All posts by Steven Cole

Steven Cole (Economics, MBA - University of West Florida , Business & Innovation - Stanford University) 24 years of experience in the reflective safety business.  Specializing in vehicle accident and rear end collision reduction through increased visibility.

Who Invented Retro Reflective Paints & Coatings?

History of Reflective Paint – (

Who actually invented reflective paint? The following outlines the invention and advancement of ready mixed Retro Reflective Coatings (also known as Reflective Paints) from their inception until now.   Ready mixed simply means that the reflective glass spheres are already in the paint mix, making the application a one step process. This is in contrast to the method of applying glass beads over wet paint which is known as the drop on method.

What is Reflective Paint?

Paint is a substance which is spread over a substrate that when dry, leaves a thin coating.  A reflective coating or paint is different in that at night it returns or bounces light back to the source, much like reflective tape does.  Bouncing back the light to a viewer who is within the cone of reflectivity makes the paint appear bright white. This bright light contrasts itself from the surrounding surfaces and provides the contrast needed for high visibility.  (Example – a street sign illuminated by headlights)

(Reflective means to bounce light back in any one direction. Retro reflective means to send light back to its source. Mirrors are reflective and reflective paint or reflective tape are retro reflective.)

History of Reflective Paint.

There are two primary components that make up all reflective paints.  A liquid binder or paint (usually clear) and reflective glass beads.  There are often various other components used in the formula, however, these are the main ingredients.  Paint itself was invented thousands and thousands of years ago by early civilizations, however, it wasn’t until the early 1900’s that perfectly round glass beads that would reflect light were invented. And since you need both paint and glass beads for reflective paint, no one could have created it prior to the discovery of reflective glass spheres.

In 1914, Rudolph Potters, along with his brother Paul, developed a method for manufacturing perfectly round glass beads. Spheres that would reflect light back to the source of the light.  

Note – retro reflectivity exists in nature in the form of rain drops and the eyes certain animals. The cats eye is probably the best example. A glass sphere reproduces this phenomenon.

It was discovered that by dropping hot molten glass, it would form an almost perfect sphere as it fell.  So Potters developed a controlled way to produce perfectly round beads in large quantities.  The method for creating glass spheres, and the apparatus or machinery needed for the process are what he later patented.  The creation of glass spheres that were almost perfectly round was a very important discovery and single handedly revolutionized the traffic safety industry. From the creation of reflective glass beads came brighter more vivid movies screens, retro reflective highway lines, reflective sheeting, reflective garment trim, and more. In 1941, Potters Beads patented the invention titled the “Method and Apparatus for Producing Glass Beads“. Once Potters Beads began mass production of their glass beads, a variety of other inventions and patents that utilized their the micro reflective glass spheres quickly followed.

The reflective movie screen was one of the first applications that used the micro glass beads mixed with a binder.  The term silver screen became popular because in the 1910’s, movie screens began to be coated with a reflective paint that gave them a silvery appearance. These coated screens reflected more light back towards the audience, giving them a better and brighter picture.  The beads used for these screens were of course Potters Beads. So to be accurate, the first real mention of reflective coatings or paint being used in commerce would have been for movie screens.  At that time, the actual reflective paint used to coat the screens was invented, but not patented.  An official patent of a retro reflective paint would take place years later. And it would be for an entirely different purpose.

Overwhelmingly, the largest application for reflective glass beads is in the highway safety industry. Automobiles have lights, and at night they have to be able to navigate safely.  To this day, reflective glass beads are used all over the world in large quantities as a way to make painted road stripes and thermoplastic road stripes visible at night.  And because reflective street lines wear away, the demand for new beads is never ending.  

Note – The standard way to create a reflective stripe on a highway or road, crews put down a layer of paint or hot thermoplastic, apply glass beads to the surfaces and let the painted line dry, or the thermoplastic line cool. The result is a reflective stripe that lights up when car lights hit it.

