Introduction: Paint Your Bike / Bicycle / Gear Reflective!

Picture of Paint Your Bike / Bicycle / Gear Reflective!

This Instructable will cover the topical application of retro reflective microspheres (here on out known as glass beads). The concept is that you are essentially making your chosen item reflective via the same manner that your local Transportation Department makes painted stripes on the roadway reflective.

I chose an easy part of my bike to "reflectablize" as one of my friends would say. A detachable fender that I mostly never detach.

Before we begin, I must state that I tried the two main manufacturers of "reflective spraypaint" on the market. Those being Rustoleum and Krylon. The amount of reflective material in the spraypaint was almost non existent. I found that I had to do way too many coats to even get noticeable reflectivity. I ended up seeking a refund from each company. Therefore, I strongly advise you NOT to waste your money. You could always go the reflective tape route but I found it to be expensive as well and just didn't seem as cool as what I am about to instructablize you on.

Step 1: Materials List

Picture of Materials List

1) The part that you want to reflectabilize
2) Krylon Clear Acrylic Coating (or similar clearcoat paint)
3) Masking tape (if you need to mask anything)
4) Paint tray or suitably sized object to catch glass beads
5) Empty spice shaker
6) Any necessary tools for disassembly of bike part
7) Retro reflective Microspheres (glass beads)

Let's begin!

Step 2: Prepping the Part You're Painting

Picture of Prepping the Part You're Painting

I washed and scrubbed the fender I am painting with a grease cutting dish soap. Any surface that you paint should be clean and free of dirt / grease / etc. Be sure part is dried thoroughly before painting.

I also disassembled the fender to make masking easier, see photo.

Step 3: Fill Up the Spice Shaker With Glass Beads

Picture of Fill Up the Spice Shaker With Glass Beads

I did some research on glass beads and decided on a glass bead size (mesh size) of 80 - 120. This corresponds to a size (diameter in millimeters) of 0.177 to 0.125. This is much finer than salt / sugar granules.

You can source glass beads from several manufacturers / retailers. Google can help.

Note the gold spoon, this is a classy Instructable folks, no silver spoon here!

Step 4: Spraying the Clearcoat

Picture of Spraying the Clearcoat

Spraying the clearcoat on your part in this step is different than if you were actually spraypainting it. I applied a thicker than normal coat so that when I sprinkle the glass beads onto the wet surface there is enough paint to adhere them to the surface.

I highly recommend you do a test run on a piece of cardboard to get a feel for exactly how it's done.

You will want to avoid a really thick coat, you do not want any runs, drips or pooling of the clearcoat.

The clearcoat I used stated it "dried in minutes" which ended up being a slight problem (I'll describe later). If you can find a non-quick dry clearcoat it would give you more working time to sprinkle the glass beads and re-sprinkle as necessary to get proper coverage.

Step 5: Applying the Glass Beads

Picture of Applying the Glass Beads

Here I put the fender in the paint tray and went to work sprinkling.

I went with a thick coat, let it set for 10 seconds or so, then tilted the fender over the paint tray to let any loose glass beads fall off, many will. You only need a single layer coat of the beads, not a thick coat.

Allow the piece to dry fully.

Do NOT clearcoat over the beads, for best reflectivity they should remain uncoated.

When finished and dried the surface will look as if it has a winter morning frost on it, it's not particularly attractive but when safety is concerned I will take function over form.

Step 6: Reflectivity Test!

Picture of Reflectivity Test!

This turned out better than I expected! Below you will find several photos with notes.

The photos speak for themselves really, the fender turned out quite reflective I must say.

Step 7: Wrapup / Future Ideas

I would not apply these beads to any surface which is regularly abraded (rubbed, touched, etc). The finished surface is rough (though not sandpaper rough).

As I have disc brakes on my bicycle my next application will be on the rims. I have yet to find a tire that I like that has reflective sidewalls, many manufacturers just don't do reflective sidewalls.

My next experiment with adhesion of the glass beads will probably be using an industrial 2 part clear epoxy which takes much longer to dry and should provide much better adhesion for the glass beads.

You could also use a colored paint to adhere the glass beads, there's no reason it has to be a clearcoat. Rattle canning your old bike frame? Why not make it reflective too!

I will also be doing this to the # sign on the front of my house so the numbers are reflective, just need to do a bit more masking.

Thanks for your attention!

