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Intro to UV

Black Light

Longwave ultraviolet (black light) is the popular name for near-ultraviolet radiant energy, which falls just outside the visible spectrum. When it falls upon certain materials, it makes them “fluoresce,” that is, to “emit visible light.” What actually occurs is a conversion of energy. The ultraviolet that is invisible, falls upon the fluorescent surface and is absorbed and re-radiated at longer wavelengths in the visibility range of the human eye.

In technical terms, fluorescence is caused by a conversion of energy. Ultraviolet radiation is absorbed by certain materials and re-emitted as visible light radiation. The cause of this phenomenon is the absorption of energy by the material’s electrons. When they absorb extra energy they jump into higher energy orbital patterns surrounding their nucleus. Eventually they release this energy as visible light when they fall back to their normal orbital shell. Various fluorescent colors are determined by the difference between the original electron orbital and the new excited orbital pattern.

Longwave vs Shortwave

The wave designates what will fluoresce, as things can be identified by using the proper wavelength.
UV-A – longwave – used for leaks, fingerprints, dyes
UV-C – shortwave – used to identify minerals and gems. Also used to kill bacteria, viruses and pathogens.

Common applications of ultraviolet light

Ultraviolet lights make things visible that are unable to be seen with the naked eye. Virtually every scientific field, manufacturing, or service industries employ the use of ultraviolet radiation directly or indirectly. <


Dyes and Dye Markers:

Fluorescent dyes are used in product packaging, posters and signs, theatrical make-up and staging, and laundry dyes. These dyes utilize the UV rays from the sun and artificial indoor lighting. The phrase “whiter than white” is not advertising hype. Fluorescent crayons and inks are also used for marking alteration patterns in clothing and bulk cloth for the garment industry.

Automotive and Industrial Leak Detection/Pollutants

Fluorescent dyes are also used in concentrated form as markers for air/sea search rescues and as tracers in ground water studies. Liquid and gaseous dyes and powders are used for leak detection in countless industrial and automotive systems.

Tracing their waste to their “doorstep” using UV portable lamps has successfully prosecuted some industrial polluters. Environmental clean up crews can locate pollutants and then have them analyzed for proper clean up and disposition.

DNA Enhancement Dyes

Ethidium Bromide, a fluorescent dye, is used for enhancing DNA molecules for research and study.

Criminal Identification & Law Enforcement

Invisible inks and dyes are used to mark the criminal during a crime. Fingerprint enhancement powders can be seen using ultraviolet light. UV photography specifically utilizing longwave UV penetrates deeper into the surface of the skin, thereby identifying bruises unseen with the naked eye. This can aid in prosecuting child abusers and identifying a particular weapon used.

Search & Rescue

Fluorescent dyes used in brightening clothing really do enhance their products. Since the widespread use of these laundry dyes has permeated our culture, it has been suggested that rescue teams use UV to locate drowning victims in murky waters.

Arson Accelerants;

Since most hydrocarbons fluoresce, law enforcement officials have been using UV for a variety of investigations. Arson investigators can photograph stains of hydrocarbon-based accelerants even after incineration. After locating these stains, samples are analyzed for exact composition. Several chemicals have a hydrocarbon base and leave a characteristic stain.

Invisible Personal Property Identification Markers

Many invisible inks and dyes are used for marking and identifying property.

Postal Stamp Inks

Certain postal stamps have fluorescent inks which help in routing and identification. The absence or presence of these dyes affects the value of these stamps to the philatelist collector.

Social Event Admission Stamp Markers

Invisible inks and dyes are used for hand stamps for social and sporting events.

Windshield Repair:

Longwave UV is used for gelling and curing applications for automotive glass repair.

Forgeries and Repairs of Artwork, Antiques, and Collectibles

Many epoxies, glues and paints fluoresce. Forgeries, fakes and repairs are detected using a UV lamp to locate differences in fluorescence. UV lamps can detect counterfeit currency absent of marker dyes.

Fungi, Ringworm, Bacteria, Urine, and Spermatozoa

Various medical and forensic uses for UV are to locate bacteria, urine, spermatozoa and many fungi such as ringworm.

Rodent Control

Many pest control companies use UV Lamps to locate rodent urine stains. They can then set their traps and baits along known runways and infested areas.

Scorpions and other Anthropoids and Insects:

These fluoresce, by using UV, it enables these to be located so they can be removed from unwanted areas).


Hunters use special sprays to eliminate UV dyes in their clothing and equipment. UV light can also assist the hunter in locating a blood trail.

Valuable Ores, Minerals, Gems, and Hydrocarbons:

Various objects are naturally fluorescing and can be located and sometimes identified by the use of UV lamps alone. Several important ores of tungsten, zinc and uranium are fluorescent. Some mines sort out the high-grade ore passed under an ultraviolet lamp on conveyors. Mineral collectors also use UV to collect interesting but non-economic fluorescent minerals. UV identifies many natural gemstones as natural from their synthetic counterparts. Oil companies usually have a UV lamp on their drilling rigs. The longwave UV causes hydrocarbons to fluoresce indicating the oil bearing strata.

Adhesive Curing:

Several epoxies are designed to set when exposed to UV radiation. This gives ample time for alignment of parts. Then, when you are ready, just expose it to UV, usually longwave UV light.

DNA and other Molecular Bond Breakdown:

Shortwave UV is used in the breakdown of DNA molecular bonds while longwave UV is used for gelling and curing applications for genetic research.

Sanitation and Germicidal:

Shortwave UV is an effective germicidal tool. It is used in sanitizing lab ware, air, water, and whole rooms. Sanitation services spray washable UV dyes on laundry to ensure complete sanitation. The absence of the fluorescing dyes ensures the job was done.

UV lamps aid in the detection of organic mineral deposits that remain on surfaces where periodic cleaning and sanitizing may not be properly accomplished. Both urine and phosphate soaps are easily detected using UV inspection. Pet urine deposits in carpeting or other hard surfaces can be detected for accurate treatment and removal of mineral tracers and the odor causing bacteria that feeds on the proteins within. Many hospitality industries use UV lamps to inspect for unsanitary bedding to determine life cycle for mattress restoration as well as general performance of the cleaning staff. UV lamps are helpful in identifying unsanitary conditions in hotels, public toilets, hand rails etc.

Treatment of Skin Disorders

Patients with skin disorders such as psoriasis, vitiligo, dermatitis, dyshidrosis, eczema, lichen planus are often treated with high doses of UV light concentrated to the affected area.

Getting started

We recommend our book, "The Story of Fluorescence" and UV glasses to protect your eyes.

Ultraviolet photography

It is recommended that you contact your camera manufacturer for available lenses and filters specifically designed for UV photography.

Identifying longwave and shortwave tubes & filters
Shortwave tubes are clear.
Longwave tubes are frosted.
Shortwave filters are smooth and polished.
Longwave filters are rippled.

Click here for more information regarding fluorescence