Types of Screen Protectors: A Definitive Guide

Types of Screen Protectors: A Definitive Guide

There are so many screen protectors out there with gimmicks like 5D screen protector, 12D screen protector that it becomes confusing to pick the right one for yourself. This is why I am writing this guide to help clear all the confusions and gimmicks about screen protectors. I could not find even one article or youtube video which could explain all types of screen protectors. So, that is exactly what I am trying to do.

So, Basically there are three types of screen protectors:

  1. Plastic Protectors (TPU or PET)
  2. Tempered Glass
  3. Liquid Screen Protector (Nano Liquid)

Then all Plastic, Glass and Liquid protectors are available in further categories.

  • Ultra Clear or Glossy Screen Protector
  • Hydrogel Screen Protector
  • Anti Glare or Matte Screen Protector
  • Privacy Screen or Anti-Spy Screen Protector
  • Mirror Screen Protector
  • Anti Blue Light Screen Protector

And Lastly all of these categories are available in three form factors:

  • Flat Edge or 2D
  • 2.5D or Round Edge
  • 3D or Curved Edge

Let’s discuss these, one by one before I try to explain all the marketing gimmicks like 5D, 7D protectors or 9H Hardness.

Plastic Protectors:

The simplest and oldest form of a screen protector is plastic protectors. Plastic protectors are made of either PET (Polyethylene Terephthalate) or TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane). They are thin, light and are generally cheaper. They do not add bulge on the top of the screen as they are only 1mm thick, unlike glass protectors.
PET protectors feel very smooth and TPU protectors are a little rubbery. PET is commonly used these days. But PET protectors are a bit stiff which renders their ability to go edge to edge. This is where hydrogel protectors come in. TPU protectors can go edge to edge but these days hydrogel has replaced TPU.

Yes, Hydrogel protectors are just like any other plastic protectors made up of either PET or TPU.

Hydrogel screen protectors are a bit thinner and softer than normal plastic protectors. Another feature of this protector is that they are ductile meaning flexible. This flexibility is the reason for these protectors having healing features. If you scratch them, the scratch will be gone after some time because of the flexibility or ductility of hydrogel protectors.
Hydrogel protectors can easily go edge to edge too.

Pros:

  • Fit: The fit is better if you know how to install it.
  • Durable: More long-lasting and less prone to catching dust particles.
  • Reusable: Can be used after washing
  • Thin: 0.1mm
  • Can be easily for a specific shape
  • Cheap and replaceable
  • Arguably better touch response
  • Some Plastic protectors have healing properties

Cons:

  • Easily Scratchable
  • Fingerprint Magnet (Excluding Matte)
  • No proper Oleophobic Coating
  • Does not provide the natural feel of the Phone screen

Plastic vs Glass Screen Protector

Tempered Glass Screen Protector

Tempered Glass protector is the most common type of screen protectors these and is enforced by all the big companies, Blogs and Youtube Channels. It seems like they are paid to say, tempered glass is the best protector type.

Nevertheless, let’s try to discuss the benefits of tempered glass protectors.

Pros:

  • Impact Resistance: Can endure drops more than other types
  • Look and Feel: Provides almost the same feel as a Screen
  • Oleophobic Coating: This coating repels fingerprint Oil, Dust, and other Particles
  • Scratch Resistant: Can endure a lot more scratches

Cons:

  • Thick: the thickness of 0.3-0.5 mm does add a little bulge which makes it hard to press the home button.
  • Expensive: More pricey than other types
  • Not Reusable: Once broken can not be reused
  • Less Durable: More prone to catching dust particles

Glass Protectors Endurance

Liquid Screen Protector:

These are the weirdest and newest addition to the collection of Screen Protectors. They come in liquid form and are put on a smartphone screen like droplets and then spread across the screen by a microfiber cloth. You are supposed to wait 24-48 hours before it takes full effect.
You can not remove these protectors. They will wear off over time.

They are supposed to have drop resistance of about 2ft of 200g ball drop.
But these liquid protectors are so thin they do not offer enough resistance to drops and scratches.

They are good for just being anti-bacterial and invisible.

Liquid Glass Screen Protector

Pros:

  • Highly Transparent: Barely visible to the naked eye.
  • Very responsive to touch
  • Very Smooth: It provides the same feel of a screen
  • Some have self-healing properties like hydrogel

Cons:

  • Less Impact Resistance
  • Less Scratch Resistance
  • Not visible: You can not know by looking at the screen if a liquid protector is applied or not

Impact test (Liquid Screen Protector)

Now that we have covered fundamental 3 types of protectors. All three types are available in different categories.
Let’s discuss these categories now one by one.

