Porcine and recombinant human atelocollagen I solutions were cross-linked with a water soluble carbodiimide at various stoichiometries and collagen concentrations (5-20 w/w %). The resulting hydrogels were clear and, when used as cell growth matrices, allowed cell and nerve visualization in vitro and in vivo. We have previously reported that, after six months of implantation in pigs' and rabbits' corneas, these robust hydrogels allowed regeneration of host cells and nerves to give optically clear corneas with no detected loss in thickness, indicating stable engraftment. Here, the biocompatible hydrogel formulations leading to this novel in vivo performance were characterized for amine consumption, gel hydration, thermal properties, optical clarity, refractive index, nutrient diffusion, biodegradation, tensile measurements, and average pore diameters. Gels with excellent in vitro (epithelial overgrowth, neurite penetration) and in vivo performance (clarity, touch sensitivity regeneration) had 4-11 nm pores, yet had glucose and albumin diffusive coefficients similar to mammalian corneas and allowed neurite extension through the gels.