What is Retro Reflective Paint?

What Is Reflective Paint? (click to shop)

People often ask what reflective paint is and how is it different from standard paints. Reflective paint and retro reflectivity in general can be a little confusing to understand, but it’s based on very simple scientific concepts of light refraction. In this article I’ll cover what reflective paint is, and how it works. First, let me say that reflective paint is technically “Retro Reflective” because it returns light back to only the source of that light. A point we will cover in this article.

White reflective paint
Reflective Paint with White Standard Beads

What Is Reflective Paint?

Retro Reflective paint is regular paint with retro reflective qualities. As previously stated, when something is retro reflective it simply means that the object returns light back to the source only. This is different from say a piece of colored paper or a mirror which either return light everywhere or back to a single spot. Returning light everywhere is called Diffuse or Scattered reflectivity, and returning light back to a particular spot depending on angles is called Specular or Mirror reflectivity. You will have examples of both of these types of reflectivity in your home. What you may not have however, are examples of retro reflectivity.

specular mirror reflective
Specular or Mirror Reflective

How Does Retro Reflective Paint Work?

All retro reflective paints have one thing in common, that is that they all use micro glass spheres to achieve reflectivity. Glass beads capture light, bend it, and send it back to the light source. Hence the use of the term “Retro”. Reflective paints utilize glass beads in two ways to achieve a retro reflective effect.

glass bead reflective paint

First, glass beads can be intermixed with a clear base. Polyurethane clear is what Viziglow uses because it is outdoor durable. For an intermixed paint to work, the coating has to be thin so that the beads are exposed to incoming light. Beads that sink below the surface will not reflect. So it is critical that coats of reflective paint be thin. This method produces a nice bright reflective coating.

Second, glass beads can be sprinkled on top of either a clear or colored base. This normally results in quite a few beads remaining on the surface, exposed to incoming light. Once the paint dries, the beads will remain on the surface and should not come off. Using this method, the coating does not have to be as thin, since beads will be distributed on top of the layer and should not sink. This method produces an incredibly bright reflective coating.

Silver Metalized Beads Reflective Paint
Reflective Paint – Silver Metalized Beads

So in summary reflective paint is a coating that returns light back to the source, and this coating does this using glass spheres that collect and bounce light back to where it came from.