based on the housing design

1. Reflector Headlights

Talk of standard headlights in the 80s, and you will find reflector headlights at the top. They are, of course, still located on vehicles today, with the popularity not waning at all.

Reflector headlights use mirrors installed in a bowl-like case to enclose the bulb, and the mirrors then reflect the light produced by the bulb onto the road.

The reflector headlight technology has come a long way. In older cars, the headlights casing was sealed, which meant that there could be no swapping of a burnt bulb with a good one.

The entire case had to be replaced. This was not precisely ergonomically wise, and this is why you often hear of sealed beam headlights.

To further complement the mirrors and prevent a scattered reflection, a lens was placed in the front of the headlight to shape the beam into the desired shape.

The mirrors are placed inside the housing shape with newer technology and guide the beam. This eliminated the need to seal the bulb in the housing, and it is so much easier to swap out damaged bulbs for good ones.

To amplify the light from the bulb, parabolic reflectors are used to direct the light through either glass or translucent plastic.

The mirror consists of mini-lenses that are specially ground, and these lenses amplify the morning to obtain adequate illumination of the road ahead for the driver.

The price for reflector headlights is relatively low, and they will not cause much vacuum in your finances. They are somewhat smaller in size, occupying even less space in your vehicle.

However, the beam from reflector headlights has less control, limiting the capacity of bulbs installed. Of course, safety is paramount.

The light beam produced is not even as you can find spots with pretty high intensity and other spots that are weak. Furthermore, the low and high beams have no massive distinction between them.

2. Projector Headlights

Projectors, no, I am not referring to that little box equipment placed before a substantially white or black screen in cinemas to provide an enlarged display of whatever is playing for a better viewing experience. But the use of magnifying glass is the same in projector headlights.

First found in high-end luxury cars in the 1990s, the technology has made its way down to affordable cars, even becoming more common than the reflector headlights. Headlights keep getting better and better in the headlight industry.

Projector headlights are not so distinct from reflector headlights, and they are both similar in assembly. Both casings have mirrors installed in them.

The mirrors in projector headlights do a similar job as reflector headlights, and they act as reflectors in both. The only difference between projector headlights and reflectors headlights is the lens used.

The projector headlight uses a magnifying lens carefully placed in front of the bulb to boost the beam’s brightness, giving better illumination.

There is a barrier called a cutoff shield added to projector headlights, which ensures that the angle of the beam projection is correct.

Therefore, projector headlights have a sharp cutoff among the other different types of headlights. Projector headlights have better brightness levels than the old reflector headlights.

On the safety side, they do not pierce into the eyes of oncoming drivers, and this is because the projection of the beam is downwards on the road. So, pedestrians and other road users are spared from the blinding effect.

Unlike the reflector headlights, the beam of the light produced by projector headlights has even intensity. High-Intensity Discharge bulbs can be installed in projector headlights, whereas the reflector headlights are restricted to halogen bulbs.

The light output from projector headlights is different from the reflector headlights. So, if you are a driver coming from using reflector headlights for a long time, you may need quite a bit of time to adjust to the beams from the projector headlights.

After exploring the different types of headlights, we might as well award a winner. Laser headlights are undoubtedly the winner, but they are yet to be commercially available as the cost of mass-producing them is still very much on the high side.

So, the overall best headlight goes the LEDs. LEDs provide the much-needed brightness but better still do not cause dazzling to other road users.

LEDs might be more expensive than the other different types of headlights, but they are surely worth the investment.

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