Getting a Grip on Your Chromatography: “Why Me?” – Part I

Have you ever pulled your TLC plate out of the developing tank, only to realize that your Rfs are out of whack? Or the analyte you were expecting to see is missing or still overlapping another component? Time is wasted. Emotions flare. Did you forget something? Are the plates any good? Did you pick the wrong profession?

Many factors affect your results in chromatography. They include:

  • layer thickness
  • particle size and pore size of adsorbent
  • activation of adsorbent
  • mobile phase (quantity and freshness)
  • equilibrium inside the developing chamber
  • sample (size and application technique)
  • accurate Rf measurement

All of these controllable variables are important. To save time, you may be tempted to focus on the most influential and leave the others alone. However, some applications are more sensitive to slight variations. It’s better to invest time in the beginning to make sure every variable is just right. You’ll save time and energy—and will rest assured you’re indeed in the right profession. 

That’s why we’re publishing a series of articles to explain these contributing factors in detail. (We know how much our analytical audience loves details!) Our goal is to broaden your overall knowledge in chromatography and help you achieve more consistent results.

Stay tuned…and happy chromatographing!

Yes, You Can Pick the Right TLC Plate – Part II


In our last article, we described the first four of eight factors in choosing a TLC plate. Surely, you’ve been waiting with bated breath for the last four factors—and we don’t blame you! In this article, let’s look at these final considerations. Hold onto your seats…

Fluorescent indicator – UV254

This is an additive to the adsorbent which you may need depending on how your samples are visualized after the chromatography process. Present in only 2-4% by weight, this special material makes the entire plate glow blue or green (pretty!) when exposed to short wave, 254 nm UV light.

Why are fluorescent indicators important? Most sample types separated by TLC are not visible to the naked eye. This is usually because of the relatively small sample size or because there is no inherent coloring or shading in the compound. That’s why another method is needed to locate the sample components.

Some materials have an excited state that can be seen when exposed to 366 nm UV light. In this case, the components will fluoresce a characteristic color. In some cases, you need to spray the TLC plate with a solution before exposing it to UV light. The sample components will then be temporarily or permanently visible.

Back to UV 254 plates: Many compounds can absorb light around 254 nm. These include most compounds with aromatic rings or conjugated double bonds and some unsaturated compounds. When exposed to 254 nm UV light, absorbing compounds will fade (quench) the uniform fluorescence of the TLC plate, thus showing as dark spots on the otherwise bright background. This method is popular because it doesn’t modify or destroy the compounds, so it’s suitable for preparative TLC.

Glass plate scoring

The most popular size of TLC plate is 20×20 cm. Just as in life, being popular has its advantages; for TLC plates it means they’re usually the best value. Adding to that value, glass-backed TLC plates may be purchased in a pre-scored format. A pattern of scoring is etched onto the backs of plates, allowing you to “snap” them into smaller sizes as needed. Therefore, a pre-scored 20×20 cm plate can be snapped into four 5×20 cm or two 10×20 cm plates (kind of like Select-A-Size™ paper towels). It would cost you a lot more to purchase these same plates already in the smaller size. Other commonly ordered plates are the pre-scored 10×20 cm plates; they are popular for method development. They can be snapped into eight slide-sized plates (2.5×10 cm).

Preadsorbent zone

The preadsorbent zone is typically a non-reactive material coated adjacent to the regular TLC layer at the bottom of the plate. This special zone has two great properties. First, it allows you to apply a larger than average sample since it effectively compresses the sample into a tight “band” before entering the regular separation zone. This helps with separation power by improving vertical resolution of closely chromatographing sample components. Second, it allows you to apply samples quickly, without strict attention to the vertical location in the preadsorbent zone. In other words, the preadsorbent zone cleans up sloppy sample application. Note that you should always apply samples above the level of the mobile phase.


Channeled TLC plates have adsorbent tracks (sample lanes) that are separated by channels where the adsorbent layer is removed from the glass backing. These specially made plates limit the horizontal spreading of sample components during development, thus preventing cross-contamination. In general, unless an adsorbent is coated in a way that causes a non-uniform layer, samples will always travel vertically and should never cross-contaminate an adjacent sample lane. However, for Type-A folks who crave absolute certainty—or in cases where clear evidence is needed for court—channeled plates are the way to go.

There you have it. You now know the eight key factors in selecting a TLC plate—you should feel like a pro now! Of course, if you need any additional guidance, our friendly team is here to help you.

Have a great TLC day!

Yes, You Can Pick the Right TLC Plate – Part I

TwoPlates.png“I’d like a box of TLC plates, please.” Sounds innocent enough, right? But when you have more than 500 plate options, things get a whole lot trickier. How do you dig through the layers (pun intended) to get the plates you need?

TLC plates come in lots of fun forms and sizes—at least we think they’re fun! You can differentiate TLC plates by:

• Adsorbent material that makes up the layer itself
• Type of plate backing
• Layer thickness
• Plate size
• Fluorescent indicator – UV254 (yes or no)
• Format of scoring (or none)
• Preadsorbent zone (yes or no)
• Channeling (yes or no)

All clear now? Didn’t think so! In this first article of our two-part series, let’s look at the first four factors to help you make the right choice.

Adsorbent material
Most often, the actual layer is silica gel, but it can also be aluminum oxide, cellulose, microcrystalline cellulose, Florisil®, as well as various forms of modified silica gel such as reversed phase layers (C2, C8, C18), amino, cyano, and others. Which layer should you use? It depends on the compound you’re separating. Your best bet is to check what others have done first so you’re not reinventing the wheel. Historical data matters!

