There are many ways to enhance the décor of walls with accessories, but glow in the dark paint for walls offers imaginative and creative opportunities. Whether fluorescent or phosphorescent, the paint can be used for murals, stars, signs, or to accent walls and accessories. Some accessories fade out or become worn in days, months, years, or decades, so how long will glow paint last?
Unopened glow in the dark paint may last for 3 to 5 years. On a wall, it may radiate luminously for up to 10-years, or even 12 if protected with a clear sealer. Fluorescent paint will glow as long as a black light shines on it, while phosphorescent glows after dark for 3 to 4 hours or more.
In this article, we’ll discuss glow in the dark paint and how it works. Explain the difference between fluorescent or black light paint and phosphorescent paint, and what to consider when buying luminous paint. We look at some safety concerns, review some products, and identify how to make glow paint at home. By the end of the article, you will have a better understanding of luminescent paint and how long it will glow.
What Is Glow in the Dark Paint?
Glow in the dark paint has been around for hundreds of years. It was initially developed into a paste or paint from minerals or phosphors with luminescent qualities. Phosphors are used in pyrotechnics, safety matches and military applications, and have become popular with the general public for its glow in the dark abilities.
Phosphorescent or luminous paint commonly contains rare earth phosphors of strontium aluminate or silver activated zinc sulfide. The naturally occurring minerals only glow in shades of green, yellow, and blue. Other colors that glow in the dark can be produced but are expensive and don’t glow as long. An inexpensive and broader spectrum of colors is created when fluorescent dyes are added to one of the three natural shades to tint them.
Fluorescent phosphors are both natural and synthetic in makeup. They are commonly used in television screens, monitors, fluorescent lights, plastics, and paint. They must be energized to glow; otherwise, they are invisible. Fluorescent paint is also known as black light paint and requires a black light source for it to glow.
The finely ground glowing phosphorus material is granular in comparison to the fluorescent dyes. The paint is created by blending the glowing granules and dyes in a clear liquid base. The glow granules are suspended in the paint, and trap or absorb sunlight and glow in the dark.
The color our eyes behold is the emitted light returning through the fluorescent dye. UV rays energize the luminescent phosphors, the dye is not. The granules will glow in the dark until the charge slowly wears down as they lose their brightness.
Glow in the dark or phosphorescent paints use UV rays to recharge and will glow in the dark without the use of black lights, although they may also show up under black light. Fluorescent paints, however, only work when a black light is shone on them; they do not glow in the dark. Fluorescent glow in the dark paint contains both fluorescent and phosphorescent particles.
How Does Glow in the Dark Work?
Phosphors are found in various rare earth minerals and exhibit phosphorescence. They absorb and store ultraviolet (UV) rays or electromagnetic radiation. The stored energy causes the particles to emit an eerie glow in the dark.
The colors they naturally produce depends on the mineral composition, but are limited to different shades of blue, green, and yellow. Strontium aluminate or silver activated zinc sulfide is commonly used today in glow in the dark paints.
The phosphors are ground into a granular phosphorescent powder and blended into paint. The grains don’t dissolve; they are suspended in the paint and sealed onto walls and other surfaces in thin layers of paint film. If the pigment layer is too thick, like regular paint, the UV rays won’t be able to penetrate and charge the phosphors.
The phosphors are activated by UV energy, so either a UV light or sunlight. Regular lamps often don’t have enough UV to charge the phosphor particles. The particles need 3 to 4 hours of exposure to a UV source to store the energy to glow in the dark.
Fluorescence and phosphorescence are not the same. While both are photoluminescent and absorb energy which excites atoms to produce light, the length of time they hold the energy differs greatly. Phosphorescence occurs when phosphors absorb and store electromagnetic radiation, which they emit hours later in the dark.
Fluorescence will also glow but require an active electromagnetic source like a black light. As long as the light is on, fluorescence will glow, turn the light off, and they disappear.
How Long Does Glow in the Dark Last?
Phosphorous paint has a shelf life of three to five years in an unopened can. Glow in the dark paint will last up to 10 years on properly prepared surfaces, and 12 years if a sealer is used to keep the phosphors from deteriorating. When it starts to fade or will no longer recharge and glow, the paint can be reapplied or touched up.
The length of time luminous paint will glow each evening will depend upon the quality of the paint, how long it receives daily UV exposure, and how thickly it was applied. Some luminescent watch dials will glow 12 hours or more, and some struggle to last an hour. The same is true for paint applied to walls.
