A large number of techniques have been applied to monitor the function of free metal ions in biological systems. Fluorescent ion probes have evolved into an extremely useful tool for contemporary experimentalists. Polycarboxylate indicators are widely used in the determination of metal ion concentrations, especially due to their cell membrane permeability. The design of these probes required detailed knowledge in related fields of medicine, biology, and chemistry, and their preparation demanded the expertise of organic synthesis. In this review, the basic rationale for the selection of particular chemical structures are analyzed, synthetic pathways leading to the desired structures are presented, often via a retrosynthetic approach, and properties and relative advantages of the use of these probes are described. References to specific applications are limited, given the large number of reviews on related subjects. Topics such as those related to dextran conjugates that are broad enough to be t he subject of a different review are not included, and leakage resistance and near-membrane probes are mentioned briefly in separate sections, although these are chemically similar to typical polycarboxylate dyes. While reference to topics mentioned in related reviews is unavoidable, presentation of material in this review is from the point of view of a medicinal chemist rather than that of the many experts using these pioneering techniques.