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Gold mineral. Image Credit: Shutterstock.com/Kseniya Ivashkevich

15 Examples of Ductile Materials

Learn more about the various ductile materials and their applications.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
April 15, 2023
 9 min read
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Ductility refers to a material’s ability to plastically deform before fracture. A material’s ductility is typically expressed as a percent reduction of cross-sectional area or percent elongation. It is important in engineering and manufacturing because of the implications it has for a structure or building’s resilience, and because of the manufacturing operations such as forming, rolling, drawing, and machining needed to fabricate some parts. While most metals and some plastics are considered ductile, some materials, like high-carbon steel or acrylic, are not. This article will list and describe the properties and characteristics of 15 ductile materials.

1. Gold

Gold is a lustrous precious metal element with atomic number 79. It is one of the densest metals (19.3 g/cm3) on the periodic table. Gold is a soft metal, and is considered the most ductile metal on the periodic table. A single ounce of gold can be beaten to form a 187 ft2 sheet known as a gold leaf. Commonly used in jewelry and as currency since ancient times, gold today is often used in jewelry and electronics.

2. Aluminum

Aluminum is a silvery-white metallic element often found as oxides or salts in nature because of its high level of chemical reactivity. Aluminum is the most abundant metal on Earth. It is the most-produced and most-refined non-ferrous metal. It is in such broad use because it has a high strength-to-weight ratio, has good ductility, and is resistant to many corrosive environments. Aluminum’s ductility and strength can be improved by alloying it with silicon, manganese, and nickel. Its ductility, expressed as percent elongation, ranges from 17% (6061 T1 alloy) to 40% (3003 O alloy). 

3. Zinc

Zinc is a bluish-white metal element with atomic number 30. Zinc is brittle at room temperature, but becomes more ductile at increased temperatures (110-150 °C). Zinc readily reacts with oxygen and forms oxides which is why its most common use is for galvanizing steel. It is also often used for brass and other alloy production.  

4. Silver

Silver is a lustrous metal with atomic number 47. Silver is a soft, ductile, and malleable material. It is valued for its electrical and thermal conductivity, as well as its decorative aesthetic. Silver is often used in electrical wiring and circuits because of its conductivity. It is soft, so it is often alloyed with nickel, copper, or palladium to increase its hardness, toughness, and strength. Sterling silver, a silver-copper alloy, has very high ductility, with tensile test elongation of 40%.

5. Iron

Iron is a shiny, gray metallic element with atomic number 26. It has been one of the most commonly used metals since antiquity after the Bronze Age ended in approximately 1200 BCE. Pure iron is a soft, ductile metal that is susceptible to rusting when exposed to air. Iron is often alloyed with carbon and other elements to increase its hardness, toughness, strength, and corrosion resistance. Alloying iron results in materials like cast iron and steel. Depending on the concentration of its alloying elements, iron can have ductility anywhere between 0.20-40.00% elongation before fracture.

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6. Platinum 

Platinum is a silvery-white, dense, soft, and ductile metal that is corrosion-resistant and chemically stable. It has atomic number 78 and an atomic mass of 195.09 amu. Along with gold, platinum is one of the most ductile materials on the periodic table. Platinum is commonly used in jewelry, automotive parts, and electronics, and as a catalyst in the automotive industry.

7. Copper

Copper is a soft, reddish, and ductile metal with atomic number 29 that is an exceptional electrical and thermal conductor. Copper has been used since to make tools and weapons out of pure metal even before the Bronze Age, which began around 3300 BCE. Copper is extremely ductile, showing total elongation before fracture of up to 60%. Today, because of its conductive properties, copper is most commonly used in electrical applications such as wiring.

8. Lead

Lead, a silvery-white metal, has atomic number 82. It is soft and highly ductile but is a poor electrical conductor. The use of lead dates back to the time of the Babylonian Empire, where it was used as plates on which financial or historical records could be inscribed. Lead is known to be toxic to the human body and may cause adverse effects such as cognitive deficits and renal disease. Despite these issues, lead is still often used in architectural products such as roofs, ammunition, and batteries.

9. Steel

Steel is an alloy made primarily from iron and carbon, with possible additions of other elements such as: chromium, manganese, nickel, and molybdenum. Pure iron is not used nearly as often as steel. Steel has better strength, hardness, toughness, and corrosion resistance than iron. The ductility of steel depends on its chemical composition. In general, steel’s ductility ranges from 4 to 40%. Steel has been one of the most important metal materials to humanity since its creation in the 13th century BCE. First used in weapons and architecture, steel is still used in those applications, as well as in the aerospace, automotive, construction, infrastructure, consumer products, appliances, and marine industries.

