We have designed, synthesized, and evaluated the efficacy of novel dye-peptide conjugates that are receptor specific. Contrary to the traditional approach of conjugating dyes to large proteins and antibodies, we used small peptide-dye conjugates that target overexpressed receptors on tumors. Despite the fact that the peptide and the dye probe have similar molecular mass, our results demonstrate that the affinity of the peptide for its receptor and the dye fluorescence properties are both retained. The use of small peptides has several advantages over large biomolecules, including ease of synthesis of a variety of compounds for potential combinatorial screening of new targets, reproducibility of high purity compounds, diffusiveness to solid tumors, and the ability to incorporate a variety of functional groups that modify the pharmacokinetics of the peptide-dye conjugates. The efficacy of these new fluorescent optical contrast agents was evaluated in vivo in well-characterized rat tumor lines expressing somatostatin (sst2) and bombesin receptors. A simple continuous wave optical imaging system was employed. The resulting optical images clearly show that successful specific tumor targeting was achieved. Thus, we have demonstrated that small peptide-dye conjugates are effective as contrast agents for optical imaging of tumors.