What is Compression Testing?
An Introduction

Compression testing is one of the most fundamental types of mechanical testing, alongside tensile and flexion tests. Compression tests are used to determine a material’s behavior under applied crushing loads, and are typically conducted by applying compressive pressure to a test specimen (usually of either a cuboid or cylindrical geometry) using platens or specialized fixtures on a universal testing machine. During the test, various properties of the material are calculated and plotted as a stress-strain diagram which is used to determine qualities such as elastic limit, proportional limit, yield point, yield strength, and, for some materials, compressive strength.

Why Perform a Compression Test?

Compression testing allows manufacturers to assess the integrity and safety of materials, components, and products during several phases of the manufacturing process. In order for a material to be selected for a new application or product, it needs to demonstrate the ability to withstand whatever mechanical forces it will encounter in its end-use application. The potential applications can vary from strength testing of a car windshield to endurance testing of concrete beams used in construction. Foam used in seating must be comfortable for the consumer while drug delivery devices must be easy for medical providers to deploy. Furthermore, materials and products might be exposed to mechanical forces for short or long periods of time, through cyclical or repeated use, and in a wide variety of different temperature and environmental conditions. Seating cushions are expected to last for a certain length of time, while automotive tires must maintain their elasticity in all types of weather. Materials that exhibit high tensile strength tend to (but do not always!) exhibit low compressive strength. Likewise, materials high in compressive strength tend to exhibit low tensile strength. Therefore, compression testing is often used on brittle materials such as concrete, metals, plastics, ceramics, composites, and corrugated materials like cardboard. These materials are often used in a load-bearing capacity where their integrity under compressive forces is critical. 

Unlike tensile tests, which are usually conducted to determine the tensile properties of a specific material, compression tests are often performed on finished products. Common items such as tennis balls, golf balls, water bottles, protective cases, plastic pipes, and furniture are all examples of products that need to be evaluated for their compressive strength. For example, an engineer may want to conserve plastic by creating water bottles with thinner walls, but the bottles must still be strong enough to be packed in pallets and stacked on top of each other for transport. Compression testing can help the engineer fine tune the balance between product strength and material conservation.

In addition to its importance to the R&D process, compression testing is also used by quality assurance departments to ensure that batches of finished product are meeting the required specifications for compressive properties. This is important from both a safety and a business perspective, as defective products can be dangerous to the end user and can also cause significant harm to manufacturers in the form of product delays, lost revenue, and damaged reputations.

HOW TO PERFORM A COMPRESSION TEST The Basic Principles of Compression Testing


Compression tests are performed on universal testing machines, also known as compression testing machines. These machines consists of a single or dual column frame equipped with a load cell, testing software, and application-specific platens and accessories. Universal testing machines come in a wide variety of force capacities ranging from 0.02 N to 2,000 kN. Most low force testing is performed on a tabletop machine such as Instron's 6800 Series, while higher force applications require floor model frames such as those found in Instron's Industrial Series. These systems can be configured with different fixtures to test any product, component, or material.

compression test system setup 

Compression Testing Machine
Load Frame
Compression testing machines can come in single or dual column configurations depending on their force capacity.
Test software is where operators configure test methods and output results.
Load Cell
The load cell is a transducer that measures the force applied to the test specimen. Instron load cells are accurate down to 1/1000 of load cell capacity.
Compression Platens
A wide variety of compression platens and other compressive fixtures are available to accommodate test specimens of different materials, shapes, and sizes.




Compression testing machines are available in a variety of different sizes and force capacities ranging from 0.02 N to 2,000 kN. Most low force testing is performed on an electromechanical single-column or dual-column tabletop machine, while higher force applications require floor model frames. Instron's 6800 Series systems are available in capacity ranges up to 300 kN and can perform a wide range of different test types, including tensile, compression, bend, peel, tear, shear, friction, torsion, puncture, and more. Instron's Industrial Series servohydraulic systems are designed for even higher capacity testing of high strength metals, alloys, and advanced composites.

6800 Series Universal Testing Systems

Universal Testing Systems up to 300 kN

Single and dual column table model and floor model testing systems with a force capacity range of 0.02 N (2 gf) to 300 kN.

More Info

Industrial Series Universal Testing Systems up to 2000 kN

Industrial Universal Testing Systems up to 2000 kN

Instron’s Industrial Series includes frames with single or dual test spaces and range in force capacity from 300 kN to 2000 kN.

More Info

Self-Aligning | High Force | Fatigue Rated

Compression platens are used to perform compression tests on a wide range of materials and components. When installed in a universal testing machine they allow a variety of tests to be performed to determine properties such as compression modulus, compression strength, and compression yield strength.

Self-Aligning / Spherical-Seatings

2501 Series for Static Testing
50 N - 600 kN Load Capacities

The 2501 Series compression platens are precisely machined fixtures that are designed for even distribution of compression loads during a test. These platens have a hardened surface (Rockwell HRC 58/60) for compression tests in which uniform stress distribution is critical.

