Clear Ballistics Gelatin Not Performing Like Real Ballistics Gelatin?

ballistic gel

Andrew of AR15.com has published a video comparing the performance of Clear Ballistic Gelatin to organic 10% ballistic gelatin using Nosler 64gr Bonded Softpoint bullets out of an AR-15.

The results are interesting. When shooting into the 10% ballistics gelatin, the round penetrated 15.6″. Clear ballistics gelatin showed different results with the same bullet penetrating 19.4″, almost 4″ further than the 10% ballistic gelatin.

Andrew comments that the results from the Clear gelatin can alter one’s perception of a bullet’s performance for self defense needs. In this particular case the rifle round appears to over penetrate if one goes solely by the results of the Clear Ballistics gelatin.

Andrew told TFB that when comparing Clear Gel and organic gel with the FBI standard of “shooting  a .177 caliber (4.5 mm) steel BB from an air gun over a chronograph at 590 feet per second (fps)” he found the following:

593.7 fps, 3.4″  (organic gel)
595.2 fps, 4.1″  (Clear Gel)

The acceptable range is 590 fps +/- 15 fps and 2.95″ – 3.74″ of penetration. The Gel gel fell just outside the acceptable range.

Does this mean that Clear Ballistics Gelatin is not appropriate for amateur testing? Not necessarily. Right now we have only seen different results in a handful of calibers using very specific types of ammunition. There can be areas where the Clear Ballistics Gelatin does perform identically with 10% ballistic gelatin. Andrew does acknowledge that there are videos on Youtube showing clear gel does mimic 10% gel. The temporary stretch cavity, maximum expansion, minimum expansion, and weight retention are similar between organic and Clear gel.

We spoke to another Youtuber who uses Clear Gel. He told us that unlike organic gel, the Clear gel is easier to store, and therefor easier for the casual user to use.

Lastly, Clear Ballistic Gelatin does something that 10% ballistics gelatin does not: it visually shows results better. Should you stop using Clear Ballistics Gelatin? Not necessarily. It depends on what you want the product to do what you want to test.



Nicholas C

Co-Founder of KRISSTALK forums, an owner’s support group and all things KRISS Vector related. Nick found his passion through competitive shooting while living in NY. He participates in USPSA and 3Gun. He loves all things that shoots and flashlights. Really really bright flashlights.

Any questions please email him at nicholas.c@staff.thefirearmblog.com


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  • Markbo

    “In this particular case the rifle round appears to over penetrate if one goes solely by the results of the Clear Ballistics gelatin.”

    Can you clarify this please? I have never heard of penetration from a rifle round being a negative.

    • andrey kireev

      Basically in Ideal scenario you want the bullet to hit the body and stay in the body which would mean it transferred close to 100% of kinetic energy to the body. When you have over-penetration, bullet will leave the body, while still retaining part of that kinetic energy, which therefore wasted, since it’s not transferred,

      • gunsandrockets

        If bleeding out is a primary method of incapacitation as it seems to be with most pistol ammunition, than an exit wound seems like a very useful thing indeed.

    • marine6680

      It’s more of a concern for defense and police than hunters.

      Defense and police tend to focus on 223/556 and that round is on the low side for adequate power for the situations it is used in.

      Hunters typically use higher power rounds so a pass through is less an issue. Still depending on your personal attitudes for what makes a good bullet, you may or may not want a pass through from a hunting bullet.

      But gel testing is not a cut and dry direct indicator of penetration performance, as skin and bone come into play in the real world. Skin is several times more resistant to penetration of a bullet than the meaty goodness inside living things. So something that penetrates 16″ in gel, may only go 10″ in a live target.

      • Rick O’Shay

        As a hunter, pass through itself is not necessarily a concern. HOW it passes through is. Two bullets of identical weight and caliber, might “overpenetrate” ballistic gels, but the one that is FMJ is worthless to me. If it was me using ballistic gels, I’d be using it to see how bullets of similar or identical weights within a caliber perform, based on differences in their designs. The clear gel would make it easier to see that performance on video.

