Category Archives: Types of Reflective Tape

Different types and classes of retro reflective tape

What is the Difference Between Glass Bead and Prismatic Reflective Tape?

Difference Between Glass Bead & Prismatic Reflective Tape – (www.tapedealer.com)

There are two types of reflective tape, glass bead and prismatic.  Glass bead tapes were the first reflective tapes and then in the 1960’s prismatic tape was invented by Reflexite.  It is interesting that prismatic tapes have not replaced glass bead tapes.  Even after 50 years.  This is because both have characteristics that make them desirable in certain situations.

Glass Bead Reflective Tapes

Glass bead tapes use microscopic glass spheres to bend and reflect light back to the light source. Because of the imperfections and curved surfaces in glass beads, tapes made with beads are less reflective than tapes made with prisms.  Glass bead tapes are about 30% efficient.  This is a disadvantage.  However, there are three advantages that glass bead tape has over most prismatic tapes.  First, glass bead reflective tapes are much more affordable.  This is because they are simpler to manufacture. Second, most glass bead tapes are CAD cuttable meaning that you can cut letters, number and designs out of the tape and create reflective signs or graphics. Third, glass bead tapes reflect light back at wider angles.  In other words, glass bead tapes are sort of like flood lamps whereas prismatic tapes are more light spot lights.  The diagram below shows this.

As you will notice from the diagram above, the glass bead tape disperses light more than prismatic tape.  That is why it is not as bright at farther distances.  However, at close distances the wider angle of dispersion can be an advantage.  Let say for example that a fireman is wearing a high intensity glass bead tape on his equipment. When someone shines a light towards him the tape will light up for the person with the light and, if you are fairly close, it will light up for you as well.  Also, as the beam nears the fireman, his tape lights up quickly.  Again, this is because of the dispersion of the light.  Many people prefer the high intensity glass bead tape for close up applications.  For long distance applications the prismatic is always better.  This is because the glass bead tapes completely disappear at a distance of a few hundred yards whereas a prismatic tape is still visible for over a thousand yards or more.

There are two basic types of glass bead reflective tapes.  The first is a standard engineer grade or type 1 tape.  White engineer grade tape reflects at about 75 candlepower.  This is the most popular tape and is found on car tags, stop signs, speed limit signs, emergency vehicle striping and graphics, etc..  The second type is high intensity or type 3 tape. This tape has higher index beads and encapsulates them in a honeycomb pattern.  White high intensity tape reflects at about 250 candlepower.  You will find this type of tape on traffic cones and road barrels.

Prismatic Reflective Tape

Prismatic is more efficient and returns about 80% of the light sent to it.  Therefore it is brighter than glass bead tapes.  Prismatic tape reflects light via man made prisms.  Since the mirrors are flat and not curved they are more efficient.  The light sent from the tape is more focused and can therefore travel farther still be seen.   For long distance applications like DOT regulated trucks or coast guard search and rescue a prismatic tape is a must.  There are several grades of prismatic tape starting with a type 4 and going up to a type 8.  Because they are all so bright, to the human eye there is very little noticeable difference in the various prismatic types.  It is when you get far away from the tape that you notice a difference.  The farther away you need to see the tape the higher the type needs to be.  The brightest tape that I know of is SOLAS coast guard approved tape.  It is used for offshore applications and is vital for search and rescue operations where the victim may be a thousand or so yards away.

Many prismatic tapes are too thick to CAD cut. The exception are Reflexite tapes.  Reflexite invented prismatic tape make the tape in a thin single layer.  This has two advantages.  Number one, the tape will not delaminate like the thicker tapes.  Number two, it can be CAD cut with a vinyl cutter/plotter.  This is a huge advantage.  Prismatic graphics show up several times farther than standard glass bead graphics.  The advantages of this are obvioius.

Some different types of prismatic tapes are DOT C2 Tape, FRA Railcar Tape, SOLAS coast guard tape, School Bus Tape, Chevron Reflective Striping, and Sign Sheeting.

In summary, both glass bead and prismatic tapes have their purpose and will continue to keep people safe and visible for years to come.