In the late 1930’s and 40’s, a company called 3m became very interested in retro reflective traffic products.  Many people know that 3m invented what we now know as reflective tape or sheeting for traffic signs, however, what most do not know is that reflective tape was invented out of an effort to create reflective pavement stripes.  They experimented with an adhesive film with glass beads on top that could be adhered to pavement  The idea worked, however, longevity was a problem so the idea for using this invention for road stripes was put on hold.   The experiment led to the invention of retro reflective sheeting in 1941, an invention that literally changed the world of night time driving.  But 3m was not at all done with trying to invent a reflective road striping product.

Note – later, 3m would continue their pavement tape line and create what we now know as Stamark pavement striping products. Long lasting, simple to apply, and reflective.

As stated before, until the late 40’s, the only way to make road stripes reflective was by first applying a layer of paint, and then going over the wet paint with glass beads.  This two step process is referred to as the drop on method and the glass beads used are called drop on highway beads. This method of application was used in the very beginning and is actually still the way it’s done today for large striping projects. However, in the 40’s and later, the goal of inventors was to take the two steps of the drop on method and combine them into one simpler step.  This seems fairly simple, however,  as with any process or invention, there were problems to overcome.

Note – the problem that engineers were trying to overcome was the tendency of glass spheres to settle in a paint solution and submerge below the surface.  This was an issue, because to reflect, glass beads need to be exposed on top of the painted surface so that light can enter and be returned.

In 1949, the 3m company developed a paint that mixed reflective glass spheres in with paint.  The product was designed to be sprayed onto a road surface and when dry, it would produce a reflective stripe.  The invention was labeled “Highway Marking Paint Containing Glass Beads“.    Since glass beads were all through the layer of paint, as the lines wore, new glass beads would be exposed so that reflectivity was maintained over time.    The invention worked, however, it did not replace the drop on method. This patent expired in 1968.

In 1956, American Marietta invented a new reflective paint.  This creation was called “Centerline Paint“. This paint would use what is called Specular or Mirror reflectivity instead of Retro Reflective Glass Beads.  Reflective crushed glass was mixed with paint to create little mirrors in the surface that would reflect light back to car headlights.  This mix of crushed glass also created a non-skid surface, whereas glass beads tended to be slippery when wet.  This patent expired in 1975.

In 1958, American Marietta modified their reflective road paint to include larger glass spheres.  This added brightness while maintaining the non-skid characteristics of the line.  This patent is described as “Road Marking Paint“.  The patent expired in 1978.

In 1966, the 3m company came up with yet another reflective paint that they called “Reflective Coating Compositions Containing Glass Beads, Metal Flake Pigment and Binder“.  This was probably the most creative iteration of this product in that it added ingredients to both increase reflectivity, and add color to the coating.  This was accomplished through the use of colored metal flakes that were smaller in size than the glass spheres.  When applied to a surface, and while the paint was still in a liquid form, the flakes would settle below the micro beads and provide a colored reflective background.  In this iteration, higher index beads were used for enhanced brightness.  This invention was also different from previous ones in that it was intended to be used by sign makers who wanted an easy one step way to create a reflective sign background.  For example, if a bill board needed to be seen at night, parts of that sign could be made reflective so that oncoming traffic would see it. The patent for this product expired in 1983.

In 1977, 3m filed for a patent referred to as a “Retro-Reflective Liquid Coating Composition“.  The patent was granted in 1982.  The invention was unique in that it was a thick gel type coating.  The gel consistency kept the beads in suspension, and the solvents in the coating caused the mixture to dry quickly.  When it dried, the coating formed little domes or mounds on a surface that were instantly retro reflective.  These raised retro reflective domes provided reflectivity at more angles than a standard flat surface.  The stated purpose of the invention is as follows – A coating composition useful, inter alia, to form mound-shaped retroreflective marks that rapidly actuate photo scanner sensing devices. The patent for this invention expired in 1999.

To the best of my knowledge, there are currently no active patents for reflective paints or coatings, and since every conceivable way of creating it using glass spheres has been exhausted, new patents are highly unlikely.  In other words, all patents on reflective paint appear to have run out, and this product is now part of the public domain.

