This study compared the apical sealing ability, obturation time and extrusion of gutta-percha and sealer when root canals were obturated using either cold lateral condensation or one of the three methods using thermoplasticised gutta-percha (Alpha Seal, Thermafil or JS Quick Fill) in vitro. One hundred and thirty-one root canals from 78 extracted human teeth were used; 116 canals were divided into five groups so that they were balanced with respect to prepared canal anatomy, and the remaining 15 canals were used as positive and negative controls. The canals in the first four groups were prepared with hand files using the step-down technique to a standard apical size and flare. The last group was prepared using engine-driven rotary nickel-titanium files (McSpadden) to a similar apical size and flare. One of the four obturating techniques was used to fill the canals in each of the first four groups. The fifth group was obturated using the Alpha Seal technique. The roots were immersed in india ink, demineralised and rendered transparent to assess the extent of maximum lincar dye penetration. The Alpha Seal groups had the highest number of specimens without any leakage. There was a significant difference in the proportions of specimens that did not leak when the Alpha Seal (P < 0.01) and cold lateral condensation groups (P < 0.05) were compared with JS Quick Fill. Cold lateral condensation had a higher proportion of specimens with leakage in canals with curvature greater than 20 degrees than in canals with curvatures less than 20 degrees (P < 0.05). The curvature of canals had no effect on the sealing ability of the other techniques. The method of canal preparation had no effect on the sealing ability of Alpha Seal. Alpha Seal, Thermafil and JS Quick Fill were significantly quicker to perform than cold lateral condensation.