Optimized synthesis of Ti-precursor 'titanylnitrate' for one step combustion synthesis of N- and C-doped TiO2 catalysts were reported and characterized by using powder X-ray diffraction (XRD), transmission electron microscopy (TEM), diffused reflectance UV-vis spectroscopy, N-2 adsorption and X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). XRD confirmed the formation of TiO2 anatase and nano-crystallite size which was further confirmed by TEM. UV-DRS confirmed the decrease in the band gap to less than 3.0 eV, which was assigned due to the presence of C and N in the framework of TiO2 as confirmed by Xray photoelectron spectroscopy. Degradation of methylene blue in aqueous solution under the direct sunlight was carried out and typical results indicated the better performance of the synthesized catalysts than Degussa P-25. (C) 2012 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.