        • marine6680

          Yeah, I was giving it as a given for hollowpoint designs.

          And what you said, that use is exactly what gel tests allow, comparing two different bullets in a consistent medium.

  • marine6680

    I think the problem here is the fact that the clear gel was out of spec.

    If you look at the bullet penetration vs the BB penetration, the ratios are very similar.

    .80 vs .82

    So I would say, that as long as the clear gel calibrates properly, then you are going to be fine.

    Checking calibration is important for the tests to be valid for comparison purposes and for general testing integrity.

    • Chop Block

      Actually, that’s a typo. Both the results listed are clear gel. One in range and the other is not in range.

      593.7 fps, 3.4″
      595.2 fps, 4.1″

      • marine6680

        I can’t work without reliable data!

        OK, watched the video… The BG had a cal depth of 3.1″… and the clear gel had two different depths for its cal, of 3.4 and 4.1?

        If that is the case, that could indicate a problem with the gel, as when I see other tests, I see them use multiple cal shots, and they are consistent with each other.

        There is a difference in how they perform however. I see some that have compared and found some, but not extensive differences.

        Will dig further…

        • Chop Block

          Did you watch the Brassfetcher video?

          • marine6680

            They had much more difference in their tests than others I have seen, but I have only seen a few comparison tests… Or I have seen the same person test the same ammo twice in both types.

            The Clear Gel may have a consistency problem batch to batch, leading to different results.

            I wonder if a figure can be calculated to give a rough penetration depth for how a bullet would perform in ballistic gel. (Like “reduce Clear gel penetration figures by 10% or something like that.) The Brassfetcher guys tested a lot of different caliber/bullets, did they give raw numbers? If so, we can see if there is consistency in how clear gel compares to ballistic gel.

          • Chop Block

            He did. Lots of good, empirical data. Unfortunately, there was a significant discrepancy for .32 Auto and 12ga buck, which are pretty much the other end of the scale from what I tested, but the discrepancy was in the same direction (excess penetration in clear gel).

          • marine6680

            Could be a fluke with the tests for those two. Would need to repeat them a few times to make sure.

            But if you exclude those two, I wonder if a fairly consistent figure can be gleaned from the data.

          • Chop Block

            The clear gel product has been shown to deviate from real ballistic gelatin on multiple occasions by multiple testers. It is no fluke. Why is it so hard to accept that a material that is widely different produces different results?

          • marine6680

            That’s not what I am saying or asking… What I am asking is…

            Is the difference between ballistic gel and clear gel consistent?

            If so, then it’s easy to calculate a number to use to convert penetration figures.

            It would most likely be a ratio or percentage rather than a set distance.

            Like 15% more penetration in clear gel or 1.2 to 1… And not… “All calibers penetrate 4in more.”

            So if we have the penetration numbers for each of the calibers, we may find that there is at least similar results, and can come up with a conversion.

            For example… we find that brand X 45acp penetrates 15in in ballistic gel, and 18in in clear gel.

            And that brand Y 9mm penetrates 20in in ballistic gel, and 24in in clear gel.

            While final penetration differences are not the same distance of penetration… 3 extra vs 4 extra… Both examples would be 20% more when comparing like for like. And let say we test several different calibers, brands and ammo types in both types of gel.

            Now let’s say we find that comparison between the same bullet/caliber between gel types nets us a spread of 19-21%…

            We could then give the average as 20% extra penetration in clear gel. And now we can convert clear gel penetration depths into ballistic gel equivalent depths.

          • Chop Block

            We need a lot more data points, but the relationship between clear gel and real ballistic gelatin does not appear to be linear. Remember that the results seen in comparisons from ShootingTheBull410 and Brassfetcher showed very close correlation for service pistol loads. Then .32 Auto, 00 buck, and now .223 showed significant deviation.

          • marine6680

            Well, in that case, it seems that Clear gel was intended to be used to test the more common pistol calibers. Or ar least its most useful for those.

