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!
beryl.ostting4 months ago

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 www.reflect-all.eu

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 :(

user10445 months ago
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.
MarkM305 months ago

Serfas makes a 26" MTB tire with reflective sidewalls.

ryan.leith5 months ago

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?

lehewmw5 months ago

dude hell yea. that works out super well

ehuang021211 months ago

If any one need reflective powder for reflective bike, you are welcome to contact us. :) here is our product link for your reference: http://www.ymjcolor.com.cn/En/Product_Detail.aspx?UserInfo_ID=796177&CorpProductClass1_ID=88508&id=1105495. my email:ehuang0212@gmail.com

reginaron6 years ago
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)  reginaron6 years ago
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.
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...
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

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.

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

Truphtooph6 years ago
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.
For black surfaces (like GoodGnus' bike) "Lightweights Stealth Tape" ( www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001P3UR9U/ ) 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 (www.amazon.com/Motorcycle-Reflective-Safety-Tape-Adhesive/dp/B000NPNXP6/ ) 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) :-)
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?
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!
cbailey153 years ago
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?
Hubiewan5 years ago
Check out  Rustoleum brand reflective clear coat.  Quick, easy and cheap.
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.
PKM6 years ago
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)  PKM6 years ago
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 :)
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 @ http://www.liquidreflector.com/Reflectiveglassbeads.html Would those work?
goodgnus (author)  bvirgahyatt5 years ago
Those would work perfectly. Smaller than what I used, but probably better.
Apparently the Ebay pages don't say anything about roundness, which I guess is a very important factor. Which manufacturer did you buy from?
paintphone5 years ago
 I have just picked up some micro glass bead that are 0.6mm. I dont know if that is going to be ok 
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 D6 years ago
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 D6 years ago
I think you are talking about "Fixative".
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?
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.
djspincycle6 years ago
Where do you buy the Retro reflective Microspheres? And is there a particular size, etc. to buy?
goodgnus (author)  djspincycle6 years ago
Have a read through the comment stream, you'll find your answer!
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.
neuro986 years ago
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.
DebH576 years ago
Another great idea here Goodgnus.
scafool6 years ago
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.
skeptikool6 years ago
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) 6 years ago
Check out my newest Instructable: Handmade Holiday Cards
kc6qhp6 years ago
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)  kc6qhp6 years ago
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.
Benstar6 years ago
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!
Yeah...I got some that way too and put them on my helmet with nail polish! =)
brainmedley6 years ago
Give Krylon Triple Thick a try, it goes on thick and stays wet for a bit; it's also good for preserving pinball machines http://www.pinrepair.com/restore/index1.htm#bg
tinman016 years ago
This is really cool. Could this technique apply to cloth or other flexible surfaces?
I made my bike reflective without the paint starting 3 years ago. I bought 5 rolls of 3M white reflective tape ($3.50 per yard) at the indy hardware store and applied it to both sides of my fork, all tubes, every sq inch of my rack, cranks and front of my handlebars. when i shine a light on it from far away, the whole thing glows like a giant ferris wheel. my friend also works for a sign company thru the DOT and gave me rolls of highly reflective sign quality, which i cut up and put on both sides of both rims in two colors and on my helmet. you can also buy fluorescent spray paint and apply it to your spokes. i've had drivers come up to me to not only compliment my insanely bright lights but also the reflectivity.
ragingslab6 years ago
I'm not seeing any links to the microspheres so I thought I'd post one that I had found. This one seems reasonable http://www.liquidreflector.com/Reflectiveglassbeads.html
5 pounds is probably a lifetime supply for most people.
goodgnus (author)  ragingslab6 years ago
That is where I initially bought my beads, they are 30 - 50 mesh, a little too large. I would go with the 50 - 70 beads from ColeDiscount on eBay.
kuchinskas6 years ago
Instead of spray-on clearcoat, you could try a brush-on exterior varnish, such as is used for wooden doors, etc. You can get a quart from the hardware store in either water-base or oil-base. Apply it with a throwaway foam brush. It's not only more environmentally responsible than a spray, you have better control of the thickness and it dries more slowly. The solvent-based version would be thicker and slower-drying.
whitato16 years ago
Living in Switzerland people are more aware of bikers. However, this safety idea is fantastic and I am going to do this with my bike. Please let us know about using epoxy rather than regular spray paint or clearcoat.
I have a 5 gallon bucket full of glass bead used for sand blasting. I'm not sure how thick it is, but it is smaller than salt crystals. Do you think it will work? I'm thinking of painting an old motorcycle with this stuff. The reflection looks amazing!
goodgnus (author)  xfirexstarzx6 years ago