With that being said, there are many reflective paints and coatings sold today. Some are spray on paints, some are brush (or roller) applied, and others are in the form of inks that are applied by the screening printing process.  Some common uses for reflective coatings are as follows –

  • Reflective Arts and Crafts
  • Bicycle Frames and Helmets
  • Offshore Crab & Lobster Floats
  • National Parks – Marking Non Uniform Objects
  • Screen Printing Shirts, Shoes and Hard Surfaces
  • Parking Lot Legends and Logos
  • Trail Marking for Hunters

In summary, although attempts to replace the drop on reflective road striping method did not pan out as expected, reflective coatings are very much a part of modern day personal safety, just in different applications.  

For more information about reflective paints and tapes, go to  And as always, if you have any questions, feel free to contact us using the contact link to the left.

Reflective Versus Retro Reflective Tape – What is the Difference?

The Difference Between Retro Reflective and Reflective – (

The word “retro” is the key to understanding the difference between a reflective surface like a mirror, and a retro reflective surface like a bike or automobile reflector. Retro means to go back or backward. In the reflective tape industry it means to return light back where it came from and no where else.

A mirror is reflective but not retro reflective because it sends light in different directions depending on the entrance angle. If light was a tennis ball it would be like throwing the ball at a wall at an angle. The ball would hit the wall and ricochet at an angle very similar to the one that it arrived on only the other direction. Now imagine a wall that curved around you so that when you threw a tennis ball at it the ball would always return to you. That would be called retro reflective. The diagram below illustrates this.

how retro reflective tape works

How a retro reflective surface works is a matter of geometry. Glass bead retro reflective surfaces use glass spheres to collect light and bounce it back to the source. The rounded shape of the beads is what creates the retro reflectivity. Prismatic surfaces do the same thing but with sharp angles like prisms. They work like the glass beads but are more efficient thus creating a brighter return of light.

MUTCD Minimum Reflectivity Standards for Retro Reflective Sheeting / Signs

MUTCD Reflectivity Standards – (

The chart below shows the minimum requirements for retro reflective sheeting and tape for signs and applications that are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). The chart can also be used as a guideline for exempt applications. The deadlines for compliance are as follows:

  • Assess the signs on their roads and develop a replacement plan within four years of the final ruling. (January 22, 2012)
  • Replace non-compliant warning and regulatory signs within seven years of the final ruling. (January 22, 2015)
  • Replace guidance and street name signs within ten years of the final ruling. (January 22, 2018)

The summary after the chart will explain what the chart means for different types of signs.


On the left hand side of the chart you will find the colors used for different signs.  At the top you find the type of reflective tape required and to the right are the overhead and ground mounted categories (additional criteria).   To use the chart first determine whether your sign is an overhead or a ground mounted sign.  Most are ground mounted.   Then determine the colors that will be used on the left.  Then go to the right until you find the sheeting that meets the minimum.  As you can see, for yellow and orange background signs a type 2 sheeting is required.  For red and white background signs a type 1 is all that is needed. Also, when the chart says black it means a “non reflective” black.  When there is an asterisk * after a color/type that means it cannot be used for that type of sign.

When a color/type has a > and then a number next to it that means that the sheeting must exceed the number in reflectivity measured in cd/lx/m2. (candelas)  Many people call this the candlepower of the sheeting or tape. To see charts on the reflectivity of the different types of reflective sheeting click here.

The minimum contrast ratio is also important.  This simply means that the candlepower or reflectivity of one color must exceed the other by a certain factor.  For example, the white stop on a stop sign must be 3 times brighter than the red.  If you used the same type of material for both color this contrast is usually achieved automatically.  If you used a prismatic red background and an engineer grade white then you may have some problems with this ratio.

Basically, for ground mounted signs (on a pole), you are always safe using a type 2 material or better. For black on white or white on red signs (speed limit or stop sign) a type 1 engineer grade film is acceptable.  (white engineer grade is about 75 candlepower) For overhead signs like what you would see over an interstate you are required to use a type 3 or better prismatic sheeting.