          • Chop Block

            Yes, I’d like to see a lot more testing but it certainly seems that it is reasonably accurate for service pistol calibers (9mm, .40 S&W, .357 Sig, .45 Auto, etc.) I have seen some variation between results obtained by people using clear gel and myself using real ballistic gelatin when testing certain 10mm rounds so it’s probably not accurate for higher velocity pistol rounds (.357 mag, light for caliber 9mm, etc) but those results were obtained by different people on different days in different locations. Too many extraneous variables besides the media to make any solid conclusions. The most important takeaway for me is that the manufacturer makes several claims that are demonstrably false and that they don’t say that their product is only useful for testing service pistol loads with “normal” bullet weights.

  • gunsandrockets

    What matters with gel testing is if the results can be reproduced. If clear gelatin is slightly different than 10% ballistic gelatin, so what. 10% gelatin itself is only a crude analog for human tissue.

    • Giolli Joker

      If you compare several loads on the same clear gelatin, you’ll still have some sort of comparative value.
      However if you test in clear gelatin however you can’t reliably compare your results with others’ obtained in 10% organic gelatin. Neither you can consider the 12″-18″ penetration range.

    • Chop Block

      “The IWBA published some of Gene Wolberg’s material from his study of San Diego PD officer involved
      shootings that compared bullet performance in calibrated 10% ordnance gelatin with the autopsy
      results using the same ammunition. When I last spoke with Mr. Wolberg in May of 2000, he had
      collected data on nearly 150 OIS incidents which showed the majority of the 9mm 147 gr bullets
      fired by officers had penetrated 13 to 15 inches and expanded between 0.60 to 0.62 inches in both
      human tissue and 10% ordnance gelatin. Several other agencies with strong, scientifically based
      ammunition terminal performance testing programs have conducted similar reviews of their shooting
      incidents with much the same results–there is an extremely strong correlation between properly
      conducted and interpreted 10% ordnance gelatin laboratory studies and the physiological effects of
      projectiles in actual shooting incidents.” – Dr. Roberts

      “The test of the wound profiles validity is how accurately they portray the projectile-tissue
      interaction observed in shots that penetrate the human body. Since most shots in the human body
      traverse various tissues, we would expect the wound profiles to vary somewhat, depending on the
      tissues traversed. However, the only radical departure has been found to occur when the
      projectile strikes bone: this predictably deforms the bullet more than soft tissue, reducing its
      overall penetration depth, and sometimes altering the angle of the projectile’s course. Shots
      traversing only soft tissues in humans have shown damage patterns of remarkably close
      approximation to the wound profiles.

      The bullet penetration depth comparison, as well as the similarity in bullet deformation and yaw
      patterns, between human soft tissue and 10% ordnance gelatin have proven to be consistent and
      reliable. Every time there appeared to be an inconsistency a good reason was found and when the
      exact circumstances were matched, the results matched. The cases reported here comprise but a
      small fraction of the documented comparisons which have established 10% ordnance gelatin as a
      valid tissue simulant.” – Dr. Fackler

      • gunsandrockets

        “Shots traversing only soft tissues in humans have shown damage patterns of remarkably close approximation to the wound profiles.”

        That is the key phrase “close approximation”.

        • Chop Block

          Yes. Real ballistic gel closely approximates wounds observed in living tissue. Clear gel closely approximates real ballistic gel. So it’s an approximation of an approximation.

  • Goosey

    In all the tests I’ve seen, Clear Ballistics gel does not capture the temporary cavity in the same way as ordnance gelatin. It’s one of its more obvious failings. Due to this, the Clear Ballistics product seems better suited to testing low-velocity handgun rounds.

    • Sianmink

      Having used both,

      The main performance difference is that ordnance gelatin will fracture and tear more easily than the Clear, so temporary cavities will be more pronounced.

      However bullet expansion in Clear Ballistics more closely mimics real world performance, while ballistics gel gives a more ideal condition and thus you will get better expansion.

      • Chop Block

        I would like to hear a reference for this. Not one single professional lab uses clear gel. I spoke with Dr. Gary Roberts he was rather emphatic in his distaste for it.

