Titanium vs Steel: Which Metal Is the Right Choice for Your Project

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Titanium vs Steel: Which Metal Is the Right Choice for Your Project

Think about the strongest and most versatile metals used in the industry today. Certainly, your choices include titanium and steel. Both of these metals are an excellent choice for a variety of applications because of their superior chemical and physical properties. 

Titanium vs steel is certainly an important debate. While both metals offer a wide range of alloys and applications, they differ in many key characteristics as well such as their prices, toughness, and strength.

Sometimes, even the most experienced professionals find it confusing to make a smart choice. For the best results, it’s important to understand the main differences between the two metals. 

Titanium and Steel: An overview

Both titanium and steel bring different benefits to the table. Before diving into the technical details, let’s take a look at the brief overview of both metals by discussing their major properties, availability, price points, and common applications.  

Titanium

Titanium is an elemental earth metal. You’ll mostly find it in high-performance industries because of its high cost. Due to the price tag, many people believe Titanium to be a rare metal. In reality, its high price is actually due to the complicated processing requirements. 

Naturally, titanium has an extremely high melting point. This makes it very hard to machine or process titanium compared to steel. The metal has multiple alloys with iron, aluminum, and various other metals. 

titanium

Today, titanium is an essential choice for several high-performance applications like aerospace, automotive engines, premium marine equipment, and industrial machines. Furthermore, you’ll even find titanium in some consumer products too. However, that use is quite rare and only reserved for premium products. 

Titanium’s superior corrosion resistance, impact absorption, strength-to-weight ratio, and numerous other properties make it the best choice that delivers superior performance in almost any setting.

Steel

Unlike titanium, steel is not naturally occurring and requires certain processes before it’s ready. Steel is primarily an alloy of iron and carbon. It’s available in a variety of different combinations with different amounts of other metals like titanium, chromium, zinc, or other metals to improve any specific property. 

Generally, steel is known for its strength, temperature resistance, tensile strength, high machinability, and other superior physical properties. Its lower cost and workable characteristics make steel a popular choice in many industries ranging from construction, automobile, infrastructure, industrial machinery, and much more.

welding steel plate

Steel Vs Titanium: 8 Major Differences Between the Two Popular Metal Choices

Both steel and titanium are strong materials that are common in a variety of applications. The question is that in a matchup of steel vs titanium, which one comes out on top, steel or titanium? 

The right answer depends on the application and the constraints of your design. Sometimes, steel would be the better choice because of the functional requirements or the available budget. However, titanium’s superior physical properties can also be what you need in multiple applications as well. 

Here are 8 of the most important differences that you can consider while comparing titanium and steel for your application. 

1 – Elemental composition

The elemental composition is the first major difference in the matchup of titanium vs steel. As stated before, titanium is a naturally occurring element and is available in both pure forms and as an alloy. In most cases, Ti 6-4 – an alloy containing aluminum and vanadium – is the most common titanium alloy you’ll find. 

Steel, on the other hand, is not naturally occurring. It’s primarily a combination of iron and carbon with varying amounts of other elements added to tweak the properties depending on the application. This is why you won’t find the technical properties of steel anywhere. For detailed information, you’ll have to specify the alloy like stainless steel (even that has many types), high carbon steel, or specific alloys such as 4130, 4140, or A36. 

2 – Weight

The defining characteristics of titanium are its low density and high strength-to-weight ratio. That’s why this metal is a preferred material choice in the CNC machining aerospace industry and other similar applications where you need to reduce weight without compromising on strength.

Contrarily, steel alloys are generally durable and possess great strength but lose out in the weight department. They are a perfect choice for applications where weight is not among the primary design constraints. 

steel alloy

3 – Hardness

Hardness is among the areas where steel outperforms titanium. The low Brinell number is one of the reasons why titanium is so hard to machine. It is common to see titanium alloys in the industry as trace amounts of other metals offset the low material hardness of titanium. 

4 – Elasticity

This is another area where steel generally outshines titanium as most of its alloys are more elastic. Once again, greater elasticity makes the steel easier to machine and create custom parts, which is an extremely important characteristic as it directly affects the processing cost. 

The debate on steel vs titanium will never give you a straightforward answer. In all cases, your project, conditions, and the available budget will determine which one is the better choice. 

5 – Durability

Durability is a multi-faceted parameter with several aspects depending on the application. In the strength and longevity department, many steel alloys perform as well (sometimes even better) as titanium. However, titanium stands out because of its ultimate corrosion resistance and the ability to withstand extreme temperatures.

While steel alloys generally perform quite well in many conditions, the presence of iron means that they will corrode eventually. Titanium, on the other hand, performs significantly better and is hence used in many harsh conditions where constant exposure to moisture, chemicals, and other elements is expected. 

6 – Tensile yield strength

In any titanium vs steel comparison, you’ll see that titanium offers more strength per unit mass. However, steel is still the better choice when overall strength is concerned and that fact becomes apparent when you compare their tensile yield strengths. 

If the strength of your selected metal is the sole concern, then steel is a natural choice. Titanium is ideal for situations where you are concerned about the strength along with the weight. That’s why construction and industries rely on steel while automotive and aerospace designs favor titanium. 

