After compensation, the measurement errors arising from multiple fluorescences spilling into each detector become evident by the spreading of nominally negative distributions. Depending on the instrument configuration and performance, and reagents used, this “spillover spreading” (SS) affects sensitivity in any given parameter. The degree of SS had been predicted theoretically to increase with measurement error, i.e., by the square root of fluorescence intensity, as well as directly related to the spectral overlap matrix coefficients. We devised a metric to quantify SS between any pair of detectors. This metric is intrinsic, as it is independent of fluorescence intensity. The combination of all such values for one instrument can be represented as a spillover spreading matrix (SSM). Single-stained controls were used to determine the SSM on multiple instruments over time, and under various conditions of signal quality. SSM values reveal fluorescence spectrum interactions that can limit the sensitivity of a reagent in the presence of brightly-stained cells on a different color. The SSM was found to be highly reproducible; its non-trivial values show a CV of less than 30% across a 2-month time frame. In addition, the SSM is comparable between similarly-configured instruments; instrument-specific differences in the SSM reveal underperforming detectors. Quantifying and monitoring the SSM can be a useful tool in instrument quality control to ensure consistent sensitivity and performance. In addition, the SSM is a key element for predicting the performance of multicolor immunofluorescence panels, which will aid in the optimization and development of new panels. We propose that the SSM is a critical component of QA/QC in evaluation of flow cytometer performance. Published 2013 Wiley- Periodicals, Inc.