5.1. Gas Chromatography Columns

Two types of columns are used in gas chromatography: packed columns and capillary columns.

Packed Column

Packed Column

Short, thick columns made of glass or stainless steel tubes, packed columns have been used since the early stages of gas chromatography.
Packed columns produce broad peak shapes and have low separation performance, but can also handle large sample volumes and are not susceptible to contamination. They are still used today in official analytical methods and for gas analysis.

Capillary Column

Capillary Column

Currently the prevailing column type, capillary columns produce sharp peak shapes, achieve excellent separation performance, and are suited to high-sensitivity analysis.

Viewing a cross-section image of a packed column reveals a tube filled with a particulate substance called packing. Packed columns have been used throughout the long history of gas chromatography, and many different packed columns have been created for different analytical applications. In contrast, typical capillary columns consist of a thin, fused silica glass tube with a thin, internal liquid phase coating. Capillary columns were developed after packed columns, and though there are fewer types of capillary columns, their separation performance is dramatically superior to packed columns.


Packed Column

Stainless steel or glass tube filled with particulate packing material (an adsorbent material, or a support material coated or impregnated with a solid phase).

Packed Column

  • Internal Diameter: 2 to 4 mm
  • Length: 0.5 to 5 m (most commonly 2 m)
  • Packing: Support material with 0.5 to 25 % liquid phase (partition material) or no liquid phase (adsorbent material)
  • Liquid Phase: Multiple types available

Capillary Column

A typical capillary column is a thin, fused silica glass tube, lined with a liquid phase or adsorbent material or having a chemical bonding layer. Thin metal tubes are also sometimes used as capillary columns.

Capillary Column

PLOT column


PLOT column
(contains immobilized porous polymer/alumina, etc.)

WCOT or chemical bonding column


WCOT or chemical bonding column
(lined with liquid phase or a chemical bonding layer)

  • Internal Diameter: 0.1, 0.25, 0.32, 0.53 mm
  • Length: 5 to 100 m (most commonly 30 m)
  • Material: Fused silica glass
  • Liquid Phase: Good separation but less variety than packed columns

5.2. Column Type and Effect on Separation

Packed columns produce broad peaks and capillary columns produce sharp peaks.
In addition, capillary columns produce taller peaks, which allows the detection of lower concentrations (high detection sensitivity). This is the advantage of capillary columns.


Sharper peaks provide better separation but also shorter analysis times.

5.3. General Guide to Column Selection

Component separation is affected by the following elements.

Elements that Affect Separation

Classification of Capillary Column Liquid Phases

Type of Solid Phase Polarity Separation Characteristics Application Operational Temperature
Range (Approx.)
Methyl silicone Non-polar Boiling point order Petroleum, solvents, high boiling point compounds -60 to 360 °C
Phenylmethyl Slightly polar
Moderately polar
Phenyl groups retain aromatic compounds. Perfumes, environmental compounds, aromatic compounds -60 to 340 °C
Cyanopropyl phenol Moderately polar
Strongly polar
Effective at separating oxygen-containing compounds, isomers, etc. Agricultural chemicals, PCBs, oxygen-containing compounds
*Better to avoid use with FTDs (NPDs)
-20 to 280 °C
Trifluoropropyl Moderately polar
Strongly polar
Specifically retains compounds that contain halogens. Halogen-containing compounds, polar compounds, solvents -20 to 340 °C
Polyethylene glycol Strongly polar Strong retention of polar compounds Polar compounds, solvents, perfumes, fatty acid methyl esters 40 to 250 °C

General Guide to Selecting Polarity

  • Selecting columns with polar properties that are close to the polarity of the target compounds

-Analysis of non-polar compounds → Non-polar column
-Analysis of polar compounds → Strongly polar column

  • Selection by analytical objective

-Large difference in boiling point between analytical target compounds → Non-polar column
-Isomers or other compounds with little difference in boiling points → Strongly polar column


Guide to Selection of Internal Diameter, Length, and Coating Thickness

  • Selection based on required separation

-High-resolution separation required → Internal diameter: Thin, Length: Long
-Adequate separation with shorter analysis time → Internal diameter: Thick, Length: Short, Coating thickness: Thin

  • Selection by analytical objective

-Analysis of low boiling point compounds → Length: Long, Coating thickness: Thick
-Analysis of high boiling point compounds → Length: Short, Coating thickness: Thin