Reflective Tape Types – ASTM D4956

11 Reflective Tape Types – (www.tapedealer.com)

When it comes to retro-reflective films, a common misunderstanding is that Type 1 through Type 11 designations represent the brightness of the tape from lowest to highest.  While this is true to an extent, the type, (1-11) actually applies to the application of each tape in road way signs and traffic situations.  In other words, each ASTM D4956 Type, 1-11 has a different purpose in traffic.  Brightness or Luminous Intensity is only one characteristic, and as you will see from the metrics below, an increase in reflective brightness does not always correspond with an increase in Type.

Type 1 (Engineer Grade) – Road way Signs, Construction Zone Devices, and Traffic Delineators

Type I Retro-reflective films – Medium intensity retro-reflective films normally referred to as an “engineering grade”.  This is a very common and popular film, and is available in a multitude of colors.  Type 1  tapes are used in both commercial and consumer applications.  In commercial applications it is use for permanent road way signs, construction zones, and traffic delineators.  Normally an enclosed lens film which refers to glass beads that are completely surrounded by the flexible polymer.  These types of films can be cut without effecting reflectivity at the edges since all beads are surrounded by polymer. Type 1 engineer grade and Type 2 super engineer grade are the only two films considered to be enclosed lens films. This is the most common film for cutting letters, logos, and graphics.  After cutting, edges DO NOT have to be sealed.

Light characteristics for Type 1 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 70 candelas

Yellow – 50 candelas

Orange – 25 candelas

Green – 9 candelas

Red – 14 candelas

Blue – 4 candelas

Brown – 1 candelas

Type 2 (Super Engineer Grade) – Road way Signs, Construction Zone Devices, and Traffic Delineators

Type 2 Retro-reflective films – Medium High Intensity retroreflective sheeting often referred to as “super engineer grade”.  Common commercial applications for this reflective film are permanent road way signs, construction zone devices, and traffic delineators. Type 2 reflective is typically an enclosed lens glass-bead sheeting like engineering grade.  Easily CAD cuttable like engineering grade, only brighter.  Twice as bright as type 1. After cutting, edges DO NOT have to be sealed.

Ligh characteristics for Type 2 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 140 candelas

Yellow – 100 candelas

Orange – 60 candelas

Green – 30 candelas

Red – 30 candelas

Blue – 10 candelas

Brown – 5 candelas

Type 3 (High Intensity Glass Bead) – Road way Signs, Construction Zone Devices, and Traffic Delineators

Type 3 Retro-reflective films – A high-intensity glass bead retroreflective sheeting used for permanent road way signs, construction zone devices, and traffic delineators.  Rough Typically an “Encapsulated Lens” glass bead retroreflective material meaning that individual glass beads are encapsulated in cells and more exposed to incoming light. About double the brightness of Type 2 films. While this material can be CAD cut, it is normally not used this way since cutting the film exposed the edges of the cells that are filled with glass beads.  After cutting, edges SHOULD be sealed to protect the edges.

Light characteristics for Type 3 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 300 candelas

Yellow – 200 candelas

Orange – 120 candelas

Green – 54 candelas

Red – 54 candelas

Blue – 24 candelas

Brown – 14 candelas

Type 4 (High Intensity Prismatic) –  Road way Signs, Construction Zone devices, and Traffic Delineators

Type 4 Sheeting —A high intensity prismatic retroreflective sheeting. This sheeting is normally an Unmetallized Microprismatic retroreflective element (aka Air Backed) material. Typical applications for this material are permanent road way signing, construction zone devices, and delineators.

