Onium salts, namely sulfonium, phosphonium, ammonium, and pyridinium salts containing phenacyl group are photoinitiators appropriate for the polymerization of monomers such as oxiranes and vinyl ethers, which are not polymerizable by a free-radical mechanism. The initiation is accomplished by direct or indirect (sensitized) photolysis of the salts. Depending on the type of the salt, the direct photoinitiation of cationic polymerization involves reversible or irreversible processes. The photolysis of phenacylsulfonium compounds proceeds by a reversible process, while the other types undergo irreversible photolysis leading to complete fragmentation of the photoinitiator. An additionally useful tool, namely photosensitized generation of initiating species enlarges, the versatility of these salts as photoinitiators. Photoinitiated free-radical and zwitterionic polymerizations by using phenacyl-type salts are also addressed. Keto-enol tautomerization of phenacyl pyridinium salts is discussed. Moreover, an interesting application concerning in situ synthesis of clay-poly(methyl methacrylate) nanocomposites with the aid of the phenacyl anilinium salt-based photolymerization technique is noted. (c) 2007 The Japan Chemical Journal Forum and Wiley Periodicals, Inc.