Nameplates are a necessary component for a wide variety of industries. They might be needed for machine identification, brand promotion, warnings, and much more. These nameplates could be exposed to harsh environments with physical risks like scratching, denting or covering up the plate with dirt or paint. Abrasive chemicals and moisture can also pose risks for a metal nameplate, so you need a material that is up to the challenge. Two materials stand out for their durability and versatility — aluminum and stainless steel. Both are great options for making a nameplate that lasts, but aluminum and stainless steel nameplates do have a few key differences, including their longevity, workability and colorizing options. You’ll want to consider your application carefully when choosing a metal for your nameplate.
Let’s go over how to identify aluminum vs. stainless steel, the characteristics of each and what their uses are in the world of nameplates.
Aluminum vs. Stainless Steel Nameplate
Both metals are excellent in tough environments and can hold up to a variety of substances. They are easy to install with a specific adhesive or simple rivet holes. Text is readable, with high visibility and there are design options that help you display information clearly.
When we compare aluminum vs. stainless steel, three characteristics come to the forefront. Some significant features of aluminum and stainless steel are their durability, weight and the available methods of customization.
The durability of a nameplate is especially important for people working in rough environments. Highly acidic, caustic or chemically reactive environments can cause signs to wear away or stain. If you work with dangerous substances, nameplates are especially critical to identifying what is inside certain containers, which rooms are off-limits and more. They can prevent dangerous situations from happening by keeping everyone informed.
Less hazardous environments may have trouble keeping signs clear as well from general wear and tear, fading or spilling, which could cause stains or rust to develop and impede a sign’s legibility. Other environments that can cause excessive stress to metal nameplates include those where it may see scratches, dents or moisture. If operating procedures make scratches and dents a hazard, you’ll need a tough metal that is resistant to this kind of physical damage. Moisture can cause problems for some metals too, but both aluminum nameplates and stainless steel nameplates will not corrode in water.
The good news is that aluminum and stainless steel are both excellent in many harsh conditions. Aluminum is known for great durability and will hold up well in inclement weather and around chemicals and workplace wear and tear. It is resistant to corrosion and can last many years. Aluminum is particularly resistant to corrosion due to the layer of aluminum oxide that forms on its surface in response to oxygen. This extra layer helps protect it from damaging substances. The most notable downside to aluminum vs. stainless steel for nameplates is its durability in comparison. While aluminum is a highly durable metal, stainless steel is still stronger. Aluminum nameplates can dent more easily and scratch as well.
As for stainless steel, it is incredibly durable. It can stand up to harsh weather, dents, scratches, chemicals and other extreme environments, such as those that are acidic and caustic. Stainless steel creates a similar surface layer to the aluminum oxide one, but it contains chromium, which protects the steel further and can even repair itself at levels above 10.5%. It is very low maintenance and is resistant to being dented or stained. Stainless steel nameplates lack high UV resistance, so they may wear more quickly in long-term outdoor environments. One feature to consider with your nameplate is what kind of physical pressure it may undergo. If it is likely to be bent, stainless steel is probably the best choice since aluminum may break instead.
Another quality that concerns our two metals is that of weight, which is especially notable in aerospace and military applications. Often, aluminum is alloyed with small amounts of another material, like iron, to add strength. Aluminum alloys are well-known for their high strength-to-weight ratio, meaning they are as strong as many other metals at a fraction of the weight. For instance, aluminum has one-third the density of iron or copper. This allows it to have comparable durability to many heavier metals without excessive weight. Aluminum nameplates are excellent for applications where you need minimal weight but high strength. Aluminum is also easy to shape, making it a more versatile metal for unique applications.
Stainless steel, on the other hand, does not have the benefit of being lightweight. Its excellent durability comes at the cost of added weight, like many other tough metals. This characteristic limits the use of stainless steel in many aerospace or military applications, but is less of a concern for other applications. While it may not work in a newly constructed jet, for example, a stainless steel nameplate would be right at home as an informational panel on a stationary machine in a manufacturing plant.
Each metal is also distinct in how it can be modified. Depending on your application, you may need a bright sign that holds its colors in an outdoor environment, one that can be engraved or one that works with welding processes. Each of these tasks will work differently on the two metals.
There are two processes unique to aluminum that both involve the addition of ink.
- Anodization: One of the most notable differences between aluminum and stainless steel lies in anodization. Anodization works with the process in which aluminum gains a thick surface layer of amorphous aluminum oxide. It absorbs colored dye effectively and makes it more corrosion-resistant. It allows you to add a variety of colors to a nameplate, which makes aluminum nameplates excellent for identification, organization, or straightforward visibility.
- Photo sealing: Aluminum also allows for metal photo sealing, in which the ink is pressed into the surface and sealed in. It is resistant to scratches and great for adding specific vibrant colors to a sign. The result is a metal tag that has ink on an inner surface, not the top. It’s also permanently sealed, so the design of your tag or label is unable to be scratched off or removed.
Stainless steel cannot be anodized, so ink processes won’t last near as long. Instead, stainless steel works well for indenting the metal itself through serial stamping or chemically etching. These give you the benefit of being a part of the metal, so they won’t scratch off or fade on their own. Another approach to impart a design onto stainless steel is to chemically etch onto it. Chemical etching bathes the plate in special chemicals that remove material in certain spots to carve out the design.