Quality of the paint base, pigments or dyes used, and the parts per ounce of phosphors affect how long and bright the glow lasts. The thickness is also important; however, two or three thin coats are better than one thick coat. Phosphors require UV rays to charge, the better the source, the better the illumination.
Sunlight is best to energize glowing paint for walls, but as it moves or dusk sets in, the particles begin to glow. Unfortunately, it may not be dark enough to see the light being emitted until full dark. Sunlight, UV black lights, high wattage incandescent lamps, and some LED lights will produce enough charge to keep the glow long after dark.
It is common for phosphors to glow between 3 and 4 hours when exposed to sunlight (UV) for that length of time. Most artificial lighting doesn’t produce much UV, so that they won’t energize the phosphors very much. Refer to the manufacturer’s instructions on the paint container for painting instructions and charging methods.
Is Glow In The Dark Paint Safe?
Glow in the dark paint for rooms have luminescent properties. Historically, the iridescent green, yellow, and blue glow paints did contain radioactive elements that were a health risk. Modern glow in the dark paints and products for civilian use no longer use radioactive material.
Glow paint for walls today is safe for use on children’s bedroom walls and other surfaces, but like most paints, it shouldn’t be ingested. Additionally, as with other paints, good ventilation, eye protection, gloves, and a mask are recommended.
There are also phosphorescent and fluorescent body paints, nail polishes, and make-up products that are safe for occasional use. They are for special occasions and events such as Hallowe’en, and not recommended for daily use. Non-toxic glow in the dark fabric paint is also available and safe for use on children’s clothing, and there are glow paints and pens for art projects too.
Best Glow in the Dark Paint for Walls
There are many high-quality glow in the dark wall paints on the market today. They range from phosphorescent or fluorescent to a blend of both. Some are water-based and others solvent-based, and while most are brush-on, aerosol sprays are available. Selecting what will give the best glow for kids’ rooms or home projects can be confusing; here are some glow paints we feel are best.
SpaceBeams Aurora Glow in The Dark PaintSpaceBeams Aurora glow paint produces a bright fluorescent green glow in the dark and is soft pale green in the light. Use it on fabric, wood, painted surfaces, metal, plastic, and other surfaces. For best results, use on white surfaces, and use thicker applications for brighter results.
The non-flammable paint will glow all night when exposed for a minute or less to UV light. Use it indoors or out; however, use a clear coat of varnish to protect the paint outdoors. Additionally, you get free lifetime access to exclusive stencils.
Black Light Acrylic Fluorescent Wall PaintsEnhance your home décor or dark walls in your business with these eight neon fluorescent wall paints handcrafted in Germany by Neon Nights. They are formulated to glow brighter and longer under black lights or UV lamps but react poorly under LED-UV lights. It even produces a subtle daylight glow.
Use on walls, ceilings, floors, and accessories. For best results indoors or out, use over a white primer, or use multiple coats on other wall colors. Apply a clear top coat if used outdoors. These do not glow in the dark, and shouldn’t be used on fabric or as body paints.
DayGlo Fluorescent Enamel PaintThe 9 fluorescent paint colors and specially formulated topcoat sealer are available in quarts or gallons for large applications. They are ideal for wall murals, 3D signs and images, and safety applications. The paints are highly visible and produce a vibrant glow under black light and even in daylight.
Apply to walls, floors, and ceilings over a good oil-based primer and use the clear top coat over DayGlo paints in outdoor or high traffic applications. Colors may paint on in one tone and dry to another but will show their true vivid colors under black lights.
Rust-Oleum 1932830 Fluorescent SprayThe 11-ounce aerosol alkyd matte paints are available in five glowing fluorescent fast-drying colors. Use on wood, metal, plastic, cloth, or concrete for safety applications, marking items, color coding, or stenciling.
For the best color glow, use over flat white primer or paint.
The paint is interior-exterior and should be used in well-ventilated areas while wearing a mask and eye protection. The bright, vibrant colors improve visibility and work well for hunting, marking tools and equipment, and making signs more noticeable.
What to Consider When Buying Phosphorescent Paint?
Phosphorescent paint glows in the dark paint; it is not fluorescent paint. It requires UV light from the sun or a UV lamp to charge the phosphors, so they glow in the dark, but don’t require black light to be visible after dark.
What the Paint Is Going to Be Used For
Stars or castles that are invisible in the light, but glow after dark require a clear binding agent, as do signs or markers. A colorful wall mural that is visible in the light but glows after dark in muted colors requires a blend of glowing phosphors and fluorescent pigments. Indoor or outdoor applications are other considerations, as are long-term or temporary, and even the choice of body-paint.
