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Triplet photosensitizers (PSs) are compounds that can be efficiently excited to the triplet excited state which subsequently act as catalysts in photochemical reactions. The name is originally derived from compounds that were used to transfer the triplet energy to other compounds that have only a small intrinsic triplet state yield. Triplet PSs are not only used for triplet energy transfer, but also for photocatalytic organic reactions, photodynamic therapy (PDT), photoinduced hydrogen production from water and triplet–triplet annihilation (TTA) upconversion. A good PS should exhibit strong absorption of the excitation light, a high yield of intersystem crossing (ISC) for efficient production of the triplet state, and a long triplet lifetime to allow for the reaction with a reactant molecule. Most transition metal complexes show efficient ISC, but small molar absorption coefficients in the visible spectral region and short-lived triplet excited states, which make them unsuitable as triplet PSs. One obstacle to the development of new triplet PSs is the difficulty in predicting the ISC of chromophores, especially of organic compounds without any heavy atoms. This review article summarizes some molecular design rationales for triplet PSs, based on the molecular structural factors that facilitate ISC. The design of transition metal complexes with large molar absorption coefficients in the visible spectral region and long-lived triplet excited states is presented. A new method of using a spin converter to construct heavy atom-free organic triplet PSs is discussed, with which ISC becomes predictable, C60 being an example. To enhance the performance of triplet PSs, energy funneling based triplet PSs are proposed, which show broadband absorption in the visible region. Applications of triplet PSs in photocatalytic organic reactions, hydrogen production, triplet–triplet annihilation upconversion and luminescent oxygen sensing are briefly introduced.
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