The theoretical modeling of fluorescence excitation, emission, and propagation within living tissue has been a limiting factor in the development and calibration of in vivo small animal fluorescence imagers. To date, no definitive calibration standard, or phantom, has been developed for use with small animal fluorescence imagers. Our work in the theoretical modeling of fluorescence in small animals using solid modeling software is useful in optimizing the design of small animal imaging systems, and in predicting their response to a theoretical model. In this respect, it is also valuable in the design of a fluorescence phantom for use in in vivo small animal imaging. The use of phantoms is a critical step in the testing and calibration of most diagnostic medical imaging systems. Despite this, a realistic, reproducible, and informative phantom has yet to be produced for use in small animal fluorescence imaging. By modeling the theoretical response of various types of phantoms, it is possible to determine which parameters are necessary for accurately modeling fluorescence within inhomogenous scattering media such as tissue. Here, we present the model that has been developed, the challenges and limitations associated with developing such a model, and the applicability of this model to experimental results obtained in a commercial small animal fluorescence imager.© (2007) COPYRIGHT SPIE--The International Society for Optical Engineering. Downloading of the abstract is permitted for personal use only.