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Retroreflective Sheetings Used for Sign

Faces
Important Note: The current state of the retroreflective sheeting market is changing
rapidly, due to development of new sheetings, requested changes to ASTM D4956,
and changes in product offerings by manufacturers. This webpage will try to keep up
with current events in reflective sheetings as they develop. However, the information
on this page may be slightly outdated as events develop.

There are a number of different types of retroreflective sheetings in use on highway


signs.
Some types, as classified by ASTM D4956-01, are:

Type I, also known as Engineer Grade:


Basic reflective sheeting, made up of very small glass beads enclosed in a
translucent pigmented substrate. Has no distinctive identifying pattern, other
than, of course, it reflects. This material is one of the most durable (in its
ability to withstand rough handling) of all the sign sheeting products.
Generally regarded to have a seven year service life. Produced by Avery-
Dennison (Fasign 1500 and 1600), 3M (Scotchlite Engineer Grade 2200 and
3200), Nippon Carbide (Nikkalite Engineering Grade 7100 and 8100), and
American Decal (Adcolite 180 and 280).

Type II, also known as Super Engineer Grade:


Similar to Type I, except it uses larger glass beads, providing about twice the
level of reflectivity of Type I sheeting. This sheeting can be identified by small
trademarks which are screened into the sheeting (stars for Nikkalite, small As
for Avery, etc.). Cost is less than twice that of Type I. Generally regarded to
have a ten year service life. Produced by Nippon Carbide (Super Engineering
Grade 17000 and 18000), Avery-Dennison (Fasign 2500 and 2600), and
Kiwalite (Extra Engineer Grade).
Type III, also known as High Intensity:
This sheeting is know as an "encapsulated lens" sheeting, made of 2 layers -
an outer translucent pigmented layer, and an inner reflective layer faced with
glass beads. The two layers are connected by a lattice, hence its distinctive
'honeycomb' appearance, where the lattice pattern varies by manufacturer for
easy identification. This is currently the minimum recommended sheeting for
ADOT regulatory, warning, and marker signs. Cost is about twice that of Type
I. Generally regarded to have a ten year service life. Produced by 3M
(Scotchlite High Intensity Grade 2870 and 3870), Avery Dennison (Series
5000, 6000, 6100, 6200), Nippon Carbide (Ultra Lite Grade II), Kiwalite
(22000), ATSM (High Intensity) and LG Chem (LG Lite).
Type IV:
This is also a multi-layer sheeting, except that the reflective layer is made of
microscopic cube-corner reflectors instead of glass beads - known as a
"microprismatic" layer. This sheeting can be distinguished by the pattern of
small "squares" superimposed upon a hexagonal lattice grid. This sheeting is
about seven times as bright as Type I. Cost is comparable to type III.
Generally regarded to have a ten year service life. Produced by Avery
Dennison (6000 Series).
Type V:
This sheeting is made of a metallized microprismatic material. Used in
delineators and raised pavement markers. Cost is about 5 1/2 times that of
Type I. Generally regarded to have a five year service life. Produced by
Reflexite (type AP-1000 and AR-1000).
Type VI:
A vinyl backed microprismatic material. This sheeting differs from all other
types by being composed of a flexible vinyl cloth, allowing it to be used for
clothing and roll-up signs. Cost is about 6 times that of Type I. Generally
regarded to have a two year service life. Produced by Reflexite (High
Performance and Super Bright), 3M (RS20, RS30, 3840 series), and Avery
Dennison (WU-6014).
Type VII:
This is also a microprismatic sheeting. This can be distinguished by the
diamond-shaped lattice separating the sheeting layers, and a "coarse" grain to
the microprisms. This sheeting is about fourteen times brighter than Type I at
shallow viewing angles. Cost is about 5 times that of Type I. Generally
regarded to have a ten year service life. Produced by 3M (Diamond Grade
LDP Series).
Type VIII:
Also a microprismatic sheeting similar in design to Type VII and IX, but with
distinguishing characteristics similar to Type IV. This sheeting is about six
times brighter than Type I. Cost is about 5 times that of Type I. Generally
regarded to have a ten year service life. Produced by Avery Dennison (7000
Series), Nippon Carbide (Crystal Grade), and 3M (Diamond Grade NAP
Series).
Type IX:
A microprismatic sheeting very similar to Type VII, distinguished from Type
VII by the "fine" grain of the microprisms. This sheeting is about six times
brighter than Type I. Cost is about 5 times that of Type I. Generally regarded
to have a ten year service life. Produced by 3M (Diamond Grade VIP Series).

