The interactions and binding characteristics of DNA dyes used in the flow cytometric analysis of chromatin were studied using human chromosomes and mouse thymocyte nuclei. The kinetics of dye binding and the relationship between fluorescence intensity and dye concentration are presented. Under the conditions used, Hoechst 33258, propidium iodide and chromomycin A3 reach an equilibrium with thymocyte nuclei after approximately 5 min, 20 min and more than 1 h, respectively. The same binding kinetics are observed with Hoechst 33258 and chromomycin when nuclei are stained with a mixture of the two dyes. Sodium citrate, which improves the resolution of flow karyotypes, causes a rapid increase in Hoechst and propidium iodide fluorescence, but a decrease in the fluorescence of chromomycin. The relative peak positions of chromosomes in a flow karyotype are unaffected by sodium citrate addition. The spectral interaction between Hoechst and chromomycin is quantified. There is variation among the human chromosome types in the amount of energy transferred from Hoechst to chromomycin. By measuring the Hoechst and chromomycin fluorescence of each chromosome after Hoechst excitation, it is shown that the amount of energy transferred is correlated to the ratio of the amount of Hoechst to chromomycin bound. Although the energy transfer between the two dyes is considerable, this has little effect on the reproducibility of flow karyotype measurements. The relative peak positions of all human chromosomes in a 64×64 channel flow karyotype, except for the 13 and Y chromosomes, vary in the order of 0.5 channel over a 16-fold change in either Hoechst or chromomycin concentration. This implies that, with the present flow cytometers, variation in staining conditions will have minimal effects on the reproducibility of the relative peak positions in flow karyotypes.