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A direct mechanical system simultaneously measuring external force and deformation of samples over a wide dynamic range is used to obtain force-displacement curves of tissue-like phantoms under plain strain deformation. These measurements, covering a wide deformation range, then are used to characterize the nonlinear elastic properties of the phantom materials. The model assumes incompressible media, in which several strain energy potentials are considered. Finite-element analysis is used to evaluate the performance of this material characterization procedure. The procedures developed allow calibration of nonlinear elastic phantoms for elasticity imaging experiments and finite-element simulations.