What are acetate frames?

Editor: Cher [The Vintage Frames]

Acetate frames are made of a material called cellulose acetate, also known as zyl. This material is first used to make into a large block of cellulose acetate sheet. Then the frame parts are then cut out from this large block. After cutting, these parts are polished by hands and are assembled into optical frames. Most vintage frames during the 80’s and 90’s are acetate frames.

Cellulose acetate is a popular material used in the production of optical frames during the 80’s and 90’s due to its many advantages over other plastic materials. This material is a non-petroleum based plastic which is made from renewable resources such as natural cotton and wood fibers, making it a hypoallergenic material. Therefore, this environmental friendly material is suitable for people who are allergic to synthetic plastic materials. Moreover, this material is stronger, less brittle and more durable than other synthetic plastics. The nature of this material makes it possible to produce light weight, high quality optical frames that have the flexibility to be made into various shapes and designs. Most importantly, cellulose acetate can be produced in many different color variations. That feature particularly made vintage acetate frames very unique compare to the frames in the modern days.

Although this material has a lot of advantages, the production of acetate frames is more expensive and the procedures are more tedious. Skilled workers are very much needed in the process of these acetate frames. That is why the production of acetate frames became rare and has been taken over by the injection molding method as seen in many cheaper frame choices available in the market.

Due to the demand of fashion eyewear, many manufacturers have switched to injection molding production. These injection molding frames are usually lower in cost and have a shorter production time compare to the acetate frame production. As the name of the production method suggest, these injection molding frames are made by injecting liquefied plastic into stainless steel molds of frame parts and then assembling them into frames after they solidified. Colors are added using paint spraying method and then coated. These frames usually have a cheap unnatural texture; have lower quality and breaks more easily compare to acetate frames. This injection molding process is also more prone to hidden manufacturing defects.