The Complete Guide to Reflective Tape

The Complete Guide to Reflective Tape

Reflective tape serves a variety of important purposes. The most important usage of reflective tape is to increase safety, whether that means making something more visible or marking dangerous areas as a warning. The special design of this tape allows it to reflect light in a way that catches the eye.

Because of its safety applications, many industries use reflective tape, and it is an important tool for federal and state transportation agencies. It also has plenty of applications for personal use.

Understanding Reflective Tape

Reflective tape has special characteristics that allow it to reflect light. There are three primary types of reflective tape, each made for different purposes.

Definition and Composition

To make tape reflective, it must have prisms made from glass or another reflective material embedded in a film. Many types use glass beads that are exceptional at reflecting light.

Note that reflective tape is not the same as glow tape. Glow tape absorbs light and will become visible in the dark.

How Reflective Tape Works

Also known as retro-reflection tape, this product works by bouncing light back to the source. When it does this, it appears to light up, allowing a person to easily see it.

It is worth noting that the reflection of the light only goes back toward the source of the light. If someone is standing to the side they will not see the reflection in the same way as the person who is next to the light source.

Although, the light source can come from any direction. A person does not have to be directly in front of the tape. So, if someone standing to the side has a light source, then they will see the tape light up.

Three Types of Reflective Tapes

There are three grades or types of reflective tape on the market:

  • Engineering
  • High-intensity
  • Diamond

1. Engineering Grade Reflective Tape

Engineering grade reflective tape has a pressure-sensitive adhesive. It uses either glass beads or prismatic optical technology to make it reflective.

The common use for this product is on traffic signs. Because it is not as reflective as other grades, it tends to be used on signs not critical to safety, such as parking signs. People may also use it for reflective decals or stickers. It is compatible with digital and screen printing and die cutting and can be temporary or permanent, with a durability of up to seven years.

2. High-Intensity Grade Reflective Tape

High-intensity grade reflective tape has a honeycomb prism surface. It is highly reflective and vibrant, reflecting both during the day and night.

The most common application is for situations where safety depends on something being visible, such as traffic cones or barricades.

This product also has a topcoat that increases its durability. It should last up to 10 years.

The manufacture of high-intensity grade reflective tape produces fewer emissions and uses far less energy than engineer-grade tape manufacturing.

3. Diamond Grade Reflective Tape

Diamond grade reflective tape has cube prisms. It reflects even more light than high-intensity grade tape and reflects equally well during the day or night.

In the United States, new signage for traffic control usually uses this type of tape because it is brighter than other options. It is also a common choice for school zones and other critical safety applications.

The adhesive is pressure-sensitive, and the sheet is usually aluminum. It can also be used with screen printing.

The complete guide to Reflective tape from Tape Jungle.

Applications of Reflective Tape

The main goal when using reflective tape is to increase the visibility of the object or surface upon which you apply it. While it is frequently used in the transportation industry, there are a range of other common uses.

Road and Traffic Safety

The top use for reflective tape is for road and traffic safety because it helps keep people safe when navigating roadways. Reflective tape is an effective way of alerting people to hazards on the road, and it is particularly dependable because it doesn't rely on electricity or another energy source to work.

Vehicle Markings and Stripes

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has various requirements for reflective tape use for certain vehicles. Commercial trailers must use it to ensure the trailer is visible to others on the roadways. These vehicles are oversized, and it can be easy for drivers to misjudge their size if they cannot clearly see the trailer.

The DOT requires certain colors and sizes of tape. It also specifies the exact location of the tape on the trailer.

Reflective Traffic Cones and Barricades

The DOT, state transportation agencies, and others within the road construction industry use reflective tapes to help make cones and barricades more visible. Drivers are less likely to run into these items if they can more easily see them.

Bicycle and Motorcycle Safety

Reflective tape is also a great tool for bicycles and motorcycles, which are already at a disadvantage on roadways. These small modes of transportation are easy to overlook, which can lead to serious and deadly accidents. Bicycles and motorcycles adorned with reflective tape are more visible to other drivers and less likely to fade into the darkness.

Workplace and Industrial Safety

Another common area of use for reflective tape is within industrial or work settings. There are a variety of ways this product can make these environments safer.

Construction and Hazard Zones

Construction zones are among the most dangerous work environments and can also pose a risk to the general public. Safety is a top priority on many job sites.

Reflective tape allows for marking hazards throughout the site, such as dropoffs or low overhead areas. They also work well to alert people to barriers and to note areas where people should not enter.

Safety Gear and Clothing

Not only can tape adorn vehicles and physical structures, but it is also usable on clothing and gear to protect the wearer. Adorning hard hats with reflective tape can help make the heads of workers more visible. Adding it to clothing also ensures people are easier to see.

Equipment and Machinery Visibility

Machinery and equipment can cause deadly accidents. Using reflective tape can help to mark dangerous parts or ensure the edges of equipment is visible. Applying the tape to floors can also help workers to better navigate the work area. It is also highly usable on farm machinery to help increase awareness of dangerous parts or pieces.

Personal Safety

Reflective tape is not just for businesses or government agencies. It can also be helpful in everyday applications.

