Reflective "BF thumbs-up" logo patches for gear or garments

  On a visit to Somerville Open Studios I stopped by Lenni Armstrong's workspace, where she produces a variety of accessories geared toward enhanced visibility for cyclists and pedestrians, especially at night.  One key element in this is incorporation of retroreflective vinyl, which embeds glass beads that reflect light almost exactly back toward where it came from, within a very narrow angle.  It is the essential element in any retro-reflective application, including road signs, lane striping, safety vests and barriers, and numerous others.  The angle between most vehicle headlights and a driver's eyes at a typical sighting distance along a road is very narrow, so retroreflection works well to passively highlight any object at night.

While at the studio, I remembered that my hiking pack had the original "(bf) OK" logo on the outer pocket in printed paper covered by clear tape, which served its purpose but was getting fairly beat-up at that point.  What better way to upgrade that than turn it into a retroreflective graphic with the updated all-symbolic logo?  I pointed Lenni to my website and suggested that either logo might be ideally suited to this process, and she agreed.  So later on I reached out to her asking about possibly commissioning some artwork, and it turned out that it might make more sense to simply attend one of the classes she periodically offers, and for the most part make the new artwork myself as an imprinted fabric patch I could sew on.  Longish story short, I went to the class, and while it turned out that the logo as it stands has detail a little too fine to really suit the vinyl-cutting process, I was able to rescue a suitable border and heat-press a workable graphic onto black backing cloth.  The vinyl is nominally a gray/silver color, but its real magic happens with incident light -- here is what it looks like when lit from different angles.

Light from slightly to the side Light from our viewpoint, straight on
Light from the side, off-axis Light from the viewpoint, straight on
  If you look closely it's evident where I had to piece together a bit of missing border, but once heat-bonded to the fabric it was perfectly usable.  The source graphic file would need some modification to be more suitable to this process, before trying to produce more of them.  I only had time to make one of these in the class, but many more could get produced if there's a demand.  Sewing the patch onto something else is up to the owner, of course.

The creative process is interesting: a graphic file gets imported into the "studio" design program from Silhouette, one of several manufacturers of automated cutting machines.  Once the graphic is "traced" into a usable pattern of edges, it can be sent to the cutter, which is basically an X/Y plotter with a tiny blade that makes very fine cuts that *almost* go through the media, but not far enough to penetrate an adhesive protection layer underneath.  [In this case the "active" side of the reflective vinyl is downward against the protection film, so we're cutting into the backside that will go onto the cloth.  Thus, the image needs to be mirror-flipped in the software before cutting.]  Then it's up to the creator to "weed out" the unwanted parts of the image from the vinyl that will get transferred to the fabric, by carefully lifting them away from the adhesive layer.  The cut lines are so fine that they're hard to see; visual magnification helps quite a bit.  What remains is what gets bonded to the fabric in a heat press, and the final product emerges once the protective film is carefully peeled away.  There are numerous tutorials about this on youtube, of course.

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