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Introduction and History of

Penetrant Inspection

Liquid penetration inspection is a

method that is used to reveal
surface breaking flaws by bleedout
of a colored or fluorescent dye from
the flaw. The technique is based on
the ability of a liquid to be drawn
into a "clean" surface breaking flaw
by capillary action. After a period of
time called the "dwell," excess
surface penetrant is removed and a
developer applied. This acts as a
It draws the penetrant from the flaw to reveal its presence. Colored
(contrast) penetrants require good white light while fluorescent
penetrants need to be used in darkened conditions with an
ultraviolet "black light".
A very early surface inspection technique involved the rubbing of
carbon black on glazed pottery, whereby the carbon black would
settle in surface cracks rendering them visible. Later it became the
practice in railway workshops to examine iron and steel components
by the "oil and whiting" method. In this method, a heavy oil
commonly available in railway workshops was diluted with kerosene
in large tanks so that locomotive parts such as wheels could be
submerged. After removal and careful cleaning, the surface was
then coated with a fine suspension of chalk in alcohol so that a
white surface layer was formed once the alcohol had evaporated.
The object was then vibrated by being striked with a hammer,
causing the residual oil in any surface cracks to seep out and stain
the white coating. This method was in use from the latter part of
the 19th century through to approximately 1940, when the
magnetic particle method was introduced and found to be more
sensitive for the ferromagnetic iron and steels.
A different (though related) method was introduced in the 1940's,
where the surface under examination is coated with a lacquer, and
after drying the surface is vibrated by hitting with a hammer, for

example. This causes the brittle lacquer layer to crack generally

around surface defects. The brittle lacquer (stress coat) has been
used primarily to show the distribution of stresses in a part and not
finding defects.
Many of these early developments were carried out by Magnaflux in
Chicago, IL, USA in association with the Switzer Bros., Cleveland,
OH, USA. More affective penetrating oils containing highly visible
(usually red) dyes were developed by Magnaflux to enhance flaw
detection capability. This method, known as the visible or color
contrast dye penetrant method, is still used quite extensively today.
In 1942, Magnaflux introduced the Zyglo system of penetrant
inspection where fluorescent dyes were added to the liquid penetrant.
These dyes would then fluoresce when exposed to ultraviolet light
(sometimes referred to as "black light") rendering indications from
cracks and other surface flaws more readily visible to the inspectors'

Why a Penetrant Inspection Improves the

Detectability of Flaws

The advantage that a liquid penetrant inspection (LPI) offers over

an unaided visual inspection is that it makes defects easier to see
for the inspector. There are basically two ways that a penetrant
inspection process makes flaws more easily seen. First, LPI
produces a flaw indication that is much larger and easier for the eye
to detect than the flaw itself. Many flaws are so small or narrow that
they are undetectable by the unaided eye. Due to the physical
features of the eye, there is a threshold below which objects cannot
be resolved. This threshold of visual acuity is around 0.003 inch for
a person with 20/20 vision.
The second way that LPI improves the detectability of a flaw is that
it produces a flaw indication with a high level of contrast between

the indication and the background which also helps to make the
indication more easily seen.
When a visible dye penetrant inspection is
performed, the penetrant materials are
formulated using a bright red dye that
provides for a high level of contrast between
the white developer that serves as a
background as well as to pull the trapped
penetrant from the flaw. When a fluorescent
penetrant inspection is performed, the
penetrant materials are formulated to glow
brightly and to give off light at a wavelength
that the eye is most sensitive to under dim
lighting conditions.




Basic Processing Steps of a Liquid Penetrant

1. Surface Preparation: One of the most critical steps of a
liquid penetrant inspection is the surface preparation. The
surface must be free of oil, grease, water, or other
contaminants that may prevent penetrant from entering
flaws. The sample may also require etching if mechanical
operations such as machining, sanding, or grit blasting have
been performed. These and other mechanical operations can
smear the surface of the sample, thus closing the defects.

2. Penetrant Application: Once the surface has been

thoroughly cleaned and dried, the penetrant material is
applied by spraying, brushing, or immersing the parts in a
penetrant bath.
3. Penetrant Dwell: The penetrant is left on the surface for a
sufficient time to allow as much penetrant as possible to be
drawn from or to seep into a defect. Penetrant dwell time is
the total time that the penetrant is in contact with the part
surface. Dwell times are usually recommended by the
penetrant producers or required by the specification being
followed. The times vary depending on the application,
penetrant materials used, the material, the form of the
material being inspected, and the type of defect being
inspected. Minimum dwell times typically range from 5 to 60
minutes. Generally, there is no harm in using a longer
penetrant dwell time as long as the penetrant is not allowed
to dry. The ideal dwell time is often determined by
experimentation and is often very specific to a particular

4. Excess Penetrant Removal: This is a most delicate part of the

inspection procedure because the excess penetrant must be
removed from the surface of the sample while removing as
little penetrant as possible from defects. Depending on the
penetrant system used, this step may involve cleaning with a
solvent, direct rinsing with water, or first treated with an
emulsifier and then rinsing with water.

5. Developer Application: A thin layer of developer is then

applied to the sample to draw penetrant trapped in flaws back
to the surface where it will be visible. Developers come in a
variety of forms that may be applied by dusting (dry
powdered), dipping, or spraying (wet developers).
6. Indication Development: The developer is allowed to stand
on the part surface for a period of time sufficient to permit the
extraction of the trapped penetrant out of any surface flaws.
This development time is usually a minimum of 10 minutes
and significantly longer times may be necessary for tight


7. Inspection: Inspection is then performed under appropriate

lighting to detect indications from any flaws which may be
8. Clean Surface: The final step in the process is to thoroughly
clean the part surface to remove the developer from the parts
that were found to be acceptable.

Common Uses of Liquid Penetrant Inspection

Liquid penetrant inspection (LPI) is one of
the most widely used nondestructive
evaluation (NDE) methods. Its popularity
can be attributed to two main factors,
which are its relative ease of use and its
flexibility. LPI can be used to inspect
almost any material provided that its
surface is not extremely rough or porous.
Materials that are commonly inspected
using LPI include the following:

Metals (aluminum, copper, steel, titanium, etc.)

Many ceramic materials

LPI offers flexibility in performing inspections because it can be

applied in a large variety of applications ranging from automotive
spark plugs to critical aircraft components. Penetrant material can
be applied with a spray can or a cotton swab to inspect for flaws
known to occur in a specific area or it can be applied by dipping or
spraying to quickly inspect large areas. At right, visible dye
penetrant being locally applied to a highly loaded connecting point
to check for fatigue cracking.
Penetrant inspection systems have been developed to inspect some
very large components. In this picture, DC-10 banjo fittings are
being moved into a penetrant inspection system at what used to be
the Douglas Aircraft Company's Long Beach, California facility.
These large machined aluminum forgings are used to support the
number 3 engine in the tail of a DC-10 aircraft.
Liquid penetrant inspection is used to inspect of flaws that break the
surface of the sample. Some of these flaws are listed below:


Fatigue cracks
Quench cracks
Grinding cracks
Overload and impact fractures
Pin holes in welds
Lack of fusion or braising along the edge of the bond line

As mentioned above, one of the major limitations of a penetrant

inspection is that flaws must be open to the surface. To learn more
about the advantages and disadvantages of LPI proceed to the next

Advantages and Disadvantages of Penetrant Testing

Like all nondestructive inspection methods, liquid penetrant
inspection has both advantages and disadvantages. The primary
advantages and disadvantages when compared to other NDE
methods are summarized below.
Primary Advantages

The method has high sensitive to small surface

The method has few material limitations, i.e. metallic and
nonmetallic, magnetic and nonmagnetic, and conductive and
nonconductive materials may be inspected.
Large areas and large volumes of parts/materials can be
inspected rapidly and at low cost.
Parts with complex geometric shapes are routinely inspected.
Indications are produced directly on the surface of the part
and constitute a visual representation of the flaw.
Aerosol spray cans make penetrant materials very portable.
Penetrant materials and associated equipment are relatively

Primary Disadvantages

Only surface breaking defects can be detected.

Only materials with a relative nonporous surface can be
Precleaning is critical as contaminants can mask defects.
Metal smearing from machining, grinding, and grit or vapor
blasting must be removed prior to LPI.
The inspector must have direct access to the surface being


Surface finish and roughness can affect inspection sensitivity.

Multiple process operations must be performed and controlled.
Post cleaning of acceptable parts or materials is required.
Chemical handling and proper disposal is required.




