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What is an example of a fluorescent pigment?

Fluorescent pigments are a special type of pigment that absorb light at one wavelength and emit light at a longer wavelength, causing the color to appear brighter. Some common examples of fluorescent pigments include:

DayGlo Paints

DayGlo paints are some of the most well-known fluorescent paints. They were first developed in the 1930s and contain fluorescent dyes dissolved in acrylic paint. Some popular fluorescent colors from the DayGlo line include:

  • DayGlo Orange – Absorbs UV light and emits a bright orange glow
  • DayGlo Red – Absorbs blue light and appears vivid red
  • DayGlo Yellow – Absorbs UV light and emits an intense yellow
  • DayGlo Green – Absorbs UV and violet light to emit a bright green

These paints are commonly used for safety and visibility applications, art projects, signage, and more. When illuminated with UV light, DayGlo paints appear exceptionally bright compared to standard paints.

Highlighter Ink

Highlighter pens contain fluorescent ink that glows brightly under UV light. These inks are made from colorants like pyranine (a fluorescein dye) combined with glycerin, water, and sometimes polyvinyl alcohol.

Highlighter ink absorbs UV wavelengths between 350-370nm and emits visible light centered around 515nm, creating a vivid yellow-green color. This fluorescent effect allows highlighted text to stand out on the page. Highlighter pens come in a variety of colors like yellow, orange, green, pink, and blue.

Fabric Whiteners

Many laundry detergents and fabric whiteners contain fluorescent whitening agents (FWAs). These are synthetic fluorescent chemicals that absorb UV light and re-emit it as blue light, making fabrics appear brighter and whiter.

One common FWA used is stilbene, a fluorescent derivative of stilbene. When applied to clothes, stilbene attaches to fabric fibers and enhances the blue region of the visible spectrum, counteracting natural yellowing. This optical brightening makes clothes look cleaner and more vibrant.

Neon or Fluorescent Paints

While DayGlo brand paints are the most widely recognized, there are many types of neon or fluorescent paints available from various manufacturers. These all contain pigments that fluoresce under UV light.

Some examples of fluorescent paint colors include:

  • Horizon Blue – Glows a neon blue
  • Aurora Pink – Fluoresces a bright pink
  • Lumen Yellow – Emits an intense yellow
  • Signal Green – Fluoresces a vivid green
  • Blaze Orange – Glows a bright orange

These types of fluorescent acrylic paints are commonly used for murals, artwork, posters, signs, and other decorative projects. They contain photoluminescent pigments that absorb UV and emit visible light for a glowing, neon effect.

Thermochromic Pigments

Thermochromic or heat-sensitive pigments change color in response to temperature changes. Some types of thermochromic pigments are fluorescent and shift from clear or one color to another fluorescent color when heated.

For example, a thermochromic pigment may be colorless below 64°F but fluoresce a bright yellow above this temperature. Other fluorescent color-changing pigments may shift from pink to orange or purple to blue. These temperature-activated fluorescent dyes are sometimes used in mood rings, climate-indicating stickers, novelty mugs, and other applications.

Security Inks

Fluorescent inks that are invisible under normal light are sometimes used in security printing applications. These colorless inks contain optical brighteners that only become visible when illuminated with UV light.

Security printing uses these transparent fluorescent inks to print hidden barcodes, serial numbers, logos, and other markings. These are invisible under regular conditions but become visible under UV illumination to verify authenticity and prevent counterfeiting.

Blacklight Posters

Blacklight posters are designed specifically to fluoresce brilliant colors under UV blacklight. They are printed with fluorescent inks containing pigments that absorb invisible UV light and emit colorful visible light.

Popular fluorescent colors used in blacklight posters include neon pink, orange, green, and blue. Photoluminescent organics like the DayGlo pigments are commonly used as well as inorganic pigments like zinc sulfide.

Under regular lighting, the posters may appear washed out or even black. But under UV blacklights, the fluorescent dyes glow vividly to create a dramatic effect. Blacklight posters were most popular in the 1960s and 70s and are still used today for decorative accent lighting.

