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Collodion on glass (visible light left; UV light right)


A viscous, highly flammable solution of Cellulose nitrate. Collodion is prepared by dissolving 4 grams of Pyroxylin (cellulose nitrate) in a 100 milliliter mixture of Ether (75 ml) and ethanol (25 ml). Collodion dries quickly to form a clear, tough film. Collodion mixed with silver halide salts was used in the 1850s and 60s as a photographic emulsion on glass plates. By 1889, it was used in the manufacture of photographic film, lacquers, patent leather, and artificial pearls. Later it was tried for a short time as an isolating varnish for paintings (Doerner 1934). Today, collodion is used in engraving and lithography and in medicine to seal wounds. It is also used to mount particles on microscope slides. Some variations of the collodion mixture are:

  • Flexible collodion - made by adding 2% Camphor and 3% Castor oil.
  • Collodion elasticum - made by adding 5% castor oil.
  • Styptic collodion - made by adding 18% Tannic acid.

Modern collodion solutions are usually made with Amyl acetate and Butyl acetate solvents to minimize the flammability risks.

Synonyms and Related Terms

Celloidin; cellulose nitrate; Kollodium (Deut.); collodion (Fr.); cotone collodio (It.); binitrocellulosa (It.); collodium (Ned.);


  • Highly flammable. Flash point below 25 C.
  • Humco:: SDS

Physical and Chemical Properties

  • Density = 0.765-0.775

Resources and Citations

  • R. J. Gettens, G.L. Stout, Painting Materials, A Short Encyclopaedia, Dover Publications, New York, 1966
  • M. Doerner, The Materials of the Artist, Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1934
  • G.S.Brady, Materials Handbook, McGraw-Hill Book Co., New York, 1971 Comment: p. 171
  • Richard S. Lewis, Hawley's Condensed Chemical Dictionary, Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York, 10th ed., 1993
  • S.R.Trotman, E.R. Trotman, Textile Analysis, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, 1932
  • The Merck Index, Martha Windholz (ed.), Merck Research Labs, Rahway NJ, 10th edition, 1983 Comment: entry 2547
  • Ivan Amato, Stuff: The Materials the World is Made of, Avon Books, New York, 1997
  • Wikipedia: Collodion (Accessed Jan. 15, 2006 and July 2023)
  • George Savage, Art and Antique Restorer's Handbook, Rockliff Publishing Corp, London, 1954
  • Random House, Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language, Grammercy Book, New York, 1997
  • The American Heritage Dictionary or Encarta, via Microsoft Bookshelf 98, Microsoft Corp., 1998
  • AMOL reCollections Glossary -