Ballistic Gelatin Testing | #5 Things to Understand Ballistic Gel Testing: A Comprehensive Guide

Posted by Weston Rogers on 6th Jul 2023

Ballistic Gelatin Testing | Understanding Ballistic Gel Testing: A Comprehensive Guide

Ballistic Gelatin Testing is a common method used in the ammunition industry to evaluate the performance of bullets. It provides valuable insights into how a bullet will behave upon impact with a target. But what does it really mean, and how can we interpret the results? Let's dive in.

What is Ballistic Gelatin?

Ballistic gel, or ballistic gelatin, is a substance made from a mixture of gelatin and water. It's designed to mimic the density and viscosity of human and animal muscle tissue. This makes it an ideal medium for testing the penetration and expansion characteristics of different types of ammunition.

The First 4 Inches: Consider that skin, kind of…

One thing particularly significant to keep in mind is that gel is a homogenous product throughout and real targets are not. It is generally accepted that the first 4 inches of gel is representative of the loss of penetration depth due to skin. This is important to realize when comparing gel results to expected penetration depths on living targets.

The skin, despite being a relatively thin layer, is quite tough and can significantly affect the behavior of a bullet. By including this factor in ballistic gel tests, we can get a more accurate picture of how a bullet will perform upon impact.

Benefits of Ballistic Gelatin Testing

Ballistic gel testing offers several key benefits:

  1. Consistency: Ballistic gel is standardized, meaning it offers a consistent medium for testing. This allows for reliable comparisons between different types of ammunition.
  2. Visual Representation: The clear gel allows observers to see the bullet's path and the wound channel it creates. This gives a visual representation of the bullet's potential damage.
  3. Quantifiable Data: The test provides quantifiable data such as penetration depth, bullet expansion, and the wound channel's size. This data can be used to compare the performance of different ammunition types objectively.

Limitations of Ballistic Gelatin Testing

While ballistic gel testing is a valuable tool, it's important to understand its limitations:

  1. Tissue Uniformity: Ballistic gel is designed to simulate average muscle tissue. However, the human body is a complex structure composed of various types of tissues, each with different densities and characteristics. For instance, the gel cannot replicate the hardness of bones or the softness of organs.
  2. Ideal Conditions: Ballistic gel tests are usually conducted under ideal conditions, with straight-on shots at close range. Real-world shooting scenarios can be much more varied, involving different angles, ranges, and barriers.
  3. Skin Simulation: The first 4 inches of gel are meant to simulate skin and underlying tissue, but this is a simplification. In reality, skin thickness and toughness can vary significantly between individuals, and the gel doesn't account for these variations.

By understanding these limitations, we can better interpret the results of ballistic gel tests and apply them to real-world scenarios.

How is Ballistic Gelatin Made and Verified?

The calibration process for 10% IWBA (International Wound Ballistics Association) ballistic gelatin involves preparing the gelatin blocks to meet specific standards for density and consistency. This calibration process ensures that gelatin simulates the properties of human tissue accurately and provides reliable results during ballistic testing.

Here are the general steps involved in the calibration process:

  1. Gelatin Preparation: Start by preparing the gelatin mixture according to the manufacturer's instructions. The gelatin is typically mixed with water at a specific ratio to achieve the desired density. For 10% IWBA ballistic gelatin, the gelatin concentration is typically 10% by weight. At G9, we sometimes even use 20% ballistic gel for testing deep penetrating rounds like our 10mm Woodsman or our hunting line.
  2. Gelatin Pouring: Once the gelatin mixture is prepared, it is poured into molds or containers of the desired shape and size. These molds may vary depending on the specific testing requirements or standards being followed.
  3. Cooling and Solidification: The gelatin-filled molds are then placed in a refrigerator or a temperature-controlled environment to cool and solidify. This process usually takes several hours to ensure that the gelatin has set properly.
  4. Storage and Conditioning: After solidification, the gelatin blocks are stored in a controlled environment to allow them to reach a consistent temperature throughout to 38°F to reach proper density.
  5. Gelatin Verification: Once the gelatin blocks have reached the desired temperature, they undergo verification testing or calibration. A steel BB is fired at 590 fps and if it penetrates the gel between 2.95” and 3.74” inches, the gel block is deemed with FBI standards and ready to be used for testing.

By following this calibration process, 10% IWBA ballistic gelatin can be prepared to replicate the properties of human tissue, allowing for consistent and reliable results during ballistic testing. It provides a standardized medium for evaluating the performance of ammunition and understanding its potential effects on the human body.


Ballistic gel testing is a powerful tool for understanding how ammunition will perform. It provides a consistent, visual, and quantifiable method for comparing different types of bullets. However, it's essential to remember that it's a simplification of real-world conditions.

When considering ballistic gel test results, it's crucial to understand what they can and can't tell you. They provide a piece of the puzzle, but they're just one factor to consider when choosing the right ammunition for your needs. Always consider other factors, such as the reliability of the ammunition, its recoil, barrier performance and how well it performs in your specific firearm.