Types of Pistol Sights

If, like me, you want to get more accurate at shooting, you’ll have to invest in some handgun sights. While some guns slide off the assembly line with adjustable sights in tow, others may require the assistance of a gunsmith before you can get a sharper sight picture.

This article explores the different types of pistol sights available for handguns, so grab a seat if accurate shooting is something you’re interested in.

Categories of Sights

Handgun sights fall into different categories: fixed or adjustable, illuminated or non-illuminated, and marked or unmarked. The type of sight you use may determine the accuracy of your shooting. Let’s briefly look at each category:

Fixed and Adjustable Sights

Fixed sights are factory set, meaning they come with the gun and can’t be adjusted for windage or elevation. Therefore, if you aren’t hitting your targets, there isn’t much you can do to improve your aim.

The need for quick target acquisition makes these kinds of sights better for self-defense purposes.

Adjustable sights allow you to adjust the front and rear sights and line them up for a better shot. The design of a pistol sight determines how adjustable it is. While you’ll be able to adjust both sights, sometimes, you might only be able to adjust the rear sight.

These sights are expensive and tend to be more fragile than their fixed counterparts, so they’re best used for competitive shooting.

Illuminated and Non-Illuminated

Illuminated sights are sights that help the shooter aim in low light conditions. While some use batteries to produce the light source for aiming, others use other materials that don’t require energy.

Non-illuminated sights are best used in broad daylight. Some of these sights are painted on and come with the gun straight from the factory.

Marked and Unmarked

Sights may be marked with dots or underlines or have no marks whatsoever. Some marked sights feature three colored dots, two at the rear and one on the front.

Common Pistol Sights

Now that we know about the categories of sights, let’s look at the most common ones you can get for your firearm.

Iron Sights

Also called open sights, pistol iron sights are the most typical sights you’ll find on a handgun straight off the factory assembly line. Although they have the word “iron” in their name, these kinds of pistol sights aren’t actually made of the element.

Iron sights are as barebones as they come, needing no electricity or batteries to do their job. They comprise front (front post) and rear sights (rear notch) and operate on the principle that shooters must align the front and rear sight to hit their targets. Shooters can enhance these kinds of sights with dots or outlines to help with better alignment.

Additionally, some pistols let you adjust the rear sights for windage and elevation. Windage refers to horizontal alignment, where the front sight post and rear sight notch align at the center. In contrast, elevation refers to vertical alignment, where the front and rear sight tops are aligned perfectly.

Fiber Optic Sights

Fiber optics are a kind of enhancement for iron sights. They become illuminated after pulling in light from the environment, making it easier to sight your target than traditional iron sights.

Fiber optic sights are usually red, green, orange, or yellow. However, the colors aren’t just for show: they stand out against your target, improving your aim. In addition, because of how they work (i.e., by using available light), these types of pistol sights are at their brightest in environments with a bright light source.

Night Sights

Night sights are a glow-in-the-dark kind of pistol sight that shine in low light conditions. These sights might be coated with phosphorescent paint, appearing white in a well-lit environment while glowing green in low-light environments.

Tritium night sights are a step up from traditional night sights in that they last longer. Instead of battery power, these sights use radioactive gas.

It’s common for them to come with a 12-year warranty, after which they’ll need to be replaced due to losing their glow. Also, tritium sights don’t need a power source to function like other sights that operate on battery life.

Laser Sights

Laser sights are one of the more straightforward sighting systems you can get for your handgun. They work by projecting a colored beam (red or green) onto your target, with a dot that appears to act as a guide for your (the shooter’s) eye.

You can mount a laser sight on your firearm and activate it with the push of a button, with some activating the moment you grip the gun.

There are a couple of downsides to this sighting system:

  1. It may be difficult to see the beam in bright daylight or on targets a considerable distance away.
  2. Objects like your hand or clothing can block the beam.
  3. It runs on batteries, which may last for about two hours.
  4. It’ll give away your shooting position.

Optical Sights

Optical sights (or optics for short) used to be rare before technology caught up and made them more widespread. They come in two kinds: scopes and red dot sights. Let’s explore each one briefly.


Scopes aren’t standard on handguns because of how clunky their dimensions tend to be. While there are scopes specifically tailor-made for handguns, it’s rare to find them on any firearm other than those meant for target shooting or hunting (for example, high-powered rifles).

Scopes can be divided into two categories: regular scopes and prism sights. Regular scopes comprise a tube and some lenses and are fixed or variable in magnification. In contrast, prism sights use fewer lenses than regular scopes and employ a prism, hence the name.

Red dot sights

While more commonly found on long guns, red dot sights have made their way onto pistols and other smaller firearms. These sights help shooters aim by using red dots as a guide. However, what sets a red dot sight apart from sighting systems like laser sights is that only the shooter can see the red dot.

So, while the dot from a beam on a laser sight is clear for all to see (the target included), these kinds of dot sights are only visible to anyone peering through the sight.

Usually, the sight is mounted at the rear of the handgun’s slide. Additionally, these sights need batteries to project the aiming reticle (red dot) on the sight’s lens. They’re sometimes called micro red dot sights because of how small they are compared to the ones on long guns.

There are two types of red dot sights: holographic sights and reflex sights. Each one employs a different method to help the shooter aim.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Pistol Sights

When choosing a pistol sight, you’ll need to consider the following factors:

Purpose of Use

The reason why you need the sight should determine your choice. For example, an iron sight may be all you need if you carry a gun for self-defense. On the contrary, if you’re a competitive shooter, you’ll need a more sophisticated sight like a scope.


Your sight’s adjustability won’t be a priority if you conceal carry because you’ll want a fixed sight that won’t snag on your clothes. Meanwhile, adjustability will be a huge priority for making accurate shots if you’re a regular at the shooting range.


Will you always be using your gun in broad daylight? Or will there be times when you’ll need it for self-defense when the sun goes down? If you fall into the latter category of person, you should get an illuminated sight for your gun.


To improve your shooting accuracy, you’ll need to pay more attention to the different types of handgun sights. While most sights can be categorized into fixed or adjustable, illuminated or non-illuminated, or marked or unmarked, there are many different kinds, including laser and optical sights.

When purchasing a pistol sight, let your purpose for using your handgun, how much adjustability you require, and the kind of environment you’ll be using your gun in drive your decision. Happy shooting!