Nearly all sheetings are available with pressure-sensitive backings for attachment to
sign surfaces. Some sheetings are available with heat-activated backings, but with
changes in sign manufacturing technology this type of adhesive is becoming less
popular and less available.
Sign legends for retroreflective signs are produced by the following methods:

Cut-out Letters and Symbols: directly applied to the sign face.


Demountable Copy: This legend is made of reflective sheeting applied to thin
aluminum, which is then cut out into the letter and legend shapes and then
riveted to the sign face. This permits the sign legend to be changed or removed
without having to replace the entire sign panel.
Positive Silk-screen: Used for signs with legends darker than the background,
such as most regulatory and warning signs. The legend is applied directly onto
the colored sign face with opaque ink.
Negative Silk-Screen: Used for signs with legends lighter than the
background, such as STOP signs or Interstate shields. The process begins with
a white sign face, then a translucent ink is applied onto the sign face, with the
exception of the legend (or regions of other colors. This produces a white
legend on a colored background.
Overlay Film: Also used for signs with legends lighter than the background.
The process begins with a white sign face, then the overlay film in the
appropriate color is cut to remove the sections where the white is to show
through. This overlay film is then applied onto the sign face.

Colored inks used in sign silk-screening are translucent to allow reflectivity through
the ink, whereas black ink used for signs is opaque.

Inks are available from 3M, Nippon Carbide, Avery Dennison, Nazdar, and other
manufacturers.

Sheeting types normally fail in different ways, depending on how they are structured.

Single-layer types, such as Type I or II, usually fail by gradually losing their
retroreflective intensity. This is due to increasing opacity of the pigmented material
caused by ultraviolet ray exposure due to sunlight.

Multi-layer sheetings, such as Type III, often fail structurally - the outer colored layer
delaminates and falls off, exposing the silver reflective underlayer to the elements,
and ruining the contrast needed for legibility.

If properly applied and sealed to a good surface, most reflective sheetings are quite
water, ice, and salt resistant.

Contact Information:

3M Corporation - Traffic Control Materials Division


3M Center Bldg. 225-5S-08
St. Paul, MN 55144-1000
(800) 553-1380
http://www.3m.com/us/safety/tcm/
American Decal & Manufacturing Company (Adco)
4100 W. Fullerton Ave.
Chicago, IL 60639
(773) 489-4700
reflective@americandecal.com
American Traffic Safety Materials (ATSM)
P.O. Box 1449
Orange Park, FL 32067
(904) 276-3050
http://www.atsminc.com/
Avery Dennison
250 Chester St.
Painesville, OH 44077
(800) 435-8088
http://www.reflectives.averydennison.com/
LG Chem
http://www.lgchem.com/
Nippon Carbide Industries (USA) Incorporated
3136 E. Victoria St.
Rancho Dominguez, CA 90221
(800) 821-4264
http://www.nikkalite.com/
Reflexite North America
1001 4th St.
Sacramento, CA 95819
(916) 739-6903
http://www.reflexite.com/
Kiwalite
http://www.kiwa-lite.com/
Nazdar Company
8501 Hedge Lane Terrace
Shawnee, KS 66227
(800) 767-9942
http://www.nazdar.com/

Special thanks to Seth Chalmers of Chalmers Engineering Company and H. Gene


Hawkins Jr. of Texas Transportation Institute for their invaluable assistance in
gathering this information.

More information may also be found from the Federal Highway Administration at
http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/roadway_dept/retro/index.htm

FHWA Retroreflective Sheeting Identification Guide


Return to Manual of Traffic Signs Main Page

Richard C. Moeur's Home Page

Updated 22 April 2005

Scripting: Richard C. Moeur


rcmoeur@aol.com
All text and images on this page Richard C. Moeur. All rights reserved.
Retroreflective Sheeting Identification Guide provided courtesy of Federal Highway Administration.
Unauthorized use of text and images is strictly prohibited. Refer to Standard Use Agreement for details.