One of the bonuses of stainless steel is its capabilities for welding. Several characteristics make it easier to work with than aluminum. Aluminum’s thermal conductivity is much higher than that of steel, causing it to solidify faster. It also requires you to work through the oxidized skin on the surface and doesn’t show color changes very well, which many people use to judge progress on a welding job. Stainless steel has no oxidized skin and reveals color more effectively. However, some applications may need to avoid carbide precipitation, which occurs during welding and may require special precautions.
It is important to note that some of these customization options can affect the nameplate’s durability. Screen printing, for instance, can fade or wear a sign quickly if it is placed outdoors in specific environments. The effects vary based on the metal, design process, environment, and other factors.
Common Uses for Aluminum Nameplates vs. Stainless Steel Nameplates
You can find metal nameplates in many areas of various industries. They are appropriate for labeling equipment, making identification badges, offering warning or navigation information and even promoting your brand.
As mentioned, aluminum nameplates are great for various applications. They can be stamped, embossed, engraved, screen printed and etched. Here are a few of the items you can make with aluminum nameplates:
- Equipment identification tags and labels
- Barcoded nameplates
- Valve tags
- Asset badges
- Fire Door plates
These items can help with identification, classification and showing important information to the reader. Part of the appeal of aluminum is its versatile color and texture. Its silvery-white color makes it an excellent backing for colors and high-contrast text while offering a unique polished, brushed effect.
Stainless steel provides similar uses, including, stamping, etching, and more. Its applications include:
- Designation plates
- Military Placecards
- Instrument panels
- Brand promotion
- Compliance badges
- Navigation panels
- Control panels
- Asset tags
Embossed tags are a common use for aluminum in which the information is raised up through the metal. The design can’t be worn off and you can paint over it as needed. Embossing stainless steel can be a bit more difficult due to the hardness of the material itself.
One factor that can influence the use of aluminum or stainless steel is the cost. Aluminum is more commonly available and tends to be cheaper than stainless steel. Thicker or more specialized applications may make aluminum a more costly option.
Industries That Use Aluminum Nameplates vs. Stainless Steel Nameplates
Industries far and wide turn to both metals for their various plating needs and many use them in different applications. The industries that frequently use aluminum and stainless steel nameplates include:
Aerospace applications are a significant user of stainless steel and aluminum plating due to their detailed standards and unique demands. They must be able to meet strict specifications and maintain high durability. Aluminum comes in handy with its low weight, but stainless steel offers higher durability for tough conditions, so each is useful in certain applications. Another benefit of stainless steel is its antibacterial properties, which make it useful in health or food industries.
All industries benefit from the reliability of aluminum and stainless steel nameplates. Many workplaces have regulations to adhere to that require them to place safety and security information front and center. For any facility that needs to keep important information highly visible, they turn to signage material that won’t wear away. With these metals, you can avoid paint chips and scratched-off images. Vital information stays legible and safe.
Another feature that applies to industries across the board is the opportunity for permanent branding signage. Whether you need a bright, durable sign to go on your lobby wall for years to come, a small plate to identify manufacturer information on a machine or anything in between, aluminum and stainless steel are excellent ways to keep your brand’s image bright, readable and a cut above the rest.
Types of Metal Nameplates That Use Both
While most nameplates are quite versatile, some methods work better on one material than the other. Some styles are a matter of personal preference and application. Let’s go over some of the nameplate types that can go on stainless steel or aluminum.
- Etched metal nameplates: In etched metal nameplates, we use chemicals to remove specific parts of the metal, leaving behind the design. Then, the cut-out areas can be filled with colored enamels or epoxies. These nameplates work well with both materials, providing high contrast and color.
- Engraving: Engraving cuts your design out of the metal with a rotary tool. Aluminum is easier to cut as it is not as hard as stainless steel, which requires dedicated, tougher tools. Stainless steel can also enlist the help of a CO2 laser for creating linear marks and two-dimensional barcodes.
- Screen printing: You can screen print on both metals, but it may be less durable than some of the other methods. The inks are bright and work well for applications that won’t see wear and tear or long-term sun exposure, but they can fade quickly and be scratched off in harsher environments.
Both metals provide exceptional durability and a premium appearance. They are versatile in both construction and the designs that you can put on them. Serial numbers, QR codes, instructions, bar codes, and images can all be placed on these nameplates.
Explore Options With American Nameplate
Which is better; aluminum or stainless steel? Aluminum and stainless steel are both excellent choices for metal nameplates and work well across a variety of styles and applications. Aluminum offers a durable and lightweight substance while stainless steel can hold up against the toughest of environments. Whether you need nameplates for manufacturing, facility signage, branding, badges, informational panels or any other purpose, American Nameplate can help you get the job done right.
We can create metal nameplates in any size run and meet strict requirements while providing quality and environmentally sensitive work. We’ve been around since 1934 and are recognized by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), FM and Intertek, working to meet the needs of OEM providers, manufacturers, and distributors alike. Explore our product selections today to learn more about the nameplates we offer.