        • Sianmink

          It’s definitely different, in a way where you can only compare performance across other uses of clear gel. The stuff is dry and grabby, not slippery like ballistics gelatin, and more elastic.

          • Chop Block

            Ballistic gelatin isn’t slippery, but I think I know what you mean. The problem is that real ballistic gelatin has been proven to products figures that correlate strongly with real wounds. It’s an approximation of an approximation and it has been proven deviate in some ways in to of that.

  • Paul Prochko

    The difference in these mediums does matter a great deal, if your looking for minimum/maximum acceptable handgun levels of penetration. Reports I have read by those conducting autopsies have stated they can’t really tell a difference between one caliber or another when doing post-mortem exams. Vast majority of handgun cartridges simply don’t rise to velocity threshold necessary to produce serious fluid hydrostatic shock damage or launching of secondary material projectiles. The point is, at best, you need a relative indicator of penetration, and a reasonable method to test for expansion. Beyond that, permanent or temporary cavities are nice to look at, but probably mean little at handgun velocities as this applies to human targets. Rifle projectiles are another matter entirely as most do fall into the hydrostatic shock producing category of bullet effects on human tissue, bone and fluids.

  • Pretty much a well known fact, many people who do ballistics testing for a living will tell you that Clear Ballistics gel doesn’t calibrate reliably. Nor will 10% gel if it isn’t handled correctly, but they don’t advertise as being temperature stable.

    Personally I only look at the consistency of performance in Clear gel tests. I ignore any penetration numbers unless they are vastly over or under.

    And yes calibrated 10% gel isn’t a 1:1 human analogue. Do you really need 16″ of flesh penetration? No, but the IWBA found that being between the 12-18″ of penetration in calibrated 10% gel has good results in real shootings.

    • Chop Block

      Actually, real ballistic gelatin does produce figures that correlate strongly with the measurements observed in real wounds.

      “The IWBA published some of Gene Wolberg’s material from his study of San Diego PD officer involved
      shootings that compared bullet performance in calibrated 10% ordnance gelatin with the autopsy
      results using the same ammunition. When I last spoke with Mr. Wolberg in May of 2000, he had
      collected data on nearly 150 OIS incidents which showed the majority of the 9mm 147 gr bullets
      fired by officers had penetrated 13 to 15 inches and expanded between 0.60 to 0.62 inches in both
      human tissue and 10% ordnance gelatin. Several other agencies with strong, scientifically based
      ammunition terminal performance testing programs have conducted similar reviews of their shooting
      incidents with much the same results–there is an extremely strong correlation between properly
      conducted and interpreted 10% ordnance gelatin laboratory studies and the physiological effects of
      projectiles in actual shooting incidents.” – Dr. Roberts

      “The test of the wound profiles validity is how accurately they portray the projectile-tissue
      interaction observed in shots that penetrate the human body. Since most shots in the human body
      traverse various tissues, we would expect the wound profiles to vary somewhat, depending on the
      tissues traversed. However, the only radical departure has been found to occur when the
      projectile strikes bone: this predictably deforms the bullet more than soft tissue, reducing its
      overall penetration depth, and sometimes altering the angle of the projectile’s course. Shots
      traversing only soft tissues in humans have shown damage patterns of remarkably close
      approximation to the wound profiles.

      The bullet penetration depth comparison, as well as the similarity in bullet deformation and yaw
      patterns, between human soft tissue and 10% ordnance gelatin have proven to be consistent and
      reliable. Every time there appeared to be an inconsistency a good reason was found and when the
      exact circumstances were matched, the results matched. The cases reported here comprise but a
      small fraction of the documented comparisons which have established 10% ordnance gelatin as a
      valid tissue simulant.” – Dr. Fackler

      • I stand corrected, I was told that it was close enough.