Paint Quality and Color
Shades of blue, green, and yellow phosphors occur naturally, other colors require a fluorescent pigment to be added. The fluorescent pigments are only visible after dark when the charged phosphorescent particles emit light through them, or when a black light is shone on them.
Select a paint that has a high particle count per ounce of light-emitting rare earth metals like strontium aluminate or silver activated zinc sulfide. The aluminate glows longer and therefore is more expensive than the sulfide.
The third point to consider is the amount. For small surfaces or stars, an ounce or two is all that is required, while decorative applications may require a pint, quart, or a gallon. It is important to note that multiple thin layers are better than one thick layer, so you may need more paint than expected.
The following are points to consider but don’t necessarily have an ‘order’ to them.
- Find out what artificial light source is recommended for charging the phosphors. Some paint charges under LED-UV light, and some need incandescent or fluorescent UV light to charge if sunlight isn’t an option.
- Check to see how long the glow lasts and how bright or intense a glow it emits. You may need to buy a small amount and test it if the information isn’t available.
- Identify what materials the paint can be applied to and if there is any prep work needed – such as a white flat primer.
- A brush applies most phosphorus paints, check if other applicators like squeeze bottles or sponges can be used. Aerosol cans are another option if available.
- Find out what color the paint goes on, what it looks like on a surface when dry, and what its glow color will be, so there are no surprises.
- Determine if it is water, oil, or solvent-based paint. Some bases are more toxic than others and require more ventilation and safety precautions. Water-based is more versatile and can be used on most surfaces.
- For long-lasting or permanent GLOW, use a waterproof acrylic paint, and for temporary applications, use water-based products that will wash off easily.
- Safety considerations are another consideration when selecting any paint. Find out if you need to purchase gloves, a mask, or eye protection.
- The final consideration is how to remove glow in the dark paint that no longer glows, or it’s time for a change. You can scrape it off if it’s small. For large applications like murals, you’ll need to paint the surface with a good primer and two or three coats to prevent the phosphors from receiving any UV charge.
How to Use Glow in the Dark Paint on Walls?
Once you’ve purchased the glow in the dark paint for your project, you have to apply it. Different methods depend on the size, location, and complexity of what you plan to illuminate. Additionally, the effect you want determines the method of application. Here are some tips for applying glow paint to walls and accessories.
- Light-colored or white backgrounds will produce a brighter glow than black or dark walls.
- Two or three thin coats are better than one thick coat. Let each coat dry before applying another layer. You want to add more phosphor particles to improve the glow. If the paint is wet, you risk removing them from the previous layer. If you’re in a hurry, use a blow dryer on low to speed up the process.
- Use a small painter’s brush for detailed work and apply it in thin coats. Brush from the middle to the edges to avoid thick edges that may glow brighter than desired.
- Many phosphorescent paints go on clear, which makes it difficult to know if you have the paint where you want it. Use an ultraviolet flashlight or black light to ‘see’ what you’re doing.
- Use stencils or painters tape to block areas or shapes for painting.
- To add glowing high-lights to wall paintings or other pictures, freehand brush-strokes mimicking the original are best.
- Use fluorescent glow in the dark paints for more color choice. They often go on clear but additional layers provide more fluorescent pigment, so a muted color will show up in daylight.
- To create a starry night or on a ceiling or wall, dip the tips of a stiff bristle toothbrush into the glow paint. Hold the brush perpendicular to the surface and an inch or two away, and draw your thumb down the bristles. Use stencils to add larger stars or constellations, or dip a toothpick in the paint and color in larger stars. This will also create a 3-D effect with the larger stars seeming to be closer than the small spatter stars.
- If you wish to create clouds or shadow letters or images, lightly dip the edge of a sponge into the color of choice and gently dab it where you want clouds. Go over letters or the lines of images in the same way to produce a shadow effect.
- Use other glow colors and application methods for different effects. Put some luminescent paint in a squeeze bottle, refillable tubes, or paint pen to draw patterns, lines, or add detail.
- To paint a large surface or wall, use a standard brush or roller to apply the paint. For murals or small detailed work, use small artist brushes.
- Apply GLOW paints with aerosol spray cans for broad coverage, stencils, or to coat accessories using thin layers.
- Phosphors need UV rays to charge, so outdoor use is perfect, or indoors where sunlight can charge the glow particles for 3 to 4-hours. UV lights are another way to charge the phosphors too.
