10 Different Types of Reflective Tape.  Which is Best for Your Application?

10 Different Types of Reflective Tape. Which is Best for Your Application?

Ten Types of Reflective Tape - Deciding Which One is Best for You.


Reflective tapes vary in flexibility, durability, vividness, color and brightness. These are all factors to consider when selecting which type of tape to use for your application. This post will briefly discuss each type of "standard reflective tape" that our company carries. (Our "specialty reflective tapes" will be discussed in a separate article.) The goal of this article is to help you select the tape that is best for your job. Choosing the right reflective tape involves considering all factors which include the surface the tape will be applied to, the light dispersion and brightness needed, the colors that best suit the application, and the distance the tape needs to be seen both day and night.



Retro Reflectivity - the ability of a tape to return light back to the source of that light.  Light is collected and concentrated back in the direction it came from.  

Light Dispersion - the width of the returning beam of light from a reflective surface. Some tapes reflect in a tight beam and can be seen at great distances. Some reflect in a wider beam and can be seen closer in but at great angles.

Candelas - A unit of measurement used to compare the brightness of reflective surfaces.  The base unit of luminous intensity in the International System of Units that is equal to the luminous intensity in a given direction of a source which emits monochromatic radiation of frequency 540 × 1012 hertz and has a radiant intensity in that direction of ¹/₆₈₃ watt per unit solid angle.

Photometrics - The measurement of the intensity, brightness, or other properties of light.

CAD or Plotter Cuttable - can be cut into shapes by a computer-assisted design program and a plotter.  A blade is used by the machine to cut through the film and leave the release liner intact.

Vividness or Chromacity - the quality of color, independent of  how bright or reflective an object or film is.  Involves factors such as saturation, or color intensity.  In common terms, it would be how much a color stands out in regular light.  Red is vivid, which is why it is used for stop signs.  Yellow is vivid, which is why it is used for yield signs and school buses.

Self Adhesive - Having an adhesive backing protected by a release liner until ready for use.  Also called Peel and Stick.  All of our tapes (except sew on SOLAS) are self-adhesive or peel and stick.


Types of Reflective Tape

1. Flexible Engineer Grade (Type 1) - Our most popular and affordable reflective tape. Utilizes high index glass beads dispersed evenly on a thin flexible film to create retro-reflectivity.  Type 1 films have no pattern, just a nice smooth solid color which makes engineer grade popular for vehicle graphics and signs as well as thousands of other applications. 

We carry a special "Flexible" Engineer Grade which features a polyester topcoat making it much more flexible, conformable and stretchable than "Standard" Engineer Grade.  This quality makes it perfect for graphics applications where films need to mold over uneven surfaces or wrap around very tight diameters. For example, firemen like Flex EG films and use them to wrap their tools for easy identification.

Engineer grade films reflect at about 75-85 candelas and return light at wider angles than prismatic tapes. (Floodlight vs Spotlight) Because of this wide dispersion of light, engineer grade returns about 30% of the light back to the source with the rest being dispersed around the target. This causes the film to light up quicker than prismatic tapes and makes it visible at greater angles. The downside is that since the light is spread out, it dims out at longer distances. Engineer grade tapes are therefore recommended for close applications where the viewer will be within 300 feet of the tape. 

  • Affordable, durable, with an outdoor rating of 7 years. Our most popular film.
  • Smooth bright colors with no pattern. Single-layer film.  Will not delaminate.
  • Very flexible due to a special top coat. Conformable. Stretchable.
  • Easily CAD or Plotter cut into letters, numbers, logos, and shapes.
  • Available in eight colors - White, Red, Yellow, Blue, Green, Orange, Gold, and Black (black reflects bright gold)
  • Commonly used for bollards, gates, buildings, lift gates, commercial signs, automobile, and marine graphics, etc..
  • Available in 1", 2", 3", 4", 6", 8", 12", and 24" widths.
  • Brightness (WHITE) 75-85 Candelas Great visibility at shorter distances.