As you can see, since ground/pole mounted signs make up the bulk of all signs, type 1 and 2 sheeting are the most needed.  This is not expected to change for quite a while.  The type 1 and 2 films are very affordable.  The prismatic films are much more expensive.   Since prismatic films are only required on overhead signs the new regulations do not have to substantially increase your sign budget.  The main thrust of the new law is to require cities, counties and states to have a plan for maintaining signs to the minimum level of reflectivity.

The following is a quote from the MUTCD manual showing the options for managing sign reflectivity.

Section 2A.08 Maintaining Minimum Retroreflectivity
01 Retroreflectivity is one of several factors associated with maintaining nighttime sign visibility (see Section 2A.22).
02 Public agencies or officials having jurisdiction shall use an assessment or management method that is designed to maintain sign retroreflectivity at or above the minimum levels in Table 2A-3.
03 Compliance with the Standard in Paragraph 2 is achieved by having a method in place and using the method to maintain the minimum levels established in Table 2A-3. Provided that an assessment or management method is being used, an agency or official having jurisdiction would be in compliance with the Standard in Paragraph 2 even if there are some individual signs that do not meet the minimum retroreflectivity levels at a particular point in time.
04 Except for those signs specifically identified in Paragraph 6, one or more of the following assessment or management methods should be used to maintain sign retroreflectivity:
A. Visual Nighttime Inspection—The retroreflectivity of an existing sign is assessed by a trained sign inspector conducting a visual inspection from a moving vehicle during nighttime conditions. Signs that are visually identified by the inspector to have retroreflectivity below the minimum levels should be replaced.
B. Measured Sign Retroreflectivity—Sign retroreflectivity is measured using a retroreflectometer. Signs with retroreflectivity below the minimum levels should be replaced.
C. Expected Sign Life—When signs are installed, the installation date is labeled or recorded so that the age of a sign is known. The age of the sign is compared to the expected sign life. The expected sign life is based on the experience of sign retroreflectivity degradation in a geographic area compared to the minimum levels. Signs older than the expected life should be replaced.
D. Blanket Replacement—All signs in an area/corridor, or of a given type, should be replaced at specifiedintervals. This eliminates the need to assess retroreflectivity or track the life of individual signs. The replacement interval is based on the expected sign life, compared to the minimum levels, for the shortest-life material used on the affected signs.

Yellow High Intensity Reflective Tape For New York City Restaurant Street Seating

Reflective Tape for New York Restaurants – (

In an effort to slow the spread of COVID 19, many cities have implemented regulations designed to allow people to distance themselves from each other while at the same time continue to carry out their normal day to day activities. One of these activities is dining out. To lower customer density and allow for distancing, many cities have allowed sidewalk and street seating for restaurants. New York City is one municipality that has implemented this strategy. Seating people near existing traffic has its own inherent dangers which must be offset so that the solution does not cause more problems than it solves. One of thee challenges is visibility. That is, traffic being able to clearly see the customers and the barriers that protect them.

As you can see from the picture below, barriers are used to protect clientele. To enhance the visibility of barriers, NYC is requiring that Yellow High Intensity Reflective Tape be used to mark barricades. sells short rolls of flexible Yellow High Intensity tape that is –

  • Flexible so it will wrap around 90 degree corners,
  • Bright and Highly Reflective
  • Self-adhesive to plastic and other surfaces
  • Outdoor Durable
  • Certified ASTM D-4956 Type 3 Tape

Application for this tape is a Simple peel and stick process. It is dot rated as a type 3 reflective film. commonly used to mark barricades, road barrels and traffic cones.

