Natural sphalerite associated with copper, silver, lead-zinc, tin and tungsten deposits from various world-famous mineral deposits have been studied by cathodoluminescence (CL), laser ablasion inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS), electron probe microanalysis (EPMA) and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) to determine the relationship between trace element type and content and the CL properties of sphalerite. In general, sphalerite produces a spectrum of CL colour under electron bombardment that includes deep blue, turquoise, lime green, yellow-orange, orange-red and dull dark red depending on the type and concentration of trace quantities of activator ions. Sphalerite from most deposits shows a bright yellow-orange CL colour with ??max centred at 585 nm due to Mn2+ ion, and the intensity of CL is strongly dependent primarily on Fe2+ concentration. The blue emission band with ??max centred at 470-490 nm correlates with Ga and Ag at the Tsumeb, Horn Silver, Balmat and Kankoy mines. Colloform sphalerite from older well-known European lead-zinc deposits and late Cretaceous Kuroko-type VMS deposits of Turkey shows intense yellowish CL colour and their CL spectra are characterised by extremely broad emission bands ranging from 450 to 750 nm. These samples are characterised by low Mn (<10 ppm) and Ag (<1 ppm), and they are enriched in Tl (1-30 ppm) and Pb (80-1500 ppm). Strong green CL is produced by sphalerite from the Balmat-Edwards district. Amber, lime-green and red-orange sphalerite produced weak orange-red CL at room temperatures, with several emission bands centred at 490, 580, 630, 680, 745, with ??max at 630 nm being the strongest. These emission bands are well correlated with trace quantities of Sn, In, Cu and Mn activators. Sphalerite from the famous Ogdensburg and Franklin mines exhibited brilliant deep blue and orange CL colours and the blue CL may be related to Se. Cathodoluminescence behaviour of sphalerite serves to characterise ore types and help detect technologically important trace elements.