Reflective materials fulfil a wide range of functions. They help guide road users, draw attention to important information and can also help drivers add important features to their vehicles. But what exactly are retroreflective materials and how do they work when used on vehicles?

In this blog from Lakeside Group, we provide a rundown on retroreflective materials for vehicles. In addition to discussing how they work; we also note their benefits and drawbacks – as well as offering advice for applying reflective materials to your vehicle. For more information about reflective products and their uses, take a look at our other blog articles.

What are reflective materials?

Before examining them in more detail, it is useful to have a clear understanding of what a reflective material is. Reflective materials are designed to bounce back light that strikes them, rather than absorbing it. This unique property makes them invaluable for enhancing visibility and safety in a variety of applications. Materials that reflect a significant proportion of the light back to its source are known as retroreflective.

To learn more about the difference between reflective and retroreflective materials check out Sign Retroreflectivity – What is a Retroreflective Material & How Does it Contribute to Road Safety? >

In the context of reflective materials for vehicles, the two most common types are glass bead and microprismatic.

Glass bead reflective materials incorporate tiny glass or plastic beads within transparent coatings. Microprismatic reflective materials offer a brighter alternative to glass bead varieties and are formed from a collection of many micro-prisms that are embossed into a highly durable film.

Read more on glass bead and microprismatic reflective materials with our blog Everything You Need to Know About Micro Prismatic Reflective Sheeting Materials >

It should be noted that reflective materials are not to be confused with fluorescent materials – fluorescent materials glow under sunlight but do not reflect light at night. Retroreflective materials are indispensable for improving visibility and safety in low-light conditions, contributing significantly to accident prevention and overall visibility in various settings.

For more on fluorescent materials check out our blog Fluorescent Vinyl: The Benefits of Cast vs Calendered vinyl film >

How do retroreflective materials work?

As noted above, glass bead and microprismatic reflective materials are both commonly used in vehicle safety applications, but they differ in their composition and performance characteristics.

Glass bead reflective material utilises small glass spheres embedded in a transparent binder. When light strikes the surface, some of it enters the glass beads and is then reflected back towards its source. This type of material is cost-effective and provides good reflectivity, especially at wide angles. However, its performance diminishes over time due to wear and tear, as the beads can become dirty or worn down.

Microprismatic reflective material, on the other hand, consists of tiny prisms arranged in a regular pattern on a flexible backing material. These prisms are designed to reflect light back towards its source more efficiently than glass beads, providing superior visibility over longer distances and at greater angles. Microprismatic material offers excellent durability and performance retention, remaining highly reflective even after prolonged use and exposure to harsh conditions.

In summary, while glass bead reflective material is more economical, microprismatic reflective material offers superior reflectivity, durability, and performance, making it particularly well-suited for high-visibility applications on vehicles where long-term effectiveness is critical.

Benefits of retroreflective materials for vehicles

Improved visibility

The key incentive for applying reflective material to cars is increased visibility. Increasing the visibility of a vehicle considerably reduces the risk of collisions during night-time journeys. By offering other drivers additional opportunities to identify an upcoming vehicle, they are given additional opportunities to react accordingly – whether that be slowing down, speeding up or changing direction.

One of the most common uses for reflective materials on vehicles are emergency service vehicles. Increased visibility for emergency respondents allows them to be easily identified by road users who need to let them pass. Increased visibility also allows respondents to be seen by those at the site of an incident. Increased identifiability is also a valuable advantage for road users awaiting roadside assistance.

Find out more about our market leading emergency services vehicle reflective – Avery Dennison VisiFlex V-8000 >

Boost your branding

In addition to maximising safety for a vehicle owner, reflective materials on vehicles offer valuable promotional opportunities. Reflective material can be easily customised using printing technology. This offers businesses the opportunity to target captive audiences with their branding. Impactful visuals on the exterior of a vehicle can increase awareness and geographical reach for your business.

In addition to this, customising business vehicles in this way offers customers reassurance that they are being visited by the correct service provider in the event of home callouts.

Advice for handling and applying reflective film to vehicles

When dealing with reflective films for vehicles, correct handling and application is paramount to achieving quality results that last.

In order to guarantee the efficiency and durability of the reflective materials we provide; we operate an Approved Converter Accreditation Scheme. Through our Approved Converter audit process, we verify the correct use of materials from delivery, storage and processing, through to application, traceability and removal.

Converters and fitters who pass our audit can be found on our website. See our list of Approved Converters. See our list of Approved Fitters.

All materials applied by our Approved Converters carry a full manufacturer’s warranty. In addition, when our emergency services vehicle reflective (VisiFlex V-8000) is purchased via an approved converter (in the UK) customers benefit from an enhanced warranty. For more information about the extended warranty, please see our Approved Converter Accreditation Scheme page.

Retroreflective materials from Lakeside Group

At Lakeside Group, we supply a wide range of reflective products for the vehicle and traffic safety markets. Reflective products have the power to improve road safety for all vehicle owners – our team of experts are on hand to offer support and guidance with choosing the right reflective material and any related queries.  To find out more about our products and how they might benefit you, contact our team today.

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