The actual regulation is outlined below.

new york city street seating for restaurants reflective tape

Sidewalk Seating

  • Seating and tables must be up against the wall of the business or as close as possible
  • Sidewalk seating area may not exceed business frontage 
  • Must leave an 8′ clear path for pedestrians
  • Must be at least 3′ from the adjacent business
  • Cannot block subway grate, utility hardware or Siamese water connection
  • Cannot block bus stop waiting area
  • For clear path purposes, parking meters, traffic signs and tree pits with flush gratings (without tree guards) are exempt. All other above-grade structures are considered obstructions
  • Tables and chairs must be provided by applicant 

Roadway Seating

Restaurants must:

  • Create a protective barrier, such as planters or objects of similar size and weight, on all three sides of the seating perimeter that are in the roadway, to separate seating from the travel lane. Such barriers must be at least 18” in width and 30-36” in height (excluding plantings) on all three sides that are in the roadway, to preserve visibility for motorists and provide protection for patrons (see Siting Criteria diagram)
  • Place such barriers directly adjacent to each other (no gaps) and no more than 8’ from the curb (see Siting Criteria diagram)
  • Roadway seating may not exceed the length of business frontage
  • ———————————————————————————-
  • Ensure visibility of patrons and barriers at night by clearly marking all barriers with yellow high intensity retro-reflective tape or reflectors (see Siting Criteria diagram)
  • ———————————————————————————–
  • Provide a ramp for ADA compliance, which can be made of non-permanent materials 
  • Not place seating or barriers within 15’ of a fire hydrant. Doing so jeopardizes fire safety for your fellow New Yorkers
  • Not place seating or barriers within 8’ of a crosswalk, to provide for safe vehicle turns and avoid crowding
  • Not provide any lighting that is blinding to passing traffic
  • Not place seating within a No Stopping Anytime or No Standing Anytime zone, bike lane, bus lane/stop, taxi stand, or Car Share space 
    [Exception: For part-time No Stopping or No Standing zones, seating may be placed when those rules are not in effect. Barriers and seating must be removed from the roadway when No Stopping or No Standing is in effect]
  • Only utilize umbrellas with a weighted base or tents or other shelters, not to exceed 400 SF (square feet) in total or fully enclose the seating area, which follow manufacturers installation instructions to secure the tents properly and safely. Areas of multiple tents that are combined or are tied to each other cannot exceed 400 SF in total. All such umbrellas and tents may not extend past the barrier, obstruct access to or ventilation of utility covers, or obstruct clear paths. Umbrellas and tents should not be used during inclement weather such as high wind condition.  
  • Tables, chairs, and barriers must be provided by applicant 
  • Remove tables and chairs or secure them in place when not in operation
  • Comply with NYC Fire Department Open Flame and other applicable Fire Codes

Restaurant owners may:

  • Leave barriers in place within a metered zone, alternate side parking, or No Parking Anytime zone, provided that that tables and chairs are removed or secured when not in operation 
  • Where seating is authorized along a curb, install a platform behind the required barrier to flush height with curb to facilitate ADA compliance, prevent the curb from becoming a tripping hazard, and allow drainage to underpass seating
    • Such platforms shall not block rain water drainage getting to the curb or flowing along the curb 
    • Such platforms shall not obstruct access to or ventilation of utility covers.

This article is provided as a service by Reflective Inc. – Written by Steven Cole. If you have any questions about reflective tape and its ability to keep people and property safe, please feel free to contact me.

NFPA 1917 – Ambulance Reflective Striping

Reflective Chevron Stripes for Ambulances – (

In 2013 the NFPA officially added Chevron Striping guidelines to their recommendations for Ambulances operating in the US. The guidelines are contained within the NFPA 1917 manual. The recommendations are basically a cut and paste from their NFPA 1901 manual for Chevron Striping for Fire Apparatus made official in 2009. It is appropriate to point out that although NFPA guidelines are followed by most all fire and EMS departments, they are actually guidelines and not laws or federal regulations. (Although some states, counties, and cities have made them official requirements)

A copy of NFPA 1917 6.25.1 -6.25.9 is as follows –

6.25* Reflective Striping.

