Human vision correction optics must be produced in quantity to be economical. At the same time every human eye is unique and requires a custom corrective solution. For this reason the vision industries need fast, versatile and accurate methodologies for characterizing optics for production and research. Current methods for measuring these optics generally yield a cubic spline taken from less than 10 points across the surface of the lens. As corrective optics have grown in complexity this has become inadequate. The Shack-Hartmann wavefront sensor is a device that measures phase and irradiance of light in a single snapshot using geometric properties of light. Advantages of the Shack-Hartmann sensor include small size, ruggedness, accuracy, and vibration insensitivity. This paper discusses a methodology for designing instruments based on Shack-Hartmann sensors. The method is then applied to the development of an instrument for accurate measurement of transmissive optics such as gradient bifocal spectacle lenses, progressive addition bifocal lenses, intrarocular devices, contact lenses, and human corneal tissue. In addition, this instrument may be configured to provide hundreds of points across the surface of the lens giving improved spatial resolution. Methods are explored for extending the dynamic range and accuracy to meet the expanding needs of the ophthalmic and optometric industries. Data is presented demonstrating the accuracy and repeatability of this technique for the target optics.© (2002) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.