        • Chop Block

          Well, that’s not incorrect on the face of it. Note that when projectiles intersected bone, the results varied quite a bit. It’s not possible to simulate the unpredictable and chaotic interaction with bone. Clothing and other barriers complicate things as well, but they can be measured in a substantive way. It is true that ballistic gelatin is only an approximation, but it is a remarkably accurate approximation, when viewed in the correct perspective. The problem is that clear gel mostly approximates the approximation of real ballistic gel, with some fairly minor deviations, but an approximation of an approximation with unpredictable (until more data is gathered) deviation is not particularly useful.

      • Sunshine_Shooter

        That’s really interesting. Thanks for digging up that little gem.

      • FLdeepdiver

        A basic test that proves how close ordinance gel is to human tissue: pierce the side of a gel block with your finger, now repeat on yourself. Cant replicate the same results? Exactly the point. It’s also one of the reasons FBI test protocol minimums are set higher than one might expect.

        Keeping things in context, 10% ordinance gel does give us a BASELINE media to compare projectiles against each other. Sometimes lost in the shuffle is the fact that any commercially available gel is not an accurate representation of the human body, and it was never conceived as such.

        I use both clear synthetic and 10% organic ordinance gel in my Handgun Ballistics class. Full synthetic gel is less messy and smelly to store and handle, and costs less as it can be reused. But I do let my students know that projectile performance will appear better from clear synthetic.

        • Chop Block

          LOL, no. The standards used to determine that properly calibrated 10% gelatin produces results that correlate strongly with real human wounds are substantially more complex than poking it with a finger. See the quotes above. The correlation was established by observing actual wounds in real human beings.

          • FLdeepdiver

            I think you are deliberately missing my illustrated point.

            10% ordinance gel only helps with one piece of the puzzle. Actual “Soft Tissue” (a loosely used term) is full of many variables (air cavities, density variables, etc.) that it makes using gel impractical to replicate a human wound.

            Gel is not a completely useless test, but also not an accurate representation of the human body. Wolberg and Fackler acknowledge this as you may already be aware. It simply does not account for muscle for example.

            We got a little off topic, but the original poster (PPGMD) stated “calibrated 10% gel isn’t a 1:1 human analogue” and he is correct. Your response “Actually, real ballistic gelatin does produce figures that correlate strongly with the measurements observed in real wounds” seemed to counter that, thus my response.

          • Chop Block

            There are indeed complicating factors, but properly prepared and calibrated 10% ballistic gelatin does indeed correlate strongly to measurements in real human beings who have been shot. Now, you could argue that the correlation isn’t perfect, but there is not a perfect correlation between two shooting victims. The correlation is very strong, though. Within the context, it is fair to say that real ballistic gelatin and human soft tissue share a 1:1 relationship in regard to penetration.

  • Marvin

    What would Martin L. Fackler say???

    • Chop Block

      “The test of the wound profiles validity is how accurately they portray the projectile-tissue
      interaction observed in shots that penetrate the human body. Since most shots in the human body
      traverse various tissues, we would expect the wound profiles to vary somewhat, depending on the
      tissues traversed. However, the only radical departure has been found to occur when the
      projectile strikes bone: this predictably deforms the bullet more than soft tissue, reducing its
      overall penetration depth, and sometimes altering the angle of the projectile’s course. Shots
      traversing only soft tissues in humans have shown damage patterns of remarkably close
      approximation to the wound profiles.

      The bullet penetration depth comparison, as well as the similarity in bullet deformation and yaw
      patterns, between human soft tissue and 10% ordnance gelatin have proven to be consistent and
      reliable. Every time there appeared to be an inconsistency a good reason was found and when the
      exact circumstances were matched, the results matched. The cases reported here comprise but a
      small fraction of the documented comparisons which have established 10% ordnance gelatin as a
      valid tissue simulant.” – Dr. Fackler

  • Dan

    I thought this had been discussed before. I seem to remember an article about the clear gel stating it would not produce results in line with ballistic gel. I could have sworn the company also stated that.

    Unfortunately i have nothing to back this up, other than being really sure it happened.

    • Chop Block

      Clearballistics has never admitted any of the shortcomings in their product.

