We report the first demonstration of directly recording fluorescence spectra of single cells in flow cytometry. An intensified, 512-element photodiode array was used in conjunction with a dispersing prism to capture the fluorescence emission spectra of Coulter ImmunoCheck calibration beads and Dictyostelium discoideum spores stained with the indocarbocyanine derivative CY3, fluorescein isothiocyanate, or R-phycoerythrin. The demonstration was made feasible by enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio of the detection process by using a fast gating technique applied to the detector. Results show that the complete fluorescence spectra of individual stained cells contain information that is normally not captured by conventional flow cytometers. By using the spectrographic flow cytometer, all this information is recorded, allowing small features and shifts in the fluorescence spectra of labelled particles to be studied. © 1996 Wiley-Liss, Inc.