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The field of organic chemistry began with 19th century scientists identifying and then expanding upon synthetic dye molecules for textiles. In the 20th century, dye chemistry continued with the aim of developing photographic sensitizers and laser dyes. Now, in the 21st century, the rapid evolution of biological imaging techniques provides a new driving force for dye chemistry. Of the extant collection of synthetic fluorescent dyes for biological imaging, two classes reign supreme: rhodamines and cyanines. Here, we provide an overview of recent examples where modern chemistry is used to build these old-but-venerable classes of optically responsive molecules. These new synthetic methods access new fluorophores, which then enable sophisticated imaging experiments leading to new biological insights.