Two monosulfonated and eight disulfonated azo dyes of varying relative molecular mass were examined by liquid secondary ion mass spectrometry (LSIMS). The effects of matrix, concentration, primary beam energy, and mode of operation were addressed in order to optimize sample ionization, whilst minimizing interference from matrix ions. Seven matrices were investigated: glycerol, thioglycerol, 3-nitrobenzyl alcohol, diethanolamine, 2-hydroxyethyl disulfide, a 1:1 (v/v) mixture of 2-hydroxyethyl disulfide and thioglycerol, and a 1:3 (v/v) mixture of dithioerythritol and dithiothreitol. Of these matrices, 3-nitrobenzyl alcohol produced LSIMS spectra that exhibited the most intense sample ions and the least interference from matrix ions. Minimum concentrations of 0.4 microg/microl and 4 microg/microl (dye in matrix) were necessary to produce useful full-scan spectra for monosulfonated azo dyes and disulfonated azo dyes, respectively; maximum sample ion intensities were obtained with concentrations ranging from 20 microg/microl to 60 microg/microl. A primary ion beam (cesium) of 10 to 15 kV produced the greatest secondary ionization efficiency, and a negative-ion analysis mode produced more useful spectra than those obtained in the positive-ion mode.