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Traffic Sign Reflectivity Technologies

Traffic sign reflectivity technologies have come a long way since the early 1900’s.  In the beginning, street signs were made by hand with little uniformity across the nation for a largely illiterate population.  Today most signs are made using two types of retro-reflective sheeting on metal surfaces.  Design and manufacturing of traffic control equipment has become a very advanced process. 

Microsphere-based Sheeting
Also known as “beaded” sheeting, this revolutionary reflective technology surfaced in the late 80’s to early 90’s, and is still used on a variety of public street signs.  At its most basic level, this type of sheeting is composed of small spheres that are only microns in diameter.  Depending on the size of the sample, a sheet could contain millions of these spheres.  This method increases the amount of light that is refracted back to its source, making whatever the sheeting is attached to much more visible both in daytime and nighttime conditions. 

Cube-corner Sheeting
This type of retro-reflective technology takes a different approach with a geometric structure for light to reflect off.  At an almost microscopic level, tiny faces of the plane that composes the sheet are structured in opposing directions.  These tiny structures cooperate to reflect light back to the source.  Cube-corner sheeting is defined by the exact build and method by which light is reflected off the surface of the material.  Other materials also exist that employ a pyramidal structure to reflect light. 

Most sheeting is applied in similar ways to a base metal of steel or aluminum.  No matter which sheeting method is employed, materials are applied using an adhesive.  Once attached to a base metal, a silk-screen process is often used to apply reflective paint to the sign.  Much of this work is done using large machines; however, individual signs are carried by workers to these machines for processes to be done by hand. 

Much more thought and science goes into making traffic control equipment than you might think.  Engineers have come up with ingenious ways to refract the maximum amount of light back at drivers in various conditions.  The two types of retro-reflective sheeting developed over the last couple of decades are still in widespread use today.