I found this page informative (The site sells stuff but this is a great write up offered for free): https://glowinc.com/glow-in-the-dark/black-light.aspx
Unfortunately their write-up is focused on phosphorescence and they recommend 365nm lights. The problems I have with 365nm emitters are:
- 365nm LEDs tend to be more expensive and less efficient than 395 and 405nm lamps.
- The narrow bandwidth (presuming LEDs) means only some things will light up under them. However they will light up some things that 395 and 405nm lamps will not, like scorpions, or security dye on passports or money. I'm wondering if there are a bunch of UV reactive substances I might be missing out on if I exclude 365nm LEDs from consideration.
- 365nm lamps come with warnings that they may damage your eyes. Now, I don't know if they have this label just because the light is invisible so one may find oneself staring into the light for a while and not knowing they were exposing their retinas to high levels of incoming light (pupils will not contract in reaction to 365nm light as I understand it), or if the short wavelength is what makes them dangerous.
- Incandescent bulbs with blb coating: Only mentioned for completeness - these are utter crap, and are not recommended by anyone who's tried one.
- CFL screw in bulbs: These work well, but they are low wattage - basically a miniature version of a fluorescent tube.
- Fluorescent tubes: A 4' fluorescent tube or two will illuminate a good sized room, and in my experience produce a tasty glow from most UV reactive substances, but they DO throw a lot of visible violet light. This is totally OK as far as I'm concerned, but the visible light tends to wash out the glowing from some substances (like security ink etc.) The drawback for burning man with these is they require 120v, and I'd really prefer something that will take 12v. These are also pretty fragile to be carting out to the desert and back.
- Mercury Vapor: A couple of manufacturers make 400W mercury vapor blacklights for big parties. One of these inside my dome (or my house) would be nothing short of freaking awesome, but I have never seen one in person, and I'm curious about the light it puts out. Lots of visible light? Does it put out lots of shorter wave UV that makes security dye glow? Eye protection required? These gobble a metric swass-ton of power - as much as 10 fluorescent tubes, and would have to be pretty awesome to be worthwhile; I'd love to hear about anyone's experience with them. I also hear these get extremely hot, and need to be treated with caution.
- LEDs!! I'd really love to hear people's experience with LEDs, because this is where there seems to be a lot of potential, but also things get a bit technical and complicated. The other light sources have somewhat broad spectrum output, but an LED puts out a very specific wavelength. UV LEDs come in a bunch of different flavors, generally with the shorter 365-385nm wavelengths being more expensive than the longer 395-405 wavelengths. I have used a 5mm 405nm LED to light up UV reactive makeup and contacts with great success, but I'm thinking bigger now. Several manufacturers are making relatively affordable LED blacklight bars, but they don't look that impressive for the money (a fixture with similar output to a fluorescent tube is anywhere from $99-$199, compared to $40ish for a tube fixture with bulb). The main attraction here is the efficiency and 12v compatibility. What I'd like to do is get a cheap pair of 12v LED flood lamps (already have, actually) and replace the emitters with UV emitters. The question is which wavelength(s) will give me the best balance/widest array of fluorescence? I've considered installing 365, 395 and 405s all in one array, but I'm worried then I'll get fluorescence from a wide array of things, but without a whole lot of oomph. It's also cheaper to buy a large lot of one wavelength than small quantities of several. Does anyone have any experience on this? I'm leaning towards splitting the difference and putting in 395s for starters and seeing where it takes me.