Y2O3:19%Yb,1%Er nanoparticles were synthesized with the aim of imaging the luminescent cell. Coprecipitation and combustion synthesis were used to obtain particulate sizes ranging from 25 up to 140 nm. The powders showed predominant red upconversion and the emission efficiency is controlled by the particle size. A colloidal route was also followed and 2-5 nm-large agglomerated nanoparticles were obtained. In that case, the luminescence of Er3+ was only observed by direct excitation and no upconversion light has been detected on these very small particles.