How Reflective Wear Reflects a Deep Scientific Approach to Development

When clothing manufacturers are looking to utilize reflective material for the protective and visibility value that it offers, they are often also looking for more of a visual impact. Reflective material serves both of these purposes quite well. Obviously, it’s a cool technology that can create a really impactful look, but it also needs to be functional.

What you may not realize is just how much science goes into creating reflective wear. There are vision scientists. Yes, you read that right. Vision scientists. There are also people who help write regulatory standards. And how do you test out this material? A test track! This helps to evaluate, in real-time, and how the reflective material will perform, relative to simulated to real-world conditions, and helps provide necessary feedback to help improve designs.

Reflective material needs to work so that users are conspicuous, not just visible. If you can see something, that’s great, but can you pick it out in a crowd? Can you ensure that that is a human? Studies have shown that vehicle drivers are able to react quicker when they understand and identify something as human versus as a non-human object. People are hardwired to be able to understand exactly the movements and the motions of humans. And there are numerous studies and really cool tools that help to show that.[1]

But back to the test track. After running the dusk demo, tests should be conducted on a pitch-black track as well as setting up different scenes that would be most appropriate for the selected use scenarios. Then, you have to gather everyone involved to look at results in real-time, discuss, refine, and help come towards the decisions to design a better, more effective product.

How Does 3M™ Scotchlite™ Reflective Material Work?

Basically, there are four major components to this technology. The top is millions of microscopic glass beads. That is the top layer that you can run your hand across, and close to the surface of the material. Those glass beads redirect the light towards the back center of that glass bead. At the back center of that glass bead, that is where there is an integrated coated mirror. What that does then is that it helps bounce the light back through the glass beads, back to where the light had come from.

The third part to it then is a binder layer. That’s what holds everything together. That’s followed by either a heat-activated adhesive, to help bond the material to a shoe or apparel, or t with a fabric, and sew on the reflective material.

But the main two drivers of retroreflective material are those glass beads and the mirror. The main driver or the main concept around retroreflective is that it reflects back to its light source. If you think about it, there are many different ways things can reflect. A mirror or say, a disco ball, you can have scatter reflective. Look for reflective clothing that collects the light, and then returns it directly back to the source.

That’s why you see things that light up so well from a car, or if you hold your iPhone light up to your eyes and view reflective from that standpoint, or a flash on a camera. That’s why it becomes so powerful because it’s taking that light and sending it right back to the source.
Silver historically has always been one of the most popular, and still the most heavily used. But over a decade ago development began to explore different colors of the material.

What is Carbon Black?

One of the most recent innovations is carbon black material. This is a new material that comes out as inherently black. This turns the silver appearance into a deep black visual while achieving high retroreflectivity. Typically, those two attributes are in tension with one another.

Previously to developing this carbon black product, companies might have said “We want something black,” but then they would have to give up the retroreflective brightness. So, they would say, “OK. Well, we want something bright,” then they would have to have a less deep black color. This carbon black product helps eliminate that compromise and creates something that can give both brightness and deep color. There is also added in a high stretch component.

When it comes to reflective wear, what you see is more than what meets the eye. To learn more about how reflective works and how you can use it for your needs, do not hesitate to reach out to our specialists today.


[1] Balk, et al, Perception 37 (2008), pg 1276-1284 “Highlighting human form and motion information enhances the conspicuity of pedestrians at night”