Why no "fluorescent white" paint?

Recently I have gotten it into my head to play around with fluorescent paints on a small scale. The local craft store had a variety of brand name acrylic paints, but they all seemed to offer the same basic palette of six colors: Red, Pink, Orange, Yellow/Chartreuse, Green, and Blue. Most notably, there is no fluorescent white paint.

Poking around online, I see that fluorescent white paint does exist, but is apparently only available from specialty paint dealers at absurd prices.

Now, I am no chemist, but I know just from past experience going to clubs that it is in fact rather easy for to cause white fabric, such as stray lint fibers, to fluoresce under black light quite impressively. Certain types of white paper also fluoresce, I presume due to a similar effect. So why is fluorescent white paint seemingly such an exotic luxury item? If I want to add fluorescent white highlights to my art project, I’d rather not be forced to use lint fibers, avant-garde as that might seem.

It’s not a dye in white cloth that fluoresces, it’s the detergent. So you might be able to do something with that.

edit: took me a while to find a descriptive link:

Note that different detergents fluoresce differently. Different countries have different ideas on what color looks the most clean, and so clothing manufacturers use detergents that tint that color.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen an object that fluoresces white. That’s why I would guess that it’s hard to find. I know my white t-shirts always fluoresce a bright blue.

Would it be possible to mix your own using the basic palette? Since white light is a combination of multiple frequencies of light and not a single frequency the same way red light is, paints that produce light of those varying frequencies might give you the result you’re looking for.

You can mix light to get white, but not paint.

As someone else mentioned - it is blue in fabric - but you don’t really see blue. You could try mixing Mrs Stewarts Bluing. I have no idea if that will work. I am pretty sure oxyclean has the brighteners in it - you can see the little blue flecks. You can see if that works as a test by mixing it with reg white paint (I am assuming the texture would be awful). If it works with oxyclean - go and buy the Mrs Stewarts Bluing (but be careful with it!) - it is a liquid and would mix better than oxyclean.

Not sure what it is in paper that does it - if it is blue as well.

What is it about the fluorescent that is special? Could you use reflective white paint - as in road lines? I can’t imagine that is expensive.

While generally true, that’s for substances that only reflect light. While fluorescent items technically reflect light, they appear to actually create light, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you could do it. What you’d get would technically be a really light gray, but that’ll look pretty white in a dark room.

Of course, you’d be better off using substances that are purely fluorescent, and not fluorescent paints which also use regular reflected light. I think using detergents would be better.

And using detergents on top of the highly reflective paint you mentioned might just work, covering both UV and low light situations.

Normal paint tends to black because it works by taking white light and absorbing parts of it. Red paint absorbs the not-red light, yellow paint absorbs the not-yellow light, and so on.

Flourescent paints do not work like this. Flourescent paints all absorb UV light and emit it as different frequencies of visible light. Depending on how much visible light it absorbs, you should get a dim white light.

In college we used to paint the walls with detergent. Looked totally normal most of the time but the place looked like a rave at night when we turned on the black lights and there was writing all over the place.
Now whenever I see a show, be it a comedy/CSI type show/Investigative whatever and they put a black light in a teenage kids room or a hotel and say ‘look, the comforter is covered in semen’ my first thought is that it may be, but it’s more likely that it’s just detergent. In fact, I’m willing to bet if you get a brand new comforter and wash it a few times it’ll fluoresce pretty impressively under a black light as well.

Anyways, back to the OP, what I was starting to say is that you might try just mixing some detergent into the white paint and see how that works.

Or ink from some yellow highlighters. That might do the trick as well.

Hmmm - are you sure about this - or making some logical deductions?

This page seems to suggest that mixing flourescent red & green - with fl white (for example) - would result in a earth tone (I’m guessing that is brownish). This is the same as what you would expect with regular paints (additive) and not the yellow you should get if what you are saying is accurate (subtractive). At least that is my read on it.

BTW - OP - that link seems to have more info on mixing flourescent paint that might be of interest for your project.

Grumman - I am asking cause I am curious - I am not at all sure that I am right - I really don’t know. What you are saying does seem somewhat logical.

I find color and light a fascinating topic, but I know very little about flourescence - so this is somewhat new territory to me.


Oops - would help if I pasted the link I am talking about…

Making logical deductions. It could be that I’m wrong.

Regular paints are subtractive, lights are additive.

…just for clarification, Terrifel, are you talking “fluorescent” as in “glow in the dark” or fluorescent as in “day-glo”?

I own a few fishing lures in fluro white,they look white in daylight but a dull green blue, just an ugly colour that why no demand for it.

I had the ‘day-glo’ sort of paints in mind, the kind that show fluorescence under black light, like a scorpion, but do not glow in the dark. Although the craft store sells both kinds, so now I am wondering what happens if the two are mixed?..

Many thanks to all for the suggestions here, this is a more complicated topic than I had originally considered. Sure enough, the fluorescent ‘whitening’ effect I had recalled from fabric and paper is really more of a blue color under UV light, not too different from the actual ‘fluorescent blue’ color of craft paint. So maybe a true ‘fluorescent white’ really is a more complex problem than I had assumed.

In order to get a whitish shine under UV you might try fluorescent lemon yellow, Terrifel.

Fluorescent zombies glow in the dark.

I work almost exclusively with fluorescent colors and black lights in both painting and in my tie-dyes.

White is very difficult; Grumman’s succinct answer was pretty good.

I recommend Wildfire brand white paint; I think it’s a little closer to true white than any other and I like the leveling action and finish. Rosco’s paint is a little duller and IMO benefits from a small amount of floetrol (and is about ⅔ the cost of Wildfire’s product).

I thought zombies preferred fluorescent black.

Or white ink in the printer. Seems it would be simple to include a cartridge for when it was needed but the default setting would be not to use it.