Copal Resin – Definition, Examples, History & More – Art Conservation and Restoration Glossary

What is Copal Resin?

Copal resin is a type of natural tree resin that is derived from the copal tree, which is native to Central and South America. It is commonly used in traditional medicine, incense, and as a varnish in art and conservation.

Copal resin is harvested by making incisions in the bark of the copal tree, allowing the resin to ooze out and harden into a solid form. It is then collected and processed into various products.

History and Traditional Uses

Copal resin has been used for centuries by indigenous cultures in Central and South America for its medicinal and spiritual properties. It was believed to have healing powers and was used in rituals and ceremonies to ward off evil spirits.

In addition to its spiritual uses, copal resin was also used as a varnish to protect and preserve artwork and artifacts. Its natural adhesive properties made it ideal for binding pigments and materials together.

Physical Properties of Copal Resin

Copal resin is a hard, brittle substance that ranges in color from pale yellow to dark brown. It has a distinct aromatic scent when burned, which is why it is commonly used in incense.

When heated, copal resin softens and becomes malleable, making it easy to work with in various applications. It has a high melting point, which allows it to form a durable protective coating when used as a varnish.

Conservation and Restoration Applications

In the field of art conservation, copal resin is often used as a natural varnish to protect and enhance the appearance of paintings and other artworks. Its ability to create a glossy finish and its UV-resistant properties make it a popular choice among conservators.

Copal resin is also used in the restoration of wooden artifacts and furniture. Its adhesive properties make it ideal for repairing cracks and gaps in wood, while its protective qualities help to prevent further damage.

Risks and Challenges in Using Copal Resin

While copal resin has many benefits, there are also risks and challenges associated with its use. One of the main concerns is its tendency to yellow and darken over time, which can alter the appearance of artwork and artifacts.

Copal resin is also prone to cracking and becoming brittle with age, especially in dry or humid conditions. This can lead to flaking and loss of adhesion, compromising the integrity of the object it was applied to.


In conclusion, copal resin is a versatile and valuable natural material with a long history of use in various cultural and artistic traditions. Its physical properties make it well-suited for a range of applications, from traditional medicine to art conservation.

While there are risks and challenges associated with using copal resin, its unique qualities and benefits continue to make it a popular choice among artists, conservators, and practitioners of traditional medicine. By understanding its properties and limitations, we can continue to appreciate and utilize copal resin in a responsible and sustainable manner.