6.25.1* An ambulance shall have a retroreflective stripe, a combination of retroreflective stripes, or Battenburg markings applied in the following proportions:

  1. (1)  25% of the length of each side surface of the cab when approached from either side
  2. (2)  When approached from either side, 75 percent of each patient compartment’s side surfaces.

6.25.2 The stripe or combination of stripes shall be a minimum of 6 inches or 152 mm in total vertical width.

6.25.3 The 6 inches or 152 mm wide stripe or combination of stripes shall be permitted to be interrupted by objects (e.g., receptacles, cracks between slats in roll-up doors), provided the full stripe is conspicuous as the ambulance is approached.

6.25.4 If the retroreflective graphic design or combination thereof covers at least the same surface area as required by 6.25.1, it may be used to replace all or part of the required striping material on the vehicle’s front and sides.

6.25.5 Any vertically hinged door shall have at least 60 square inches of retroreflective material affixed to the inside of the door.

6.25.6* At least 50 percent of the rear-facing vertical surfaces other than glass and lenses, visible when facing from the rear of the ambulance, shall be equipped with retroreflective material. When chevrons are used, each stripe must be one color and alternate between two colors with a high contrast. 
Where Battenburg markings are used –

Each stripe shall be 6 inches (152 mm) in width.

22 the Battenburg markings shall be 144 inches (92,903 mm ).

6.25.7 All retroreflective material shall conform to the requirements of ASTM D4956, Standard Specification for Retrore‐ flective Sheeting for Traffic Control, Section 6.1.1, for Type I Sheeting.

6.25.8 All retroreflective color or materials that are not listed in ASTM D4956, Standard Specification for Retroreflective Sheeting for Traffic Control, Section 6.1.1, shall have a minimum coefficient of retro-reflection of 10 candelas with an observation angle of 0.2 degrees and an entrance angle of −4 degrees.

6.25.9 Any printed or processed retroreflective film construction shall conform to the standards required of an integral colored film as specified in ASTM D4956, Standard Specification for Retroreflective Sheeting for Traffic Control, Section 6.1.1.

How is Reflective Tape Made? Glass Bead and Micro-Prismatic

How Glass Bead and Micro-Prismatic Reflective Tapes Are Made –

Reflective tape is made using machines that bond together multiple layers of material into one film. There are two main types of reflective tape, glass bead and micro-prismatic. They reflect in two different ways but are made in similar fashion with glass bead tape being the less complicated of the two to produce.

Engineer Grade Glass Bead Reflective Tape

Engineer grade reflective starts with a carrier film that is metalized on the top. Glass beads are applied to this layer so that about 50 percent of the bead is embedded in the metalized layer. This gives the beads their reflective properties. Then a layer of either acrylic or polyester is applied over the top. This layer can be clear to made white reflective tape or it can be colored to create the different color reflective tapes. A layer of adhesive is then applied to the bottom of the tape and a release liner is applied to that layer. It is rolled up, slit to width and then sold. Note – an acrylic layered film will not stretch and a polyester layered film will. Because of the heat used in the manufacturing process engineer grade films end up being a single layer so they will not delaminate.

High Intensity Glass Bead Reflective Tape

High intensity type 3 reflective tape is made in layers also. The first layer if one that has a grid built into it. Normally a honeycomb type pattern. This pattern is what will hold the glass beads so that they are in separate cells. The glass beads are bonded to the bottom of this cell then a layer of acrylic or polyester is applied over the top of the cell so that there is a small air space above the beads. (high index beads) This layer can be clear or a color. Then a layer of adhesive and a release liner are applied to the bottom of the tape. Note – an acrylic layered film will not stretch and a polyester layered film will. Although the layers in high intensity are bonded together, they can delaminate.

Metalized Micro-Prismatic Reflective Tape

Metalized micro-prismatic reflective tape is made by first creating a prism array out of clear or colored acrylic or polyester (vinyl). This is the top layer. This layer provides reflectivity and returns light back to the source. A colored layer would return light back to the source but in a different color. This layer is metalized to enhance its reflectivity. Then a layer of adhesive is applied to the back and a release liner is applied. Because of the heat used in this process the layers of metalized prismatic will not delaminate. This is especially beneficial in applications such as vehicle graphics or any other application where the tape may be treated harshly. Reflexite invented prismatic reflective tape and their tapes do not delaminate.

