The in vitro photodynamic therapy activity of four imidazole-substituted metalloporphyrins has been studied using human (HeLa) and mouse (CT26) cancer cell lines: an anionic Zn porphyrin and a homologous series of three cationic Zn, Pd or InCl porphyrins. A dramatic difference in phototoxicity was found: Pd cationic>InCl cationic>Zn cationic>Zn anionic. HeLa cells were more susceptible than CT26 cells. Induction of apoptosis was demonstrated using a fluorescent caspase assay. The anionic Zn porphyrin localized in lysosomes while the cationic Zn porphyrin localized in lysosomes and mitochondria, as assessed by fluorescence microscopy. Studies using fluorescent probes suggested that the cationic Pd porphyrin produced more hydroxyl radicals as the reactive oxygen species. Thus, the cationic Pd porphyrin has high potential as a photosensitizer and gives insights into characteristics for improved molecular designs.