Cultivation begins when a farmer gets a stick (broodlac) that contains eggs ready to hatch and ties it to the tree to be infested. Thousands of lac insects colonize the branches of the host trees and secrete the resinous pigment. The coated branches of the host trees are cut and harvested as sticklac.
The harvested sticklac is crushed and sieved to remove impurities. The sieved material is then repeatedly washed to remove insect parts and other soluble material. The resulting product is known as seedlac. The prefix seed refers to its pellet shape. Seedlac which still contains 3-5% impurities is processed into shellac by heat treatment or solvent extraction.
The leading producer of Lac is Jharkhand, followed by the Chhattisgarh, West Bengal, and Maharashtra states of India. Lac production is also found in Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, parts of China, and Mexico.
Kerria lacca can be cultivated on either cultivated or wild host trees.
- In India the most common host trees are
- In Thailand the most common host trees are
- In China the common host trees include
- In Mexico
Estimated yields per tree in India are 6-10 kg for kusum, 1.5-6 kg for ber, and 1-4 kg for dhak. The bugs' life cycles can produce two sticklac yields per year, though it may be better to rest for six months to let the host tree recover.
Lac is harvested by cutting the tree branches that hold sticklac. If dye is being produced, the insects are kept in the sticklac because the dye color comes from the insects rather than their resin. They may be killed by exposure to the sun.
On the other hand, if seedlac or shellac is being produced, most insects can escape because less colored pale lac is generally more desired.
The use of lac dye goes back to ancient times. It has been used in India as a skin cosmetic and dye for wool and silk. In China it is a traditional dye for leather goods. Lac for dye has been somewhat replaced by the emergence of synthetic dyes, though it remains in use, and some juices, carbonated drinks, wine, jam, sauce, and candy are colored using it.
Lac is used in folk medicine as a hepatoprotective and anti-obesity drug. It is used in violin and other varnish and is soluble in alcohol. This type of lac was used in the finishing of 18th-century fowling guns in the United States.
India exported significant amounts of sticklac derivatives, especially lac dye, from the 1700s to the late 1800s. Production declined as synthetic dyes emerged, and after the late 1940s, production of seedlac and shellac also declined due to replacement.
In the mid-1950s, India annually produced about 50,000 tons of sticklac and exported about 29,000 tons of lac; by the late 1980s the figures were about 12,000 tons and 7,000 tons, respectively. By 1992-93, India's lac exports fell further to 4,500 tons. In the same period, Thailand's production increased somewhat, with annual lac exports of around 7,000 tons in the 1990s, mainly of seedlac. China exported only about 500 tons of shellac per year in the 1990s but produced more lac internally: 4,000-5,000 tons of sticklac and 2,000-3,000 tons of shellac in Yunnan province, with additional, smaller production in Fujian province. While India, Thailand, and China are the major lac producers, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka also play small roles.
- Kerria lacca - the true lac scale.
- Paratachardina decorella - the rosette lac scale.
- Paratachardina pseudolobata - the lobate lac scale.
- Carmine (E120) - Another pigment extracted from an insect.
- Lacquer - A product that was at one time made from lac, but in modern common usage now refers to a separate product with similar properties.
- Shellac - A protective coating.
- Derry, Juliane (2012). "Investigating Shellac: Documenting the Process, Defining the Product". Project-Based Masters Thesis, University of Oslo. p. 27. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- Iwasa, S, 1997. Schleichera oleosa (Lour.) Oken. In Faridah Hanum, I. & van der Maesen, L.J.G. (Eds.): Plant Resources of South-East Asia No. 11. Auxiliary Plants. Prosea Foundation, Bogor, Indonesia. pp. 227-229.
- Green, C. L. (1995). "5: Insect Dyes". Non-Wood Forest Products 4: Natural colourants and dyestuffs. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- Derry, Juliane (2012). "Investigating Shellac: Documenting the Process, Defining the Product". Project-Based Masters Thesis, University of Oslo. p. 28. Retrieved 3 July 2014.
- Flinn, Angel (15 Aug. 2011). "Shellac & Food Glaze". Gentle World. Retrieved 3 July 2014.