  • DanGoodShot

    Uh oh. Youtuber, Shooting the bull is going to have to re-evaluate his “ammo quest” series and start all over again. Penetration is just as important to expansion in how he rates a round.

    • Giolli Joker

      Isn’t ShootingTheBull410 using FBI standard organic gelatin?

      • DanGoodShot

        You know what… I think your right. I was up most the night with a sick kid. My brain is mush today. I think I’ll be avoiding the comment section today! Lol

        • Giolli Joker

          No problem. Take care of your kid, TFB won’t go anywhere in the meantime. 😉

      • Chop Block

        Yes, ShootingTheBull410 used real ballistic gelatin, which is one of the reasons I’m subscribed to him. He also tested a variety of handgun loads in clear gel and real gelatin and found very little discrepancy, if the bounce back was ignored, measuring to the leading edge of the bullet, rather than the deepest point it reached. Brassfetcher found a discrepancy in .32 Auto and 12 ga buckshot, though.

  • Bob Goedeker

    Also, the gelatin needs to be between certain temperatures to simulate soft tissue. If you let it sit out to long in the heat, and lose its cool, the test is not valid. These temperatures vary upon different gelatin makers and FBI protocol testing.

    • Chop Block

      No, real ballistic gelatin needs to be maintained at 39°F. Clearballistics claims that their product is temperature stable, but I determined that it will fail calibration within the temperature range they claim.

  • Doc Rader

    Since we have been using Clear Ballistics for the series Tom G and I have been doing, I’d like to chime in.

    We do a calibration BB on every gel to confirm the density and penetration, and we have not seen any problems yet.

    That said, at best, gel testing, in my opinion, and with regards to our series, is more about the consistency of the testing. Do the gels perform the same? Well, that would take actual scientific testing, done using scientific methodology. Shooting a couple rounds here and there (to compare the two types), in non controlled conditions, is really nothing more than interesting, but I wouldn’t draw any real conclusions from it.

    We would need to see a few hundred rounds from the same lot with the same controls shot into the gels and then have some statistical analysis against the measurements. My hypothesis is that we would not really see much difference. But without the funding to conduct a comparison to that standard, all we can do is guess and offer opinions based on our personal observations.

    What we can do is use a specific medium to test, and conduct the tests in as close to the same conditions, and use that data to compare the rounds. Is it perfect? No. But it is still valuable.

    • Chop Block

      We certainly need a lot more testing and testing in properly controlled conditions to completely map out the discrepancy, but this test conclusively proves that there can be a discrepancy between the two.

      • Doc Rader

        And there can be discrepancy between two blocks of natural gel. It comes down to ensuring the density verification check between tests. It was an easy prediction to make that the round would penetrate further in the ClearBallistics due to the deeper penetration of the BB–the calibration was off. The test should have stopped at that point, and he should have contacted ClearBallistics. Each gel is calibrated at CB and they track the lots: http://clearballistics.com/faq/

        Not to mention the AR15.com video did exactly one comparison in this video. Which is not exactly a conclusive test. If he had validated the gels, and both had similar penetration from the BB, and the CB gel had still exhibited the 4″ variation in penetration, I’d be more willing to buy that the gel is not appropriate.

        Perhaps the natural gel was not at the appropriate temperature (too cold meaning the density was higher). Maybe the CB gel was too hot, and therefore less dense. Before you can begin to make the comparison there would need to be evidence that the gels were used within their specifications. Which is why you generally don’t see stuff tested outside, in direct sun, etc.

        tl;dr: there are just too many uncontrolled variables and way too small a sample size to form *any* opinion from this video and test.

  • Sunshine_Shooter

    Here’s my question: If the over-penetration in clear gel consistent? As in, does 15″ in ballistics gel reliably come to 18.5″ in clear gel? Could you not just convert a clear gel depth into a true gel depth by multiplying (clear gel depth*.81) or something similar?

    • Chop Block

      The relationship does not appear to be linear. That is, certain loads appear to produce results that are very similar in the two types of media.