So, we know that Wolfe and Kryolan neon/fluorescent/uv colors glow under black light. But many folks have trouble determining the difference between terminology and just how to determine if something they are buying will actually glow under dark light. The facial skin and body painting industry use all sorts of conditions for products that basically have a great deal of artists baffled. Yet another example, we’ll cover that another time! But it is the same in the neon color category!

So this is my try to clarify things! Neon is exactly what you see in signage like the “open up” signal above. They are constructed of long pipes that are bent into whatever words or styles are needed for the sign. These tubes emit actual colored light. Inside the tube is a minimal pressure gas.

When a higher voltage of electricity is run through the electrodes at each end of the pipe, the gas “ionizes,” and the electrons get excited all, subsequently freaking out the atoms that emit colored light. The gasses inside the pipe vary, since each gas produces a different color light. Neon, for example, emits red light. Argon creates an electric blue-green color, etc.

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The light itself is shaded! Fluorescent lights act like neon lights in that they have a tube filled with gas with electrodes on each end. However, fluorescent lights have a mercury vapor inside, that emits UV (ultraviolet) light when ionized, rather than the colored light that neon lamps emit.

Well, if that is the case, then why aren’t people in office buildings coming house with sunburn, you ask? Well, the within of fluorescent pipes are coated with a phosphor, which is able to absorb the Ultraviolet rays, fluoresce (shine) when energized and then emit those rays as noticeable light.

So the light you observe coming out of a fluorescent pipe is actually the light that is given off by that phosphor coating. So neon face paint is obviously not necessarily “neon” literally. Pigments and light are often used to help describe each other, but they can get complicated unless you understand their origins.

The brightest, whitest light consists of every color of the range. However, in terms of pigments or paints, white is the ABSENCE of color, and black is the existence of every color. And that means you can see how things can get really perplexing very quickly when working with light’s terms to spell it out pigments, because they are opposites! But it makes sense that someone would use a shiny light term to describe the brightness of their pigment/paint. A black light produces UVB light. Phosphors are what we should actually see glowing under a black light. When they face radiation (like UVB), phosphors emit a visible light.

So what they do is they grab the Ultra violet rays that we normally can’t see, and make sure they are visible. Which is why other things look dark while the phosphors shine in a dark room with a black light. Why does your white t-shirt glow under dark light then?

White naturally reflects light, so you see the representation of the standard light itself, PLUS, many of the detergents used today have phosphors in these to make your tee shirts look super-white in daylight. Both combined (daylight plus phosphors pick up the UV light) make your white shirt look super white.

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