Ride safely!


parasite66666 (author)2017-10-11

I found these to work very well:

They come in 300 mesh size (42um), which is quite a bit finer than the ones used here, but it makes for a very even coating and is still very reflective!

jerryclubb (author)2016-06-16

Where did you buy your reflective glass beads

ehuang0212 (author)2014-09-09

If any one need reflective powder for reflective bike, you are welcome to contact us. :) here is our product link for your reference: my

tpinkham (author)ehuang02122016-02-23

Hi I would like to know more about your products but the website is not in English. ? Could you send me some info?

nauman1 made it! (author)2015-11-21

I used your method for applying the glass beads to an acrylic substrate but I used white acrylic spray paint which matched the reflectivity of the glass beads. I also designed and laser cut a stencil for the application of the paint customized for my Bern helmet which utilized the white color.

AaronB31 (author)2015-09-04

This looks like a lot of work to put reflective on your bike. Great idea, though. It's the same basic idea as what they do when they paint lines on roads.

There's other reflective materials that are more user-friendly and are more reflective. The retroreflective microspheres are probably bright, but if you compared them to what construction workers use on their vests, they are not nearly as bright.

There's a company called that has some interesting products, and if you sign up you can get free samples. The website is helpful in getting an education on the types of reflective materials available, and how visible they are. Even if you don't buy anything they have great information.

They have a decal-type material that is colored but still has much higher reflectivity than most of the tapes on the market. It sticks to almost anything. With this material, you don't need to use a lot to make a big impact on your visibility.

beryl.ostting (author)2015-04-15

I admire the DIY mentality ... but maybe the spray on paints are more realistic for some people? Volvo has come out with a new paint recently, but I can't find it anywhere in Amsterdam. Only this

Does anybody know where to buy the Volvo Life Spray in NL (or Belgium)?

Sadly the Volvo Life paint seems to only be sold at a few stores in England. I was hoping I could find a store in New York state that sold it, sadly not :(

user1044 (author)2015-04-01

Great instructable. I'm lazy so I used reflect-all spray on Amazon. It's about $28. It works great and you only need to apply light coats so a can will do an entire bike, and more.

MarkM30 (author)2015-04-01

Serfas makes a 26" MTB tire with reflective sidewalls.

ryan.leith (author)2015-03-26

I'm guessing it won't look so bad on a white bike? One probably wouldn't really be able to tell at a glance?

lehewmw (author)2015-03-12

dude hell yea. that works out super well

reginaron (author)2008-11-20

Hi q1)If you do your rims, how are you going to maintain thier balance? q2)Why, in your photos, did yer fender,go from dark to bright white? before&after; perhaps? q3)Is bright photo taken in an unlit room with a flash? Also, why not just put the reflectors that might have been stock on your bike, back on? (cheaper & less work) Cheers from Canada

goodgnus (author)reginaron2008-11-21

1) Bicycle rims are hardly in balance to begin with. 2 & 3) Yes, before and after, the bright white is the flash reflected in the beads. The room was partially lit. Mountain bikes don't come with reflectors and this is more reflective than standard bicycle reflectors.

killerjackalope (author)goodgnus2008-12-10

I did take the time to balance mine one time, because I got bored and figured out how on the tyre balancing machine (used to be a tyre fitter) and found and attachment that fit the axle... It is a strange feeling if you did it right after getting a rim trued aswell, high speeds felt slower...) If you want to make balanced tyres they have balancing dust, anything non-abrasive works nicely and its fun, use something fluorescent and you get clouds of colour when a puncture happens...

gtoal (author)killerjackalope2013-11-25

Every now and then someone rediscovers the easy way to tension spokes by pinging them and tuning them like a guitar. Sounds like a joke but it works - a trade secret of many bike repair shops. Give it a try if your spokes have never been adjusted. Google for: acoustic tensioning bicycle spokes

Yard Sale Dale (author)gtoal2014-05-26

That will let you know if one or more or seriously different than the rest, but without a proper stand, you will have difficulty getting hop and true correct.

Yard Sale Dale (author)2014-05-26

I did this to a gas tank on a moped once. It was very bright, like the
photographed fender. I got the glass beads online from a supplier. It
came in 1, 5, 20, and 50lb bags. I got 2lb and still have a bag and 1/2 bag left. Some was lost while adding it as a coating, and some on test pieces. I
used a coffee mug as a shaker to distribute the silica powder, over a big plastic

Truphtooph (author)2009-05-23

Could someone explain the differences in retroreflective tapes? The Internets have loads of tapes on sale at wildly different costs. It would be good to know where the money goes, how long tapes stay reflectivity, and what the difference in brightness of tapes are? Great instructable! I really want to do this.

gtoal (author)Truphtooph2013-11-25

For black surfaces (like GoodGnus' bike) "Lightweights Stealth Tape" ( ) is black in daylight but very reflective on your bike at night if you want to put it on the frame and forks for side-view safety (btw I also have a black bike). I've had mine on my bike for two years and it has lasted well.