Non Metalized Micro-Prismatic Reflective Tape

Much like metalized films, the first step in creating non metalized reflective films is to create the prism array out of acrylic or another clear resin. This will be the top layer of the film. It can be clear or colored. In order to create a whiter or a more vivid colored film, the prism layer is adhered to a grid that forms a sort of honeycomb pattern. This creates an air layer below the prisms. The surface below the air layer is white. The prism layer and the grid layer are bonded together but can come apart meaning that non metalized films can delaminate. By eliminating the metalizing of the prisms the tapes are more vivid since the color does not have to compete with the silver metalizing layer. Non metalized films are more vivid but not necessarily more reflective.

The image below shows the 4 types of reflective films. All are made in a similar way. The glass bead engineer grade film is the easiest to make and thus the least expensive. The high intensity is the next easiest and next in price. The metalized micro-prismatic films are the most expensive to make but are the brightest and toughest of all the reflective tapes. They are perfect for dynamic or harsh environments. The non metalized films are less expensive to make than metalized films. Non metalized films have the advantage of being more vivid in the daytime and are popular for sign sheeting and other static applications.

engineer grade tape how it works

micro-prismatic reflective

different types of reflective tape

Performance Differences – Glass Bead Versus Prismatic Reflective Tape

Performance – Glass Bead Reflective Versus Prismatic Reflective – (

Reflective tape reflects in one of two ways. Either through the use of microscopic glass beads or via man made prisms. Glass bead technology is the oldest and prismatic tapes are more recent.

Note – prismatic reflective tapes were invented by Reflexite Americas in the 60’s.

Glass bead tapes reflect light back less efficiently than prismatics. However, glass bead tape is much less expensive. For applications within a 300 foot range they are fine and sometimes preferable.

Prismatic tape has a tighter more efficient return of light. A brighter, tighter beam extends much further giving prismatic tapes an operating range beyond the thousand foot mark. For marine, highway or traffic applications where long distance conspicuity is important, prismatic is the way to go.

The diagram below shows the dispersant characteristics of each type of tape. Glass bead tape reflects light back sort of like a flood lamp. Up close this is fine. Prismatic tapes shine like a spot light. prism_glass1This is better when the viewer is far away.

What is the difference in brightness? Lets compare the color white/silver. White Glass bead tape reflects at about 75 candelas for the standard engineer grade type 1 tape (like your car tag) and 250 candelas for the high intensity type 3 tape. Prismatic tapes start at around 460 candelas and go up to 1000 candelas for SOLAS tape. As you can see there is a big difference in the two tapes. Each has its function and neither will ever become obsolete.

Metalized Micro Prismatic versus Non Metalized Micro Prismatic Reflective Sheeting – Definition

Metalized Versus Air Backed Prismatic Retro Reflective Tape – (

Metalized versus Non Metallized Micro Prismatic Reflective Tapes

These two types of construction refer to prismatic retro reflective tapes. A prismatic tape uses man made prisms or mirror to reflect light back to the source. (This is different from glass bead tape which uses glass spheres to reflect light.)

Metalized Prismatic Reflective Sheeting

This type of film is created by first creating an array of micro prisms then coating the top of these prisms with clear or colored polymer and metalizing the back of the prisms with a mirror type finish. This process completely protects the prisms so that the tape can be cut in any place without compromising the integrity of the prisms. You can cut letters, shapes, numbers, etc… without having to worry about the prisms becoming contaminated with the elements. This tape often has a pattern on the front which is normally used to make the tape more visible or vivid in the daytime. It is also much thinner than Non Metalized prismatic tapes and because of this can be wrapped around smaller diameter curves. (snow poles, bollards, etc..)