Penetrant Testing Materials

The penetrant materials used today are much more sophisticated
than the kerosene and whiting first used by railroad inspectors near
the turn of the 20th century. Today's penetrants are carefully
formulated to produce the level of sensitivity desired by the
inspector. To perform well, a penetrant must possess a number of
important characteristics. A penetrant must

spread easily over the surface of the material being inspected

to provide complete and even coverage.
be drawn into surface breaking defects by capillary action.
remain in the defect but remove easily from the surface of the
remain fluid so it can be drawn back to the surface of the part
through the drying and developing steps.
be highly visible or fluoresce brightly to produce easy to see
must not be harmful to the material being tested or the

All penetrant materials do not perform the same and are not
designed to perform the same. Penetrant manufactures have
developed different formulations to address a variety of inspection
applications. Some applications call for the detection of the smallest
defects possible and have smooth surface where the penetrant is
easy to remove. In other applications the rejectable defect size may
be larger and a penetrant formulated to find larger flaws can be
used. The penetrants that are used to detect the smallest defect will
also produce the largest amount of irrelevant indications.
Penetrant materials are classified in the various industry and
government specifications by their physical characteristics and their
performance. Aerospace Material Specification (AMS) 2644,

Inspection Material, Penetrant, is now the primary specification used

in the USA to control penetrant materials. Historically, Military
Standard 25135, Inspection Materials, Penetrants, has been the
primary document for specifying penetrants but this document is
slowly being phased out and replaced by AMS 2644. Other
specifications such as ASTM 1417, Standard Practice for Liquid
Penetrant Examinations, may also contain information on the
classification of penetrant materials but they are generally referred
back to MIL-I-25135 or AMS 2644.
Penetrant materials come in two basic types. These types are listed

Type 1 - Fluorescent Penetrants

Type 2 - Visible Penetrants

Fluorescent penetrants contain a dye or several dyes that fluoresce

when exposed to ultraviolet radiation. Visible penetrants contain a
red dye that provides high contrast against the white developer
background. Fluorescent penetrant systems are more sensitive than
visible penetrant systems because the eye is drawn to the glow of
the fluorescing indication. However, visible penetrants do not
require a darkened area and an ultraviolet light in order to make an
inspection. Visible penetrants are also less vulnerable to
contamination from things such as cleaning fluid that can
significantly reduce the strength of a fluorescent indication.
Penetrants are then classified by the method used to remove the
excess penetrant from the part. The four methods are listed below:



A - Water Washable
B - Post Emulsifiable, Lipophilic
C - Solvent Removable
D - Post Emulsifiable, Hydrophilic

Water washable (Method A) penetrants can be removed from the

part by rinsing with water alone. These penetrants contain some
emulsifying agent (detergent) that makes it possible to wash the
penetrant from the part surface with water alone. Water washable
penetrants are sometimes referred to as self-emulsifying systems.
Post emulsifiable penetrants come in two varieties, lipophilic and
hydrophilic. In post emulsifiers, lipophilic systems (Method B), the
penetrant is oil soluble and interacts with the oil-based emulsifier to
make removal possible. Post emulsifiable, hydrophilic systems
(Method D), use an emulsifier that is a water soluble detergent
which lifts the excess penetrant from the surface of the part with a
water wash. Solvent removable penetrants require the use of a
solvent to remove the penetrant from the part.
Penetrants are then classified based on the strength or detectability
of the indication that is produced for a number of very small and
tight fatigue cracks. The five sensitivity levels are shown below:


- Ultra Low Sensitivity

1 - Low Sensitivity
2 - Medium Sensitivity
3 - High Sensitivity
4 - Ultra-High Sensitivity

The major US government and industry specifications currently rely

on the US Air Force Materials Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air
Force Base to classify penetrants into one of the five sensitivity
levels. This procedure uses titanium and Inconel specimens with
small surface cracks produced in low cycle fatigue bending to
classify penetrant systems. The brightness of the indication
produced is measured using a photometer. The sensitivity levels
and the test procedure used can be found in Military Specification
MIL-I-25135 and Aerospace Material Specification 2644, Penetrant
Inspection Materials.
An interesting note about the sensitivity levels is that only four
levels were originally planned but when some penetrants were
judged to have sensitivities significantly less than most others in the
level 1 category, the level was created. An excellent historical
summary of the development of test specimens for evaluating the
performance of penetrant materials can be found in the following


I. Penetrants

The industry and military specification that control the penetrant

materials and their use all stipulate certain physical properties of
the penetrant materials that must be met. Some of these
requirements address the safe use of the materials, such as toxicity,
flash point, and corrosiveness, and other requirements address
storage and contamination issues. Still others delineate properties
that are thought to be primarily responsible for the performance or
sensitivity of the penetrants. The properties of penetrant materials
that are controlled by AMS 2644 and MIL-I-25135E include flash
point, surface wetting capability, viscosity, color, brightness,
ultraviolet stability, thermal stability, water tolerance, and
More information on how some of these properties can affect
penetrant testing can be found by following these links.

Surface Energy (Surface Wetting Capability)

As previously mentioned, one of the important characteristics of a
liquid penetrant material is its ability to freely wet the surface of the
object being inspected. At the liquid-solid surface interface, if the
molecules of the liquid have a stronger attraction to the molecules
of the solid surface than to each other (the adhesive forces are
stronger than the cohesive forces), then wetting of the surface
occurs. Alternately, if the liquid molecules are more strongly
attracted to each other and not the molecules of the solid surface
(the cohesive forces are stronger than the adhesive forces), then
the liquid beads-up and does not wet the surface of the part.


One way to quantify a liquid's surface wetting characteristics is to

measure the contact angle of a drop of liquid placed on the surface
of the subject object. The contact angle is the angle formed by the
solid/liquid interface and the liquid/vapor interface measured from
the side of the liquid. See the figure below. Liquids wet surfaces
when the contact angle is less than 90 degrees. For a penetrant
material to be effective, the contact angle should be as small as
possible. In fact, the contact angle for most liquid penetrants is very
close to zero degrees.

Wetting ability of a liquid is a function of the surface energies of the

solid-gas interface, the liquid-gas interface, and the solid-liquid
interface. The surface energy across an interface or the surface
tension at the interface is a measure of the energy required to form
a unit area of new surface at the interface. The intermolecular
bonds or cohesive forces between the molecules of a liquid cause
surface tension. When the liquid encounters another substance,
there is usually an attraction between the two materials. The
adhesive forces between the liquid and the second substance will
compete against the cohesive forces of the liquid. Liquids with weak
cohesive bonds and a strong attraction to another material (or the
desire to create adhesive bonds) will tend to spread over the second
material. Liquids with strong cohesive bonds and weaker adhesive
forces will tend to bead-up or form a droplet when in contact with
the second material.
In liquid penetrant testing, there are usually three surface
interfaces involved, the solid-gas interface, the liquid-gas interface,
and the solid-liquid interface. For a liquid to spread over the surface
of a part, two conditions must be met. First, the surface energy of
the solid-gas interface must be greater than the combined surface
energies of the liquid-gas and the solid-liquid interfaces. Second,
the surface energy of the solid-gas interface must exceed the
surface energy of the solid-liquid interface.
A penetrant's wetting characteristics are also largely responsible for
its ability to fill a void. Penetrant materials are often pulled into

surface breaking defects by capillary action. The capillary force

driving the penetrant into the crack is a function of the surface
tension of the liquid-gas interface, the contact angle, and the size of
the defect opening. The driving force for the capillary action can be
expressed as the following formula:
Force = 2 prs LG cosq
r = radius of the crack opening (2pr is the line of contact between
q = contact angle
Since pressure is the force over a given area, it can be written that
the pressure developed, called the capillary pressure, is
Capillary Pressure = (2 s LG cosq)/ r
The above equations are for a cylindrical defect but the
relationships of the variables are the same for a flaw with a
noncircular cross section. Capillary pressure equations only apply
when there is simultaneous contact of the penetrant along the
entire length of the crack opening and a liquid front forms that is an
equidistant from the surface. A liquid penetrant surface could takeon a complex shape as a consequence of the various deviations
from flat parallel walls that an actual crack could have. In this case,
the expression for pressure is
Capillary Pressure = 2(s SG - ss SL)/r = 2S /r
s SG = the surface energy at the solid-gas
s SL = the surface energy at the solid-liquid
S = the adhesion tension (sSG - s SL).