Light characteristics for Type 4 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 500 candelas

Yellow – 380 candelas

Orange – 200 candelas

Green – 70 candelas

Red – 90 candelas

Blue – 42 candelas

Brown – 25 candelas

Fluorescent Lime – 400 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 150 candelas

Type 5 – Traffic Delineators and Channelizers

Type 5 Retro-reflective films – A super-high intensity prismatic retro-reflective sheeting. This sheeting is typically a metallized microprismatic retroreflective element material and is commonly used for traffic delineators and channelizers.  The term metallized refers to a silver aluminized backing much like a mirror has. (versus a white backing for non metallized air backed films)  This mirror backing allows the tape to reflect very brightly and maintain an ultra thin construction. The tape can also be CAD or scissor cut without the need for edge sealing since it is constructed in a single layer.  Type 5 is the only metallized prismatic film in the list of Type 1 – 10 films listed in this article.  It is often used in non traffic applications due to its brightness, ability to be CAD cut, and its ultra thin rugged design.

Light characteristics for Type 5 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 700 candelas

Yellow – 470 candelas 

Orange – 280 candelas

Green – 120 candelas

Red – 120 candelas

Blue – 56 candelas

Type 6 – Temporary Roll Up Signs, Warning Signs, Traffic Cone Collars, and Post Bands

Type 6 Retro-reflective films – A flexible elastomeric high-intensity prismatic retro-reflective sheeting without adhesive. This sheeting is typically a vinyl based micro-prismatic retro-reflective material. It is designed to be rolled up and stored, without damaging reflective components within the film.  The sheeting is typically lettered and used when roadwork is in progress or an emergency situation necessitates temporary signs. Commonly used for lime or orange temporary roll-up warning signs, white traffic cone collars, and post bands.

Light characteristics for Type 6 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 500 candelas

Yellow – 350 candelas

Orange – 125 candelas

Green – 60 candelas

Red – 70 candelas

Blue – 45 candelas

Fluorescent Lime – 400 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 200 candelas

Type 7  – Road way Signs, Construction Zone Devices, and Traffic Delineators (not commonly used – Type 8 being more popular)

Type 7 Retro-reflective films – A super high intensity prismatic retro-reflective sheeting having the highest retro-reflectivity characteristics at LONG and medium road distances.  (brightest film, along with Type 8) as seen by the reflectivity values of Table 1 at 0.1° and 0.2° observation angles) This sheeting is typically an unmetallized air backed micro-prismatic retroreflective material. Common applications for this material are permanent road way signs, construction zone devices, and traffic delineators.

Light characteristics for Type 7 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 750 candelas

Yellow – 560 candelas

Orange – 280 candelas

Green – 75 candelas

Red – 150 candelas

Blue – 34 candelas 

Fluorescent Lime – 600 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 230 candelas

Type 8 – Road way Signs, Construction Zone Devices, and Traffic Delineators (more commonly available sheeting)

Type 8 Retro-reflective films – Super high intensity prismatic retro-reflective sheeting having the highest retro-reflectivity characteristics (along with Type 7) at LONG and medium road distances.  (see RA values of Table 2 at 0.1° and 0.2° observation angles) This sheeting is commonly an unmetallized air backed microprismatic retro-reflective material. Common applications for this material are permanent road way signs, construction zone devices, and traffic delineators.

Light characteristics for Type 8 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 700 candelas

Yellow – 525 candelas

Orange – 265 candelas

Green – 70 candelas

Red – 105 candelas

Blue – 42 candelas

Fluorescent Lime – 560 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 210 candelas

Type 9  – Road way Signs, Construction Zone devices, and Traffic Delineators

Type 9 Retro-reflective films – Very-high-intensity retroreflective material having highest retro-reflectivity characteristics at SHORT road distances as determined by the RA values of Table 3 at 1° observation angle. This sheeting is typically an unmetallized microprismatic air backed retroreflective material. Typical applications for this material are permanent road way signing, construction zone devices, and delineators.

Light characteristics for Type 9 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 380 candelas

Yellow – 285 candelas

Orange – 145 candelas

Green – 38 candelas

Red – 76 candelas

Blue – 17 candelas

Fluorescent Lime – 300 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 115 candelas

Type 10 – Road way Signs, Construction Zone devices, and Traffic Delineators

Type 10 Retro-reflective films – A super-high intensity retro-reflective material having highest retroreflective characteristics at medium road distances as determined by the RA values of Table 4 at 0.1° and 0.2° observation angles. This sheeting is typically an unmetallized microprismatic air backed material. Typical appli- cations for this material are permanent road way signing, construction zone devices, and delineators.

