A Detailed Overview of Fluorescent Mineral Displays

A fluorescent mineral display with fossils


You’ve got this great collection of fluorescent minerals, how can you show it off? Build a display! A well-designed fluorescent mineral display can really accentuate and add to any décor space you may have. It’s a great way to allow anyone to appreciate the hobby. You can build your own display at home using some simple cabinetry and a good UV display light (and don’t forget a UV filtering clear front panel for safety as any UV escaping from the cabinet is harmful to eyes and skin). Here are some great displays from some of our fluorescent mineral facebook group members to gather some ideas.

Some great display examples:

A large room full of fluorescent minerals

A display of worldwide minerals that takes up an entire room, lit by several powerful lights.

A collection of fluorescent spheres

A wonderful fluorescent sphere collection.

A mineral display containing only minerals reactive under longwave UV light

A longwave only display.

However you decide to take on this project, there are a few important factors to take into consideration.



Before you begin to build and set your display, it’s important to find a good location for it. You want to show off your beautiful collection but you don’t want to have to turn off all the lights in your house and close the window curtains. Find an area that is sheltered from the room’s ambient lighting or an area where you can dim the lighting. Choose a location away from big, bright windows and doors.

Display Case or Cabinet

This is where you can get creative with your mineral display case. Find an old aquarium, entertainment center, or if you’re handy, build one out of a nice wood.

a big mineral display case

Our display using an entertainment center

You'll want to paint the interior a flat black. Most woods, glass, etc. Will have a slight fluorescence. Light colored materials on the interior will severely detract from your minerals. Many use chalkboard paint with great success. 


UV Mineral Display Lights 

This is arguably the most important part of the display. The three types of UV lights used in the hobby are: longwave, midwave and shortwave. Most lights usually only have one wavelength (shortwave), but some can have all three. Shortwave UV lights are the most popular choice amongst serious hobbyists.

What kind of lights do you need? Shortwave, Midwave, Longwave, White light or all four? If your display is big, you may want to consider multiple of each depending on your budget.  Longwave is lower cost but there’s a limit to the number of minerals that fluoresce under longwave UV light. Make sure to have enough light that your specimens are “bathed” in UV light. Select your light based on the types of minerals you want to display. Use LW LEDs if you intend to only display minerals like wernerite, sodalite, fluorite, "Yooperlites" (a nickname for wave eroded, tumbled fluorescent sodalite found along the shorelines of the great lakes), and a few other types. This type of longwave display can be filled with bright colors, creating an awesome display. But remember, if you get really hooked on this hobby, shortwave UV lighting will dramatically expand your hobby, adding a huge selection of bright, multicolored rocks.

You can add all kinds of effects with your lighting system set up. Create settings so that your display is shown under only shortwave or all three wavelengths (what we call “fullwave”).

If you're handy with electronics there are lots of programmable relays on Digikey or Mouser. This would allow you to cycle the lighting automatically.  But be aware that cycling a fluorescent bulb on/off (like those in a shortwave UV light) can drastically shorten the life of the bulb.

Here are some great light manufacturers that we recommend and have had an existing relationship with. We can attest to the quality of their UV display lights:


Engenious Designs was founded in 2016 by Rhett Peterson and Nicholas Brown with the goal of using their electrical and mechanical engineering backgrounds to bring cutting edge, reliable, and affordable UV light fixtures, flashlights, and custom solutions to the fluorescent rock and mineral collecting community. They have designed and manufactured dozens of state-of-the art UV lights and have plans for many more next-generation designs already in development. 


UV SYSTEMS, Inc. has set the standard for quality ultraviolet lights.  Designed by a lighting engineer – who is also a fluorescent mineral collector – especially FOR fluorescent mineral collectors, these reliable lights feature a strong, lightweight aluminum housing and deliver more than enough UV output for most displays.  Their high-end light, the Triplebright, is well suited for on/off cycles, but is also one of the more expensive lights on the market.


What is Fullwave UV Light?

Each type of light peaks at a different wavelength (measured in nanometers).  Typical fluorescent UV lamps are based on mercury vapor emissions, which have very specific wavelength peaks. The low pressure SW (shortwave) lamps have a major peak at 253.652nm (254nm). Increasing the pressure emphasizes the longer wavelength peaks. There is a major longwave peak at 365.016 nm seen in mercury vapor lamps, but more efficient fluorescent lamps add a phosphor for increased output. You may find phosphors that peak at 352nm, but also at 358nm, 362nm, etc. but the curve is fairly broad and still contains the 365nm peak. The MW (midwave) lamps use a different phosphor excited by the 254nm energy, but there are weaker mercury emission lines at 296nm and clustered at 312-313. The most commonly used “peak numbers” for SW, MW and LW, are 254, 312, and 365 nm. It should be noted that LW (longwave) LEDs are rapidly replacing LW fluorescent bulbs. They are much more powerful and emit much less visible purple light, making for a very clean LW display. They have the added advantage of continuous on/off cycles without risk of burnout.