Therefore, at times, it is the adhesion tension that is primarily

responsible for a penetrant's movement into a flaw and not the
surface energy of the liquid-gas interface. Adhesion tension is the
force acting on a unit length of the wetting line from the direction of
the solid. The wetting performance of the penetrant is degraded
when adhesion tension is the primary driving force.
It can be seen from the equations in this section, that the surface
wetting characteristics (defined by the surface energies) are

important penetrant characteristics for filling the flaw. The liquid

penetrant will continue to fill the void until an opposing force
balances the capillary pressure. This force is usually the pressure of
trapped gas in the void as most flaws are open only at the surface
of the part. Since the gas originally in the flaw volume cannot
escape through the layer of penetrant, the gas is compressed near
the closed end of the flaw.
Since the contact angle for penetrants is very close to zero, other
methods have been devised to make relative comparisons of the
wetting characteristics of these liquids. One method is to measure
the height that a liquid reaches in a capillary tube. However, the
solid interface in this method is usually glass and may not
accurately represent the surface that the penetrant inspection will
be performed on. Another method of comparative evaluation is to
measure after a set time has elapsed, the radius, the diameter, or
the area of a spot formed when a drop of penetrant is placed on the
test surface. However, using this method, other factors are also
acting in the comparison. These methods include the density,
viscosity, and volatility of the liquid, which do not enter into the
capillarity equations, but may have an effect on the inspection as
discussed in the related pages.

Density or Specific Gravity

The density or the specific gravity of a penetrant material probably
has a slight to negligible effect on the performance of a penetrant.
The gravitational force acting on the penetrant liquid can be
working in cooperation with or against the capillary force depending
on the orientation of the flaw during the dwell cycle. When the
gravitational pull is working against the capillary rise the strength of
the force is given by the following equation:
Force = r2hpg
r = radius of the crack opening
h = height of penetrant above its free surface
p = density of the penetrant
g = acceleration due to gravity
When the direction of capillary flow is in the same direction as the
force of gravity, the added force driving the penetrant into the flaw
is given by the formula shown below:
Force = hAp

h = the height of the penetrant column
A = cross-sectional area of the opening
P = density of the penetrant
Increasing the specific gravity by decreasing the volume percent of
solvent in the solution will increase the penetration speed.

Viscosity has little effect on the ability of a penetrant material to
enter a defect but it does have an effect on speed at which the
penetrant fills a defect. The equation for a cylindrical void and an
elliptical void are shown below:
Cylindrical Void
Fill time = (2l2)/ rcos LG
Elliptical Void
Fill time = [(2l2) / LGcos] * [a2+b2 / (a+b)ab]
Where: l = defect depth
= viscosity
r = radius of the crack opening
LG = liquid-gas surface tension
= contact angle
a = flaw width
b = flaw length
From these equations, it can be seen that fill time is directly
proportional to penetrant viscosity. While it has no real bearing on
this discussion, it should be noted that the two equations do not
take into account entrapped gas that could be present in a closed
end capillary.

Color and Fluorescent Brightness


Penetrant Color and Fluorescence

The color of the penetrant material is of obvious importance in
visible dye penetrant inspection, as the dye must provide good
contrast against the developer or part being inspected. Remember
from our earlier discussion of contrast sensitivity that generally the
higher the contrast, the easier objects are to see. The dye used in
visible dye penetrant is usually vibrant red but other colors can be
purchased for special applications.
When fluorescent materials are involved, the effect of color and
fluorescence is not so straightforward. LPI materials fluoresce
because they contain one or more dyes that absorb electromagnetic
radiation over a particular wavelength and the absorption of
photons leads to changes in the electronic configuration of the
molecules. Since the molecules are not stable at this higher energy
state, they almost immediately re-emit the energy. There is some
energy loss in the process causing the photons to be re-emitted at a
slightly longer wavelength, which is in the visible range. The
radiation absorption and emission could take place a number of
times until the desired color and brightness is achieved. Two
different fluorescent colors can be mixed to interact by a
mechanism called cascading. The emission of visible light by this
process involves one dye absorbing ultraviolet radiation to emit a
band of radiation that makes a second dye glow. Since the human
eye is the most commonly used sensing device, most penetrants
are designed to fluoresce as close as possible to the eyes' peak
Penetrant Brightness
Fluorescent brightness was erroneously once thought to be the
controlling factor with respect to flaw detection sensitivity.
Measurements have been made to evaluate the intrinsic brightness
of virtually all commercially available penetrants and they all have
about the same brightness. Intrinsic brightness values are
determined for thick liquid films and the dimensional threshold of
fluorescence (discussed on the next page) is a more important
property. The measurement of fluorescent brightness is detailed in
ASTM E-1135, "Standard Test Method for Comparing the Brightness
of Fluorescent Penetrants."

Dimensional Threshold of Fluorescence

The dimensional threshold of fluorescence is a property that is not
currently controlled by the specifications but appears to largely
determine the sensitivity of a fluorescent penetrant. A.L. Walters

and R. C. McMaster conducted an experiment that led to the

understanding of this condition. Two optically flat plates of glass
were clamped tightly together. A drop of fluorescent penetrant was
placed at the interface of the plates. The penetrant could be seen
migrating in between the plates but when exposed to black light, no
fluorescence was seen. The phenomenon was not fully understood
until 1960 when Alburger introduced the concept of thin-film
transition of fluorescent response.
The dimensional magnitudes of typical crack defects correspond to
the dimensional thresholds of fluorescence response which are
characteristic of the available penetrant. Alternately stated, the
degree of fluorescence response, under a given intensity of
ultraviolet radiation, is dependent on the absorption of ultraviolet
radiation, which in turn depends on dye concentration and film
thickness. Therefore, the ability of a penetrant to yield an indication
depends primarily on its ability to fluoresce as a very thin film. The
performance of penetrants based on the physical constraints of the
dyes can be predicted using Beer's Law equation. This equation
does not hold true when very thin layers are involved but works well
to establish general relationships between variables.

I = I x e-Ct

I = Transmitted light intensity
Io = Incident light intensity
e = Base of natural log (2.71828)
= Absorption coefficient per unit of concentration
C = Dye concentration
t = Thickness of the absorbing layer trolled to a certain degree by the concentration of
the fluorescent tracer dye in the penetrant.
This equation states that the intensity of the transmitted energy is
directly proportional to the intensity of the incident light and varies
exponentially with the thickness of the penetrant layer and its dye
concentration. Therefore, when the dye concentration is increased,
the brightness of the thin layer of penetrant generally increases.
However, the dye concentration can only be increased so much
before it starts to have a negative effect of brightness. A MeniscusMethod Apparatus can be used to measure the dimensional
threshold of fluorescence.


Ultraviolet and Thermal Stability of Penetrant

Exposure to intense ultraviolet light and elevated temperatures can
have a negative effect on fluorescent penetrant indications.
Fluorescent materials can loose their brightness after a period of
exposure to high intensity UV light. One study measured the
intensity of fluorescent penetrant indications of a sample that was
subjected to multiple UV exposure cycles. Each cycle consisted of
15 minutes of 800 microwatts/cm UV light and 2.5 minutes of
1500 microwatts/cm UV light. Two penetrants were tested in the
study, water washable, level 3 and a post emulsifiable, level 4. The
results from the study showed that the indications from both
penetrants faded with increased UV exposure. After eight exposure
cycles the brightness of the indications was less than one half their
original values.
At an elevated temperature, penetrants can experience heat
degradation or "heat fade." Excessive heat
1. evaporates the more volatile constituents which increases
viscosity and adversely affects the rate of penetration.
3. "boils off" chemicals that prevent separation and gelling of water
4. kills the fluorescence of tracer dyes.
This fourth degradation mechanism involves the molecules of the
penetrant materials. The phenomenon of fluorescence involves
electrons that are delocalized in a molecule. These electrons are not
specifically associated with a given bond between two atoms. When
a molecule takes up sufficient energy for the excitation source, the
delocalized bonding electrons rise to a higher electronic state. After
excitation, the electrons will normally lose energy and return to the
lowest energy state. This loss of energy can involve a "radiative"
process such as fluorescence or "non-radiative" processes. Nonradiative processes include relaxation by molecular collisions,
thermal relaxation, and chemical reaction. Heat causes the number
of molecular collisions to increase which results in more collision
relaxation and less fluorescence.
This explanation is only valid when the part and the penetrant are
at an elevated temperature. When the materials cool, the
fluorescence will return. However, while exposed to elevated
temperatures, penetrant solutions dry faster. As the molecules
become more closely packed in the dehydrated solution, collision
relaxation increases and fluorescence decreases. This effect has

been called "concentration quenching" and experimental data shows

that as the dye concentration is increased, fluorescent brightness
initially increases but reaches a peak and then begins to decrease.
Airflow over the surface on the part will also speed evaporation of
the liquid carrier, so it should be kept to a minimum to prevent a
loss of brightness.
Generally thermal damage occurs when fluorescent penetrant
materials are heated above 71C (160F). It should be noted that the
sensitivity of an FPI inspection can be improved if a part is heated
prior to applying the penetrant material that is used, but the
temperature should be kept below 71C (160F). Some high
temperature penetrants in use today are formulated with dyes with
high melting points, which improves resistance to heat damage. The
penetrants also have high boiling points and the heat related
problems are greatly reduced. However, a loss of brightness can
still take place when the penetrant is exposed to elevated
temperatures over an extended period of time. When one heat
resistant formulation was tested, a 20 % reduction was measured
after the material was subjected to 163C (325F) for 273 hours. The
various types of fluorescent dyes commonly employed in today's
penetrant materials begin decomposition at 71C (160F), and when
the temperature approaches 94C (200F) there is almost total
attenuation of fluorescent brightness of the total composition and
sublimation of the fluorescent dyestuffs.

