Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Neon, Fluorescent, UV, Dayglow...What Does It All Mean?! (And LOOK like in terms of Face Paint?)

 So, we know that Wolfe and Kryolan's neon/fluorescent/uv colors glow under black light.  But many people have trouble figuring out the difference between terminology and just how to determine if something they are buying will actually glow under black light. The face and body painting industry uses all sorts of terms for products that really have a lot of artists confused.  Split cakes, rainbow cakes, one-stroke cakes...what's the difference? Just another example we'll cover that another time! But it's the same in the neon paint category!  So this is my attempt to explain things!

What is the difference between Neon, UV, Day Glow, Fluorescent...?? 

Most people use these terms simply as a way to say they are "super bright colors."  If you want to make sure a product glows under a black light, the only question you need to ask is if the product itself reacts to UV light (like a black light) by fluorescing phosphors.  Or in other words, "does it fluoresce under black light?" A paint labeled with any of these terms doesn't necessarily mean it reacts to UV light.  I mean, usually it does in the face and body painting world, but not all products, colors, and industries use these words the same.  So if you are doing a gig where your paints must glow under black light, make sure to ask the right questions before making a purchase.

Let's start with a mini lesson in the source of these terms...lights!

Neon Light

Neon is what you see in signage like the "open" sign above.  They are made of long tubes that are bent into whatever shapes or letters are needed for the sign.  These tubes emit actual colored light.  Inside the tube is a low pressure gas.  When a high voltage of electricity is run through the electrodes at each end of the tube, the gas "ionizes," and the electrons get all excited, in turn freaking out the atoms which emit colored light.  The gasses inside the tube vary, since each gas emits a different color light. Neon, for example, emits red light.  Argon creates an electric blue-green color, and so on.  The light itself is colored!

Fluorescent Light

Fluorescent lights are similar to 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, instead of the colored light that neon lights emit.  Well, if that is the case, then why aren't people in office buildings coming home with sunburn, you ask?!  Well, the inside of fluorescent tubes are coated with a phosphor, which is able to soak up the UV rays, fluoresce (glow) when energized, and then emit those rays as visible light.  So the light you see coming out of a fluorescent tube is actually the light that is given off by that phosphor coating.

So neon face paint is obviously not really "neon" literally.  And neither is "fluorescent." Companies just uses the term "neon" to describe the fact that the colors are "really bright like a neon/fluorescent light."

Pigments and light are often used to help describe each other, but they can get confusing if you don't understand their origins.  The brightest, whitest light is made up of every color of the spectrum.  However, in terms of pigments or paints, white is the ABSENCE of color, and black is the presence of every color.  So you can see how things can get very confusing very quickly when using light's terms to describe pigments, because they are opposites!  But it makes sense that someone would use a bright light term to describe the brightness of their pigment/paint.

Black Light

Not to be confused with a "party light" which is simply a normal bulb with a colored coating on it...A black light produces UVB light.  Phosphors are what we actually see glowing under a black light.  When they are exposed to radiation (like UVB), phosphors emit a visible light.  So what they do is they pick up the UV rays that we normally can't see, and make them visible.  Which is why other things look dark while the phosphors glow in a dark room with a black light.

So then why does your white shirt glow under black light? White naturally reflects light, so you see the reflection of the normal light itself, PLUS, many of the detergents used today have phosphors in them to make your shirts look super white in daylight.  The two combined (daylight plus phosphors picking up the UV light) make your white shirt look super white.  And the phosphors in your detergent make it glow under black light.  And yes, many bodily fluids fluoresce under black light too...but we will try to avoid the gross hotel room images and move on to more pleasant things!

Now on to some fun face paint examples!!

I went out and bought a black light last night so that I could do some experimentation and share some visuals with you lovey people!!  Now, like I said earlier, if you are looking for a black light, don't get a "party light" that looks like a purple or black light bulb.  All that does is make the incandescent light look purple. You want an actual black light that produces UVB rays, not a light painted black, or it won't work.