Outdoor Activities and Sports

Outdoor activities and sports often involve plenty of equipment, from pads to goals to cones. Putting reflective tape on your outdoor gear and sports equipment can help make it stand out so you're less likely to leave anything behind when you finish.

SOLAS tape is an option that works especially well on marine items, such as life jackets or kayaks. This tape provides visibility in case of an emergency. Using it on watercraft helps increase safety, especially if the weather turns stormy.

Pet Safety

Using reflective tape on your pet collars or harnesses can make them more visible and much easier to find in the dark. Pet owners may also apply it to leashes, which can help to make nighttime walks safer.

Camping and Hiking

Camping and hiking are great times to use reflective tape. It can help you to be more visible at night, but it also comes in handy for making repairs to ripped canvas or adding to equipment so you don't misplace it.

Tape Jungle's ultimate reflective tape guide.

Choosing the Right Reflective Tape

Since there are a variety of different types of reflective tapes on the market, it is helpful to understand the characteristics of each option. You want to be sure the tape will work for your intended use.

Factors to Consider

The factors you will want to consider include:

  • Durability and longevity
  • Reflectivity and visibility
  • Weather and UV resistance
  • Adhesive strength and application surface

Durability and Longevity

Each tape has a different durability rating, dependent on the materials and adhesive it's made from. Some tapes will last up to 10 years, but they could also be usable for as little as five years.

Reflectivity and Visibility

The main reason to choose this type of tape is for its reflective qualities, but not every product is equal. A tape's candela rating will help you assess its reflectivity and visibility. Candela is the unit of measure for the brightness of the surface when reflecting light. Higher numbers mean the surface is more reflective and therefore more visible.

Weather and UV Resistance

If you are using the tape outdoors, you'll need to know its ability to stand up to various weather conditions, including the beating it will take from the sun. Humidity is especially important to factor in since it can cause some tapes to shrink. You want to be sure your tape won't fade in the sun or come off with too much moisture from rain or snow. Some tapes will require sealing to ensure the weather won't interfere with its effectiveness.

Adhesive Strength and Application Surface

Ideally, you want to buy tape that has a high-tack permanent adhesive. But more important is you find one made for use on the specific surface on which you will apply it. Curved surfaces, for example, require specific tape designs, and some tapes won't adhere to metal unless it has a painted surface.

Evaluating Tape Specifications

As you shop for reflective tape, it is important to understand how to evaluate the different factors of each product. You will need to consider:

  • Reflectivity standards
  • Compliance with safety regulations
  • Available sizes and colors
  • Installation and removal
  • Maintenance and cleaning

Reflectivity Standards

Reflectivity standards depend on the application. You may need something that will be highly reflective if you are using the tape as a safety tool. In other situations, such as tape for sports equipment, you may not need the highest grade of reflectivity.

Compliance with Safety Regulations

Sometimes, your use of reflective tape will have to follow legal regulations. Usually, this will apply to use on vehicles. The DOT has a range of rules for how to apply tape and which type of tape to use on trailers and other vehicles. It is essential to ensure you choose tape that meets these DOT requirements.

Available Sizes and Colors

One of the biggest variables when choosing tape will be the sizes and colors. Sizes are fairly dependent on the specific product you choose. Generally, you can get reflective tape as thin as 0.5 inches to as wide as 30 inches, but you may also find thinner or thicker options depending on the specific product.

Colors are more standardized since many applications have specific colors that you will want to use.

  • White: most common choice, highly reflective and bright
  • Yellow: popular choice, designates caution
  • Red: designates danger or stop
  • Orange: emergency color, designates caution or work zone
  • Blue: designates caution
  • Green: designates a safe zone or permission to enter
  • Black: not as reflective, blends in, mainly used for aesthetics

Beyond the standard color options, there are also some special choices. These include:

  • Flourescent: Flourescent tape provides excellent visibility during the day and night. It is usually yellow or orange and is ideal for applications when visibility is imperative no matter the time of day.
  • Striped: Striped tapes are usually used for warnings. The common options are red and white to provide better visibility or orange and white to denote caution.

Installation and Removal Process

Pay careful attention to the installation and removal instructions for any product you purchase as many tapes have specific guidelines. You may have to apply tape at a certain temperature or ensure the application surface has no moisture. Tape may also require a certain amount of time to set before exposing to the weather.

Removal may vary, but the most common option is to use heat to help release the adhesive. Be sure to note if a tape will require a special chemical to remove as it could make it unusable in your situation.

Maintenance and Cleaning Requirements

Maintenance and cleaning are also important to factor in prior to purchase. You want to ensure the requirements match your abilities. Some tapes may require regular cleaning with a damp cloth while others may need only dusting. Cleaning is essential to keeping the reflectivity of the tape, so this is critical information to have.

The Bottom Line on Reflective Tape

Reflective tape is handy in many different situations for increasing visibility and providing safety. It comes in a variety of types and colors that meet different needs. From SOLAS for marine use to DOT tape that adheres to safety regulations, Tape Jungle has something for every application.

We offer a wide selection of products that provide you with choices in size, color, and type of reflective tape. Check out our products today.