Removing the penetrant from the surface of the sample without
removing it from the flaw is one of the most critical operations of
the penetrant inspection process. The penetrant must be removed
from the sample surface as completely as possible to limit
background fluorescence. In order for this to happen, the adhesive
forces of the penetrant must not be so strong that they can not be
broken by the removal methods used. However, in order for the a
penetrant to have good surface wetting characteristics the adhesive
forces, which are the forces of attraction between the penetrant and
the solid surface being inspected, must be stronger than the
cohesive forces, which are the forces holding the liquid together.
Proper formulation of the penetrant materials provides the correct
balancing of these forces.
Another consideration in the formulation of the penetrant liquid is
that it should not easily commingle and become diluted by the
cleaning solution. Dilution of the penetrant liquid will affect the

concentration of the dye and reduce the dimensional threshold of


II. Emulsifiers
When removal of the penetrant from the defect due to over-washing
of the part is a concern, a post emulsifiable penetrant system can
be used. Post emulsifiable penetrants require a separate emulsifier
to break the penetrant down and make it water washable. Most
penetrant inspection specifications classify penetrant systems into
four methods of excess penetrant removal. These are listed below:


A: Water-Washable
B: Post Emulsifiable, Lipophilic
C: Solvent Removable
D: Post Emulsifiable, Hydrophilic

Method C relies on a solvent cleaner to remove the penetrant from

the part being inspected. Method A has emulsifiers built into the
penetrant liquid that makes it possible to remove the excess
penetrant with a simple water wash. Method B and D penetrants
require an additional processing step where a separate
emulsification agent is applied to make the excess penetrant more
removable with a water wash. Lipophilic emulsification systems are
oil-based materials that are supplied in ready-to-use form.
Hydrophilic systems are water-based and supplied as a concentrate
that must be diluted with water prior to use .
Lipophilic emulsifiers (Method B) were introduced in the late 1950's
and work with both a chemical and mechanical action. After the
emulsifier has coated the surface of the object, mechanical action
starts to remove some of the excess penetrant as the mixture
drains from the part. During the emulsification time, the emulsifier
diffuses into the remaining penetrant and the resulting mixture is
easily removed with a water spray.
Hydrophilic emulsifiers (Method D) also remove the excess
penetrant with mechanical and chemical action but the action is
different because no diffusion takes place. Hydrophilic emulsifiers
are basically detergents that contain solvents and surfactants. The
hydrophilic emulsifier breaks up the penetrant into small quantities
and prevents these pieces from recombining or reattaching to the
surface of the part. The mechanical action of the rinse water
removes the displaced penetrant from the part and causes fresh


remover to contact and lift newly exposed penetrant from the


The hydrophilic post emulsifiable method (Method D) was

introduced in the mid 1970's and since it is more sensitive than the
lipophilic post emulsifiable method it has made the later method
virtually obsolete. The major advantage of hydrophilic emulsifiers is
that they are less sensitive to variation in the contact and removal
time. While emulsification time should be controlled as closely as
possible, a variation of one minute or more in the contact time will
have little effect on flaw detectability when a hydrophilic emulsifier
is used. However, a variation of as little as 15 to 30 seconds can
have a significant effect when a lipophilic system is used.

III. Developers
The role of the developer is to pull the trapped penetrant material
out of defects and to spread the developer out on the surface of the
part so it can be seen by an inspector. The fine developer particles
both reflect and refract the incident ultraviolet light, allowing more
of it to interact with the penetrant, causing more efficient
fluorescence. The developer also allows more light to be emitted
through the same mechanism. This is why indications are brighter
than the penetrant itself under UV light. Another function that some
developers performs is to create a white background so there is a
greater degree of contrast between the indication and the
surrounding background.
Developer Forms
The AMS 2644 and Mil-I-25135 classify developers into six standard
forms. These forms are listed below:
1. Form a - Dry Powder
2. Form b - Water Soluble



c - Water Suspendible
d - Nonaqueous Type 1 Fluorescent (Solvent Based)
e - Nonaqueous Type 2 Visible Dye (Solvent Based)
f - Special Applications

The developer classifications are based on the method that the

developer is applied. The developer can be applied as a dry powder,
or dissolved or suspended in a liquid carrier. Each of the developer
forms has advantages and disadvantages.
Dry Powder

Dry powder developer is generally considered to be the least

sensitive but it is inexpensive to use and easy to apply. Dry
developers are white, fluffy powders that can be applied to a
thoroughly dry surface in a number of ways. The developer can be
applied by dipping parts in a container of developer, or by using a
puffer to dust parts with the developer. Parts can also be placed in a
dust cabinet where the developer is blown around and allowed to
settle on the part. Electrostatic powder spray guns are also
available to apply the developer. The goal is to allow the developer
to come in contact with the whole inspection area.
Unless the part is electrostatically charged, the powder will only
adhere to areas where trapped penetrant has wet the surface of the
part. The penetrant will try to wet the surface of the penetrant
particle and fill the voids between the particles, which brings more
penetrant to the surface of the part where it can be seen. Since dry
powder developers only stick to the part where penetrant is
present, the dry developer does not provide a uniform white
background as the other forms of developers do. Having a uniform
light background is very important for a visible inspection to be
effective and since dry developers do not provide one, they are
seldom used for visible inspections. When a dry developer is used,

indications tend to stay bright and sharp since the penetrant has a
limited amount of room to spread.

Water Soluble

As the name implies, water soluble developers consist of a group of

chemicals that are dissolved in water and form a developer layer
when the water is evaporated away. The best method for applying
water soluble developers is by spraying it on the part. The part can
be wet or dry. Dipping, pouring, or brushing the solution on to the
surface is sometimes used but these methods are less desirable.
Aqueous developers contain wetting agents that cause the solution
to function much like dilute hydrophilic emulsifier and can lead to
additional removal of entrapped penetrant. Drying is achieved by
placing the wet but well drained part in a recalculating warm air
dryer with the temperature held between 70 and 75F. If the parts
are not dried quickly, the indications will will be blurred and
indistinct. Properly developed parts will have an even, pale white
coating over the entire surface.
Water Suspendible
Water suspendible developers consist of insoluble developer
particles suspended in water. Water suspendible developers require
frequent stirring or agitation to keep the particles from settling out
of suspension. Water suspendible developers are applied to parts in
the same manner as water soluble developers. Parts coated with a
water suspendible developer must be forced dried just as parts
coated with a water soluble developer are forced dried. The surface
of a part coated with a water suspendible developer will have a
slightly translucent white coating.


Nonaqueous developers suspend the developer in a volatile solvent

and are typically applied with a spray gun. Nonaqueous developers
are commonly distributed in aerosol spray cans for portability. The
solvent tends to pull penetrant from the indications by solvent
action. Since the solvent is highly volatile, forced drying is not

required. A nonaqueous developer should be applied to a thoroughly

dried part to form a slightly translucent white coating.
Special Applications
Plastic or lacquer developers are a special developers that are
primarily used when a permanent record of the inspection is





Preparation of Part
One of the most critical steps in the
penetrant inspection process is preparing
the part for inspection. All coatings, such
as paints, varnishes, plating, and heavy
oxides must be removed to ensure that
defects are open the surface of the part.
If the parts have been machined, sanded,
or blasted prior to the penetrant
inspection, it is possible that a thin layer
of metal may have smeared across the
surface and closed off defects. It is even
possible for metal smearing to occur as a
result of cleaning operations such as grit
or vapor blasting. This layer of metal
smearing must be removed before
Coatings, such as paint, are much more elastic than metal and will
not fracture even though a large defect may be present just below
the coating. The part must be thoroughly cleaned as surface
contaminates can prevent the penetrant from entering a defect.
Surface contaminants can also lead to a higher level of background
noise since the excess penetrant may be more difficult to remove.
Common coatings and contaminates that must be removed include:
paint, dirt, flux, scale, varnish, oil, etchant, smut, plating, grease,
oxide, wax, decals, machining fluid, rust, and residue from previous
penetrant inspections.
Some of these contaminants would obviously prevent penetrant
from entering defects and it is, therefore, clear that they must be
removed. However, the impact of other contaminants such as the
residue from previous penetrant inspections is less clear, but they
can have a disastrous affect on the inspection. Take the link below
to review some of the research that has been done to evaluate the
effects of contaminants on LPI sensitivity.

