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Flashing Patterns Explained

Choosing a flash pattern is a lot more involved than just picking something that looks ‘cool’ from at 10-20 feet away. The human eye does not respond to blinking or flickering light as it does to moving warning signal such as ‘old school’ rotating warning lights. The reason most warning patterns are useless is due to the lack of contrast. Contrast is created in one of two ways, between light and dark or between two different colours. It’s important to understand the limitations of today’s warning lights in order to utilize them in the most effective way possible.


The real test of a flash pattern is how it performs 100 or 1000 feet away. So for a dash light or minibar that is all one colour, the solution is to use a pattern where the entire light is on and then the entire light is off. This does a couple of things. First, it produces the highest level of contrast and therefore an effective warning signal. Secondly, you have all of the available LED’s lit at the same time, making the signal as bright as it can be. This is especially important during the day. Anything less is a weaker warning signal. If your dash light or mini-bar is split colour, then it’s very obvious that you’ll use a split-colour flash pattern. It achieves the greatest level of contrast and creates an effective warning signal.

When it comes to lightbars, it can get a little more complicated. If your lightbars is all one colour the most effective warning signal will be created by use a two stage flash pattern. The first stage is to flash one side of the bar and then the other. After a few ‘rounds’ the entire bar should flash together. By doing so, you will have a high level of contrast side to side which can be seen at medium distances and an even higher level of contrast at long distances with the all on, all off pattern. If your lightbar is split red and blue, then it’s pretty easy to figure out the best pattern. Alternate all of the red against all of the blue. If you chose a pattern that only flashes a few of the heads in each colour at the same time, the signal is muddled and ineffective. Again, it may look ‘cool’ up close, but half a mile away it’s a muddled purple blur.

Picking patterns that ‘dance’ or look ‘intense’ up close are sure to be useless a half mile away. So when setting up your warning lights, give some thought to your safety and those around you. Pick a pattern that maximizes contrast and gets the most attention. All on, all off or colour against colour. In so doing, you will be ahead of the game and much safer than those who don’t. At the end of the day, it’s all about contrast.

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