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Reflective Material: Good, Better, Best

Reflective Material: Good, Better, Best

All reflective material is not created equally. As with any innovation, there is urgency to improve the technology as well as to make it less expensive. Here’s where things run amok, at the crossroads of quality and cost.

Dependent upon the manufacturing technology used, the reflective material may be low-brightness, and therefore difficult to see, or it may be high-brightness, and very easy to see. The brightness of the material correlates to the distance from which it can be seen.

There are hundreds of makers of reflective material and hundreds of manufacturers that use the material in hundreds of applications. Many you’re familiar with - the piping on your running shoes and the bits sewn along the seams in your jackets and tights. Much of this is of a lesser quality than buyers think. Which can mean the difference between peace of mind and a visit to the ER.

Let’s take a step back for a moment: reflective material is a unique textile that has millions of tiny glass beads embedded in its surface. Each bead holds within it a rounded mirror that bounces – or reflects – light back directly to its source.

Light comes into the bead and it goes straight back out, not at an angle.

Wherever the light came from, it shoots back.

At the speed of light.

Very cool.

Where does the light come from? For our purposes today, it comes from the headlight of an oncoming car. A car driven by an attentive, non-distracted driver who is alert and familiar with the stretch of straight road he’s traveling. It’s a beautiful night, full moon, dry pavement, he’s cruising along at 30mph, hands at 10 and 2. Fortunately for us, the runner hurtling towards the car is wearing gear and clothing trimmed with reflective material so our drivers’ brain is immediately able to discern her oncoming figure and recognize it’s a person running all in time to take action to avoid a close call … or worse. Injuries to runners and cyclists are often made more tragic because they may have been easily prevented. A pedestrian or cyclist will always lose in an accident with a car, no matter what. The potential damage a person will likely suffer is reason enough to take steps toward prevention. Car drivers aren't watching for us so it’s vital we look out for ourselves.

So back to Good, Better, Best.

Think of your bathroom mirror. When you stand directly in front, your reflection bounces back. Many people don’t know how simple a mirror really is: it’s a piece of clear glass backed with a sheet of aluminum, set into a frame. Simple. Every detail can be seen, every eyelash, every whisker. When you stand to the side of the mirror, your eye may catch something. Something fleeting, when the ambient light hits it JUST right. But then it’s gone.

good reflective

Now think about a bathroom mirror, but with a coat of bright enamel paint behind the glass instead of aluminum – you might get something back – depending on the light in the room. But don’t try shaving or putting on mascara. Just a general outline and shading, all one color, no detail. If that.

That’s the difference between BEST and BAD reflective material. And frankly, why be fussier about the level of detail in the mirror you shave with than the material that can protect you from potential life-threatening injuries?

Find out more about protecting yourself from potential catastrophic injury at


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