A good cleaning procedure will remove all

contamination from the part and not
leave any residue that may interfere with
the inspection process. It has been found
that some alkaline cleaners can be
detrimental to the penetrant inspection
process if they have silicates in
concentrations above 0.5 percent. Sodium
metasilicate, sodium silicate, and related
compounds can adhere to the surface of
parts and form a coating that prevents
penetrant entry into cracks. Researchers
in Russia have also found that some
detergents can clog flaw cavities and
reduce the wettability of the metal
surface, thus, reducing the sensitivity of
the penetrant.
Conrad and Caudill found that media from plastic media blasting was
partially responsible for loss of LPI indication strength. Microphotographs
of cracks after plastic media blasting showed media entrapment in
addition to metal smearing.
It is very important that the material being inspected has not been
smeared across its own surface during machining or cleaning operations.
It is well recognized that machining, honing, lapping, hand sanding, hand
scraping, shot peening, grit blasting, tumble deburring, and peening
operations can cause a small amount of the material to smear on the
surface of some materials. It is perhaps less recognized that some
cleaning operations, such as steam cleaning, can also cause metal
smearing in the softer materials. Take the link below to learn more about
metal smearing and its affects on LPI

Selection of a Penetrant Technique

The selection of a liquid penetrant system is not a straightforward task.

There are a variety of penetrant systems and developer types that are

available for use, and one set of penetrant materials will not work for all
applications. Many factors must be considered when selecting the
penetrant materials for a particular application. These factors include the
sensitivity required, materials cost, number of parts and size of area
requiring inspection, and portability.
When sensitivity is the primary consideration for choosing a penetrant
system, the first decision that must be made is whether to use
fluorescent dye penetrant, or visible dye penetrant. Fluorescent
penetrants are generally more capable of producing a detectable
indication from a small defect because the human eye is more sensitive
to a light indication on a dark background and the eye is naturally drawn
to a fluorescent indication. The graph below presents a series of curves
that show the contrast ratio required for a spot of a certain diameter to
be seen. The curves show that for indications spots larger than 0.076 mm
(0.003 inch) in diameter, it does not really matter if it is a dark spot on a
light background or a dark spot on a light background. However, when a
dark indication on a light background is further reduced in size, it is no
longer detectable even though contrast is increased. Furthermore, with a
light indication on a dark background, indications down to 0.003 mm
(0.0001 inch) were detectable when the contrast between the flaw and
the background was high enough.
From this data, it can be seen why a fluorescent penetrant offers an
advantage over visible penetrant for finding very small defects. Data
presented by De Graaf and De Rijk supports this statement. They
inspected "Identical" fatigue cracked specimens using a red dye penetrant
and a fluorescent dye penetrant. The fluorescent penetrant found 60
defects while the visible dye was only able to find 39 of the defects.


Under certain conditions, the visible penetrant may be a better choice.

When fairly large defects are the subject of the inspection, a high
sensitivity system may not be warranted and may result in a large
number of irrelevant indications. Visible dye penetrants have also been
found to give better results when surface roughness is high or when flaws
are located in areas such as weldments.
Since visible dye penetrants do not require a darkened area for the use of
an ultraviolet light, visible systems are more easy to use in the field.
Solvent removable penetrants, when properly applied can have the
highest sensitivity and are very convenient to use but are usually not
practical for large area inspection or in high-volume production settings.
Another consideration in the selection of a penetrant system is whether
water washable, post-emulsifiable or solvent removable penetrants will be
used. Post-emulsifiable systems are designed to reduce the possibility of
over-washing, which is one of the factors known to reduce sensitivity.
However, these systems add another step, and thus cost, to the
inspection process.

Penetrant Application and Dwell Time

The penetrant material can be
applied in a number of different
ways which include spraying,
brushing, or immersing the parts
in a penetrant bath. The method of
penetrant application has little
effect on the inspection sensitivity
method is reported to produce
slightly better results than other
Once the part is covered in penetrant it must be allowed to dwell so
the penetrant has time to enter any defect present. There are
basically two dwell mode options, immersion-dwell (keeping the
part immersed in the penetrant during the
dwell period) or drain-dwell (letting the part drain during the dwell
period). Prior to a study by Sherwin, the immersion-dwell mode was
generally considered to be more sensitive but recognized to be less
economical because more penetrant was washed away and
emulsifiers were contaminated more rapidly.


The reasoning for thinking this

method was more sensitive was that
the penetrant was more migratory
and more likely to fill flaws when
kept completely fluid and not
allowed to loose volatile constituents
by evaporation. However, Sherwin
showed that if the specimens are
sensitivity is higher because the
evaporation increases the dyestuff
concentration of the penetrant on
the specimen. Sensitivity increases
increases. Sherwin also cautions that
the samples being inspected should
be placed outside the penetrant tank
wall so that vapors from the tank do
not accumulate and dilute the
penetrant on the specimen.
Penetrant Dwell Time
Penetrant dwell time is the total time that the penetrant is in
contact with the part surface. The dwell time is important because it
allows the penetrant the time necessary to be drawn or to seep into
a defect. Dwell times are usually recommended by the penetrant
producers or required by the specification being followed. The time
required to fill a flaw depends on a number of variables which
include the following:

The surface tension of the penetrant.

The contact angle of the penetrant.
The dynamic shear viscosity of the penetrant, which can vary
with the diameter of the capillary. The viscosity of a penetrant
in microcapillary flaws is higher than its viscosity in bulk,
which slows the infiltration of the tight flaws.
The atmospheric pressure at the flaw opening.
The capillary pressure at the flaw opening.
The pressure of the gas trapped in the flaw by the penetrant.
The radius of the flaw or the distance between the flaw walls.
The density or specific gravity of the penetrant.
Microstructural properties of the penetrant.

The ideal dwell time is often determined by experimentation and is

often very specific to a particular application. For example, AMS
2647A requires that the dwell time for all aircraft and engine be at

least 20 minutes while the ASTM E1209 only requires a 5 minute

dwell time for parts made of titanium and other heat resistant
alloys. Generally, there is no harm in using a longer penetrant dwell
time as long as the penetrant is not allowed to dry.
The following tables summarize the dwell time requirements of
several commonly used specifications. The information provided
below is intended for general reference and no guarantee is made
about its correctness or currentness. Please consult the
specifications for the actual dwell time requirements.




Penetrant Removal Process

remove the penetrant from the
surface of the part without
removing an appreciable amount
of entrapped penetrant from the
defect. If the removal process
extracts penetrant from the
flaw, the flaw indication will be

If the penetrant is not effectively removed from the part surface,

the contrast between the indication and the background will be
reduced. As discussed in Contrast Sensitivity Section, as the
contrast increases so does visibility of the indication.
Removal Method
Penetrant systems are classified into four methods of excess
penetrant removal. These include the following:


A: Water-Washable
B: Post Emulsifiable, Lipophilic
C: Solvent Removable
D: Post Emulsifiable, Hydrophilic

Method C, Solvent Removable, is used primarily for inspecting small

localized areas as this method requires hand wiping the surface with
a cloth moistened with the solvent remover, and this process is too
labor intensive for most production situations. Of the three
production penetrant inspection methods, Method A, WaterWashable, is the most economical to apply. Water-washable or selfemulsifiable penetrants contain an emulsifier as an integral part of
the formulation. The excess penetrant may be removed from the
object surface, with a simple water rinse. These materials have the
property of forming relatively viscous gels upon contact with water,
which results in the formation of gel-like plugs in surface openings.
While they are completely soluble in water, given enough contact
time, the plugs offer a brief period of protection against rapid wash
removal. Thus, water-washable penetrant systems provide ease of
use and a high level of sensitivity.