10. Wood 

Wood is a strong, organic composite material made of cellulose fibers enclosed in lignin. It is classified as an orthotropic material, which means that its properties are different in each direction of a 3D-coordinate system. Different types of wood exhibit different properties. Wood is strongest when forces are applied parallel to the grains, and weakest when forces are applied perpendicularly to the grain. It is difficult to characterize wood’s ductility since it exhibits both ductile and brittle behavior depending on whether tensile or compressive forces are applied. Wood experiences some plasticity in compression but is not considered ductile, since it cannot be drawn, pulled, or stretched. 

11. Nickel

Nickel is a hard and ductile silvery metal with atomic number 28. Because of its high hardness and ductility, nickel is often used to alloy other metals, such as iron, copper, or silver, to make them stronger, harder, and more ductile. It is corrosion-resistant and is a mid-range conductor of electricity. Nickel can cause allergic reactions in some people if used in gold or silver or alloys common in jewelry.  Besides jewelry, nickel is often used in electrical wires, gas turbines, rocket engines, and many alloys.

12. Clay

Clay is a type of soil that contains aluminum silicates and has soil particles less than 0.005 mm in diameter. When wet, clay exhibits ductile behavior and can stretch and deform. However, when the clay is dry or fired to make materials like pottery, bricks, tile, and other ceramic items, it is brittle. 

13. Bronze

Bronze is a strong, ductile, and corrosion-resistant alloy made from copper and tin. Bronze does not spark when hammered during the crafting of tools or other bronze objects and is therefore often used in metalworking environments where there are large amounts of flammable materials. While the alloy was often used for tools, armor, sculptures, and weapons in ancient times, bronze is now often used for gears, springs, bushings, bearings, musical instruments, and parts for marine applications.

14. Brass

Brass is a ductile, strong, and corrosion-resistant alloy made from copper and zinc. Like bronze, brass has been used since antiquity due to its ability to easily be formed into tools, armor, jewelry, and household items like bowls and jugs. Today, brass is often used in hardware such as plumbing fittings, nuts, and bolts, but is also often used in buttons, ammunition cartridge cases, and marine applications.  

15. Tantalum

Tantalum is a rare, silvery-gray, hard, and ductile metal with atomic number 73. It is a naturally corrosion-resistant and bio-friendly metal. Because of its high ductility, tantalum can easily be drawn into electrical components such as capacitors and high-power resistors. Additionally, it is often used in the fabrication of surgical and dental instruments and implants. Tantalum is also used as an alloying element to increase ductility, strength, and corrosion resistance.

What Is the Most Ductile Metal?

Gold is the most ductile metal on the periodic table. However, there is debate about whether platinum is more ductile than gold in the chemistry and materials science field. 

What Is the Importance of Ductility in a Material?

Ductility is important because it describes a material’s ability to deform. As stresses are applied, ductile materials deform noticeably. Ductility is important in service because detectable deformation occurs before the final fracture so that inspection can catch developing problems before catastrophic failure occurs. This allows repair and replacement to occur before catastrophic failure. Additionally, ductility is important in metalworking because of the stresses applied to materials during processes like forming, drawing, rolling, stamping, machining, and more. Materials with low ductility are prone to cracking and fracturing during these processes. 

Is Ductility a Material Property?

Yes, ductility is a material property. Ductility is a mechanical property that describes a material’s ability to plastically deform. A material’s ductility is dependent on its lattice structure and the ability of its atoms to slip or move past each other.

Is Plastic Ductile?

Many plastics are ductile, but not all. Ductility is strongly impacted by the level of crystallinity in a polymer. Crystallinity has a large impact on the ductility of a material. Plastics are either amorphous (lacking an ordered crystal structure) or semi-crystalline (crystallized structures within an amorphous structure). The degree of crystallinity differs depending on the type of plastic. Semi-crystalline plastics, like polyethylene and nylon, are considered ductile. 

What Is the Difference Between Ductility and Brittleness?

The difference between ductile and brittle materials is that ductile materials can plastically deform while brittle materials cannot. Deformation is observable in ductile materials before fracture while brittle materials fracture with little warning.

Summary

This article presented ductile materials, explained what they are, and discussed their various applications. To learn more about ductile materials, contact a Xometry representative.

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Xomety X
Team Xometry
This article was written by various Xometry contributors. Xometry is a leading resource on manufacturing with CNC machining, sheet metal fabrication, 3D printing, injection molding, urethane casting, and more.