Price, Quality, and Lead Time Comparison

What is Custom Optics?

Custom optics refer to optical elements that are tailored to meet specific requirements rather than being readily available as standard off-the-shelf components. While custom optical elements can be fabricated from scratch, they are often produced by adding extra processing steps to existing elements. Some typical examples of custom optics include:

  • Custom Coatings: Uncoated lenses may be kept in stock and later equipped with custom coatings to enhance their optical performance for specific applications.
  • Surface Figure Improvement or Modification: Standard spherical lenses can be upgraded for higher precision or turned into aspheric lenses by removing parts of their surfaces, improving their optical characteristics.
  • Modification of Dimensions: Optical elements may undergo alterations, such as removing outer parts, without affecting their optical performance, to fit into predefined mounts or setups.

Myths vs. Facts about Custom Optics

One common misconception is that custom optics are significantly more expensive than off-the-shelf (OTS) optics, and that only high-volume purchases can lead to lower prices. However, the reality is different, particularly when large production volumes are not guaranteed from the start. Manufacturers may apply special cost models involving non-recurring initial charges to cover substantial expenses, such as:

  • Design Cost: Calculating suitable optical layouts, checking tolerances, and developing required opto-mechanics contribute to the initial cost.
  • Tooling Cost: Special tools may need to be created for the production process, adding to the initial expenses.
  • Refining Specifications: Analyzing the details of the intended application and working on refining specifications can incur additional costs.

The cost of custom optics depends on the quantity ordered. Manufacturers often offer competitive prices for small orders, with the potential for even better rates for larger quantities. This approach aims to encourage long-term partnerships. However, if anticipated large orders don’t materialize, it can pose risks for both parties.

Custom optics can be cost-competitive, sometimes surpassing off-the-shelf products due to tailored designs and manufacturing efficiencies. The exact cost varies based on specifications and production timeframes.

Which Optics is Right for You?

Custom Optics Pros:

  • Precise Specifications: Custom optics can be manufactured to exact specifications, meeting specific design requirements.
  • Cost Efficiency: When quantities of 20 or more are needed, custom optics can be designed efficiently and cost less than OTS optics.
  • Performance Optimization: Custom optics are better suited for optimizing optical system performance in demanding applications. Designed tolerance to meet system performance requirements.
  • High-Demand Applications: They are ideal for high-performance applications that require specialized optical elements.
  • Tailored Solutions: Working closely with the optical manufacturer allows customers to take advantage of stock optics design projects and extend these benefits to modified stock optics when OTS components fall short of meeting specific needs.Consistency on components or assemblies supplied
  • Rapid Optical Prototyping: Avantier Inc offers rapid optical prototyping through in-house manufacturing, drastically reducing development time for custom optical products, with a 1-2 week turnaround for diamond turning and CNC machining.
  • The First Article Inspection (FAI) option: Avantier allows customers to test and inspect a sample of bulk-ordered optics before delivering the full order, saving costs and ensuring quality satisfaction. 

Custom Optics Cons:

  • Custom optics may involve tooling and non-recurring engineering (NRE) charges, making them more expensive, especially for quantities of less than 20.
  • Longer Lead Time: The initial design and manufacturing process for custom optics may result in longer lead times compared to OTS optics.

Off-the-Shelf Optics Pros:

  • Shorter Lead Time: OTS optics are readily available, leading to shorter lead times for projects.
  • Suitable for Specific Applications: OTS optics work well in applications requiring low numerical aperture (NA) and small field angles and sizes. They are also useful for quick prototyping projects to obtain funding.
  • Cost-Effective for Small Quantities: OTS optics are cheaper than custom optics when only a small quantity is needed.

Off-the-Shelf Optics Cons:

  • Fixed Specifications: OTS optics come with predefined specifications and cannot be modified to meet specific demands.
  • Limited Customization: While stock optics can satisfy most optical design project requirements, they may not meet highly specific demands. In such cases, working closely with an optical manufacturer can identify when modifying stock optics is possible, avoiding the need for expensive custom optics.
  • Inconsistent tolerances from batch to batch or order to order: Parts fall within specification but they often times come in at high to low sides of tolerances. This can lead to inconsistent system performance with end users.
Custom Optics Off-the-Shelf Optics
  • Precise Specifications
  • Cost Efficiency
  • Performance Optimization
  • High-Demand Applications
  • Tailored Solutions
  • Rapid Optical Prototyping
  • First Article Inspection
  • Shorter Lead Time
  • Suitable for Specific Applications
  • Cost-Effective for Small Quantities
  • Higher Cost
  • Longer Lead Time
  • Fixed Specifications
  • Limited Customization
  • Inconsistent tolerances

Here is a case study from a customer in the life science industry: A customer had a choice of ordering optical components. There were two options: customized or off-the-shelf. The customer recognized that the component was a critical element of the company’s equipment and that only a customized part could meet the required specifications. Customized products are manufactured to requirements and offer optimal performance and functionality, but can be time-consuming and costly to produce. Off-the-shelf products, on the other hand, are immediately available and budget-friendly, but may not meet the required specifications. Ultimately, the customer opted for a customized product, prioritizing the improved performance of the component. This choice served to improve the company’s product quality and reliability.

Custom optics are optical components designed to meet specific requirements rather than being standard off-the-shelf products. They can involve modifications to existing elements or even fabrication from scratch. Examples include adding coatings to enhance performance or altering dimensions to fit particular setups.

Manufacturers often aim to encourage long-term partnerships by offering competitive prices for both small and large quantities of custom optics. This suggests that they are willing to work with customers to provide cost-effective solutions, countering the misconception that custom optics are always prohibitively expensive.

In conclusion, choosing between custom optics and off-the-shelf optics depends on the specific requirements of the optical design project. Custom optics offer precise specifications and performance optimization but may have higher costs and longer lead times. On the other hand, OTS optics provide shorter lead times and cost-effectiveness for small quantities but lack customization options. It is essential for customers to evaluate their project needs and work with experienced optical manufacturers to make an informed decision that best suits their requirements.


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