When removal of the penetrant from the defect due to over-washing

of the part is a concern, a post-emulsifiable penetrant system can
be used. Post-emulsifiable penetrants require a separate emulsifier
to break the penetrant down and make it water washable. The
emulsifier is usually applied by dipping the object. Hydrophilic
emulsifiers may also be sprayed on the object but spraying is not
recommended for lipophilic emulsifiers because it can result in nonuniform emulsification if not properly applied. Brushing the
emulsifier on to the part is not recommended because the bristles of
the brush may force emulsifier into discontinuities causing the
entrapped penetrant to be removed. The emulsifier is allowed
sufficient time to react with the penetrant on the surface of the part
but not given time to make its way into defects to react with the
trapped penetrant. The penetrant that has reacted with the
emulsifier is easily cleaned away. Controlling the reaction time is of
essential importance when using a post-emulsifiable system. If the
emulsification time is too short, an excessive amount of penetrant
will be left on the surface leading to high background levels. If the
emulsification time is too long, the emulsifier will react with the
penetrant entrapped in discontinuities making it possible to deplete
the amount needed to form an indication.
The hydrophilic post emulsifiable method (Method D) is more
sensitive than the lipophilic post emulsifiable method (Method B).
Since these methods are generally only used when very high
sensitivity is needed, Method D is almost always used making
Method B virtually obsolete. The major advantage of hydrophilic
emulsifiers is that they are less sensitive to variation in the contact
and removal time. While emulsification time should be controlled as
closely as possible, a variation of one minute or more in the contact
time will have little effect on flaw detectability when a hydrophilic
emulsifier is used, but a variation of as little as 15 to 30 seconds
can have a significant effect when a lipophilic system is used. Using
an emulsifier involves adding a couple of steps to the penetrant
process and ,therefore, slightly increases the cost of an inspection.
When using an emulsifier, the penetrant process includes the
following steps (extra steps in bold):
1. pre-clean part
2. apply penetrant and allow to dwell
3. pre-rinse to remove first layer of penetrant
4. apply hydrophilic emulsifier, and allow contact for specified time
5. rinse to remove excess penetrant

6. dry part
7. apply developer and allow part to develop
8. inspect.
Rinse Method and Time for Water-Washable Penetrants
The method used to rinsing the excess penetrant from the object
surface and the time of the rinse should be controlled so as to
prevent over-washing. It is generally recommended that a coarse
spray rinse or an air agitated, immersion wash tank be used. When
a spray is being used, it should be directed at a 45 angle to the
part surface so as to not force water directly into any discontinuities
that may be present. The spray or immersion time should be kept
to a minimum through frequent inspections of the remaining
background level. When using
Hand Wiping of Solvent Removable Penetrants
When a solvent removable penetrant is used, care must also be
taken to carefully remove the penetrant from the part surface while
removing as little as possible from the flaw. The first step in this
cleaning procedure is to dry wipe the surface of the part in one
direction using a white lint free cotton rag. One dry pass in one
direction is all that should be used to remove as much penetrant as
possible. Next, the surface should be wiped with one pass in one
direction with a cleaner moistened rag. One dry pass followed by
one damp pass is all that is recommended. Additional wiping my
sometimes be necessary but keep in mind that with every additional
wipe, some of the entrapped penetrant will be removed and
inspection sensitivity will be reduced.

Use and Selection of a Developer

The use of developer is almost always recommended. One study
reported that the output from a fluorescent penetrant could be
multiplied by up to seven times when a suitable powder developer
was used. Another study showed that the use of developer can have
a dramatic effect on the probability of detection (POD) of an
inspection. When a Haynes Alloy 188, flat panel specimen with a
low-cycle fatigue crack was inspected without a developer, a 90 %
POD was never reached with crack lengths as long as 19 mm (0.75
inch). The operator detected only 86 of 284 cracks and had 70
false-calls. When a developer was used, a 90 % POD was reached
at 2 mm (0.077 inch), with the inspector identifying 277 of 311
cracks with no false-calls. However in some Some authors have
reported that in special situations the use of a developer may

actually reduce sensitivity. These situations primarily occur when

large, well defined defects are being inspected on a surface that
contains many nonrelevant indications that cause excessive
Type of Developer Used and Method of Application
Nonaqueous developers are generally recognized as the most
sensitive when properly applied. There is less agreement on the
performance of dry and aqueous wet developers but the aqueous
developers are usually considered more sensitive. Aqueous wet
developers form a finer matrix of particles that is more in contact
with the part surface. However, if the thickness of the coating
becomes too great, defects can be masked. Also aqueous wet
developers can cause leaching and blurring of indications when used
with water washable penetrants. The relative sensitivities of
developers and application techniques as ranked in Volume II of the
Nondestructive Testing Handbook are shown in the table below.
There is general industry agreement with this table, but some
industry experts feel that water suspendible developers are more
sensitive than water-soluble developers.
Sensitivity ranking of developers per the Nondestructive Testing
Sensitivity Ranking (highest to lowest) Developer Form Application


Developer Form
Nonaqueous Wet
Plastic Film
Water Suspendible
Water Suspendible

Method of
Dust Cloud
Fluidized Bed
Dust Cloud (Air
Immersion (Dip)

The following TABLE lists the main advantages and disadvantages of

the various developer types.





Does not form

contrast background
Indications tend to remain
so cannot be used
brighter and more distinct over
with visible systems
Easily to apply



Difficult to assure
entire part surface
has been coated

Coating is
translucent and
provides poor
Ease of coating entire part
contrast (not
recommended for
White coating for good contrast
visual systems)
can be produced which work
well for both visible and
Indications for
fluorescent systems
water washable
systems are dim
and blurred
Ease of coating entire part
Indications are bright and


Indications weaken
and become
White coating for good contrast diffused after time
can be produced which work
well for both visible and
fluorescent systems
Very portable
Easy to apply to readily
accessible surfaces

Difficult to apply
evenly to all
White coating for good contrast
can be produced which work
well for both visible and
More difficult to
fluorescent systems
clean part after
Indications show-up rapidly
and are well defined
Provides highest sensitivity




Process Control of Temperature

The temperature of the penetrant
materials and the part being inspected
can have an effect on the results.
Temperatures from 27 to 49oC (80 to
120oF) are reported in the literature to
specification allow testing in the range of
4 to 52oC (40 to 125oF).
A tip to remember is that surfaces that can be touched for an
extended period of time without burning the skin are generally
below 52oC (125oF).
Since the surface tension of most materials decrease as the
temperature increases, raising the temperature of the penetrant will
increase the wetting of the surface and the capillary forces. Of
course, the converse is also true and lowing the temperature will
have a negative effect on the flow characteristics. Raising the
temperature will also raise the speed of evaporation of penetrants,
which can have a positive or negative effect on sensitivity. The
impact will be positive if the evaporation serves to increase the dye
concentration of the penetrant trapped in a flaw up to the
temperatures and more rapid evaporation will have a negative
effect if the dye concentration is caused to exceed the concentration
quenching point or the flow characteristics are changed to the point
where the penetrant does not readily flow.
The method of processing a hot part was once commonly employed.
Parts were either heated or processed hot off the production line. In
its day, this served to increase inspection sensitivity by increasing
the viscosity of the penetrant. However, the penetrant materials
used today have 1/2 to 1/3 the viscosity of the penetrants on the
market in the 1960's and 1970's. Heating the part prior to
inspection is no longer necessary and no longer recommended.

Quality Control of Penetrant

The quality of a penetrant inspection is highly dependent on the
quality of the penetrant materials used. Only products meeting the
requirements of an industry specification, such as AMS 2644, should

be used. The performance of a penetrant can be affected by

contamination and aging. Contamination by another liquid will
change the surface tension and contact angle of the solution, and
virtually all organic dyes deteriorate over time resulting in a loss of
color or fluorescent response. Therefore, regular checks must be
performed to insure that the material performance has not
When the penetrant is first received from the manufacturer, a
sample of the fresh solution should be collected and stored as a
standard for future comparison. The standard specimen should be
stored in an opaque glass or metal, sealed container. Penetrants
that are in-use should be compared regularly against the standard
specimen to detect changes in color, odor and consistency. When
using fluorescent penetrants, a brightness comparison per the
requirements of ASTM E 1417 is also often required. This check
involves placing a drop of the standard and the in-use penetrants
on a piece of Whatman #4 filter paper and making a side by side
comparison of the brightness of the two spots under UV light.
Additionally, the water content of water washable penetrants must
be checked regularly. When water contaminates oil-based
penetrants, the surface tension and contact angle of the mixture will
increase since water has a higher surface tension than most oilbased
contamination can produce a gel break or emulsion inversion when
the water concentration becomes high enough. The formation of the
gel is an important feature during the washing processes but must
be avoided until the stage in the process. Data indicates that the
water contamination must be significant (greater than 10%) for gel
formation to occur. Most specification limit water contamination to
around 5% to be conservative. Non-water-based, water washable
penetrants are checked using the procedure specified in ASTM D95
or ASTM E 1417. Water-based, water washable penetrants are
checked with a refractometer. The rejection criteria is different for
different penetrants so the requirements of the qualifying
specification or the manufacturer's instructions must be consulted.
Application of the Penetrant
The application of the penetrant is the step of the process that
requires the least amount of control. As long as the surface being
inspected receive a generous coat penetrant, it really doesn't
matter how the penetrant is applied. Generally, the application
method is an economic or convenience decision.
It is important that the part be thoroughly cleaned and dried. Any
contaminates or moisture on the surface of the part or within a flaw

can prevent the penetrant material from entering the defect. The
part should also be cool to the touch. The recommended range of
temperature is 4 to 52 degrees centigrade.

