One question that we have a lot of customers ask is, what is the brightest reflective tape? This is a common question, since often people associate the brightest tape with the best tape. But the fact is, the brightest tape is not always the best for an application. There are other characteristics of reflective films, such as cost, color, flexibility, adhesion, observation angle, and longevity. All of these factors should be taken into consideration when purchasing a reflective tape for your application.
So to answering question of brightness, the most reflective tape would be an AP1000 film from Oralite. This film is used for Oralites M82 SOLAS marine tapes, their V82 vehicle graphics films, D66 printable prismatic, AR1000 abrasion resistant channelizer tape, and M82 Marine colored films for navigation. These products all differ in function, but are all based on the AP1000 film. Specifically, a white (silver) SOLAS tape would be the brightest of all, coming in at over 1000 candelas consistently, and up to 2000 candela’s in some tests. It is truly the brightest of the bright reflective tapes, which is why it is preferred by the industry for coast guard and marine applications. Offshore rescue operations often require extreme sight distance visibility, and SOLAS more than meets that requirement.
With that being said, a White AP1000 reflective tape is not always the best product for your application. For example, if a surface has a compound curve that you are trying to cover, you would want to opt for a flexible film like a V98 Comformable Prismatic by Oralite, or a Type 3 Flexible Engineer Grade film by Nikkalite, or even a Nikkalite Flexible Engineer Grade. These films are not as bright as AP1000, however, they are still very bright and will actually work on a curved surface. The point is, if a film is not able to be applied to a surface, brightness would not make a difference.
For closer in traffic applications, often a wide observation reflective tape is often needed. Wide observation films light up from lights that are off to one side a little, making them visible faster. In other words, the viewer’s eyes and the light source can be further away from each other with these films. Films like Nikkalite High Intensity Type 3, High intensity Type 4, and Oralite 7900 Brilliant Grade all meet wide angle specs and work well for ground mounted road signs, bollards, traffic cones, barricades, and similar applications.
Note – in the image above, the two films on the left appear a golden. By themselves, when photographed alone, they are more white.
Below, you will find a listing of reflective tapes from least bright to brightest. Pay careful attention to the other characteristics besides brightness that can be considered when purchasing a tape for your application.
Flexible Engineer Grade Type 1
Engineer grade type 1 retro reflective sheeting uses glass beads for reflectivity. It is a thin, flexible, stretchable material and is made in a one fused together layer which prevents delamination. Engineer grade comes in the widest variety of colors and is the most cost efficient and most popular of reflective tapes. EG is used in a wide variety of applications where viewers will be closer to the tape when it needs to be seen at night. Bollards, building corners, fences, or gate tape applications are examples. Engineer grade comes in a standard and flexible grade. A flexible grade will stretch and mold over surfaces more than the standard and is used in applications where conformability is important. If you have a rough, uneven surface to mark, then this is the tape you would want to use. Flexible Engineer Grade is designed for striping, and also to be plotter cut into letters, shapes and numbers and is widely used on emergency vehicles and signs. It is often used in conjunction with brighter background films so that both colors are reflective, but a 3:1 contrast is still achieved. Because EG and Flex EG are glass bead tapes, they disperse light in a wide angle which is good for close in applications. Type 1 Engineer is recommended for applications where the viewer is within 50 yards of the tape.
The estimated brightness of this grade in the different colors measured in candelas is as follows:
- White – 70 to 108 candelas
- Yellow – 88 candelas
- Green – 28 candelas
- Red – 21 candelas
- Blue – 12 candelas
- Black – 10 candelas
- Gold – 78 candelas
- Orange – 54 candelas
Note – there are a variety of other colors in this grade. The main ones are listed above.
High Intensity Grade Type 3 Reflective Tape
High Intensity Type 3 tape is made by laminating layers together. High index glass beads (brighter) are contained in little honeycomb chambers with an air space above them. This type of film construction makes for a brighter tape. Although still thin, this tape is a bit stiffer than engineer grade and does not stretch at all like its sister material Flexible High Intensity (see below). It is great for smooth surfaces and is about 2.5 times brighter than standard engineer grade. This film is used in applications that require a viewer to see the tape from a medium distance. It is more expensive than an engineer grade tape, but less expensive than prismatic tapes. High intensity type 3 also disperses light in a wide angle. This, combined with the tapes increased reflectivity makes it light up quicker for the viewer than other films. Plotter cutting this film into letters and shapes is not recommended with high intensity in that is difficult for the blade to cut. This tape is very popular for creating sign backgrounds, wrapping bollards, marking loading docks, making gates reflective and other similar applications. Recommended for applications where the viewer is within 100 yards of the tape or in areas where there is competitive lighting. Remember, areas that are well lit at night, require a brighter tape to be seen.
