Why fluorescent colors don't work on computer screens

Fluorescent Colors and Computer Screens

At LabelValue.com, we have a line of fluorescent colored labels. Oftentimes, our customers ask to customize these fluorescent labels with their own text, logos, info, etc. So in 2016, we released our Label Ninja online design tool so that customers could upload art or add text and graphics while seeing their label online while they create it.

The Problem

One problem we ran into, however, is accurately representing the fluorescence of the color on a digital screen. Quite simply, this cannot be done.

But why is that? Your screen displays colors in RGB format. Fluorescent colors just don't translate accurately to RGB. After much head-scratching between our design, marketing and IT departments, we finally got to the science behind the matter. Here's what happens:

Why Fluorescent Colors Glow

Fluorescent Color ChartFluorescent colors are fluorescent because they literally glow - in real life that is. What makes them appear fluorescent is actually that they absorb UV light that the human eye cannot see. They then release this UV light as a form of energy that puts off visible light.

Used to be, in the early stages of fluorescent dyes and paints, that this would only be visible with the use of a black light. When the black light shone, the UV reflected light showed up.

DayGlo Fluorescence

But then, special coatings, called DayGlo pigments, were created that would add color brilliance in normal light conditions.

"An object coated with a specific daylight fluorescent pigment reflects its visible color and absorbs and transforms UV wavelengths into this color." -ACS.org DayGlo Fluorescent Pigments, 2012

What happens is, with this special pigment, UV light energy is actually added to the normally reflected color. This makes the color appear brighter, because more light is reaching your eyes. Your brain recognizes this extra light as increased color, thus fluorescent colors appear as being brighter and brilliant!

But... computer screens display RGB

Unfortunately, your computer screen is not coated with the special pigment. This means that it cannot correctly display fluorescent colors, because it outputs in RGB (Red, Green, Blue) which cannot clearly represent the hue and brightness that the human eye perceives when examining a fluorescent material.

And that's why fluorescent colors do not appear accurately on computer screens.