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Which Sheet Cutting Material Should I Choose?

New to Sheet Cutting? Many first-time customers have a hard time deciding which material to choose. Aluminum 5052 or stainless steel 316? Black acrylic or acetal? Read on for valuable tips on selecting suitable material.

Xomety X
By Team Xometry
December 9, 2021
 1 min read
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What Sheet Cutting Material Should I Choose?

Xometry offers dozens of materials for laser and waterjet cutting. They range from metals, plastics, foam, composite, and even wood. This list can be daunting, and each material available comes from different performance, cosmetic, or cost requirements.

If you are starting with sheet cutting, the truth is most projects can be a success with 6061 aluminum, 304 stainless, cold roll steel, or clear acrylic. Our customers have found that each of these four fills a unique niche. Read on to find why these four materials may become your go-tos as well!


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Clear Acrylic
An inexpensive plastic used for decorative purposes and where high strength is not required.
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Aluminum 6061
A good general purpose, high strength aerospace aluminum alloy.
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304 Stainless Steel
A good general purpose stainless steel.
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Cold Rolled Steel A366/1008
A strong general purpose steel with a clean surface finish.

Comparing Popular Sheet Cut Materials

Here's a chart that ranks the four materials against each other in terms of cost, appearance, and specific strength (also known as strength-to-weight ratio). Range: okay, good, better, best.
MaterialCostAppearanceSpecific Strength
Material

Clear Acrylic

Cost

Best

Appearance

Better

Specific Strength

Okay

Material

Aluminum 6061

Cost

Good

Appearance

Good

Specific Strength

Best

Material

Stainless Steel 304

Cost

Okay

Appearance

Best

Specific Strength

Good

Material

Carbon Steel

Cost

Better

Appearance

Okay

Specific Strength

Better

 It's worth noting that though we've ranked them against each other in terms of appearance, none of these materials look particularly bad. Stainless steel is more durable than aluminum, and thus holds its finish better. If you need a transparent material, then, of course, a metal won't work at all and you need a plastic like clear acrylic.

When should I choose cold roll steel?

Cold roll steel doesn't come out on top of any of the above categories, but it's still useful. Why? It is harder (good for sliding or wearing parts), denser, and can be welded more easily than the other materials. It's also magnetic.

When should I choose acrylic?

Acrylic is the least expensive of the materials on the list, in part because it can be laser cut. The metric thicknesses, like 3 mm (0.118 inches) and 6 mm (0.236 inches) are less expensive than their inch equivalents.

Other Sheet Material Substitutes

Not quite happy with those four? Here are some other suggestions!
If you are considering...But need...Try...
If you are considering...

Aluminum 6061

But need...

Better formability (ability to bend the material into shape)

Try...

Aluminum 5052

If you are considering...

Aluminum 6061

But need...

Better electrical conductivity

Try...

Copper 110

If you are considering...

Clear Acrylic

But need...

Higher strength

Try...

Clear Polycarbonate, Acetal, or UHMW-PE

If you are considering...

Stainless Steel 304

But need...

Maximum corrosion resistance (like in salt water environments)

Try...

Stainless Steel 316

If you are considering...

Stainless Steel 304

But need...

Lower cost

Try...

Aluminum or one of the metallic appearance acrylics (Brushed Bright Nickel, for example)

Of course, there are a few materials we offer that that don't appear on any of these charts: various kinds of wood, leather, and fabric. If you're considering these, you probably already have a good idea of what you need.

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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.