Ghost Reflective Vinyl Graphics

Because we serve customers in so  many markets, we at SignWarehouse get lots of interesting vinyl application questions.

One we’ve heard more often is about a new trend called Ghost vinyl. This one had us scratching our heads. Callers were asking for transparent reflective vinyl. There’s no such animal.

After consulting with manufacturers and doing some research, we’ve got the answer. It turns out ghost vinyl isn’t a new product, but a clever application of an old standard. Police departments are getting smarter about catching speeders. And they’re using  vinyl graphics to do it.  Depending on whether you’re a lead foot or an ambitious sign maker, this is either exciting or scary.  Either way, you should know what ‘ghost’ reflective graphics are and how they work.

Policemen on the Prowl

Have you ever noticed how slowly people drive when they spot a patrol car? Like a grazing herd of gazelle who suddenly spots a prowling lion approaching the glade, the herd goes on full alert. Twitchy. Traffic slows to a crawl as drivers nervously eye their speedometers and prepare alibis. In these situations, patrol cars don’t so much catch speeders as much as they influence behavior. If they want to catch speeders, they have to use stealth.
Like the lioness hiding in the tall grass, a patrol car with ghost reflective vinyl graphics is hard to spot. Unwary lead foots may not notice that they’ve passed one until flashing lights fill the rear view mirror. “License and registration please”.

The Ghost and the Darkness

Fig 1: Nothing to see here. Ghost reflective graphics are barely visible by day.

Fig 1: Nothing to see here. Ghost reflective graphics are barely visible by day.

So how does this stealthy stuff work? It’s quite simple really. Ghost reflective is an effect achieved by reversing the basic principles of graphic design. Normally we build graphics with contrasting colors and values to make them more visible, more legible. This is especially true of automotive  graphics because motorists have only a few seconds to read signage on another vehicle.  Johnny Law is doing the opposite.

Fig 2: Busted! At night, the graphics work like standard police cruiser markings.

Fig 2: Busted! At night, the graphics work like standard police cruiser markings.

They apply white reflective vinyl on white patrol cars, black on black, etc. That’s why it’s called ghost vinyl.  You can see it in broad daylight if you look carefully (Fig 1), but it’s fully functional at night because it reflects light like standard police car livery (Fig 2) .

If you see this as a business opportunity, your next question might be ‘which reflective vinyl is best for this application?’ There isn’t any special vinyl with stealthy glass beads in it. Just use a conformable reflective sheeting approved for fleet graphics and match the film color with the paint. EnduraLITE 48000 or M8512 would work well, as would ORALITE 5600 or 5650RA. To ensure a successful installation, follow industry guidelines. You can find those here.  And think outside the paddy wagon. In a market where luxury car owners are opting for matte vinyl paint replacement wraps, it’s not hard to envision a consumer market for ghost reflective vinyl graphics. Perhaps we’ll see some custom ‘ghost’ reflective graphics at the next SEMA show.

In the meantime, if you’re a lead foot, you’ve been warned.  You may not see him until he’s got your number. But if you’re a sign maker looking for new opportunities with local municipalities, ghost reflective is good news. You might want to apply some to your shop truck, take a drive down to City Hall and drum up some business. Just don’t drive too fast.