Also this pack ( ) contains a 12in x 4in rectangle that's useful for larger jobs (especially if you have a vinyl cutter and want to make some custom reflective letters).

But for a white surface, GoodGnus' instructable is probably a better bet.

I'm interested in seeing if a hybrid of white reflective background plus black letters made from reflective tape would be enough to stop a car number plate from being photographed by a number-plate camera using flash... (plus some bright (but invisible to humans) infra-red LEDs for IR-sensitive night cameras) :-)

kevinvolkening (author)2012-10-17

I've found after the paint / bead mix has set the resultant paint can be very abrasive when rubbed against another anodized part. Any thoughts to remedy this would be greatly appreciated. Is there possibly another method to achieve reflectivity without glass beads?

thevelvetsun (author)2012-04-09

Thanks for this instructable! I ordered some glass beads, the tiniest size I could find. 0.037- 0.088 mm. I'd like to find clear paint that I can brush on, so I can apply the beads in small sections before the paint starts to dry. Clear spray paint just dries too fast. I guess the other option is to cover almost everything in newspaper and use spray paint in sections. We'll see how it turns out!

cbailey15 (author)2011-10-08

I am thinking of taking the 170-400 and mixing it into an automotive clear coat and spraying from a HVLP spray gun.... any ideas? Or does it have to be ontop of the paint? I think with the finer grains, it would spray through the gun. Also how large is 10 lbs of grains? They are sold in 2.5-10-20 lbs, which would you recommend for a road bike frame, and some other small stuff?

Hubiewan (author)2010-05-15

Check out  Rustoleum brand reflective clear coat.  Quick, easy and cheap.

lactoso (author)Hubiewan2011-07-11

The Rustoleum reflective paint doesn't work very well at all. This appears to be SUBSTANTIALLY better solution.

In fact, this is the method (except using white paint) used by road departments back in the 30s and 40s to help boost reflectivity on road signs.

PKM (author)2008-11-20

Wow.. you left it painted black? I thought you'd painted it white with reflect-o-beads, if all that light is from the flash I'm very impressed. I wonder what quantity you'd need to do your entire bike frame...

Where did you get your beads and how much did they cost?

goodgnus (author)PKM2008-11-20

Indeed, the fender was left as it was purchased, plain black plastic. You can get beads on eBay that are 50 - 70 mesh (0.210mm to 0.297mm), slightly larger than what I used. Search for "reflective bead" and the seller is ColeDiscount. I think these would work and they are the smallest beads I have found for sale on the internets. I previously experimented with 30 - 50 mesh which are 0.297mm to 0.595mm and the finish was a bit too rough/uneven. For those interested if you google "particle size conversion table" the first link will give you a table indicating what each mesh size corresponds to in inches, mm and microns. The beads I used came to me as a sample direct from a manufacturer that does not have a retail channel. I hope to make a bulk purchase from them in the near future after I've had more time to experiment and determine specifically what bead size gives the best performance as compared to ease of application :)

bvirgahyatt (author)goodgnus2010-08-18

I just found some that are 170-400 mesh Glass Oxide- mil spec size 13 0.037- 0.088 mm for 15.95 for 10lbs @ Would those work?

goodgnus (author)bvirgahyatt2010-08-18

Those would work perfectly. Smaller than what I used, but probably better.

pgan002 (author)goodgnus2009-03-04

Apparently the Ebay pages don't say anything about roundness, which I guess is a very important factor. Which manufacturer did you buy from?

paintphone (author)2010-03-21

 I have just picked up some micro glass bead that are 0.6mm. I dont know if that is going to be ok 

emerson.john (author)2010-03-18

Why not use liquid polyurethane and a brush? I will give you plenty of working time, and when it dries the thicker film will more durable. 

Granny D (author)2008-11-20

You have inspired me! I am going to go and reflectorize everything I own- beginning with my helmet. There is a masking medium used by artists - the name escapes me for the moment - that you just paint on and rub off when you are done. I am going to try it and see if that works. That way I can get "artsy".

goodgnus (author)Granny D2008-11-21

I think you are talking about "Fixative".

