There are approximately 400 brightener types listed in the Color Index, but less than 90 are actually produced commercially and only a handful are commercially important. Generically, the C.I. FBA number can be assigned to a specific molecule, however, some are duplicated, since manufacturers apply for the index number when they produce it. The global OBA production for paper, textiles and detergents is dominated by just a few di- and tetra-sulfonated triazole-stilbenes and a di-sulfonated stilbene-biphenyl. These are subject to fading when exposed long term to UV, due to the formation of optically inactive stilbene cis-isomers found at the center of the molecule. All brighteners have extended conjungation and/or aromaticity, allowing for electron movement. Some non-stilbene brighteners are used in more permanent applications such as whitening synthetic fiber.
Basic class types of brighteners include:
Brighteners can be "boosted" by the addition of certain polyols like high molecular weight polyethylene glycol or polyvinyl alcohol. These additives increase the visible blue light emissions significantly. Brighteners can also be "quenched". Too much use of brightener will often cause a greening effect as emissions start to show above the blue region in the visible spectrum. Besides the formation of cis isomer in stilbene-containing brighteners (only the trans isomer is optically active), continued exposure to UV-containing light will actually cleave the molecule and start the process of degradation.
Brighteners are used in many papers, especially high brightness papers, resulting in their strongly fluorescent appearance under UV illumination. Paper brightness is typically measured at 457nm, well within the fluorescent activity range of brighteners. Paper used for banknotes does not contain optical brighteners, so a common method for detecting counterfeit notes is to check for fluorescence.
A side effect of optical whitening is to make the treated fabrics more visible with Night Vision Devices than non-treated ones. This may or may not be desirable for military or other applications. Optically brightened paper is often not useful in exacting photographic or art applications, since the whiteness decreases with time.
Endues of optical brighteners include: