Understanding Fluorescent and Neon Colors and How to Use Them

Fluorescent and neon colors are distinctive and vivid hues that are bright and highly saturated. Artists and designers use striking and brilliant fluorescent and neon colors to stand out from the crowd and to provide graphic flourishes that grab your attention. We also use these colors for safety purposes to make workers more noticeable on job sites and in road projects.

We often call bright and vivid colors fluorescent or neon interchangeably. But there is more to fluorescent and neon colors than just their vibrant hues.

What is Fluorescent Color vs. Neon Color?

Understanding Fluorescent and Neon Colors

Fluorescent colors are distinct from just bright colors like neon colors in the way we create them and in how they reflect light.

Fluorescent Color

Fluorescent is a color name we use to describe hues that are vibrant and saturated. . Fluorescent colors reflect more light and even appear to glow from within. Fluorescent colors are related to a phenomenon in the natural world called “fluorescence.” Fluorescence is the radiation of light from a material that has absorbed light and then emits it at a lower energy or lower wavelength. This resulting light emission gives fluorescent materials a glowing effect.

We derive fluorescent colors by combining fluorescent dye with a binder such as resin to produce a solid pigment. True fluorescent color is visible in ultraviolet and with visible light, but the color does fluoresce under UV light. This means that UV light excites the energy in the molecules and results in a more vivid color. Manufacturers have also developed daylight fluorescent pigments (DFP) that provide the same vivid colors that UV light produces. These pigments are widely used in industries where attention getting is beneficial. These include in commercial packaging, sports gear, graphic design, interior decorating, and safety gear.

Neon Color

Neon gas is a noble gas that is present in the Earth’s atmosphere. When you place neon gas into a tube and shine light on it, it produces a red-violet color. Other gases like argon, helium, krypton, and xenon produce other colors like blue, orange, white, yellow, and green. Neon colors are the bright and vivid representation of these colors produced by these gases.

Fluorescent and Neon Color Usage

Wash basins in neon colors

We use the term fluorescent color to describe both colors that manufacturers derive from actual luminescent pigments and also those bright and vivid colors that just appear to glow in the dark. In the same way, neon colors are those that we create by containing and lighting noble gases and also those colors that are bright and intense.

While there is some artistic application of true fluorescent and neon color, most of the use of fluorescent or neon color in the design industry refers to the color term rather than the natural world phenomena.

Qualities of Fluorescent/Neon Colors

Qualities of Fluorescent/Neon Colors

Fluorescent and neon colors have vivid hues that make them a valuable addition to color palettes. The presence of these colors signifies important qualities to the public.

  • Brightness and vibrancy – Marketers and graphic designers know that fluorescent colors are bold and eye-catching. They use these colors to attract attention and make a striking visual display.
  • Energy and excitement – Sports teams and gear companies use these colors to evoke a sense of dynamism and movement that is valuable in this active context.
  • Safety and visibility – Even in daylight, fluorescent/neon colors have a high visibility which makes them useful in safety contexts. These colors are also useful on commercial products like markers to highlight important texts for students.
  • Youth and playfulness – These brilliant colors evoke youth because they are bright and bold. Graphic and interior designers capture a playful and “avant-garde” style when they utilize these colors.
  • Modernity and innovation – People use fluorescent colors in mediums like technology and design that emphasizes new ideas and forward thinking.

Tips for Adding Fluorescent/Neon Color to Your Home

In an interior design context, we use the words fluorescent and neon to signify these similar bright colors. Vivid color hues that we call fluorescent or neon are often associated with retro, childish, and even garish design styles. Because everything in design is cyclical, these colors are making a comeback in design of all kinds.

Even if you believe that muted and subdued colors are the hallmark of good taste, you can use brilliant fluorescent and neon colors to bring some interest into your color palette. It is important to proceed with caution when using these colors, because just a little can go a long way.

Just a Pop of Bright Color

Fluorescent and Neon Colors with lamps

Consider adding just a pop of fluorescent color to your interior design if this is a new endeavor. Try adding some small accents of the same color with a small vase and some new dishware. As you feel more comfortable, add in fluorescent touches with a lamp or some throw pillows. These are items that you can easily change out when you want to shift your scheme in a new direction.

Choose the Color

Neon wallpaper

Not every neon color will resonate with each person. Consider your current color scheme and think about a neon color that will complement the colors that you already love. When considering color pairings, think about both complementary and analogous color schemes.

Complementary schemes pair colors that are across from each other on the color wheel. These include reds to greens, blues to oranges, and yellows to purples. With this in mind, choose a bright fluorescent pink option if you have a green color scheme. Or, look at bright orange or coral if blue is the dominant tone of your room.

For analogous color combinations, choose colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. Common analogous pairings include greens and blues, oranges and yellows, and reds and purples.

Vary the Intensity of the Colors

Vary the Intensity of the Colors

You can mute the intensity of fluorescent shades by pairing them with similar colors of a different hue. A fluorescent hue paired with a non-fluorescent hue will generate less stimulation. In other words, use neon pink in a room with other shades of pale pink. Or, pair a neon blue with a deep and moody navy to ground the design and give it a more sophisticated appeal.

Pair Neons with Neutrals

Pair Neons with Neutrals

There is no doubt that too much bright color can exhaust your eyes. That is why it is good to use neons thoughtfully. Neon colors look striking with a neutral palette. Bright dashes of color in a neutral space make it thoughtful and planned. It also creates a touch of vibrancy in the overall calming style. Use a mixture of light neutrals like white, cream, and beige with pops of neon color, or pair them with dark and moody shades like dark gray, black, and brown.

Use Fluorescent Colors Outdoors

Use Fluorescent Colors Outdoors

Outdoor sunshine can mute and dampen color. Add an extra shot of color to your design by adding pops of bright color. You can do this by painting some old outdoor furniture a fun and vibrant hue, or add some new throw pillows into your design. The advantage of this approach is that you can try out your taste for neon without altering your indoor color scheme.

Do Fluorescent Colors Glow in the Dark?

True fluorescent color made with fluorescent pigment does not glow in the dark, but does glow if it is exposed to blacklight, also called UV light. This is not true of the vernacular use of fluorescent color as meaning just a bright or vibrant shade of color. Phosphorescence is a similar phenomenon in the natural world that is related to fluorescence.

Both of these phenomena have the ability to absorb and emit light waves. Yet while fluorescent objects do emit light that they have absorbed, fluorescent objects that emit light do so quickly and stop when you remove the light source. Phosphorescent objects absorb light and continue to emit it after you take away the light source. Therefore, glow-in-the-dark products use phosphor rather fluorescent pigments to create the effect.