2. Super Engineer Grade (SEG) Type 2 Reflective Tape is a thin, flexible film that is similar to engineer grade but utilizes brighter, higher index glass beads, You get the same smooth, even colors with no pattern. It looks and feels like Engineer Grade but is twice as bright.  The super high index beads create a reflectivity coefficient of 150-185 candelas versus 75 - 85 for standard engineer grade.  SEG is not quite as flexible as Flexible Engineer Grade but will conform some.  It is used for sign sheeting but can be used for a variety of other applications as well.  If your surface is relatively flat, and you want a brighter tape, this will work for you.  If you need extreme conformability, stay with Flexible Engineer Grade.

  • Returns more light back to the light source than engineer-grade tapes. About 45% of captured light is returned to the source, with the rest returned around the light source.
  • A little more expensive than engineer grade but much brighter and similar in feel and function.
  • Great for traffic control, bollards, marine, vehicles, bikes, and motorcycles.
  • Suitable for all close up applications (up to 500 feet) where a brighter tape is desirable.
  • Extremely durable with an all-weather outdoor rating of 10 years.  
  • Widths: 1, 2 and 4 inch. Six colors - red, white, blue, green, yellow, orange
  • Moderately conformable.


3. High Intensity Grade Type 3 (Standard Version) Reflective Tapes also utilize high index glass beads but in a different configuration. In this type of tape ultra high index beads are condensed into honeycomb patterns which more than triples the tapes brightness and efficiency, thus returning more light back to the light source than engineer grade or super engineer grade tapes. Available in six colors and popular for traffic control, bollards, boats, watercraft, vehicles such as cars and motorcycles. Extremely durable with an all-weather outdoor rating of 10 years.

  • Color - White, Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue.  
  • Widths available - 1", 2", 4", 6", 8".


4. Flexible High Intensity Grade Type 3 (Flexible Version) Reflective Tapes are just like standard high intensity glass bead tapes but with a flexible top coat.  This lets the tape stretch and rebound.  Used for road barrels and traffic cones but also perfect for other similar applications that require extreme flexibility. Extremely durable with an all-weather outdoor rating of 10 years.  Like flexible engineer grade,  Flex High Intensity will wrap around very small diameters without lifting. Bright and incredibly flexible.  I would say this film is the most versatile of all of our tapes, mostly due to its brightness and ability to stick and conform to almost any surface. 

  • Colors - White, Yellow, Orange.
  • Widths: 1",  2", 4", 6" inch.

Nikkalite Type 3 Reflectivity Specs


5. Nikkalite High Intensity Micro-Prismatic Type 4 (HIM) Reflective Tape is a rugged air backed prismatic tape.  It is one of two air backed films that we carry.  Air backed technology makes colors more vivid so daytime visibility is enhanced. Because this tape reflects using micro prisms, it returns approximately 65% of the light back to the light source. Available in Red, Blue, Green, Yellow, Orange, and White.  This film is bendable, but will not stretch.  It wraps well around large diameters but not small ones.  A 2 inch pipe would be the minimum for this tape. Best for flat surfaces where a very bright, very vivid tape is desired.

HIM Type 4 reflective film can be used to mark bollards, loading docks, dumpsters, automatic and manual gates, truck tailgates, poles, barricades, non DOT regulated trailers and vehicles, etc... Can be used in an unlimited variety of applications.

  • High Intensity "Prismatic" ASTM D4956 Type 4.
  • Widths Available - 1", 2", 4", 6", 8".  And in 30' and 150' rolls.
  • 5-6 times brighter than regular engineer grade tape. Exceeds all federal and state requirements for ASTM D49656 Type 4 tape.
  • Air Backed Micro Prisms are encapsulated in a honeycomb design which produces a much "brighter" and "vivid" retro-reflective tape.
  • Rated for 10 years outdoors.
  • Stiffer, more substantial tape, a little thinner than a credit card, making it easy to handle and work with. Use on flat surfaces.
  • Resistant to chipping and cracking.
  • Strong pressure-sensitive adhesive. To apply, simply peel and stick to a clean, dry surface with no compound curves.  