Quality Control of Wash Temperature and Pressure

The wash temperature and pressure and time are three parameters
that are typically controlled in penetrant inspection process
specification. A coarse spray or an immersion wash tank with air
agitation is often used. When the spray method is used, the water
pressure is usually limited to 276 kN/m2 (40 psi). The temperature
range of the water is usually specified as a wide range (ex. 10 to
38C (50 to 100 F) in AMS 2647A.) A low-pressure, coarse water
spray will force less water into flaws to dilute and/or remove
trapped penetrant and weaken the indication. The temperature will
have an effect on the surface tension of the water and warmer
water will have more wetting action than cold water. Warmer water
temperatures may also make emulsifiers and detergent more
effective. The wash time should only be as long as necessary to
decrease the background to an acceptable level. Frequent visual
checks of the part should be made to determine when the part has
be adequately rinsed.
Summary of Research on Wash Method Variables
Vaerman evaluated the effect that rinse time had on one high
sensitivity water-washable penetrant and two post-emulsifiable
penetrants (one medium and one high sensitivity). The evaluation
was conducted using TESCO panels numerous cracks ranging in
depth from 5 to 100 microns deep. A 38 percent decrease in
sensitivity for the water-washable penetrant was seen when the
rinse time was increased from 25 to 60 seconds. When the rinse
times of two post-emulsifiable penetrants were increased from 20 to
60 seconds, a loss in sensitivity was seen in both cases but it was
much reduced from the loss seen with the water-washable system.
The relative sensitivity loss over the range of crack depths was 13
percent for the penetrant with medium sensitivity and roughly
percent for the high sensitivity penetrant.
-- Vaerman, J., Fluorescent Penetrant Inspection, Quantified
Evolution of the Sensitivity Versus Process Deviations, Proceedings
of the 4th European Conference on Non-Destructive Testing,
Pergamon Press, Maxwell House, Fairview Park, Elmsford, New
York, Volume 4, September 1987, pp. 2814-2823.
In a 1972 paper by N.H. Hyam, the effects of the rinse time on the
sensitivity of two level 4 water-washable penetrants are examined.

It was reported that sensitivity decreased as spray-rinse time

increased and that one of the penetrants was more affected by
rinse time than the others. Alburger, points-out that some
conventional fluorescent dyes are slightly soluble in water and can
be leached out during the washing processes.

Quality Control of Drying Process

The temperature used to dry parts after the application of aqueous
wet developer or prior to the application of a dry powder or a
nonaqueous wet developer, must be controlled to prevent "cooking"
of the penetrant in the defect. High drying temperature can affect
penetrants in a couple of ways. First, some penetrants can fade at
high temperatures due to dye vaporization or sublimation. Second,
high temperatures can cause the penetrant to dry in the the flaw
preventing it from migrating to the surface to produce an indication.
To prevent harming the penetrant material, drying temperature
should be kept to under 71 degree centigrade.
The drying should be limited to the minimum length of time
necessary to thoroughly dry the component being inspected.

Quality Control of Developer

The function of the developer is very important in a penetrant
inspection. It must draw out of the discontinuity a sufficient amount
of penetrant to form an indication, and it must spread the penetrant
out on the surface to produce a visible indication. In a fluorescent
penetrant inspection, the amount of penetrant brought to the
surface must exceed the dye's thin film threshold of fluorescence of
the indication will not fluoresce. Additionally, the developer makes
fluorescent indications appear brighter than indications produced
with the same amount of dye but without the developer.
In order to accomplish these functions, a developer must adhere to
the part surface and result in a uniform, highly porous layer with
many paths for the penetrant to be moved due to capillary action.
Some developers are applied wet and other dry, but the desired end
result is always a uniform, highly porous, surface layer. Since the
quality control requirements for each of the developer types is
slightly different, they will be covered individually.
Dry Powder Developer
A dry powder developer should be checked daily to ensure that it is
fluffy and not caked. It should be similar to fresh powdered sugar
and not granulated like powered soup. It should also be relatively

free from specks of fluorescent penetrant material from previous

inspection. This check is performed by spreading a sample of the
developer out and examining it under UV light. If there are ten or
more fluorescent specks in an 10 cm diameter area, the batch
should be discarded.
Apply a light coat of the developer by immersing the test
component or dusting the surface. After the development time,
excessive powder can be removed by gently blowing on the surface
with air not exceeding 35 kPa or 5 psi.
Wet Soluble/Suspendible Developer
Wet soluble developer must be completely dissolved in the water
and wet suspendible developer must be thoroughly mixed prior to
application. The concentration of powder in the carrier solution must
be controlled in these developers. The concentration should be
checked at least weekly using a hydrometer to make sure it meets
the manufacturer's specification. To check for contamination, the
solution should be examined weekly using both white light and UV
light. If a scum is present or the solution fluoresces, it should be
replaced. Some specification require that a clean aluminum panel be
dipped in the developer, dried, and examined for indications of
contamination by fluorescent penetrant materials.
These developers are apply immediately after the final wash. A
uniform coating should be applied by spraying, flowing or immersion
of the component. They should never be applied with a brush. Care
should be taken to avoid a heavy accumulation of the developer
solution in crevices and recesses. Prolonged contact of the
component with the developer solution should be avoided in order
to minimize dilution or removal of the penetrant from
Solvent Suspendible
Solvent suspendible developers are typically supplied in an sealed
aerosol spray can. Since the developer solution is in a sealed vessel,
direct check of the solution are not possible. However, the way that
the developer is dispensed must be monitored. The spray developer
should produce a fine, even coating on the surface of the part. Make
sure the can is well shaken and apply a thin coating to a test article.
If the spray produces spatters or other an uneven coating the can
should be discarded.
When applying a solvent suspendible developer, it is up to the
inspector to control the thickness of the coating. When a visible
penetrant system, the developer coating must be thick enough to

provide a white contrasting background but not heavy enough to

mask indications. When using a fluorescent penetrant system, a
very light coating should be used. The developer should be applied
under white light condition and should appear evenly transparent.
Development Time
Part should be allowed to develop for a minimum of 10 minutes and
no more than 2 hours before inspecting.

Quality Control of Lighting

After a component has been
properly processed, it is ready
for inspection. While automated
vision inspection systems are
sometimes used, the focus here
will be on inspection performed
visually by a human inspector as
this is the dominate method.
Proper lighting is of great
inspecting a surface for a
penetrant indication.
Obviously, the lighting requirements are different for an inspection
conducted using a visible dye penetrant than they are for an
inspection conducted using a fluorescent dye penetrant. The lighting
requirements for each of these techniques, as well as how light
measurements are made, is discussed below.
Lighting for Visible Dye Penetrant Inspections
When using a visible penetrant, the intensity of the white light is of
principal importance. Inspections can be conducted using natural
lighting or artificial lighting. When using natural lighting, it is
important to keep in mind that daylight varies from hour to hour so
inspector must stay constantly aware on the lighting conditions and
make adjustment when needed. To improve uniformity in lighting
from one inspection to the next, the use of artificial lighting is
recommended. Artificial lighting should be white whenever possible
and white flood or halogen lamps are most commonly used. The
light intensity is required to be 100 foot-candles at the surface
being inspected. It is advisable to choose a white light wattage that
will provide sufficient light, but avoid excessive reflected light that
could distract from the inspection.