Plate backing
The layer’s backing is most often glass, because it can tolerate the most chromatography solvents. Using a flexible backing—namely polyethylene or aluminum—makes sense only when you must quickly and easily cut the plate (or sheet) into smaller sized pieces. Glass can also be cut or purchased pre-scored, so really it comes down to preference, availability, and price.

Layer thickness
Thickness depends on the chromatographic separation you’re doing. For instance, the thickness for standard analytical TLC is 250um (1/4th of a millimeter). But for quantitative level analytical TLC, you’ll need a thinner plate—typically 200um, 150um, or even 100um. This category of TLC has a special name: high performance thin layer chromatography, or HPTLC. Meanwhile, thicker plates (500um, 1000um, 1500um, and 2000um) are best for preparative applications where you’re separating much larger samples. In this case, you’ll want to recover the separated sample components with a scraper or suction device.

Plate size
This is a lot easier to figure out—whew! You just need to know about how many samples you want to run at the same time and what distance you need to chromatograph your samples for adequate separation. Standard sizes are 20×20, 10×20, 5×20, 10×10, 5×10, and 2.5×7.5 (microscope slide). Of course, all measurements are in centimeters. Additional specialty sizes are 2.5×10, 5×5, 2.5×5, and, our favorite, 20×40. Yes, you do need a very large custom developing tank for that one!

We hope this gets you on the right track when you need TLC plates. For more info, stay tuned for part II, where we explain fluorescent indicator, scored plates, preadsorbent zone, and channeling. We find this stuff so exciting and can’t wait to share it with you!

Have a great TLC day!

Thin Layer Chromatography helps identify antioxidants in cacti

Our friends at recently published an article about how thin layer chromatography is being used to help identify powerful antioxidants in the Pereskia bleo plant.Photographs-of-different-plant-parts-of-P-bleo-and-P-grandifolia-a-Flower-of-P_small.png

Here’s some excerpts:

Pereskia bleo is among 17 species of Pereskia cacti, consumed as a vegetable as well as being used as a traditional herbal medicine in Latin America and Asia. Its leaves have been used to treat diseases associated with inflammation, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer. Supporting its medical use, analyses have shown that P. bleo contains several bioactive elements, including alkaloids, flavonoids, sterols, terpenoids and carotenoids.

To properly analyse herbal extracts, chromatographic analysis of the entire sample should be used.

However, the major systems used for analysis – NMR, GC-MS and HPLC-MS – are prohibitively expensive in developing countries, where herbal extracts are most widely used. A more affordable alternative is thin-layer chromatography

Click Here to read the complete article.

Chromatography reveals 19th century fashion trends

Our friends at ChemistryWorld recently published a piece about how thin layer chromatography Victorian-fashion.jpgwas used in connection with other analytical methods to determine the use of synthetic dyes in the clothing industry throughout the 1800s.

Here’s a few excerpts:

‘This analysis reveals important information for conservators and curators of fashion, raising interesting observations and questions,’ saysJeffrey Church, a molecular spectroscopist at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Australia who worked on the study with colleagues from the National Gallery of Victoria…

After taking small samples from each dress, the researchers separated and analysed the dyes and mordants, which are used to bind the dyes to the material, using various techniques, including thin layer chromatography, surface enhanced Raman spectroscopy and energy dispersive x-ray spectroscopy

You can see the complete article by clicking here.

Resources for educators

We appreciate so much the work being done by educators around the world to engage students in better understanding science.e5a7804ea03cc6d867abb0e3154e9344.jpg

We’ve found that most students respond well to videos, and we’d like to offer a couple that we think might help students grasp the concepts of chromatography while providing some entertainment.

We encourage all educators to use and share these if they find them useful.

TLC and Flash: Two great methods that work well together

Bob Bickler is a Technical Specialist with 38 years of chromatography experience and writes for The Flash Purification Blog.TLC-sep

Recently, Mr. Bickler wrote a post that outlines something we’ve been telling people for years:

Invest 10 minutes on TLC and save a day of grief

Here’s an excerpt:

I know your time is valuable but investing 10 minutes of it running TLC prior to your flash purification will give you much better separations, increased fraction purity, and reduce the amount of wasted solvent. You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

You can read the full post here.

In addition to Flash Chromatography, we believe the same principle applies to HPLC and other separation methods.

For a wide variety of TLC plates, click here.

NIH Research Festival

This week, we’re participating in the 29th Annual Research Festival at the National Institutes of Health.

The festival features workshops and posters on a wide variety of subjects, from RNA Biology and Theapeutics to chemical biology and research on vaccines.

We will be at Booth #267 at the exhibition on September 17 and 18.

If you will be at the NIH Research Festival, we hope you will stop by booth 267. 


Working with great distributors in Korea

We were recently contacted by U.S. Korea Connect – an organization that promotes trade between the two countries. They had read about our trip to Korea and wanted to talk about our experiences in the Korean marketplace.ML_Science

Our friends at U.S. Korea Connect have now published a Success Story based on our experiences, here’s an excerpt:

Analtech Inc. works closely with its distributors, ML Science and LK Lab Korea, to connect with labs throughout the region and increase the company’s market share in the chromatography field. 

You can see the entire Success Story by clicking here.

U.S. Korea Connect also asked for some thoughts on making connections in Korea, which led to a blog post, here’s an excerpt from that post:

There’s an old Korean proverb – 시작이 반이다
Loosely translated, it means, “Starting is half the task.”
That proverb certainly applies when building a strong trade relationship between a company in the United States and a company in Korea.

You can read the entire post by clicking here.

We appreciate the recognition from U.S. Korea Connect, we’re grateful to our friends at ML Science and LK Lab Korea for their partnership, and we are thankful to the Delaware Office of International Trade and the World Trade Center Delaware for their continuing support and assistance.