May be worthy of a test on a piece of cardboard, my guess is if it's blasting media the uniformity of the bead roundness and quality of the glass will be low. It will likely have a low refractive index and lack of roundness means it would scatter light in all directions instead of reflecting the majority of light back at the light source. But again, a quick test will answer whether it works or not.
jeff-o6 years ago
Regarding the tires, check out Schwalbe. Many of their tires have reflective sidewalls, especially the ones meant for commuter bikes.
goodgnus (author)  jeff-o6 years ago
Thanks, Schwalbe does make some nice tires, I have looked at them prior. I pretty much run only Maxxis tires. Firstly because they have an awesome product line and lastly because a friend of mine gets them at half retail through his racing team. The problem with reflective material on tires is tires eventually wear out. I am really looking forward to getting my rims coated with this stuff.
jeff-o goodgnus6 years ago
I haven't had any trouble with the reflective material coming off on my Schwalbes, and they've been on my bike for months now. But, half off is tough to beat!
goodgnus (author)  jeff-o6 years ago
I wasn't implying that the reflective material wore off, just that the tires themselves wear out and having reflective rims seems more permanent to me. I run 2.4" Holy Rollers on my commuter (which happens to be a mtn bike). Some people call me crazy but it certainly makes for a better workout and with just a bit more effort I can maintain the same avg speed and trip time as I can with the 1.95" Specialized Armadillos I have, plus with 2.4's I can roll up and over pretty much anything.
jeff-o goodgnus6 years ago
Ah! I see what you mean now. Yes, reflective rims would be great. Instead of paint, try using reflective tape. You can even alternate colours (red and white?) for a more visible effect.
goodgnus (author)  jeff-o6 years ago
I chose the glass beads because I hadn't seen it executed yet. My goal is to have night time conspicuity and not have my bike look like a clown's outfit during the day. I realize they make black reflective tape, but I had already decided on the glass beads at that point.
Calorie jeff-o6 years ago
Agreed. Schwalbe tires are exceptionally durable tires. And they do reflect like mad. The marathon series are excellent. I've accidentally run over beer bottle pieces (not shards, but half of a bottle) with them. They are bullet proof. I found that they are popular in Europe for a good reason. They are a tad on the expensive, but I'd rather fork out the cash now than being stranded on the side of a busy highway waiting for a ride. I even use their Stelvio brand for my road bike. I had many flats with the stock bontrager tires, but the Schwalbe Stelvios put an end to that!
jeff-o Calorie6 years ago
Marathon is exactly what I have. :) Worth every penny!
NE-Phil6 years ago
Great instructable. I'll want to do this on my daughter's bike. Maybe I missed it but wouldn't mixing the glass beads into the clear coating work better? That way, the beads become part of the coating and will resist abrading away.
goodgnus (author)  NE-Phil6 years ago
The beads are most reflective when they are partially exposed. You can get a more uniform surface using smaller bead size but then you have to maintain tighter control over the binder (paint, epoxy, etc) thickness so the beads don't sink into it too much.
Riggertrev6 years ago
A link to the vendor you used would be helpful. So many choices..so many vendors, obviously the one you chose worked out well. Please narrow the field a little!
How much of the glass beads did you use for that? Just a few ounces?
goodgnus (author)  fungus amungus6 years ago
I filled the spice jar up maybe 2" and the majority of the glass beads I ended up pouring back into the spice jar from the paint tray. I did not measure the weight of the product used but it certainly would have been interesting to see just how much. I think I will do this on a 12" x 12" piece of cardboard and see what the net weight gain is in ounces of both the beads and whatever paint or epoxy I applied to adhere the beads. Then I can see how much weight I'm adding to various parts by estimating the surface area of the part in question.
Nice. I looked up one site and they recommended using a sifter to get an even spread of glass bead on the surface.
goodgnus (author)  fungus amungus6 years ago
I didn't come across any instructions for application really. I just put a thick coat over the entire surface and then turned it upside down and was left with a pretty uniform coat of beads. It's not perfect by any means. The main problem came where the wet clear coat was thicker and some beads sunk into the paint. In talking with a rep at a glass bead manufacturer the biggest challenge as you use smaller and smaller beads is controlling the binder (paint, epoxy, etc) thickness and maintaining uniformity so beads don't sink too far into, or are eclipsed by the binder which decreases reflectivity.
nagutron6 years ago
Awesome. I'm a sucker for retroreflective surfaces (I have instructables on applying tape to my messenger bag and on making a RR sticker for my laptop.) Knowing that the glass spheres are so easy to work with is great! I'm dreaming up projects, already...
goodgnus (author)  nagutron6 years ago
Thanks! Easy as putting powdered sugar on a freshly fried funnel cake, my friend. Keep me in the loop on anything you may dream up. I f_cking love innovation!
el eliel6 years ago
in the desert, we used to mark trails this way so the route was only visible at nite and fairly [human] disturbance resistant. desert sun kills the cheaper paints pretty quick, but this is a plus if non-persistence is desired... this might be fun in an urban setting...
goodgnus (author)  el eliel6 years ago
Stealth warchalking? I like the trail marking application. Coat some rocks with clear epoxy, coat them in glass bead and place at strategic locations on the trail. You could even use directional arrows on larger immovable rocks. I have 15lbs of a larger bead that I may use to mark my driveway in some sort of fun pattern.