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Big Blue Saw Blog

Which Material Should I Choose?

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Big Blue Saw has a large variety of materials to choose from, over 70 at last count. Many first time customers have a hard time deciding which material to choose. Aluminum 5052 or Stainless Steel 316? Black acrylic or acetal?

The truth is most projects can be done with 6061 aluminum, 304 stainless, cold roll steel, or clear acrylic. Our customers have found that each of these four fills a unique niche.

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). 4 is best, 1 is worst.

 CostAppearanceSpecific Strength
Clear Acrylic 4 3 1
Aluminum 6061 2 2 4
Stainless Steel 304 1 4 2
Carbon Steel 3 1 3

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.

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.

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.

If you're consideringBut NeedTry
Aluminum 6061 Better formability (ability to bend the material into shape) Aluminum 5052
Aluminum 6061 Better electrical conductivity Copper 110
Clear Acrylic Higher strength Clear Polycarbonate, Acetal, or UHMW-PE
Stainless Steel 304 Maximum corrosion resistance (like in salt water environments) Stainless Steel 316
Stainless Steel 304 Lower cost 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.

As always, if you don't see your material on our list, just ask, and we'll try to accommodate your needs.

Upload your design and get an instant quote on any of our materials.

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Big Blue Saw
5.0 stars - based on 17 reviews
Waterjet and Laser Cut Custom Parts.
Address for correspondence only:
3522 Ashford Dunwoody Rd NE #145
Atlanta, GA 30319
Phone: (678) WAY-SAW4 (678) 929-7294