Abstract ZnS:Cu,Mn phosphors were prepared by conventional solid state reaction with the aid of NaCl–MgCl 2 flux at 900 °C. The samples were characterized by X-ray powder diffraction, UV–vis absorbance spectra and photoluminescence spectra. All samples possess cubic structure. Cu has a much stronger effect on the absorption property of ZnS than Mn. Incorporation of Mn into ZnS host only slightly enhances the light absorption, while addition of Cu remarkably increases the ability of absorption due to ground state Cu + absorption. The emission spectra of the ZnS:Cu,Mn phosphors consist of three bands centered at about 452, 520 and 580 nm, respectively. Introduction of Mn significantly quenches the green luminescence of ZnS:Cu. The excitation energy absorbed by Cu is efficiently transferred to Mn activators non-radiatively and the Mn luminescence can be sensitized by Cu behaving as a sensitizer (energy donor).