Dental Fluorescing Agents

Some oral hygiene products contain fluorescing agents that glow under UV light to help highlight plaque buildup. These agents attach to plaque, tartar, and bacteria in the mouth then fluoresce a bright color when illuminated with a UV dental inspection light.

Two examples of fluorescing dental agents include:

  • Erythrosine – Red fluorescent dye that adheres to dental plaque
  • Fluorescein – Yellow-green fluorescing agent that latches onto tartar

By making plaque and tartar easier to see, these fluorescent pigments help improve dental inspections and cleaning. The bright glow indicates areas that need more brushing or dental work.

Organic Fluorescent Dyes

In addition to the specialty applications above, there are thousands of organic fluorescent dyes used as pigments in a vast range of products. Some examples include:

  • Rhodamine – Red fluorescent dye used in dye lasers, pens, and fluorescent markers
  • Phosphine – Yellow-green organic compound used as an insect tag and fluorescent marker
  • Umbelliferone – Blue fluorescent agent found naturally in plants with UV protective properties
  • Fluorescein – Yellowish-green fluorescent commonly used as a tracing agent in many applications

The fluorescence of these organic dyes arises from their unique molecular structure. When excited by light energy, electrons jump to higher energy levels then relax and release energy as visible light. This makes them ideal as fluorescent pigments in a wide range of products.

Inorganic Fluorescent Pigments

In addition to organic dyes, inorganic compounds can also produce fluorescence. Some examples of inorganic fluorescing pigments include:

  • Phosphors – Powdered minerals like zinc sulfide and calcium tungstate used in fluorescent lights and tubes
  • Quantum dots – Tiny nanocrystals of semiconductor materials that fluoresce different colors based on size
  • Lanthanide ions – Elements like neodymium and erbium that emit colored light when doped in materials
  • Phosphorescent powders – Aluminates and silicates that absorb and re-emit light over time, causing glow-in-the-dark effects

These inorganic pigments have unique light emitting properties that make them useful for lighting, displays, biomedical imaging, security inks, and other tech applications.

Common Applications of Fluorescent Pigments

Fluorescent pigments have many useful qualities and are found in a diverse array of applications and products. Some of the most common uses include:

  • Safety vests, paints, tape – Improved visibility and safety
  • Road signs, lane markings – Increased brightness and visibility
  • Art supplies – Neon, vibrant colors for artistic effects
  • Inks, pens, highlighters – Bright, vivid writing and highlighting
  • Detergents, whiteners – Optical brightening of fabrics
  • Blacklights, party decor – Fluorescent effects for entertainment
  • Security printing – Hidden UV reactive markings
  • Biomedical imaging – Tags and markers for diagnosis
  • Bug sprays, ant traps – Invisible fluorescent tracking of insects
  • Dental products – Plaque and tartar detection

The unique ability of fluorescent materials to absorb invisible UV light and emit bright visible light makes them invaluable for these enhanced visibility, detection, imaging, and decorative applications.

How Fluorescent Pigments Work

Fluorescence arises from the unique molecular structure and excitation states of certain materials. Here is an overview of how fluorescent pigments work:

  1. A molecule absorbs a photon of UV or visible light, exciting an electron to a higher energy state.
  2. The excited electron relaxes to the ground state, emitting a photon of longer wavelength visible light.
  3. This fluorescence effect only occurs briefly, within nanoseconds of the initial excitation.
  4. The emitted light is always a longer wavelength than the absorbed light due to some energy being lost to heat, vibration, etc.
  5. The molecule returns to its ground state and is ready to absorb another photon, repeating the fluorescence cycle.

Different fluorescent pigments have their own unique excitation and emission spectra, fluorescing certain colors when illuminated. But they all follow this same basic mechanism of absorbing higer energy light and re-emitting lower energy visible light.