- Paint surfaces to be visible after dark like curbs, trip hazards, sidewalk edges, and low hanging head banging items. Paint rocks as outdoor décor, or as path guides to buildings, the fire pit, or outhouse. Paint lawn sculptures or ornaments, Hallowe’en and Christmas decorations, or other seasonal items.
Glow in the Dark Paint DIY
You can buy luminescent paint in many stores or online, or save a few pennies and make DIY glow in the dark paint at home for different occasions. To make any paint glow in the dark, purchase phosphorescent powder from a craft store, hardware store, or online. It is available in different pigment colors and texture compositions. Make sure the powder is compatible with the paint you wish to use – water-based or oil-based.
The powder packs combine phosphors with fluorescent colors. The fluorescent color may be more visible in daylight but will glow under black light. The phosphors, however, will soak up UV rays and glow on their own after dark.
As they shine through the fluorescent color, they highlight and radiate that color. Applying the paint on a white background will also make them brighter.
Use a finely ground powder for a smoother finish as larger granules may create a rough texture and speckled appearance. The powder doesn’t dissolve but stays suspended, so it needs to be thoroughly mixed with the paint. The more powder used, the more vibrant the color and better the glow.
If you want the design to be invisible except in the dark, use a clear-coat or gel for the transfer fluid. Remember, two or three thin coats are better than one thick layer.
Most powders work well with a water-based tempera or acrylic paint for colorful applications. The paint is visible in daylight, and the crystals glow through at night. Follow the manufacturer’s directions for mixing, commonly a 5:1 ratio of paint to powder.
Phosphors can be mixed into any color of paint and painted directly on walls, and other surfaces but commonly are used in wall murals or signs to illuminate or highlight features when the lights go out.
Black Light Paint
Fluorescent or black light paint only glows under UV light. When the lights go out, they don’t glow in the dark. There are several ways to make fluorescent paint that will glow under UV or black-lighting. You can also make visible fluorescent paint or invisible/transparent fluorescent paint.
Using Fluorescent Powder
Visible black light paint is a blend of colored fluorescent powder crystals and water or oil-based paint of a similar color. The instructions commonly call for a 1 to 10 ratio but check those provided with the powder. You may want to lid the mixture and shake it for uniform consistency.
Transparent or invisible fluorescent paint uses the same color pigment powder crystals used in the visible paint, but are blended into a clear paint or sealer. Use more pigment powder for greater color display under UV or black-lighting. The color is invisible in daylight; however, on a white background, pale coloring may occur with the third coat of paint.
For example, mix 1-ounce of luminous powder with 10-ounces of well-stirred paint. If you’re doing a mural or décor that requires multiple colors, prepare them at the same time. Use an appropriately sized brush to apply the paint in thin layers. Use a black light or UV flashlight to check out your progress or finished work.
Using a Highlighter
Select the color(s) of highlighter you need, and pull out the felt strip. Immerse the ink strip in a small bowl or jar of water. Work the color out of the strip, and discard the felt. Dissolve white cornstarch in the liquid until the mix has the consistency of water paint.
Add a drop or two of food coloring to get the desired tone. The fluorescent particles in the highlighter ink will activate when a black light is shone on it.
Some powder laundry detergents have phosphorescent bluing particles to help brighten clothes. Sprinkle some powder in a bowl or on a serviette, darken the room, and shine a black light on the powder. If it contains fluorescent particles, they will glow. You may need to try several different detergents.
Stir a tablespoon of detergent into a cup of water-based paint. Shine the black light on the mixture, if there isn’t much of a glow, stir in more detergent. Record how much detergent per cup of paint, so you can make it again, or make larger batches.
Apply the paint to fabric or surfaces as desired. This is temporary black light paint as the detergent will wash out. However, the paint pigment may not wash out.
To make a clear temporary paint, mix the detergent in water and brush it onto clothes, surfaces, and even skin. Wash or wipe it off with water or a damp cloth. Always test body paint on a small skin surface first, if there is any reaction, wash off with water, and don’t use it.
There are different qualities of glow in the dark paint. High-quality phosphorescent paints will glow 10-hours or longer when charged. Fluorescent paints will radiate light as long as a black light or UV light shines on it. In daylight, phosphorescent paint charges and is invisible, while fluorescent will have brilliance not visible under regular lighting.
I hope you have a better understanding of what glow in the dark paint is, how it works, how to apply it, and how long it may stay luminous. If you found this article interesting or of value, please share it with others. Your comments and suggestions are always appreciated.