- White – 250 candelas
- Yellow – 170 candelas
- Green – 45 candelas
- Orange – 100 candelas
- Red – 45 candelas
- Blue – 20 candelas
Flexible High Intensity Grade Type 3 Reflective Tape
Flexible High Intensity Type 3 Tape is a flexible, stretchable version of our standard high intensity tape. This film is for work zones, but can be used in other applications. It is available in three colors, white, yellow and orange, and is designed to be used on traffic cones and road barrels, however, it is used in other areas where a bright, stretchable, conformable tape is needed. For example, hard hats have an uneven convex surface and most tapes will not conform. Nikkalite high intensity flexible will. Note – we have this in a standard and flexible version. Standard will not stretch, but the flexible version will.
- White – 250 candelas
- Orange – 100 candelas
- Yellow – 170 candelas
Non Metalized Micro-Prismatic Reflective Tape – Type 4 (also known as high intensity prismatic HIP) Oralite 5900
Non Metalized or Air Backed micro-prismatic tape is made by laminating a layer of prismatic film with no mirror coating onto a honeycomb grid and white backing. It is similar in construction to high intensity glass bead tape but with the air space below the prisms. (air backed micro-prismatics) The white backing makes the tape more vivid in color. Type 4 prismatic is a little more expensive than high intensity but less expensive than a metalized micro-prismatic would be. This is due to reduced construction cost for the air backed films. These tapes perform best if applied to a smooth surface. Type 4 prismatics are visible from much farther away than high intensity or engineer grade glass bead tapes and are good for applications where the viewer is farther away from the tape. Say beyond 100 yards, like in faster moving traffic.
- White – 360 candelas
- Yellow – 270 candelas
- Red – 65 candelas
- Orange – 145 candelas
- Green – 50 candelas
- Blue – 30 candelas
Metalized Micro-Prismatic Reflective Tape – Type 5 – Oralite V82 (AP1000)
Metalized micro-prismatic reflective tape is the highest level of films when it comes to durability and reflectivity. This type of tape is molded into one layer, which means you never need to worry about it delaminating. This is especially good when the tape is being used in a dynamic or rugged environment where it may be impacted or abused by day to day activities. DOT trucks are an example. With a single layer micro prismatic film, you can beat it up and it still reflects. V82 or AP1000 films are made by coating the back of a micro-prismatic layer with a mirror coating and then applying adhesive and a release liner to the back. It is more expensive to make but well worth it for the longevity in rugged environments. Because it is a single layer film, it can also be plotter cut into letters and shapes. This material can be used for all applications as well as those where the viewer is far in excess of 100 yards from the tape. In most cases, this reflective tape can be seen from over 1000 feet away, depending on how large of a sheet is used. More surface area equals greater visibility. This makes it excellent for highway and other applications where the tape will be shining through snow or rain.
- White – 750 candelas
- Yellow – 525 candelas
- Red – 130 candelas
- Green – 130 candelas
- Blue – 55 candelas
V92 Daybright – Metalized Prismatic Reflective Tape – (comparable to type 5)
Oralite V92 Reflective Tape by Orafol is similar to V82 only less expensive and slightly less bright when it reflects. It has a colored grid that makes it more visible in the daytime. V92 can also be plotter cut.
Oralite V98 Conformable Reflective Tape by Orafol – Metalized Prismatic – (comparable to type 5)
V98 is designed for vehicle graphics and is also cuttable on a plotter. I have found it to be the easier to cut than the V82 or V92 films. It is a little thicker and has a slightly more rubbery texture. It reflects at 750 candelas for white. It is very popular for striping emergency and utility vehicles.
Oralite SOLAS Marine Grade Reflective – Metalized Micro-Prismatic Tape
Oralite SOLAS reflects at over 1000 candelas. It bears the ship’s wheel logo that designates it as real SOLAS coast guard approved film. It also has 5 mils of adhesive on the back instead of 2.5 mils for adhesion to more difficult surfaces. SOLAS is available only in white/silver. It has a greyish silver look in the daytime but is bright white at night. It can be seen from over a thousand feet away in good and bad weather conditions. It is based on a modified AP1000 film. The sister film for SOLAS that is in colors is the AP1000 film with 5 mils of adhesive made for marine navigation. Sometimes called M82-1545 or V82-1545.
Steven Cole (Economics, MBA – University of West Florida , Business & Innovation – Stanford University) 25 years of experience in the reflective safety business. Specializing in vehicle accident and rear end collision reduction through increased visibility.