This review article gives a comparative overview over carbon nanomaterials utilized for in vitro as well as in vivo fluorescence and Raman imaging, including multi-functional theranostic approaches. , Carbon based nanomaterials have emerged over the last few years as important agents for biomedical fluorescence and Raman imaging applications. These spectroscopic techniques utilize either fluorescently labelled carbon nanomaterials or the intrinsic photophysical properties of the carbon nanomaterial. In this review article we present the utilization and performance of several classes of carbon nanomaterials, namely carbon nanotubes, carbon nanohorns, carbon nanoonions, nanodiamonds and different graphene derivatives, which are currently employed for in vitro as well as in vivo imaging in biology and medicine. A variety of different approaches, imaging agents and techniques are examined and the specific properties of the various carbon based imaging agents are discussed. Some theranostic carbon nanomaterials, which combine diagnostic features ( i.e. imaging) with cell specific targeting and therapeutic approaches ( i.e. drug delivery or photothermal therapy), are also included in this overview.