Light characteristics for Type 10 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 560 candelas

Yellow – 420 candelas

Orange – 210 candelas

Green – 56 candelas

Red – 84 candelas 

Blue – 28 candelas

Fluorescent Lime – 450 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 170 candelas

Type 11 – Super High Efficiency Road way Signs – Overhead Signs

Type XI — is a reflective sheeting manufactured as an unmetallized cube corner micro-prismatic air backed retro-reflective material. This super-high efficiency sheeting is designed to perform best at both medium and short sight distances. This makes Type XI a very adaptable sheeting that agencies can use to improve road safety.  A typical use for Type 11 sheeting would be overhead signs on interstates. Its high performance eliminates the need for external lighting which results in a substantial cost savings on maintenance and energy costs. 

Light characteristics for Type 11 Sheeting (mimimum coefficient of reflection)

Observation Angle : positive .2 degrees / Entrance Angle : negative .4 degrees

White – 580 candelas

Yellow – 435 candelas

Orange – 200 candelas

Green – 58 candelas 

Red – 87 candelas

Blue – 26 candelas

Fluorescent Lime – 460 candelas

Fluorescent Orange – 175 candelas

Performance Differences – Glass Bead Versus Prismatic Reflective Tape

Performance – Glass Bead Reflective Versus Prismatic Reflective – (www.tapedealer.com)

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 – (www.tapedealer.com)

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 – (www.tapedealer.com)

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)


What is DOT C2 Reflective Tape ? – Specifications Certification Definition

Red / White DOT C2 Reflective Truck Tape Specifications – (www.tapedealer.com)

DOT Truck (Tractor Trailer) marking requirements were set up by the FMCSA to help improve visibility in low light conditions and reduce the probability of fatal motor vehicle crashes into the sides or back of stopped or parked trucks and tractor trailers at night or in poor visibility conditions.

On December 10, 1992, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA published a final ruling that required trailers manufactured on or after December 1, 1993 having an overall width of 80 inches or more and a gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of more than 10,000 pounds, be equipped on the sides and rear with a means for making them more visible on the road. The NHTSA ruling allows trailer manufacturers to install either red and white retro reflective tape or sheeting or reflex reflectors. This tape is commonly referred to as DOT C2 reflective tape and is thus marked for easy identification (Exemption – pole trailers and trailers designed exclusively for living or office use)

While the term “DOT C2” reflective tape is used quite often in regards to marking tractor trailer rigs 80 inches wide or wider and over 10,000 lbs GVWR, what the term “DOT C2” means is seldom discussed. Most people know that the letters DOT mean “Department of Transportation.  Also, some people know that the term C2, C3 or C4 refers to the width of the tape. (2″,3″ or 4”)  Most people do not know what it takes for a reflective tape to be certified as “DOT C2, C3, or C4”.  This article is meant to help you understand what these requirements are so that you can be sure that you are using the correct product on your vehicle.  In the event of an accident, having the proper markings is especially important.  We recommend Oralite (formerly Reflexite) DOT tapes.  They invented prismatic reflective tape and their products are respected and recognized around the world.  The downsides to using a cheap substitute are simply not worth it.

In order to be certified as DOT C2, C3 or C4 tape, certain requirements have to be met. These requirements involve the construction of the tape, the color, the width, the spacing of the alternating colors, the performance,  and the reflectivity. If a tape has been certified to meet these standards then the manufacturer is allowed to put DOT C2 certification on it. The specifics of the requirements are as follows. (Source – Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration 393.11)


Construction – The requirements for the basic construction of the film are very straight forward.  This is how virtually all reflective tapes are constructed.  The regulation is as follows:

S5.7.1.1  Construction. Retroreflective sheeting shall consist of a smooth, flat, transparent exterior film with retroreflective elements embedded or suspended beneath the film so as to form a non-exposed retroreflective optical system.