Key Properties of Fluorescent Pigments

Fluorescent pigments have a number of unique properties that make them so useful across many different applications:

  • Brightness – They emit light rather than just reflecting it, creating very vivid and intense colors.
  • Glow – They continue emitting light after the excitation source is removed, creating an afterglow effect.
  • Large Stokes Shift – A large difference between excitation and emission wavelengths, allowing self-filtering of emitted light.
  • Photostability – High resistance to photodegradation over time when properly formulated.
  • Environmental Sensitivity – Some change properties based on temperature, pH, etc., allowing sensor applications.
  • Transparency – Many fluoresce even in transparent or near-colorless states.

These characteristics make fluorescent pigments invaluable for safety applications, warning signs, labeling, security inks, biomedical imaging, and many other creative uses across science and industry.

Differences from Phosphorescent Materials

Fluorescent pigments are sometimes confused with phosphorescent materials, but they have distinct differences:

  • Fluorescence only occurs briefly during excitation, while phosphorescence can persist for minutes or hours after.
  • Phosphors emit light more slowly and exhibit longer glow times.
  • Fluorescence has much shorter emission times, just nanoseconds in many cases.
  • Phosphorescence depends on slower forbidden energy transitions.
  • Fluorescence is generally brighter during excitation than phosphorescence.

Here is a comparison table summarizing the key differences:

Property Fluorescence Phosphorescence
Emission Duration Very brief, nanoseconds Longer persistence, minutes-hours
Decay Time Very fast, 10^-9 to 10^-7 sec Slow, 10^-3 to 10^3 sec
Glow Duration Little to no afterglow Long afterglow
Brightness Very bright during excitation Lower brightness
Light Emission Process Allowed transitions Forbidden transitions

While their glow effects may appear similar, fluorescence and phosphorescence arise from very different light emission mechanisms in materials.

Creating Custom Fluorescent Pigments

There are several methods for creating custom fluorescent pigments:

  • Dissolving fluorescent dyes – Many organic fluorescent dyes like rhodamines and fluoresceins can simply be dissolved into solvents like glycerol or incorporated into paints and inks.
  • Doping plastics/polymers – Inorganic phosphors or quantum dots can be embedded into acrylic, silicone, epoxy and other plastics to impart fluorescence.
  • Organic synthesis – Fluorescent organic molecules can be custom synthesized through carefully designed multi-step chemical reactions.
  • Encapsulating pigments – Existing fluorescent pigments can be encapsulated into protective polymer shells for enhanced performance.
  • Combining pigments – Blending multiple fluorescent pigments can create unique new fluorescent colors and effects.

The fluorescent dye or pigment must be properly formulated into a delivery medium suitable for the intended application. Matrices like inks, plastics, textiles, papers, solvents and more can all serve as carriers for fluorescent pigments.

Innovative Uses of Fluorescent Pigments

Researchers are continually finding new innovative applications for fluorescent pigments, including:

  • Biomedical imaging – Fluorescent tags and quantum dots to label and image cells and tissues.
  • Anti-counterfeiting – Security inks that fluoresce under UV light.
  • Sensing – Fluorescent indicators that dynamically respond to changes in temperature, pH, or biomolecules.
  • Displays – Quantum dot LEDs (QLEDs) for brighter, more efficient displays.
  • Photodynamic therapy – Fluorescent compounds that generate cell-killing compounds under light.
  • Lasers – Fluorescent dyes used as lasing media for tunable dye lasers.

The unique properties of fluorescent materials continue to enable new advances and applications across many different technology fields and industries.


Fluorescent pigments encompass an enormous range of organic dyes, inorganic compounds, and other specialty chemicals that exhibit the useful property of fluorescence. When illuminated, these pigments absorb invisible UV or higher energy visible light and emit lower energy visible light, causing vibrant glows and colors.

From the original daylight fluorescent paints to cutting-edge biomedical imaging agents, fluorescent pigments enable a diverse array of technologies and applications. Their ability to transform invisible light into illumination and color make them essential for safety, security, sensing, lighting, art, and far more. Researchers continue developing innovative new fluorescent materials, ensuring these unique pigments will remain invaluable well into the future.