What’s That Ahead?

Stop sign at night
Traffic signs need reflective vinyl to be seen in low light

Unlike owls, cats, and frogs, human vision is not better in darkness. In fact, it’s not good at all! We carry flashlights with us on camping trips and rely on outdoor lights on our houses, apartments, businesses, and in parking garages to make us feel safe when walking after dark. And for those late-evening dog walks!

We especially need clear sight when driving after the sun sets. Think of the many times those little reflective dots on a highway have kept you from drifting from your lane. And what about the bright yellow line? Haven’t they alerted you that you are too close to the shoulder of the road or are not allowed to pass that slow-moving semi? In many areas of life, illuminated guidance and warnings have helped keep you safe, even without you actively noticing it is happening.

Just having a sign close by is of no value if it does not catch our attention and transmit the needed information. We need help when searching for exits, to be alerted to changes in our intended route, and in other night driving situations. Potential dangers and hazards can be avoided when you know what’s coming. Dangerous curves ahead, falling rocks, road ends, speed limit changes – all information you need to safely arrive at your destination.

Some of the many signs we appreciate are clear and illuminated in darkness:

  • Guidance signs to hospitals, airports, police stations, restaurants
  • Traffic signs/traffic control during road construction and lane closures
  • Warning signs to alert to road hazards and dangerous conditions
  • Numbers, symbols, and letters to help you find your exit

What do all these signs have in common? Reflective vinyl, which comes in prismatic and retro-reflective formats.

Hidden Value

Don’t be underwhelmed when you see reflective vinyl during daylight hours. Reflective vinyl cannot be fully appreciated during the day, and frankly may be unimpressive until it is illuminated by vehicle headlights or other artificial lighting.

For example, white reflective vinyl is bright white only at night. It appears a bit gray during the day; very subtle. It’s simply not necessary during the day; the real value of reflective vinyl is obvious after dark. Eliminating the need for self-illumination from sign lights, reflective vinyl is perfectly designed for night visibility and is most impressive when external lighting strikes the vinyl.

Beyond Signs

Emergency vehicle using reflective vinyl to be more visible at night
Emergency vehicle illuminated by reflective vinyl

Besides guidance and warning signs, reflective vinyl is also needed and useful for identifying police cars, fire trucks, emergency vehicles, and ambulances. The reflective elements of a design or letters using reflective vinyl found on the vehicles permit them to be prominent during nighttime. It’s not just emergency vehicles that need this clarity at night. We all appreciate being able to see the striping on tractor-trailers when coming up behind one on the road at night. This stripe pattern is a special kind of reflective film aptly named conspicuity tape.

Business advertising, directional signs, parking lot information – we encounter reflective vinyl in all these situations, as well. Because of the versatility of its use, reflective vinyl is an easily marketable product signmakers should offer to businesses wanting to add or update existing signage they want to be visible to customers after dark. (If you like the technical side of vinyl, you will love this article.)

Uses for reflective vinyl:

  • Increased nighttime visibility
  • Business advertising and signage
  • Directional signage on roads and parking lots
  • Commercial truck striping
  • Emergency vehicle identification
  • Car wraps and caliper wraps

Yes, car wraps. Reflective film is an increasingly popular element in commercial vehicle wrap designs. New advanced reflective films have adapted the printability and air egress features found in traditional cast films to make them easy to incorporate into car wraps. ORALITE 5650RA and EnduraLITE R8512 are great examples of this trend. What a great way to expand your product line! Learn more about vinyl for car wraps. You may even want to consider wrapping your business vehicles to advertise your services while driving to the donut shop.

Wondering what kind of reflective vinyl to use? Well, prismatic and retro-reflective vinyl both have unique and attractive qualities, and both leave a lasting impression when used on signs and vehicles. Knowing the differences will help you decide which to use for each of your projects.

Prismatic vs Retro-Reflective Vinyl

Prismatic vinyl reflects light exactly like those prisms you remember from elementary school. When you closely examine prismatic vinyl, you see it is not a single, uniform base. Instead, it has layers of small prisms, like small triangles. This allows the film to reflect light in different directions, causing a prism effect. This is a nice film to use for advertising signage or to create depth and create eye-catching designs.

Retro-reflective or beaded vinyl is created by adding glass beads in the pigment of the film. They reflect light when they are illuminated, but appear flat in normal daylight, so they are most impressive at night. Think of stop signs and street signs - those are a flat white/silver color in the daytime but truly light up at night.

Look at All the Choices!

EnduraLITE green reflective vinuyl
Green reflective vinyl from EnduraLITE

Each type of reflective vinyl has different qualities; some are matte while others are shiny; some are prismatic while others are retro-reflective. A few examples from Endura and Oracal

  • 11 mil in 7 highly reflective colors
  • Up to 10 years outdoor durability
  • Designed for traffic control, guidance, warning, and information signs
  • Provides high visibility even in bad weather conditions
  • Special impact and scratch resistant surface
  • Highly resistant to chemicals and corrosion
  • More information
Yellow reflective vinyl from Oracal
Yellow reflective Oracal vinyl catches attention!

EnduraLITE 8100 is an Engineer Grade reflective vinyl is printable! It is a 6.9 mil, non-perforated, durable retro-reflective beaded vinyl designed for traffic control, guidance signs, warning and information signs, reflective lettering, numbers, and symbols with an outdoor durability of up to 7 years.

Explore more choices from EnduraLITE

You have several other selections with ORALITE reflective vinyl. ORALITE 5800 high-intensity grade reflective vinyl is a high-intensity vinyl with special impact and is scratch resistant surface that is also highly resistant to chemicals and corrosion. It meets ASTM D 4956 specifications for Type III, Class 1 retroreflective sheeting, and the requirements of MUTCD.

Explore more choices from OraLITE

Is Reflective Vinyl It Difficult to Use?

Car wrapped with reflective vinyl
EnduraLITE for car wrapping

Not at all! There’s no need to be intimidated by the process of using reflective vinyl. The design process for using reflective vinyl is the same as that of standard sign vinyl. Design on your preferred software, cut, and apply. Just use a little more care during weeding. Those glass beads in the face film are quite as flexible as good old PVC. If you're a speed-weeding type of sign maker, you may rip some letters. Slow your roll (pun intended!) - slow down - just a little and you will be fine.

SignWarehouse carries a variety of brands and designs of reflective vinyl in many colors and designs. Some of the many reflective vinyl properties, varying by type and brand:

  • Engineering grade
  • 2 – 11 mil thickness
  • Dry application
  • Multiple-year outdoor durability
  • Most types apply over rivets, corners, and curves
  • Cuts to desired shape
  • Can be applied to most glossy surfaces

Take time to reflect (pun intended again) on the many times reflective vinyl signs, or even vehicles, impact your life, you will become more aware of the value of this illuminating vinyl. And when you explore the many uses of reflective vinyl, you may see a way to add to your current services (such as adding vehicle wraps) or offer more options for sign customers looking for a way to jazz up their nighttime signage. Maybe you will even get a city contract to create all the street signs!