Fullwave (in MinerShop terminology) means the specimen is lit by at least two wavelengths (SW + LW) or all three wavelengths at once (this requires three bulbs - one for each wavelength). Midwave is sometimes omitted as the resulting FL is not different from the combination seen from the other two (LW/SW) - only when a specimen reacts specifically to MW is the special MW light used (many calcites can benefit greatly from the addition of a MW light).


Mineral Placement

Something to also consider is the arrangement of your minerals. Pay attention to the colors and brightness of the rocks.  If you place a very bright piece of Sterling Hill calcite/willemite next to a not-so-bright piece of green opal, the brightness of the calcite/willemite will make the opal seem even dimmer and drown out its fluorescence. Additionally, the bright fluorescent colors can "light up" dimmer minerals next to it, essentially polluting the colors.

We typically place the brightest specimens furthest away from the UV light and the dimmer fluorescent minerals closer to the lights. You can do this by adding shelving steps or stands to create different “levels” of specimens. This can help balance out the varying brightness of the fluorescent minerals.


Mounting and Shelving

A UV display requires an innovative approach to the arrangement of specimens. Unlike ordinary minerals which can be placed on glass shelves, fluorescent minerals need to be "suspended" in air, or mounted on steps so that the UV light can reach them without going through barriers (such as a glass shelf).

Also, glass is fluorescent under shortwave UV. The cloudy haze can be distracting in a display made of glass shelves. Even when used as a front panel it can fluoresce. Some who use aquariums as a display case, or a shelving unit with a glass front, apply a UV blocking film to the inside of the display to prevent this hazy fluorescence.

Whatever shelving you use be sure to paint it black so your specimens are placed on a black background.


Mineral Labels

If you choose to use labels, stay away from white or colored card stock as this will fluoresce brightly and take away from your display. Black cardstock with fluorescent print lettering can work well (if you have great handwriting).

One very attractive method is to print negative labels (laser printer is perhaps best). Experiment with white paper or colored stock for the best effect. The letters then can be fluorescent on a black background (negative printing), adding a great touch that does not detract from the display. Use a black marker to prevent the exposed label edges from fluorescing.

mineral label


What to use for a front panel?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions.  Folks are very creative and we’ve seen some great displays filled with glowing rocks and lit by powerful UV lights.  But, as we know, UV can be dangerous to your eyes; viewers must be protected from the harmful UV rays.  And a front cover helps keep that pesky dust and lint that is so brightly fluorescent off the rocks.  But what’s the best material to use?


OP3!  Found on many online shops here in the USA - links below.

The first thought is glass.  That might work but is really not the best solution.  Glass blocks shortwave UV (the most harmful) and a lot of midwave UV.  But it readily passes longwave UV.  That can be distracting for your viewers.  Sneakers, socks, fingernails, white T-shirts, etc. will all fluoresce brightly under longwave and compete with your fluorescent rock display.  Worse, usually at least one side of a piece of glass is very fluorescent under shortwave.  Most glass is “float glass” made by floating molten glass on liquid tin or lead.  The side that contacts the tin will fluoresce a very hazy white and is unusable for a display window.  But turn it around and most of the haze will go away – not all, but most (SW won’t pass through glass and cause the other side to fluoresce).  But it’s still a little fluorescent and quite distracting.

Another possibility is clear vinyl – the kind used in marine applications (sometimes called Isinglass).  It blocks almost all of the UV and is nice and clear although somewhat rippled.  A big advantage to using vinyl is that it’s easy to lift out of the way and grab a rock for up close inspection.  Marine vinyl will eventually cloud-up from the damaging UVC (just look at any boat that’s been sitting in the marina for a couple of years).  But it has its applications.

Plexiglass/Lexan – there are types which block most UV, don’t fluoresce badly, and last a long time.  We've used Lexan from Home Depot with success. But if you’re going this route there is a much better, 100% solution: OP3. 

“Acrylite OP-3 is designed to meet the special needs of picture framers, museums, and artists. OP-3 protects artwork and documents from harmful ultraviolet light, which is the major cause of fading and degradation. Since OP-3 is acrylic, it is clearer and more impact resistant than glass, and fabricates with the ease of acrylic.”  OP-3 is the standard for fluorescent mineral displays.  It blocks UV from 400nm down, and is not fluorescent at all – zero haze.  It’s easy to work with, can be ordered in custom sizes, and lasts forever.  Several online distributors carry OP-3 and will even cut it to any size for you (or you can cut it yourself with a table saw):






https://www.plexiglas-shop.com/ (Europe)

We use OP-3 exclusively for our displays. Every major museum that we are aware of also uses OP-3, as well as most hobbyists at shows and exhibits. It’s the only way to go.

Overall, there are many ways to build a nice display depending on your budget. Decide what kind of minerals you will be displaying, choose the right light(s), buy/build a display cabinet, paint the inside black, and install an OP3 front panel. Then enjoy!



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