Five smithsonite samples from locations in Germany, Mexico and Namibia have been investigated with cathodoluminescence (CL) spectroscopy and trace-element analyses. As with other carbonates, the CL properties of smithsonite are mainly controlled by Mn2+- and Fe2+-incorporation, because these elements are the most important activator and quencher species, respectively. Additional trace elements may have either a quenching effect (Cu) or have only small or no influence (Ca, Pb). A linear correlation exists between the Mn content and the intensity of the Mn-emission band in smithsonite, which can be quantified, if the Cl intensity is related to the number of moles of Mn rather than the weight fraction. A correlation between the Cl intensity and the Mn concentration, which is valid for all trigonal carbonates, is obtained from the published results of calcite, dolomite and smithsonite. Matrix effects due to the different chemical composition of the carbonate minerals seem to be of lesser importance.