Ultra Clear or Glossy Screen Protector:

As the name suggests, these provide a clear and sharp view. They are mostly made of PET (plastic used in bottles).

These are simplest and cheapest types of protectors. These are able to block UV rays and are easy to replace. They have a glossy finish which is why it can not hide any fingerprints on it. The glossy finish is also the reason for a clear view.

Pros:

  • Highly Transparent
  • Inexpensive
  • Can Block UV rays

Cons:

Anti Glare or Matte Screen Protector:

These protectors are anti-reflective which is why they are called Anti Glare. They have a matte finish the opposite of glossy finish. These protectors have an extremely smooth feel and are so much fun to use because they give an illusion of more sensitive touch response.

Pros:

  • Smooth and Enjoyable Finish
  • More scratch resistant than a clear screen protector.
  • Ideal for the outdoor environment because of its anti-glare properties
  • Fingerprint repellent.
  • Block the UV rays.

Cons:

  • Decrease the brightness of the screen because of the anti-glare layer
  • Affect the viewing angles of the screen
  • Not available for every Phone

Privacy or Anti Spy Screen Protector

These are meant to give the phone owner privacy of the screen content from the surrounding people. The content is visible up to a certain range of angles and a blank or black screen outside of that range. It is either 2 way or 4 ways. 2 ways provide privacy from left and right and not from up and down. 4 ways provide privacy in all the directions.

Privacy screen protector explained
Source: Android Authority

Pros:

  • Provides Privacy
  • Availability is better than Matte protectors
  • Light does not bleed from the sides

Cons:

  • Display Quality is compromised
  • Display Brightness is reduced
  • You cannot view the notifications from a distance.

Anti Blue Light Filter Screen Protector

The blue lights emitted by LED’s are harmful to our eyes. Anti-blue light screen protector blocks the 380 nm to 420 nm high energy short wave blue light. Blue light increase alertness and that is why every phone now has a blue light filter too which makes your screen orange. If you do not like that orange hue. Anti-blue light does not have that orange color, you should buy an anti-blue light screen protector.

The protectors provide way better colors than the phone’s own blue light filter before you start thinking what’s the difference.

Pros:

  • Blocks the harmful blue light
  • Prevents insomnia for some people
  • Provides better colors than Phone’s own blue light filter

Cons:

  • It suppresses blue light. That’s why brightness is decreased
  • Do not expect natural colors.

Mirror Screen Protector:

These were popular when there was not a trend of selfie camera. But every phone has a selfie camera these, so these protectors are not used very often.

How it works: They are like a one way mirror i.e. partially reflective and partially transparent. When the screen light is off, they look like a mirror (Reflective). When screen light is on, the partial silvering fades away because of the bright light coming from the screen (Transparent).

mirror screen protectors
Source: Mobile Phone Guard

Pros:

  • Provides a Mirror
  • Makes your device standout
  • Available in different colors

Cons:

  • Screen Clarity and Brightness is compromised because some light is absorbed by the silvered layer.
  • Not really a necessity these days because of selfie camera
  • A bit expensive than normal protectors

What are 2.5D, 3D or 11D Protectors?

Let’s try to understand these fake marketing terms by looking at the original terms.
There are only three form factors in which the protectors come in:

  1. Flat Edge or 2D
  2. 2.5D or Round Edge
  3. 3D or Curved Edge

Let me elaborate on all of these terms:


Flat Edge or 2D: This the standard protector that we have been using for a long time now. These have sharp edges and 2-Dimensional. Manufacturers and Consumers do not prefer this kind of protector just because it has sharp pointy edges and it might hurt someone accidentally. Just because of this, they had to make a new name for round edge protectors i.e. 2.5D.

Flat edge screen protectors
Source: AliExpress, Flat and Sharp Edge Screen Protector

Round Edge or 2.5D: As explained in the Flat Edge Screen Protectors, these were made to replace those. These protectors have round edges instead of sharp edges. These are very popular these days. These protectors come with all the names these days like 5D, 7D, 11D etc. Do not fall for the marketing gimmick.

Source: Aliexpress

But let’s take a look at a 9D protector now. Manufacturers are putting names on top of already named 2.5D glass because they are making the protector go from edge to edge but it is still the same 2.5D technology and you can not rename it, Sorry!

