Reflective encoder technology has been around for decades. Now, the technology migrates to integrated emitter and detector chips. And these optical components are more useful and in-demand than ever. Our work at Photo Solutions is always evolving with the industries and clients we serve. Reflective encoders are just one example. 


How reflective encoder technology and applications have changed

Reflective encoders using integrated emitter and sensor chips have reduced cost and relaxed mechanical tolerances, allowing them to be used in a variety of industries. These components can provide high levels of precision, accuracy, and resolution. They do this by relying on the precision of lithography in the disc making process. Ultimately, this helps eliminate high tolerance assemblies that need individual calibration. It’s also is why their applications have grown over the years. Reflective encoder discs have extremely precise alternating lines that are reflective and non-reflective. Which, at their most basic, help with distance, speed, and signal information.

Although reflective encoders have functioned essentially the same over the years, simplified sensor chips have reduced cost and their applications and related technologies have changed––most notably with digital and robotic applications. As technology advances and costs drop in these industries, reflective encoder discs can be applied for new uses.

For example, the increasing use of automation from factory robots to household appliances and other consumer products can benefit from these devices. The low profile, smaller power requirements and a simplified optical path allow users to integrate this technology into robotic arms, vacuum cleaners, flying drones, and other products without using more expensive and heavy bolt-on encoders.


Why these wheels are competitive solutions

Reflective encoder chips from suppliers such as Broadcom and iC-Haus provide inexpensive, low profile solutions to motion control applications without the high tolerances traditional optical encoders require. 

As the cost of automation drops, encoder wheels have become more accessible and affordable. This means that we are able to provide custom solutions for clients who no longer have to sacrifice efficiency for affordability. New advancements also make it so index pulses are available in reflective technology, whereas this was not possible before. What this means is that it’s “possible to get all the benefits of the reflective technology as well as an index channel.” 

It’s important to consider that overall cost changes with indexes and flexibility. New reflective encoder wheel technology allows for greater flexibility than ever, specifically with quadrature outputs. Essentially, greater flexibility means that you can achieve more with a single reflective disc than you could have in the past––ultimately saving you time and money on a reflective encoder integration.


Types of reflective encoder wheels 

The material used for a reflective encoder wheel can change its durability and useability. The three main materials––PET, glass, and aluminum–have advantages and disadvantages. Whatever your project or industry, we can help you choose the right material and custom encoder disc. 


PET or Mylar

PET or Mylar material complements the low-cost approach that reflective encoder technology can provide. These code wheels are a cost-effective, user-friendly option that’s easy to laser cut to custom size and shape. We cut the code disc ID concentrically to the optical track, allowing for accurate alignment to a hub or shaft. Locating holes, slots, or almost any other feature can be easily added for clocking the pattern to a specific position. 

Users can aide installation further by the use of a peel and stick PSA backing that allows for easy mating to motors, gears, pulleys, and flywheels. In terms of part cost and ease of installation, reflective film discs are very economical. The downside of this material is it must be fully supported and is not as temperature resistant as other materials.



Chrome on glass code wheels are the best choice for high accuracy applications because they provide extreme flatness and resolution. Glass code wheels are also very stable and resistant to higher temperatures. Installation is more complicated as the discs are optically aligned to hubs with UV epoxy or other adhesives. Glass discs are also the least shock-resistant material and have the highest cost per device.



Aluminum code wheels are for applications requiring the highest environmental performance as they are able to withstand shock and extreme temperature ranges. Another advantage is that they can be accurately mounted to a hub or shaft using the disc ID for alignment similar to PET discs. Like glass discs, they do not need to be fully supported and can use smaller diameter hubs. Although not as user-friendly as PET discs during assembly, they are affordable compared to glass code wheels. 


Introducing our new aluminum product 

We’re always staying ahead of trends and technology in the optoelectronic industry. As we see the demand for reflective encoder technology rise, we’re developing new products to keep up. Our new aluminum encoder discs and scales are extremely durable, shockproof, and resist abrasions, solvents, and moisture. The .5mm thick discs are also heat resistant up to 700 degrees Fahrenheit and can be machined into custom shapes to support special alignment features. Additionally, these reflective components work with Broadcom AEDR and iChHaus optical encoders. And, like most of our products, we can turn them around in about two to three weeks.


Integrating reflective encoder technology into your machine

In addition to being a cost-effective solution, reflective encoder technology is easy to integrate into a variety of machines. Reflective encoders’ size and accuracy make them perfect for types of miniature control systems, such as those in stepper motors, electrical actuators, and piezoelectric drives. 

For applications like medical devices, weight and size are critical. Reflective encoders are lightweight without sacrificing position tracking so that users can trust them for portable medical devices. These components also make integration easier because the emitter and receiver are in one unit, so they do not require traditional mounting and calibration. The same goes for immunity against electromagnetic interference (EMI) interruption. 

If your machine is battery powered, reflective encoder discs “consume less power, prolong battery life, and offer greater flexibility for the selection of other components.” Whether digital or analog, reflective encoders offer a lost-cost solution for engineering problems. And, if you have a machine with particular and precise measurements, our team works with you to create a disc that’s highly efficient, lightweight, and accurate. 


Custom encoder products since 1989 

There’s almost nothing that excites us more than advancements in optical technology and components. In the case of reflective encoder technology, growing demand and changing applications have made them more important and useful than ever. Get in touch with our team to find a custom reflective encoder solution for your next project.