Carbon Black Retroreflective silver trim

Carbon black changes the game on the run and on the runway

By Barb Wilkinson · October 26, 2018

The majority of runners like to get their exercise in the evenings during the week, which is in the dark for much of the year here. On weekends, its early morning.

That can be dangerous for joggers, and for cyclists on the road for fun or for the daily commute.

Or for those of us who are just out for a leisurely stroll with the dog.

But there’s a new technology out in the market that is a game-changer for activewear and safety — and it’s just plain cool, too.

Its official name is 3M Scotchlite C790 Carbon Black Stretch Transfer Film, but just between friends we’ll call it carbon black.

“This is a breakthrough product,” says Ruth Cockwill, a high-visibility specialist in Western Canada for 3M. “It’s the most current and the most fun.”

Carbon black is, well, black. When light hits it, though, the black has silver retroreflective properties. The reflective silver is built right into the various layers of the black so it doesn’t wear off. It doesn’t crack. It has four-way stretch. It’s super lightweight.

We tend to wear a lot of dark colours in the winter, and they are just not visible.

Carbon black changes conspicuity with its reflective properties when you are near street lights or headlights. Once you’re done with your run, you still look great at the coffee shop or the grocery store.

“It is absolutely exploding,” says Ryan Gallagher, global market development manager for 3M on the recreational side. He is seeing the use of carbon black in running, cycling, streetwear, motorsports and fashion.

Since it is cuttable by laser, carbon black is being incorporated into small design elements like logos. Others are putting large panels on leggings or jackets.

“One company, Love Your Melon, has been fun to work with. They’ve used it in the patches on their hats,” says Gallagher.

A motor and snow sport company, Klim, is also using carbon black, which was only introduced in 2017. As it takes 12 to 24 months to make it through the design cycle of companies, there will soon be a lot more of the product in the marketplace “from the largest and most recognizable brands.” 

Fashion brands are also experimenting with carbon black, and there will be some exciting new uses on the runway as well, although Gallagher can’t be specific just yet. “It’s garnered a lot of attention.”

The new fabric has good luck with its timing into the marketplace.   

“It is trending; people are looking to use a reflective product,” says Gallagher. “It’s a great product that doesn’t force designers to compromise performance for aesthetics or vice versa.”

While carbon black doesn’t quite meet all the safety standards for industrial workwear, there are companies who are definitely interested in the product and are playing with it to see how it might also enhance safety.

“It’s a mindset change,” Gallagher says. “There’s a growing interest among some companies and they’re finding some pretty cool new ways to use it.”

Grant Davey, president of Davey Textile Solutions (DTS), a manufacturer of safety trim for workwear, is enthused about the discreet visibility carbon black offers customers.

“It looks like a regular garment. You get in lowlight and all of a sudden it pops,” says Davey.

“The reflective protection doesn’t compromise the look of the garment at all. And the stretch makes it very comfortable.”

DTS has recently introduced the 3M carbon black into their product, and Davey says the first customers to sign up are graphic artists looking to include it in their company logos.

“Who knows the potential of carbon black? It’s definitely a door-opener. It’s very exciting.”

The eighth annual Davey Protective Clothing Systems for Safety seminar will be held Nov. 5 – 6 in Edmonton. Full information at

Barb Wilkinson is a freelance writer and editor based in Edmonton




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