9D screen protector
Source: AliExpress

3D or Curved Edge: This is the 3rd type of protector and there are no more types. The difference between Curved edge and Round edge can be better explained by a picture

straight vs curved screen protector
Source: Android Authority

So it is basically a 3D protector with curved edges in the third dimension as the name suggests unlike the 2.5D which only have round edges only in the two dimensions.

9D, 11D, 500D, Infinite D’s: It does not matter how much D’s the sellers or marketers put in the name of a protector, the screen protector would still be 2.5D or 3D protector. So instead of looking at the weird marketing gimmicks as to what D (11D or 15D) to buy. Just focus on what kind you want round or curved edges (2.5D or 3D).
Normally, the more curves your phone has the more D’s would be associated with the screen protectors’ name of that phone. These protectors are supposed to cover around the sides of the screen, speaker grills, proximity sensors, and front camera. A normal 2.5D protector just covers the screen.

9H Hardness?

9H represents that the screen protector can not be scratched by a pencil of hardness 9H (Max hardness a pencil could have). This is not a representation of number 9 on the Mohs hardness scale. A glass screen protector is around 6 on a Mohs hardness scale. So our screen protectors are safe from knives but not from sand SiO2.

different materials on mohs hardness scale
Source: Research Gate

But sadly there is no way to verify the 9H hardness thing by just looking at the screen protector.

What to Look for in a Screen Protector:

After reading the article up to this, you would have a pretty good idea what are different types and variants of a screen protector. Now let’s dive in to nitty-gritty details the sellers and marketers write to make their screen protectors look unique.

No Fingerprints: This means the screen protector surface has oleophobic coating means it prevents fingerprint oil. Always look for a screen protector with Oleophobic coating because your phone screen has it and the other reason screen protectors become a mess without Olephobic coating. But remember, the Oleophobic coating of a protector does not normally last more than 6 months.

Water Repellent: Some of the screen protectors has a hydrophobic layer to repel water droplets. This is not a very important factor to look for in a screen protector.

9H Hardness: We have explained this in detail above but look for this certification as it does tell you that the manufacturer has put time into making his screen protector and getting this certification.

Buy from a Renowned Brand: This one is important especially when it comes to screen protectors. As there are so many cheap protectors out there who have put a lot of bold claims on their selling page. We can not know for sure if those claims are true or not. So to avoid confusion, we suggest you buy from renowned brands because when they put a claim like 9H harness on their protector. They can be held liable for that by anyone (e.g a Youtuber or another Blog). The one that I buy from is Nillkin.

Full vs Partial Adhesions: Some protectors might have only partial adhesion (also called bezel-adhesive) which is usually on the edges of the screen protectors. Partial adhesive ones are usually cheap than the full adhesive versions. The partial adhesive screen protectors are not as good as the full adhesive ones as the touch response and offer partial screen protection. So pick the Full Adhesive screen protector only.

Military Grade Protection: This is often written to make screen protector look expensive. But we suggest you not fall for this gimmick. You should not pay extra just to get this feature. Because glass breaks no matter what.

Self Healing: This is sometimes mentioned in screen protectors which is actually a feature of hydrogel protectors. So the screen protector that has self healing feature might have a sheet of plastic this is really flexible. So listen, it is possible for a glass protector to have little bit of healing properties but not a lot unlike the plastic hydrogel protectors.

Conclusion, only look for this if you are buying plastic screen protectors and not glass.

Shatterproof or Explosion Proof: This is only for glass screen protectors. What this means if the screen breaks the broken would not fly off in all the directions but rather the glass structure would still try to maintain it’s integrity. This is good feature but it does not always work for every protector.

The thickness of Protectors: Some screen protectors would promote something like 8 layer protection which makes a screen protector thick which is great for direct impact on the phone. But it compromise the everyday usability of the phone, it makes touch response bad and adds even a bigger bulge on the top of your phone screen. So do not go for thick screen protectors. Normally good glass screen protector have 0.2-0.3 mm thickness not more than that.

What should you choose: Glass VS Plastic?

This is a long debate and a lot of articles on the internet have covered it in detail. So I would like to keep it short and tell you what others do not.

If you have a limited budget for a protector like 5$ or so, go for the plastic one but if you have more budget than this, go for a glass protector. Because a good quality plastic protector is better than a bad quality glass protector. Generally speaking, Glass protectors are better and expensive and plastic protectors are cheap.

Reason: The thing is the screen protector should be of good quality, it does not matter if you are buying plastic or glass. A good screen protector has a good feel and touch response and is easy to install. A good screen protector has Oleophobic coating and lasts longer.

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Anas Abdullah

Tech Enthusiast, Content Writer, Part-time Gamer.

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