I started out by making a new "glowing" header graphic for my neon paint section of my website (above).  This was done with a swipe of my Wolfe Neon Rainbow cake, and then the black was all done using Wolfe Black. Here is a comparison of the Wolfe paints as they look in both normal daylight and under black light:

From there I decided to make some swatches for comparison between Wolfe, Ruby Red, TAG, Global, & Kryolan's neon paints.  All fluoresce under black light.  The two swatches on the far right are clear UV makeups.

Neon makeup brand comparison under normal daylight

Neon makeup brand comparison under blacklight

A few interesting observations:
- The Wolfe paint looks like a light blue under daylight, but a dark blue under black light. 
- Kryolan's blue looks like dark blue under daylight, but light blue under black light. 
- Most of the yellows actually look more green under black light.
- Ruby Red doesn't have a lot of color differentiation, but they are the only ones that are FDA compliant.

Here are a few samples of the TAG neon split cakes when applied in their intended blended variations:
TAG Neon Samples

What Does "Day Glow" Mean?
This is the term that describes pigments that appear really right under normal daylight.  Kryolan calls theirs "UV-Dayglow."  The "UV" part of the name means that it glows under black light.  "Day Glow" means they appear to glow under normal daylight...why they look so bright!

Kryolan UV-Dayglow Aquacolor

Wolfe Clear White Neon Paint

What about "Wolfe Clear White Neon." What's the it clear or is it white?
Wolfe Clear White Neon

It looks white in the container, but check out the images below. This paint goes on virtually clear, yet glows white when under a black light. 

One other little side discovery... After absolutely scrubbing the heck out of my arm to clean off the paint swatch samples, (and I mean scrubbing...with a Lysol wipe with the scratchy stuff in it) the Wolfe Clear White square remained.  While it was nowhere to be seen in broad daylight, it stayed clear as day under black light.  I think the longer you leave it on, the better it will "stick," but something interesting to note!

My arm after SCRUBBING off the earlier swatch samples...Wolfe Clear White remains
Ruby Red also makes an "Invisible" UV makeup. See below for an example of some swirls and teardrops painted on my arm under normal daylight and black light:

It really goes on pretty invisible, which you can tell from how sloppy my lines was hard to see what I was doing!

I had heard that you could lay down Ruby Red's invisible UV makeup over the top of other standard colors to make those colors glow.  So, I tried it out...

A stripe of Ruby Red "invisible" painted over other standard colors from other brands (Global, Paradise, Kryolan)

As you can see, you can't really differentiate the colors once it's held under blacklight.  So, if you think you can just add this over the top of your normal colors to make them glowing colors, you may be disappointed.  However, this makeup could be really fun for some applications, especially on Halloween.   You could paint a skull for example that is not visible during the day, but shows up under blacklight.  Or, you could paint something like a happy clown face, and then use the invisible UV to create a scary clown over the top of it, revealing a change when under black light!

Dayglow = Bright, but UV Reactive ≠ Bright Necessarily!

Another important thing to note, is that while all of the UV reactive paints glow under blacklight, not all UV reactive paints will appear to be bright and neon looking in daylight.  To appear super bright under daylight, the makeup must have the day glow pigments, which are not FDA compliant for cosmetics.  This is why you will see warnings on the packaging of other brands' neon paints.

In their effort to offer only FDA compliant UV paints, Snazaroo and Ruby Red offer a line of paints that react under black light, however, they do not appear fluorescent looking in daylight.  Here is an example of Ruby Red's UV makeup shown under daylight vs blacklight:

Ruby Red UV makeup

 If you are buying these expecting to see bright, neon colors under normal light, you will be disappointed.  Ruby Red does not appear super bright under normal light...they are not "day glow."  They DO glow under black light, but the color variation is not super distinct.  The huge plus side of Ruby Red UV makeup is that they use only FDA compliant pigments. 

For more in-depth information on neon paints and FDA compliancy, check out my next blog post, coming soon!

I hope this has helped to clear some things up for you and help you visualize exactly what these fluorescing paint products can do!  And please note that I am no feel free to correct me in any of my light descriptions.  I'm learning as I go too!  :-)


Areeka Amjad said...