Lighting for Fluorescent Penetrant Inspections

When a fluorescent penetrant is being employed, the ultraviolet
illumination and the visible light inside the inspection booth is
important. Penetrant dyes are excited by the UV of 365-nm
wavelength and emit visible light somewhere in the green-yellow
range between 520 and 580 nm. The source of ultraviolet light (UV)
is often a mercury arc lamp with a filter. The lamps emit many
wavelengths and a filter is used to remove all but the UV and a
small amount of visible light between 310 and 410 nm. Visible light
of wavelengths above 410 nm interferes with contrast, and UV
emissions below 310 nm include some hazardous wavelengths.
Standards and procedures require verification of lens condition and
light intensity. Black lights should never be used with a cracked
filter as output of white light and harmful black light will be
increased. The cleanliness of the filter should also be checked as a
coating of solvent carrier, oils, or other foreign materials can reduce
the intensity by up to as much as 50%. The filter should be checked
visually and cleaned as necessary before warm-up of the light.
Since fluorescent brightness is linear with respect to ultraviolet
excitation, a change in the intensity of the light (from age or
damage) and a change in the distance of the light source from the
surface being inspected will have a direct impact on the inspection.
For UV lights used in component evaluations, the normally accepted
intensity is 1000 microwatts per square centimeter when measured
at 15 inches from the filter face (requirements can vary from 800 to
1200). The required check should be performed when a new bulb is
installed, at startup of the inspection cycle, if a change in intensity
is noticed, or every eight hours of continuous use. Regularly
checking the intensity of UV lights is very important because bulbs
loose intensity over time. In fact, a bulb that is near the end of its
operating life will often have an intensity of only 25 percent of its
original output.
Black light intensity will also be affected by voltage variations. A
bulb that produces acceptable intensity at 120 volts will produce
significantly less at 110 volts. For this reason it is important to
provide constant voltage to the light. Also, most UV light must be
warmed up prior to use and should be on for at least 15 minutes
before beginning an inspection.
When performing a fluorescent penetrant inspection, it is important
to keep white light to a minimum as it will significantly reduce the
inspectors ability to detect fluorescent indications. Light levels of

less than 2 fc are required by most procedures with some

procedures requiring less than 0.5 fc at the inspection surface.
Procedures require a check and documentation of ambient white
light in the inspection area. When checking black light intensity at
15 inches a reading of the white light produced by the black light
may be required to verify white light is being removed by the filter.
Light Measurement
Light intensity measurements are made using a radiometer. A
radiometer is an instrument that translate light energy into an
electrical current. Light striking a silicon photodiode detector causes
a charge to build up between internal layers. When an external
connected to the cell, an electrical current is produced. This current
is linear with respect to incident light. Some radiometers have the
ability to measure both black and white light, while others require a
separate sensor for each measurement. Whichever type is used, the
sensing area should be clean and free of any materials that could
reduce or obstruct light reaching the sensor. Radiometers are
relatively unstable instruments and readings often change
considerable over time. Therefore, they should be calibrated at least
every six months.
Ultraviolet light measurements should be taken using a fixture to
maintain a minimum distance of 15 inches from the filter face to the
sensor. The sensor should be centered in the light field to obtain
and record the highest reading. UV spot lights are often focused, so
intensity readings will vary considerable over a small area. White
lights are seldom focused and depending on the wattage, will often
produce in excess of the 100 fc at 15 inches. Many specifications do
not require the white light intensity check to be conducted at a
specific distance.

System Performance Check

processing a test specimen with known
defects to determine if the process will
reveal discontinuities of the size required.
The specimen must be processed following
the same procedure used to process
production parts. A system performance
check is typically required daily, at the
reactivation of a system after maintenance
or repairs, or any time the system is
suspected of being out of control.

As with penetrant inspections in general, results are directly

dependent on the skill of the operator and, therefore, each operator
should process a panel.
The ideal specimen is a production item that has natural defects of
the minimum acceptable size. Some specification delineate the type
and size of the defects that must be present in the specimen and
detected. Surface finish is will affect washability so the check
specimen should have the same surface finish as the production
parts being processed. If penetrant systems with different
sensitivity levels are being used, there should be a separate
specimen for each system.
There are some universal test specimens that can be used if a
standard part is not available. The most commonly used test
specimen is the TAM or PSM panel. These panel are usually made of
stainless steel that has been chrome plated on one half and
surfaced finished on the other half to produced the desired
roughness. The chrome plated section is impacted from the back
side to produce a starburst set of cracks in the chrome. There are
five impacted areas to produce range of crack sizes. Each panel has
a characteristic signature and variances in that signature are
indications of process variance. Panel patterns as well as brightness
are indicators of process consistency or variance.
Care of system performance check specimens is critical. Specimens
should be handled carefully to avoid damage. They should be
cleaned thoroughly between uses and storage in a solvent is
generally recommended. Before processing a specimen, it should be
inspected under UV light to make sure that it is clean and not
already producing an indication.





Nature of the Defect

The nature of the defect can have a large affect on sensitivity of a
liquid penetrant inspection. Sensitivity is defined as the smallest
defect that can be detected with a high degree of reliability.
Typically, the crack length at the sample surface is used to define
size of the defect. A survey of any probability-of-detection curve for
penetrant inspection will quickly lead one to the conclusion that
crack length has a definite affect on sensitivity. However, the crack
length alone does not determine whether a flaw will be seen or go
undetected. The volume of the defect is likely to be the more
important feature. The flaw must be of sufficient volume so that
enough penetrant will bleed back out to a size that is detectable by
the eye or that will satisfy the dimensional thresholds of

Above is an example of fluorescent penetrant inspection probability

of detection (POD) curve from the Nondestructive Evaluation (NDE)
Capabilities Data Book. Please note that this curve is specific to one
set of inspection conditions and should not be interpreted to apply
to other inspection situations.


In general, penetrant inspections are more effective at


small round defects than small linear defects. Small

round defects are generally easier to detect for several
reasons. First, they are typically volumetric defects that can
trap significant amounts of penetrant. Second, round defects
fill with penetrant faster than linear defects. One research
effort found that elliptical flaw with length to width ratio of
100, will take the penetrant nearly 10 times longer to fill than
a cylindrical flaw with the same volume.
deeper flaws than shallow flaws. Deeper flaws will trap
more penetrant than shallow flaws, and they are less prone to
over washing.
flaws with a narrow opening at the surface than wide
open flaws. Flaws with narrow surface openings are less
prone to over washing.
flaws on smooth surfaces than on rough surfaces. The
surface roughness of the part primarily affects the
removability of a penetrant. Rough surfaces tend to trap more
penetrant in the various tool marks, scratches, and pits that
make up the surface. Removing the penetrant from the
surface of the part is more difficult and a higher level of
background fluorescence or over washing may occur.
flaws with rough fracture surfaces than smooth
fracture surfaces. The surface roughness that the fracture
faces is a factor in the speed at which a penetrant enters a
defect. In general, the penetrant spreads faster over a surface
as the surface roughness increases. It should be noted that a
particular penetrant may spread slower than others on a
smooth surface but faster than the rest on a rougher surface.
flaws under tensile or no loading than flaws under
compression loading. In a 1987 study at the University
College London, the effect of crack closure on detectability
was evaluated. Researchers used a four-point bend fixture to
place tension and compression loads on specimens that were
fabricated to contain fatigue cracks. All cracks were detected
with no load and with tensile loads placed on the parts.
However, as compressive loads were placed on the parts, the
crack length steadily decreased as load increased until a load
was reached when the crack was no longer detectable.


Health and Safety Precautions in Liquid Penetrant

When proper health and safety precautions are followed, liquid
penetrant inspection operations can be completed without harm to
inspection personnel. However, there are a number of health and
safety related issues that must be addressed. Since each inspection
operation will have its own unique set of health and safety concerns
that must be addressed, only a few of the most common concerns
will be discussed here.
Chemical Safety
Whenever chemicals must be handled, certain precautions must be
taken as directed by the material safety data sheets (MSDS) for the
chemicals. Before working with a chemical of any kind, it is highly
recommended that the MSDS be reviewed so that proper chemical
safety and hygiene practices can be followed. Some of the
penetrant materials are flammable and, therefore, should be used
and stored in small quantities. They should only be used in a well
ventilated area and ignition sources avoided. Eye protection should
always be worn to prevent contact of the chemicals with the eyes.
Many of the chemicals used contain detergents and solvents that
can dermatitis. Gloves and other protective clothing should be warn
to limit contact with the chemicals.
Ultraviolet Light Safety
Ultraviolet (UV) light or "black light" as it is sometimes called, has
wavelengths ranging from 180 to 400 nanometers. These
wavelengths place UV light in the invisible part of the
electromagnetic spectrum between visible light and X-rays. The
most familiar source of UV radiation is the the sun and is necessary
in small doses for certain chemical processes to occur in the body.
However, too much exposure can be harmful to the skin and eyes.
Excessive UV light exposure can cause painful sunburn, accelerate
wrinkling and increase the risk of skin cancer. UV light can cause
eye inflammation, cataracts, and retinal damage.
Because of their close proximity, laboratory devices, like UV lamps,
deliver UV light at a much higher intensity than the sun and,
therefore, can cause injury much more quickly. The greatest threat
with UV light exposure is that the individual is generally unaware
that the damage is occurring. There is usually no pain associated
with the injury until several hours after the exposure. Skin and eye

damage occurs at wavelengths around 320 nm and shorter which is

well below the 365 nm wavelength, where penetrants are designed
to fluoresce. Therefore, UV lamps sold for use in LPI application are
almost always filtered to remove the harmful UV wavelengths. The
lamps produce radiation at the harmful wavelengths so it is
essential that they be used with the proper filter in place and in
good condition.