Color – DOT tape must be made with white and red alternating colors.  The white color on prismatic tapes often looks silver but reflects white at night. The exact wording of the regulation is as follows:

(a) Retro-reflective sheeting shall be applied in a pattern of alternating white and red color segments to the sides and rear of each trailer, and to the rear of each truck tractor, and in white to the upper rear corners of each trailer and truck tractor, in the locations specified in S5.7.1.4, and Figures 30–1 through 30–4, or Figure 31, as appropriate.  (see this article for placement details)


Spacing -The red and white (silver) segments are required to be a minimum of 12 inches plus or minus 6 inches.   That would be between 6″ and 18″  There is an exception where the tape must be trimmed to avoid obstructions when installed.  Also, neither the red or white colors can exceed two thirds (2/3) of the total.

There are two types of DOT tape available.  A 7″ white / 11″ red and a 6″ white / 6″ red.  If you run the numbers you will see that both meet the spacing requirement.  On 7/11 tape the 7″ white would represent 39% of the aggregate and the 11″ red would represent 61%.  The 6/6 would be 50% each.  To the best of my knowledge all 50 states allow you to use either the 7/11 or 6/6 type DOT tape.  The regulation is quoted below:

(b) Except for a segment that is trimmed to clear obstructions, or lengthened to provide red sheeting near red lamps, each white or red segment shall have a length of 300 mm ±150 mm.

(c) Neither white nor red sheeting shall represent more than two thirds of the aggregate of any continuous strip marking the width of a trailer, or any continuous or broken strip marking its length.


Width – DOT certified tape can be 2″ wide, 3″ wide or 4″ wide. The most popular and cost efficient size is 2 inches but for larger trucks many users prefer the 3 and 4 inch widths in either the 6/6 or 7/11. The more visible the truck the better. Also, in the event of an accident it is important to be able to show due diligence when it comes to vehicle conspicuity.  The specific regulation is as follows:

(d) Retroreflective sheeting shall have a width of not less than 50 mm (Grade DOT-C2), 75 mm (Grade DOT-C3), or 100 mm (Grade DOT-C4).


Reflectivity & Performance – This is one of the most important aspects of this tape.  A bright tape can be seen from longer distances.  For highway applications this is very important.  To meet the DOT C2,3,4 requirements a tape must meet all the requirements for ASTM D4956-90 Type V Sheeting EXCEPT for the reflectivity.  These requirements would include things like adhesion, colorfastness, flexibility, shrinkage,  weathering, etc… Reflectivity requirements are basically equal to Type III or High Intensity Glass Bead tape.  To be safe, a Prismatic DOT tape is recommended.  This will assure that the reflectivity far exceeds the minimum requirements.  The exact wording of the regulation and a reflectivity chart are included below:

S5.7.1.2 Performance requirements. Retroreflective sheeting shall meet the requirements of ASTM D 4956–90, Standard Specification for Retroreflective Sheeting for Traffic Control, for Type V Sheeting, except for the photometric requirements, and shall meet the minimum photometric performance requirements specified in Figure 29.

(e) The coefficients for retroreflection of each segment of red or white sheeting shall be not less than the minimum values specified in Figure 29 of this standard for grades DOT-C2, DOT-C3, and DOT-C4.

Figure 29—Minimum Photometric Performance of Retroflective Sheeting in Candela/Lux/Square Meter

Entrance angle Observation angle Grade
0.2 Degree 0.5 Degree
White Red White Red
-4 degree 250 60 65 15 DOT–C2
30 degree 250 60 65 15 DOT–C2
45 degree 60 15 15 4 DOT–C2
-4 degree 165 40 43 10 DOT–C3
30 degree 165 40 43 10 DOT–C3
45 degree 40 10 10 3 DOT–C3
-4 degree 125 30 33 8 DOT–C4
30 degree 125 30 33 8 DOT–C4
45 degree 30 8 8 2 DOT–C4

DOT Certification Logo – The DOT-C2 designation is to appear on the tape at least every 12 inches.  The characters should be at least 3 mm tall and stamped in indelible ink or an equivalent.  The exact wording is below:

S5.7.1.5 Certification. The letters DOT-C2, DOT-C3, or DOT-C4, as appropriate, constituting a certification that the retroreflective sheeting conforms to the requirements of S5.7.1.2, shall appear at least once on the exposed surface of each white or red segment of retroreflective sheeting, and at least once every 300 mm on retroreflective sheeting that is white only. The characters shall be not less than 3 mm high, and shall be permanently stamped, etched, molded, or printed in indelible ink.