6. Oralite V92 Reflective Daybright Prismatic Reflective Tape is the most affordable "Prismatic" reflective tape we carry.  It is an enclosed lens micro prismatic tape that utilizes very efficient prisms to concentrate and return light back to the source. A special Day Bright pattern makes V92 films more vivid day and night. Due to its efficient return of light, V92 tape is highly visible from thousands of feet away versus hundreds for standard reflective glass bead tapes. Returns around 80% of the light back to the source. V92 by Oralite is very durable and weather-resistant with an outdoor rating of 5 years.  Used to mark loading docks, bollards, poles, gates, barricades, traffic barrels, tractor-trailers, emergency vehicles, school buses, police cars, fire trucks, and more. Because it is made for vehicle graphics, it is not a typed film officially.  However, it would be about the equivalent of type 4.

  • Colors - White (silver), Blue, Red, Green, School Bus Yellow, Orange
  • Widths - 1", 2", 3", 4", 6"
  • Max Reflectivity (White) - 460 Candelas
  • Enclosed micro-prismatic lens film. Very durable.
  • 5 times brighter than tapes that use glass beads.
  • Weather-resistant. Outdoor rated for 5 years.
  • Highly visible can be seen over a thousand feet away.
  • It can be custom cut into letters, numbers, symbols.

7. Oralite V98 Reflective Daybright Prismatic Reflective Tape is our most popular prismatic reflective tape for marking fire trucks and apparatus.  V98 is bright and because of its pattern, it is also vivid in the daytime.  It will wrap around tighter radiuses due to its softer more flexible construction.  It is a single layer tape and will not delaminate.

  • Most popular tape among fire departments.
  • Micro-Prismatic Reflective Tape that is 7 times brighter than standard engineer grade.
  • Single layer design. It will not delaminate like other reflective tapes and it maintains reflectivity even after multiple impacts.
  • 5 year outdoor life.
  • Visible for thousands of feet away versus hundreds with standard reflective tapes.
  • Repositionable Adhesive. Tape builds more and more adhesion over time.
  • Used to mark emergency vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, helmets, loading dock areas, bollards, poles, dumpsters, gates, barricades, tractor-trailers, and more.
  • We carry this tape in 1", 2", 4", 6" and 24" rolls.


    8. Oralite V82 Prismatic Type 5 Reflective Tape is our brightest Oralite product besides SOLAS. (which is based on the same film platform)  I like to describe V82 or AP1000 film as SOLAS in colors due to its incredible brightness and beautiful colors.  It is a typed film (5) meaning it can be used for sign sheeting.  However, it is most popular for high viz applications where the tape needs to be seen for thousands of feet away.  Examples of these types of applications would be highway, search and rescue, marine, bollards, heavy equipment, etc.  V82 is very thin and very bright.  It does not stretch but will wrap around bollards and pipes well.  A 2" pipe or above is a good guideline. 

