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Copal usually refers to an aromatic resin derived from the dried sap of the Copal tree, Protium copal, which is native to Mexico and Central America. However, this is just one of a large group of Copal resins of recent, semi-fossil and fossil origin found in many tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Manila Copal is from Agathis dammara in East India, Malaysia and the Philippines, while semi-fossil Pontianak Copal is found in Borneo. East African Copals include Zanzibar, Mozambique and Madagascar Copals, which come from the Amber tree, Hymenaea verrucosa. West African Copals include Acere and Benin Copals sourced from Daniella ogea in Liberia, the Gold Coast and Nigeria; Angola and Congo Copals from Copaifera demeusii and C. mapane in the Congo Basin; and Sierra Leone Copals from C. copallifera and C. salikounda. Kauri Copal is obtained from the Kauri pine, Agathis australis in New Zealand. South American Copals include Demerara or Para Copal from the Locust tree, Hymenaea courbaril in Brazil. Sub-fossil Copal is also sourced from Japan, Colombia and the Dominican Republic.
Copal is sold in a variety of hard forms, ranging in colour from almost transparent milky white to yellow-brown, the former being the more highly valued. Copal contains insignificant quantities of essential oil and dissolves in alcohol and other organic solvents on heating. Fossilised Zanzibar Copal is the hardest of all resins except amber, and is the most valuable Copal.
Prime White Soft (PWS) is white in colour and the highest commercial grade with 99-100% purity. PWS is used to make high-luster varnish for wood coating, which when dried produces a hard, scratch-resistant, shiny film. DBB is whitish-yellow in colour and an economy grade with 90-95% purity, which is often used in the production of low-end varnishes but is also commonly burnt as incense. White Soft (WS) is black in colour and the lowest grade with about 60% purity.
Copal is used as an ingredient in varnish, lacquers and other wood coatings and finishes, particularly those containing Shellac. It yields a hard elastic varnish that is often used for outdoor applications. Fossilised and semi-fossilised Copal resin produces a tougher finish to the varnish than recent resin.
CopaI is used as an ingredient in incense. Traditionally, it was burned by the indigenous population of Mexico and Central America as a ceremonial incense.
Copal is used in printing inks.
Copal is used as a picture varnish and in adhesives.