Stainless Steel Versus Aluminum Signage

Choosing the Best: Stainless Steel versus Aluminum Signage

            Choosing the right metal for your business signs is not a decision that should be taken lightly. Your signage is often the first thing that people see when they come to visit so you want to make sure that it looks good. First impressions count, after all. The following guide will help you in your mission of choosing the best metal signs for your business.

What makes good metal signs?

It’s probably not something you’ve ever sat down and thought about, but there are a few factors to consider that can make all the difference between great and not so great signage:


  • Readability: For people to be able to read your sign from a distance it needs to be clear. The easiest way to ensure that is to keep it simple and avoid fancy lettering.
  • Fit for its audience: Make sure your sign relates to those that will see it. If you’re trying to catch the attention of children, make it bright and fun.
  • Durability: Your signage will take a lot of battering from the harsh elements. So, in order to best protect your investment, choose a material offers corrosion resistance to ensure it is both durable and weather-resistant.
  • Size: This ties in a little with readability. Having a sign that’s too small to read is just as bad as not having one. As a general guide, for people to see a sign clearly from around 100 ft away, the lettering should be at least 10 inches tall.


Which is the best material for your signage: stainless steel or aluminum? 

Now that you have an idea as to what makes good signage, it’s time to consider which material is best for your signage. When it comes to metal signage, the two main materials used are stainless steel and aluminum. Both are good in their own ways and both have their pitfalls too.


The following will take you through some of the advantages and disadvantages of both to help you make an informed decision as to which is better for your signage.


  • Strength: Stainless steel is extremely tough and is much stronger than aluminum in general. It’s often used in signs as is difficult to dent. If however, you take into consideration the strength to weight ratio, aluminum wins hands down.
  • Workability: Because stainless steel is so tough, it can be difficult to work with. Aluminum, on the other hand, is much softer and more elastic than stainless steel meaning it’s much easier to cut and form.
  • Cost: In most cases, aluminum is a cheaper option for your signage than stainless steel.
  • Aesthetics: In terms of aesthetics, both stainless steel and aluminum signage look good and are available in a range of different finishes.
  • Durability: Stainless steel signs are highly durable, scratch resistant and able to withstand the harshest of climates. While aluminum signs are lightweight, and waterproof, they’re not quite as durable as stainless steel ones.
  • Corrosion: If a sign becomes corroded, it will seriously affect its aesthetic value. Chromium is an agent that’s added to stainless steel to prevent corrosion. Aluminum is also quite resistant to corrosion. This is mainly because of the passive outer layer that forms in the presence of oxygen.
  • Weight: Stainless steel is very heavy and, for that reason, installation can be awkward. Aluminum, on the other hand, is very lightweight and can be installed pretty much anywhere.


Grades of stainless steel most commonly used

When it comes to stainless steel the two most common grades are 304 and 316. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, some of which are listed below:


304 Stainless steel

Pros: Cheaper than 316 grade, easy to sanitize, and best suited for indoor signs

Cons: Contains no molybdenum so increased chance of corrosion that may cause pitting


316 Stainless steel

Pros: Contains molybdenum so risk of corrosion reduced, easier to clean than 304 grade, and suitable for indoor or outdoor use

Cons:  More expensive than 304 grade


Types of aluminum used in signage

The main types of aluminum used in signage are standard aluminum, brushed aluminum, and reflective aluminum. All three are great for different reasons and all three also have their downfalls, some of which are mentioned below:

Standard aluminum

Standard aluminum is fine for indoor or outdoor use. Although it’s lightweight, it’s also durable and long-lasting. You don’t need to worry about the harsh elements either as aluminum is pretty weather-resistant. It’s also the most affordable type of aluminum. Signs made from standard aluminum should last a minimum of around five years if placed properly and carefully looked after.

Brushed aluminum

Brushed aluminum is the next grade up from standard aluminum and has more of a matte look to it. Signs made with from brushed aluminum are often used indoors, but many sign makers offer to weatherproof the sign if it is to be used outside. Like standard aluminum, as long as carefully placed and cared for, brush aluminum signs should last for a minimum of around five years.

Reflective aluminum

Reflective aluminum is similar to the other two types of aluminum signs but with an added reflective property that enables it to be seen in the dark. Generally, signs like these use a special reflective vinyl overlay that lies on top of the aluminum. The overlay itself consists of glass beading that enables reflectivity without blurring your design. As with the other two types of aluminum signs, those made using reflective aluminum are also expected to last for a minimum of around five years.

Hopefully, by now, you’ll feel much more clued up as to the different properties and types of both stainless steel and aluminum and will be able to make an informed decision as to which will be better for your signage. Both have their benefits and a lot of it will come down to personal preference and budget. But whatever material you choose, just make sure your sign is readable from wherever intended, otherwise, all your hard work in designing your sign will have been for nothing.