What is Reflective Paint?

Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Reflective paint is a type of paint that contains thousands of little glass spheres, designed to reflect lots of light, even at night. It is most frequently used for signs on highways, but is also used on license plates, fishing lures, on mobile objects to be tracked (like a golf ball), or as an indicator on certain machinery. The size of glass beads ranges from application to application, but generally, the smaller the bead, the more expensive it is. The beads are sprayed on after paint is applied for the most even possible distribution. The beads are applied over a colored base coat designed to yield maximum reflectivity.

Reflective paint is used to mark highways so they can be seen at night.
Reflective paint is used to mark highways so they can be seen at night.

The typical glass beads used in reflective paint on highways are fairly inexpensive, and they are usually mixed with yellow latex paint. This paint is designed to be clearly visible when illuminated by headlights, but is often visible even without headlights due to ambient light. During the day, the paint is bright, but not bright enough to be excessively distracting or blinding. Reflective paint is very useful because materials that glow independently, without constantly needing to be "recharged," are expensive and radioactive.

Road signs are painted with reflective paint to enable drivers to see them in the dark.
Road signs are painted with reflective paint to enable drivers to see them in the dark.

One common use of this paint on the highway is on "Botts' dots," the little dots used to separate highway lanes from each other. The introduction of these reflective dots has resulted in a marked increase in highway safety.

License plates are painted with reflective paint.
License plates are painted with reflective paint.

Another variety is used on the reflective surfaces of light fixtures. This paint does not have embedded glass beads, but is designed to be as reflective as possible for a normal paint coating.

Road hazard triangles are coated in reflective paint.
Road hazard triangles are coated in reflective paint.

Other variants of reflective paint are designed to reflect away thermal as well as optical energy. These insulators are meant to be applied to the outside of buildings in hot locations to save on air conditioning bills. Some types reflect away 44% or more of the sunlight's energy.

Aluminum paint -- which contains specks of the metal -- can be used to coat wood, metal or masonry.
Aluminum paint -- which contains specks of the metal -- can be used to coat wood, metal or masonry.
Michael Anissimov
Michael Anissimov

Michael is a longtime wiseGEEK contributor who specializes in topics relating to paleontology, physics, biology, astronomy, chemistry, and futurism. In addition to being an avid blogger, Michael is particularly passionate about stem cell research, regenerative medicine, and life extension therapies. He has also worked for the Methuselah Foundation, the Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, and the Lifeboat Foundation.

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Discussion Comments

anon937109

I need reflective paint that can be applied by spraying directly on a steel (metal) surface. Please help.

DocnChaos

What is license plate paint? Where can I get it? Also, where can I purchase clear reflective paint? Can I make my own?

anon147604

Is there a reflective paint made out of edible material? grain of some sort? or a material that is not toxic if swallowed?

Dante Huerta

Thanks a lot for the info.

I need to make a sign on the back of a building for night reflection from car headlights.

Where can I find those "typical glass beads used in reflective paint" and would it work the same if I mix it with white latex paint?

I live in the San Diego area in California,

Thank you very much for the info. --Dante

anon128677

what is license plate paint? Where can i get it?

anon66762

My great great uncle Phlip Palmquist invented scotchlite and that started all the reflective stuff with the little glass spheres.

anon62523

I need a paint that has to be reflexive at day light, does anybody knows any kind of paint like that? thanks.

anon46110

i am looking for paint (reflective white color) to be painted on metal. What can you suggest?

anon44141

how do i paint on glass beads size 2 millimeters to 8 millimeters?

anon29470

How do you apply reflective paint: roller, spray ?

anon27628

What would be the best reflective material to put on a vinyl fabric surface (same as a backpack)? Thanks for your input.

anon7010

Can reflective paint be used to paint a wall for use as a video projection screen? A reflective paint with very small glass beads will be needed for this purpose. Who sells or manufactures such a paint?

catb

Can the glass beads be mixed in paint and coated over rubber, without changing or damaging the rubber?

anon2423

how does one create a reflective paint mixture using latex paint and glass beads?

also, for this to be effective what is the best method to create a reflective surface provided that the surface is perpendicular to the ground?

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