Rubber cement is an adhesive made from elastic polymers (typically latex) mixed in a solvent such as acetone, hexane, heptane or benzene to keep them fluid enough to be used. This makes it part of the class of drying adhesives: as the solvents quickly evaporate, the "rubber" portion remains behind, forming a strong yet flexible bond. Often a small percentage of alcohol is added to the mix.
Rubber cement based on n-heptane is very popular and ubiquitous in the United States, but is generally unknown and unavailable as a consumer product in the UK and some parts of Europe, possibly due to the severe fire hazard of that formulation. A similar solvent based product called "Cow Gum" was common in the UK, but is no longer in production. Current solvent based options include Marabu-Fixogum and Platignum "Studio Gum" which are marketed in the UK and Europe.
For tire patching, shoe repair, and other industrial applications, vulcanizing formulas are preferred. These contain chemical additives which enable them to cross-link and harden into a tougher, more resilient form.
Copydex, a common latex adhesive in the UK, uses an ammonia and water solvent and needs no special handling, making it very safe to use. Whilst, for this reason, it is often given to children, it is also used in artwork, and finds widespread use in light D.I.Y. work such as fixing carpet tiles and repairing upholstery.
Cement formulations based on n-heptane and n-hexane will not shrink or swell paper fibers, thereby preventing wrinkles to the adhered surfaces. This makes them safe to use on most finished paper surfaces, unlike water-based glues such as PVA glues (i.e. white or Elmer's brand glue).
Because rubber cements are designed to easily peel or rub off without damaging the paper or leaving any trace of adhesive behind, they are ideal for use in paste-up work where excess cement might need to be removed. It also does not become brittle as paste does. Rubber cement is not considered an archivally sound adhesive and will cause deterioration of photographs and papers over time, a danger associated with many other common adhesives.
Rubber cement is also used in many magic tricks due to its property of sticking only to itself when dry as opposed to other objects as well.
Rubber cement was invented by Paul Van Cleef in the early 1900s to be used in various applications in the Van Cleef Brothers factory in Chicago, Illinois.