Aspersa (author)goodgnus2009-05-02

Ack, no!! Fixative is like hairspray for artwork, it'll seal everything up and is non-removable (which works like a dream, if that's what you want to do). Watercolourists use a "masking fluid" which is essentially thin latex in an ammonia-based emulsion. Brush it on, peel it off. It's fantastic for stencilwork. Be sure to ventilate properly, it'll smell. Thanks so much for the idea, Goodgnus! I've got some spheres on order and fully intend to play with patterns on my bike frame. Have you tried coating your rims yet? How did that work out?

DLSfilms (author)Aspersa2010-03-07

I use Parma Liquid Mask, product number 701, that I get from my local hobby store.  It's cheaper than the art store and cleans off my brushes easily with some "Master's" Brush cleaner which is basically like a soap bar.

djspincycle (author)2008-11-20

Where do you buy the Retro reflective Microspheres? And is there a particular size, etc. to buy?

goodgnus (author)djspincycle2008-11-20

Have a read through the comment stream, you'll find your answer!

djspincycle (author)goodgnus2008-11-20

Thanks goodgnus. I took a look and then poked around, but found myself spending too much time without feeling confident that I was finding the right thing. I think the write-up is great, but it would be nice to have a link to a specific place to buy a specific item as it is the key ingredient. I guess the issue is that there is not an obvious retail vendor for the beads? Anyway, if there was a product link you could post for the instructees, I for one would appreciate it.

neuro98 (author)2009-02-21

Coool! I did this with a carnival mask using some coarse beads and clear acrylic paint a few years ago. The "micro" size is just so that they can adhere to contours -- any size bead will reflect. Add a layer of acrylic on top after the beads to help keep them attached. I'd recommend painting surfaces that are vertical, though (seat post, frame), since that is the angle that cars will shine their lights at you from.

DebH57 (author)2009-01-10

Another great idea here Goodgnus.

scafool (author)2008-12-19

OK, just an odd thought after reading comments about applying the beads. If you laid out some automotive paint grade masking tape and then stuck the beads to that would it help. you should be able to get a very even and tightly packed single layer of beads stuck to it After you had your lacquer coat on but still wet them maybe you could put the masking tape onto it with the beads against the wet paint. After it was dry you should still be able to peel the tape off the paint leaving the beads embedded to an even depth in the paint. The glue of the tape might (hopefully) prevent the face layer of the beads from being coated with paint yet let the beads be embedded deeply enough to stick well. Like I said it is just a thought, but if it might work it seems like a way to apply the beads in patterns to by cutting the tape into the shapes you want to show, kind of like a backwards stencelling method.

skeptikool (author)2008-12-17

This is a great instructable - and, with increasing numbers of bicycles on the roads, most timely. It's so important to be visible.

goodgnus (author)2008-12-12

Check out my newest Instructable: Handmade Holiday Cards

kc6qhp (author)2008-12-02

Congrats to you too! I really liked your entry, and am going to be doing some painting of my bike. I was thinking on my way to work this morning if someone makes a powder coating powder that has microspheres mixed in. It might make for a more durable finish especially if its given a clear coat. Probably depends on the diameter though as to whether it wouldpick up a big enough charge, etc. Might be something to try out!

goodgnus (author)kc6qhp2008-12-02

There is a company that makes a retro-reflective powdercoat, the product is relatively new. They are being extremely proprietary about product licensing and who can apply it, and even what specifically it can be applied to. Fortunately bicycles is one of them but I suspect it will be unavailable to ordinary consumers for years to come, and cost prohibitive when it does. I don't want to advertise for them given their proprietary stance so if you do some googling you can probably find it.

Benstar (author)2008-11-20

FWIW I have a couple bags of the beads, I swept them up off the road surface right after the highway dept had applied them to the thermoplastic strips. They just dump them on, so there is often a lot left on the roadway you can have for free!

xenobiologista (author)Benstar2008-11-22

Yeah...I got some that way too and put them on my helmet with nail polish! =)

brainmedley (author)2008-11-21

Give Krylon Triple Thick a try, it goes on thick and stays wet for a bit; it's also good for preserving pinball machines

About This Instructable




Bio: Just another tinkerer.
More by goodgnus:12 volt bicycle trailer stereo systemHandmade holiday photo card that is a gift in itself!Paint your bike / bicycle / gear reflective!
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