Flexible High Intensity Reflective Tape – SOLAS Alternative

Flexible Stretchable High Intensity – Alternative to SOLAS Reflective Tape – (www.tapedealer.com)

Flexible high intensity reflective tape is a glass bead product that utilizes a polyester topcoat to allow the tape to stretch and conform to flexible surfaces. Some examples of these surfaces would be a traffic cone, a road barrel or a kayak. Also, rain suits and zodiacs.

The flexible high intensity tape is a type 3 or otherwise know as an ASTM 4956 -03 tape.  It uses high index beads that are encapsulated in a honey comb pattern.  This renders the tape about 3 times more reflective than standard engineer grade or type 1.

The best feature of the flexible high intensity type 3 tape is its ability to stretch.  If a traffic cone or road barrel is hit by a car the tape will rebound with the object it is on.  Thence its other name “reboundable reflective tape”.  There are a variety of application where this ability to stretch comes is desirable.  Curves surfaces such as a helmet can be striped with this material since it will stretch and lay down.  Other stiff tapes will not work on complex curves.

We call this a SOLAS alternative because there are some manufacturers who use this type of tape as SOLAS tape.   It is very bright for a glass bead tape and will flex in marine applications.   It would be just like a SOLAS glass bead tape but without the SOLAS logo on it.

We have more information on this tape – Solas Alternative Reflective Tape .

Retro Reflective Tape / Sheeting Brightness or Reflectivity Comparison Chart

Reflective Tape Brightness Chart – (www.tapedealer.com)

There are several types of reflective tape with each varying in brightness, flexibility and conform ability. Some have a type rating like “Type 1 or 3” and some do not.  Generally, tapes that are used as sign sheeting on DOT roads are known by a Type 1, 2, 3, 5 or 8 designation.  Tapes used in other applications are not rated by type.  SOLAS marine tape is an example of this.  The different reflective tapes vary in brightness but also have some other characteristics that should be considered.  The tape you choose will depend on your application, the surface, and how far away the tape needs to be seen.

The chart below lists the major types of reflective tape along with each tapes brightness and any special characteristics.

  • The reflectivity factors below are in candelas and are measured at a -4 degree entrance angle.  The factors are approximate and meant to be used as a comparison.  The factors below are for white tape.
  • To be CAD cut means that the material can or cannot be cut with a computer controlled vinyl cutter for the creation of letter, numbers, symbols, etc.
  • Flexible means that the tape bends easily.  Thin, flexible tape will bend around a radius easier.
  • Stretchable means it will stretch to conform around complex curves. Only the flexible engineer grade and flexible high intensity will do this.
Reflective Tape Type and Name Brightness (white) Special Characteristics
Engineer Grade Type I 80-100 Candelas Flexible but only stretches a little. Can be CAD cut.
Flexible Engineer Grade Type I 80-100 Candelas Flexible and will stretch. Especially when warmed.  Can be easily CAD cut.
Super Engineer Grade Type II 185 Candelas Flexible and will stretch a little. Can be CAD cut.
High Intensity Grade Type III 250 Candelas Flexible and does not stretch. Difficult to CAD cut.
Flexible High Intensity Type III 250 Candelas Flexible and will stretch. Can be CAD cut.
V92 Reflexite Prismatic 460 Candelas Flexible and will not stretch. Can be CAD cut.
V98 Reflexite Prismatic similar to v92 Flexible and will stretch slightly. Can be CAD cut.
Oralite 5900 High Intensity Prismatic Type IV 500 Candelas Flexible and will not stretch. Difficult to CAD cut.
V82 Reflexite Prismatic Type 5 700 Candelas Flexible and will not stretch. Can be CAD cut.
CRG Nikkalite Prismatic Type VIII 700+ Candelas Stiffer, Thicker Film. Will not stretch. Cannot be CAD cut. Very similar to a diamond grade tape.
Reflexite SOLAS Prismatic Tape 1000+ Candelas Thin and Flexible. Will not stretch. Extra aggressive adhesive. Also available in a sew on material.