Thank you :) it helped me alot. Im going to arrange a glow party. And i was really confused between all these terms.

Vpalengt Grin said...


Maria Ciornei said...

I want to use neon uv body paint for a concert but i dont know if they use any of these concerts so im jsstjust wowondering if you'd know anything about it ^~^

Gretchen Fleener said...

Hi Maria! I'm afraid that I have no way of knowing what sort of lights are being used at any given'd have to contact the venue. Good luck! :-)

Robert Allen said...

hi Gretchen- I wanted to know if you had any information on paints that would be luminescent upon absorbing light, similar to what they use for traffic lines but more accessible for home use.

Mell said...

Thanks. Your article was well done. Im trying to find out which neon colors have the best cover in daylight.

Stacy Coburn said...

This was absolutely helpful. You saved me from ordering products that would have disappointed me. I was wanting the type of fabric paint that "glows" in dark without need for black or UV light. Which from skimming your well written article that was very informative and organized , I learned quickly that was day glow products. I purchased shine paints on Amazon, they were a pinch pricey but will allow me to paint done of my 4 year olds pj's so she will wear more than one pair :-) :-) :-) thanks so much!!!

Julie Sipes said...

Your article was super!! Can someone please tell me what I would use for GLOW IN THE DARK paint for a paint balloon fight for a 16th Birthday party.. I would not be using black lights of course. I'm so confused, any help would greatly appreciate... Thank YOU in advance Julie

Julie Sipes said...

Hi everyone, Could someone tell me what GLOW IN THE DARK paint I would use for a balloon fight. As I would not be using black lights of course. I'm so confused.. Any help would greatly appreciate. Thank You Julie

Julie Sipes said...

Hi everyone, Could someone tell me what GLOW IN THE DARK paint I would use for a balloon fight. As I would not be using black lights of course. I'm so confused.. Any help would greatly appreciate. Thank You Julie

Gretchen Fleener said...

Hi Julie! I'm afraid that anything that is "glow in the dark" requires time to be charged up with light first, but then quickly fades. Even if you found a paint like this, it wouldn't last more than a minute or two I'm afraid! (Please correct me if I'm wrong, anyone who knows of a glow in the dark paint that keeps glowing!)

Shrinivas Savasheri said...

im Shrinivas want to paint my room with fluorescent colors which one should i use for that please need some guidance.

Derwin Bryant said...

What would cause the skin to appear fluorescent or glowing under a negative exposure?

Gretchen Fleener said...

Hi Shrinivas...I'm afraid this blog is about face and body paint...I'm not really familiar with what you would use on a wall. Hope you find something that works! Derwin, I'm not quite sure I understand what you're you mean like if you were to take picture in Photoshop and invert it? If that's the case, then black would be the color that appears to glow the most when inverted...

DebinSC said...

Gretchen you are so awesome lady! We have a UV event coming up and I am learning how to make designs that will blow them away and your such a help! I have almost all of your books too and highly recommend them!!!

hugs and Happy painting
Deb Bremer

Victoria Lynn Photography said...

Great work Gretchen, I did my first body scape, with UV midnight glo paint and black lights. I'm hooked now! I bought a half dozen 18" black lights at Walmart. here is a link to the image on my yelp page. Thank you for all of your great information!

Allen Chan said...

hi Gretchen
i am wondering if you have evaluated various uv glow black light paint(s) for wood furniture?
i was thinking of painting some pallet tables and using black light to 'glow' them.
tq, Allen

Gretchen Fleener said...

Hi Allen! Sorry, I'm afraid I've only really used UV reactive body paints. But if you want to make sure whatever paint you buy for wood glows, I'd suggest getting a little blacklight flashlight...then you can shine it on products in the store to make sure they glow before you purchase! ;-). I'm not sure if they make UV reactive stains but I know you can get fluorescent acrylic paints.

uma shankar said...

Well I wanted to do a painting with this paints ... This surely helped me,

Ann Lippert said...