More Info

Self-Aligning / Spherical-Seatings

Self-Aligning / Spherical Seatings
For Static and Dynamic Testing Applications

During the application of a small preload, the spherical seated compression platen provides the self-alignment required to accommodate compression specimens which have surfaces that are not completely parallel.

More Info

W-2004-D Compression Platen

W-2004 Series for High Force Static Testing
600 kN - 5000 kN Load Capacities

These high-strength, versatile platens can be easily configured with Instron and other static universal testing machines.

View Specifications

Foam Compression Fixture
Catalog no. 2810-130

The foam compression fixture is designed for indentation and compression testing of expanded cellular materials. Standards that require this style of fixture include ASTM D3574, ASTM D5672, ISO 2439 and ISO 3386. The major items of the fixture include a perforated loading table and a circular indentor/ anvil. The 203 mm diameter upper anvil incorporates a swivel joint. The base table is perforated with 6.5 mm holes spaced on 20 mm centers and is elevated from the mounting surface to allow for rapid air escape from the specimen.

View Specifications

2840 Series Compression Platens

2840 Series for Dynamic Testing
200 kN - 2000 kN Static Load Capacities | 100 kN - 1000 kN Dynamic Load Capacities

The 2840 Series compression platens incorporate LVDT mounting and are designed for reliable compressive high-cycle fatigue testing.

View Specifications

Compression Fixture Adapter Set

Compression Fixture Adapter Set
690 MPa (100,000 psi) Pressure Rating

Provides a table assembly that threads into the actuator rod, suitable for placement of the lower compression platens and other optional fixtures.

View Specifications

COMPRESSION TESTING STANDARDS Standards for Testing Plastics, Elastomers, and Metals


Most compression testing is performed to established standards published by standards organizations such as ASTM and ISO. Testing standards prescribe acceptable test parameters and results for different types of raw materials such as metals and concrete used for infrastructure projects, as well as finished products such as medical devices and consumer electronics. These standards ensure that materials and products entering the supply chain display predictable mechanical properties and are not likely to fail in their expected end use. For example, the furniture, automotive, and mattress industries follow ASTM D3574, which measures the indention force deflection of polyurethane foam. This test measures the initial softness of the foam by measuring the force when the foam is compressed to 25% of its original thickness. The test then measures how supportive it is by measuring the force when it is compressed to 65% of its original thickness. Automotive seating engineers specify the indentation force deflection value of the foam they want in their final product, and the manufacturing location will perform the test several times per shift to guarantee that each and every seat being manufactured has the same feel in regards to softness and supportiveness. Since the cost and safety implications of product failure cannot be overstated, companies are encouraged to invest in high-quality, accurate testing equipment that is designed to help them easily determine whether or not their products meet applicable standards.

The following is a listing of some of the most common international tensile testing standards.

  • ASTM C109 | Compression testing 2-inch concrete cubes
  • ASTM C170 | Compression strength of dimension stone
  • ASTM C365 Compression testing of sandwich core materials
  • ASTM C39 | Compression testing concrete cylinders
  • ASTM D1621 | Compressive properties rigid cellular plastics
  • ASTM D2844 | Moisture exudation test compacted soils
  • ASTM D3410 | Compressive strength of polymer matrix composites
  • ASTM D575-91 | Standard test method for rubber properties in compression
  • ASTM D6484 | Open hole compressive strength of polymer matrix composite laminates
  • ASTM D6641 | Compressive properties of polymer matrix composite materials using a combined loading compression (CLC) test fixture
  • ASTM D695 | Compression testing rigid plastics
  • ASTM D7137 | Compressive residual strength properties of damaged polymer matrix composite plates
  • ASTM F1306 | Slow rate penetration resistance of flexible barrier films and laminates
  • ASTM D3574 | Standard test methods for flexible cellular materials
  • ISO 11608 | Needle-based injection systems
  • ISO 14126 | In-plane compressive properties of fiber-reinforced plastic composites
  • ISO 604 | Compressive properties of plastics
  • ISO 7886 | Testing sterile hypodermic syringes
  • ISO 844 | Compression properties of rigid cellular plastics
  • AITM Airbus test method | Determination of compressive strength after impact
  • AASHTO T 190 | Resistance r value and expansion pressure of compacted soils
  • BSS 7260 | Post-impact compressive strength of composite laminates
  • Caltrans test method (CTM) 301 | Moisture exudation test of compacted soils
  • EN 12430 | Point compression of thermal insulation
  • EN 14477 | Puncture resistance of flexible packaging material
  • EN 50086-2-4 | Conduit systems, underground cable management
  • EN 826 | Determination of compressive behavior of thermal insulation products
  • RSF | Determination of residual seal force
To Top