Specialty Reflective Tapes-
V97 Reflexite Fluorescent Yellow Tape – thicker than a V92 tape but still CAD cuttable. Reflects at about 325 candelas which is excellent for a yellow colored film.  Used for the backs of fire trucks as Chevron Striping.
R99 Railcar Tape – Schoolbus yellow color (golden yellow) or White. White reflects at 600 candelas and the yellow reflects at 400. Flexible but will not stretch. Used to mark rail cars.  Also known as FRA tape.

Reflective Tape For Snow Poles and Snowy Winter Conditions

Reflective Tapes for Snowy Weather – (www.tapedealer.com)

Each year, as the weather turns colder, people in Northern States and Canada begin to gear up for snowy conditions.  Snow plow companies begin making snow poles to mark roads and driveways and snow mobile enthusiasts begin to prepare their trails and snowmobiles.  There are also a variety of other types of vehicles and objects that need to be seen at night and in the daytime in snowy conditions.  (i.e. dumpsters, roll off containers, fire hydrants, utility boxes, gates, fences, etc..)

Creating visibility in the snow is always a matter of CONTRAST.  The words in this article are only visible because they are black and the background is off white.  In northern states contrast in the summer time is going to be different than contrast in the snow for obvious reasons.  Also, you have to consider visibility in the daytime and at night.  You can see how this can be a bit of a challenge.

To keep this article simple I am going to list the different colors of prismatic tape along with their pros and cons for snow visibility.  Prismatic tapes are the brightest class of tape and are excellent for snow conditions.  I have a picture of the different tapes above.

White -This is the brightest tape by far.  White prismatic reflects any where from 500 for DOT white to  1000 candelas for SOLAS.  Against a dark background this is great but against a white background visibility drops.  In the daytime white is not very noticeable.

Fluorescent Lime Yellow – This tape is visible day and night.  It is also very bright although not as bright as white.  Roughly 325 candelas which is excellent.  It can be seen against almost any background.  The advantage to this film over white is that it reflects a color which is important when white is your background.

School Bus Yellow – This film reflects at about 310 candelas which is very good.  It is about as bright as the fluorescent yellow.  At night they look similar but in the daytime the fluorescent yellow is more visible. This tape reflects yellow making it visible against other colors.

Orange – This film reflects at 185 candelas.  This is actually very good for an orange tape.  Orange against other colors really stands out.  It normally designates a work zone so it is a good color for snow poles.  The darker shade stands out against white quite well.

Red – This film reflects at 75 candelas.  Don’t let the low number fool you.  Keep in mind you are sending out 75 candelas of a red color which really gets peoples attention and stands out against snow very well.  It is also very visible in the daytime.  Good film for snow poles.

Green – This reflects at the same rate as red.  Good color to mark areas that are ok to go into.  Green is a universal “GO” color.  Stands out well.  Use it where green is needed.

Blue –  This tape reflects at 35 candelas.  For blue that is very good.  Goes well mixed with other colors.  Good against light colored backgrounds.  35 candelas is plenty of light to see the film from several hundred feet away.

Keep in mind that you can mix colors to create any effect you wish.  You could do two stripes of red with white in between to get a good contrast.  You can use green to mark areas that are ok to enter and red to mark do not enter zones.  Blue is commonly used for fire hydrants.  Yellow is a work zone color and signifies caution.   As I stated before, I recommend the prismatic tapes over other types of reflective tapes because of the higher reflectivity.

If you are just doing snow poles, and if they are thin, you may want to consider our Flexible High Intensity” reflective tape.  It is stretchable, flexible and will wrap around even the tightest radiuses.  Available in white, orange and yellow.