n-butanol has been recognized as a promising alternative fuel for gasoline and may potentially overcome the drawbacks of methanol and ethanol, e.g. higher energy density. In this paper, the spray characteristics of gasoline and n-butanol have been investigated using a high pressure direct injection injector. High speed imaging and Phase Doppler Particle Analyzer (PDPA) techniques were used to study the spray penetration and the droplet atomization process. The tests were carried out in a high pressure constant volume vessel over a range of injection pressure from 60 to 150 bar and ambient pressure from 1 to 5 bar. The results show that gasoline has a longer penetration length than that of n-butanol in most test conditions due to the relatively small density and viscosity of gasoline; n-butanol has larger SMD due to its higher viscosity. The increase in ambient pressure leads to the reduction in SMD by 42% for gasoline and by 37% for n-butanol. Based on the development of droplet velocity, it is found that the strong interaction between fuel jets could change the fuel distribution in the region close to the nozzle and this may be the joint effect of cavitation inside the nozzle and the vacuum near the nozzle caused by the high-speed fuel jets.