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Penetrants are classified into sensitivity levels. Visible penetrants are typically red in color, and represent the lowest sensitivity. Fluorescent penetrants contain two or more dyes that fluoresce when excited by ultraviolet (UV-A) radiation (also known as black light). Since Fluorescent penetrant inspection is performed in a darkened environment, and the excited dyes emit brilliant yellow-green light that contrasts strongly against the dark background, this material is more sensitive to small defects.

When selecting a sensitivity level one must consider many factors, including the environment under which the test will be performed, the surface finish of the specimen, and the size of defects sought. One must also assure that the test chemicals are compatible with the sample so that the examination will not cause permanent staining, or degradation. This technique can be quite portable, because in its simplest form the inspection requires only 3 aerosol spray cans, some paper towels, and adequate visible light. Stationary systems with dedicated application, wash, and development stations, are more costly and complicated, but result in better sensitivity and higher sample through-put.

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