    • ASTM D4956 Type 5 Reflective Tape. Brightest in the Oralite (formerly Reflexite) Line.
    • Single-layer design meaning it will not delaminate like other reflective tapes.
    • 10 year outdoor rating.
    • Visible for thousands of feet away versus hundreds with standard reflective tapes.
    • Aggressive adhesive that is 2.5 mils thick.  Remove release liner, apply, and press on with a soft cloth. (Clean dry smooth surface is best)
    • Used for marking EMT vehicles, fire trucks, ambulances, bike helmets, motorcycle helmets, hard hats, loading dock areas, bollards, wooden poles (on wood, add a staple to secure), dumpsters, gates, barricades, tractor-trailers, and more.
    • Available in 1", 2", 3", 4", 6" and 24" wide rolls.
    • Much like our SOLAS tape but in colors.
      v82 ap1000 oralite reflectivity
      Note - Chart shows minimum reflectivity needed for type 5.  Actual for V82 is higher.
      9. Nikkalite Crystal Grade Type 8 Prismatic Reflective Tape is our top of the line prismatic film. CRG is a "Super High Intensity" prismatic sheeting that meets the requirements of ASTM D 4956, Type VIII. It has the highest retro-reflectivity characteristics at both long and medium distances.  It is about the thickness of a credit card but more flexible (bendable), therefore it is best for flat or slightly curved surfaces.  (no complex curves)  We sell CRG to use as chevron panel material on fire trucks and apparatus, however, this product is also ideal for highway signage, construction zone devices, vehicles, roll off containers, large bollards, dumpsters, construction equipment, loading dock areas and more. Traffic signs, safety devices, vehicles, trucks, bollards, containers, loading docks etc.. that utilize this reflective sheeting have far better visibility and withstand a longer service period compared with those that utilize basic glass bead 

      Photometrics - Crystal Grade (CRG) uses a prism-type reflection element (man-made). With this system, the light reflects efficiently without diminishing, using three reflection planes that constitute the reflective element.  These planes are positioned at 90-degree angles to each other, providing incredibly efficient light return within the element reflectivity.

      • The second of our two "Air Backed Prismatic" Films. (HIM Type 4 being the other)
      • CRG reflective is the toughest, brightest and most vivid tape that we.
      • Meets or exceeds ASTM D5956 Type 8 Requirements for Sign Sheeting.
      • Available in Yellow and Red in 6" x 30 foot or 6" x 150 foot rolls.
      • 10 year outdoor rated film.
      • Used where extreme distance visibility is required.
      nikkalite crystal grade reflective performance

      10. SOLAS Prismatic Tape is the brightest tape available and is only made in one color, white (silver). SOLAS is a versatile marine-grade tape that is coast guard approved and visible from over 3,000 feet.  It is used for search and rescue applications where a person or lifeboat in the water needs to be spotted from extreme distances with spotlights. This high-performance tape comes in silver, is 8-mil thick, flexible, UV-stabilized and weather- resistant.  It is designed for harsh outdoor environments.  SOLAS (safety of life at sea) returns more than 90% of light back to its source.

      Oralite SOLAS complies with U.S. Coast Guard Specification G-Sec-393A for use on Maritime Aids to Navigation. (M82-1545 FD1403 and FD1404 Type) Officially used for marine applications such as increasing the visibility of life jackets, ring buoys, survival suits, lifeboats, buoys, rain suits, channel markers, etc. on the water. Basically anything on a boat or ship that needs to be seen in an emergency. Other common uses on land are backpacks, jackets, cargo trailers, horse trailers, traffic control devices, automobiles, motorcycles, snow poles, etc.. Comes in 1, 2 and 4 inch widths. Can also be cad cut into letters, numbers, shapes and more.

      The sister material to SOLAS would be our V82 (AP1000) films.  I describe them as SOLAS in colors.

      • Maximum Reflectivity 1000+ Candelas
      • Brightest tape on the planet.
      • Weather-resistant material for harsh environments.
      • Visible from over 3,000 feet
      • CAD Cuttable into letters, numbers, symbols
      • 5 mils of super aggressive adhesive.
      • Available in a 1404 flexible, 1403 for flat surfaces and a sew-on material.

      solas reflective performance brightest tape


        I hope the explanations above are helpful.  It is sometimes difficult to decide which tape to buy for a specific application.  Factors like price, longevity, vividness, ability to conform to a surface, and brightness play a big part in what will work for you.  The main factor is will the tape work on your surface?  Secondly, is it bright enough to keep you safe for your application?  A bollard, where viewers will be within 50 feet when they need to see the tape is one thing, but a horse trailer on the highway, that needs to be seen thousands of feet away is another.  It is for this reason that so many types of tape are available.  Do your research, get samples if necessary, and buy the reflective film that will keep you the safest.