Non Metalized Prismatic Reflective Sheeting

This type of film is often referred to as an air backed prismatic. Non metalized films are made by first creating a prismatic array. This can be clear or colored.  This layer is then laminated onto another layer that provides a white background for the top prismatic layer.  These films are normally more vivid than metalized films since they use a white background versus a metalized mirror background. The downside is that the two laters can delaminate.  It is also thicker and less flexible. This this type of film is great for signs and other static applications but for vehicle graphics a metalized film is a must.

metallized micro prismatic reflective

Enclosed Lens versus Encapsulated Lens Reflective Tape / Sheeting – Definition

Enclosed Lens versus Encapsulated Lens – Retro Reflective Sheeting  (enclosed=engineer grade / encapsulated=high intensity)

Reflective Sheeting comes in several types, colors, brightnesses, etc.. Some of the terminology that describes the different types of reflective sheeting can be confusing. This article is going to define the terms enclosed lens and encapsulated lens reflective sheeting. These terms have to do with the construction of the reflective film. These 2 methods of construction also define the look and feel of the tape. In other words you can look at a reflective tape sample and tell which type of construction was used. (In a separate article I will be discussing metallized and non metallized prismatic sheeting.)

Enclosed Lens Retro Reflective Sheeting

This method of construction applies only to glass bead type reflective films. Enclosed lens is also known as engineer grade (type 1) or super engineer grade (type 2) reflective sheeting. The glass beads provide the reflectivity by bouncing light back to the source. Each glass bead is like a lens. In an enclosed lens film the glass beads are completely surrounded by the flexible polymer that makes up the film. Nothing is able to get to the beads except light. The polymer that surrounds the beads is often tinted which is what creates the different colors. The top part of the image below shows how this works. With this type film you can cut it anywhere you wish and not affect the integrity of the beads. This is why this type film is often used for graphics applications such as letters and numbers on vehicles. Enclosed lens films generally have no visible pattern. Just a smooth color like white, red, green, blue, black, yellow, brown, gold or orange.

Enclosed Lens versus Encapsulated Lens Reflective Tape / Sheeting

Encapsulated Lens Retro Reflective Sheeting

Encapsulated lens reflective sheeting also refers to glass bead type films. Specifically a type 3 high intensity film. In this type of construction the glass beads are encapsulated in cells. As long as the cell is intact, water and the elements cannot get to the actual bead. However, when the film is cut the cells on the edge are exposed and water intrusion can occur if the cell is not sealed using a clear coat. (only the cells on the edge would be affected) In other words, the beads are only protected within the cell. Because the beads are not completely surrounded by a polymer, they reflect more brightly. The top of the cell they are in is either clear or tinted to create a colored film. The bottom of the image above shows this type of construction. If you look at an encapsulated film you will be able to see the cells as either a honeycomb pattern or diamond pattern. If you look very close you will see the small beads. (If you see prisms within the cell then you are looking at a non metallized prismatic film which we will discuss in a different article.)

Reflectivity Specifications – Most Common Types of Reflective Sheeting

Specifications for the Most Common Reflective Tapes – (

There are several types of reflective sheeting.  Engineer grade is the most common and is known as a type 1 film.  Super engineer grade is a type 2.  High intensity is the brightest glass bead film and is a type 3.  The first prismatic film is a type 5.  The brightest film is a type 8 and is often called crystal or diamond grade.  We have charts on each of the films below.  Exact intensities will vary by manufacturer but the charts below are a good guide.  Also, please note that the Type 3 High Intensity chart also defines observation and entrance angles.

Type 1 Engineer Grade Reflectivity Chart

Type 2 Super Engineer Grade Reflectivity Chart

Type 3 High Intensity Reflectivity Chart

Type 4 High Intensity Prismatic (HIP)

High Intensity Prismatic Reflectivity

Type 5 V82 Prismatic Tape (thin tape)

Type 5 Reflective Tape Specs

V98 Oralite Conformable Prismatic (slightly thicker than V92/V82)

orate v98 reflectivity specifications

Type 8 Crystal / Diamond Grade Reflectivity Chart (thick stiff tape)