7 – Common applications

Titanium is generally used for high-performance applications where you need excellent thermal proprieties, corrosion resistance, and a high strength-to-weight ratio. Some of the most common applications of titanium are: 

  • Surgical Tools and Applications
  • Prosthetics
  • Aerospace
  • Tennis Rackets 
  • Motorsports Vehicle
titanium aerospace industry

Steel and its alloys are one of the most widely used metals because of their variety. From metal parts manufacturing to simple construction, and machinery development. You’ll find it everywhere. Here are some of its most common uses:

  • Construction 
  • Electrical Appliances
  • Manufacturing Pipes 
  • Trains and Cars 
  • Different Types of Common tools  

8 – Price

Price is a significant consideration in any titanium vs steel comparison and steel will always win in that department. As stated before, titanium is quite abundant but its high melting point and processing requirements make it significantly expensive to purify and machine. In many cases, using something as expensive as titanium simply doesn’t make business sense.

Contrary to titanium, steel is an extremely cost-effective option. It’s easier to produce, as there is no shortage of iron and carbon in the world. Furthermore, steel doesn’t have any elaborate processing requirements. Steel prices, however, vary greatly due to the sheer number of its variants. An alloy with only carbon and iron would be the cheapest while those enriched with chromium, zinc, or even titanium would require more capital.

Now you may understand the differences between titanium and steel more deeply so that you would know how to choose the better material for your project. If you’re designing a metal part and looking for rapid prototyping services, RapidDirect is your choice. RapidDirect is famous for manufacturing parts and prototypes at competitive pricing and the shortest lead time. Get started now!

Upload your files and get started with RapidDirect today!

Interested in a quick answer? Here’s a brief table to give you a steel vs titanium comparison at a glance. 

CharacteristicTitaniumSteel
Elemental compositionIt’s a naturally occurring element that you can find in its pure form and as an alloy as well.Steel is primarily an alloy of iron and carbon and has to undergo numerous processes. Its properties can be tweaked using other elements, depending on what your requirements are. 
WeightTitanium is far lighter compared to several of its alternatives and offers a better weight-to-strength ratio.It losses out in the weight department. Steel is ideal for applications where weight is not a concern. 
HardnessTitanium is hard to machine as it has a low hardnessSteel is far better compared to titanium in this regard and usually has a high Brinell number.
ElasticityThe elasticity of titanium is low, making it difficult to machine as it deforms easily. Having a much higher elasticity, steel is easier to a machine.
DurabilityGenerally, titanium has better corrosion and temperature resistance.Steel can, under perfect conditions, perform better than titanium but it is susceptible to corrosion.
Tensile yield strengthDespite offering more strength per unit, titanium has a lower tensile yield strength compared to steel.Steel has a high yield strength, making it a favorable choice for designers whose primary focus is on strength only. 
ApplicationsHigh-performance applications like aerospace, motorsports vehicles, marine engines, etc.  Most used metal with varying applications in industrial equipment, construction, and other areas.
PriceGenerally, more expensive because of high extraction and processing requirements.A more cost-effective choice because of simple production and processing requirement.

Titanium compared to steel – The pros and cons of each metal

Both these materials come with their unique set of properties which make one or the other more suitable to your particular requirements. So, is titanium better than stainless steel for you? The following in-depth analysis about their advantages and disadvantages might help clear out some of that confusion.  

Advantages of titanium

Corrosion Resistance 

The best part about using titanium is its incredible corrosion resistance. Titanium forms a thin, impenetrable, layer of oxide on its surface when exposed to air. Moreover, the oxide layer is naturally strong and resists almost all common sources of corrosion, which makes titanium a perfect choice for any outdoor application.

Unusually High Melting Point 

The titanium also demonstrates a high melting point. A melting point of around 1668 °C makes titanium the perfect choice for high-temperature applications like turbine jet engines, etc. 

welding titanium

Non-Toxic Element 

Unlike most materials, titanium is not toxic to humans or animals. This is why you’ll see liberal use of titanium in the medical industry. From strengthening bones to dental braces, titanium is the primary choice for medical professionals. 

Ability to Withstand Extreme Temperatures

Many properties of titanium allow it to demonstrate high resistance to extreme temperatures. Titanium doesn’t suffer contraction or expansion, making it an essential component to maintain structural integrity. 

High Strength 

Finally, titanium is one of the strongest materials that you can find. Despite having lightweight, titanium offers an excellent strength-to-weight ratio. 

Advantages of Steel

Low Cost

Steel is one of the most commonly used and widely available materials in the world. It’s also relatively inexpensive and cheap to acquire.

High Strength 

There has never been a time when steel wasn’t renowned for its strength and durability. Steel can also survive and maintain structural integrity through harsh environments such as tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.

Sustainability

The best part about steel is that it can always be reused with minimal processing without ever losing its original strength or versatility. 

Modifiable 

Steel, as a component, allows designers greater flexibility and customizability compared to its other alternatives. Through using various other elements, the properties of steel can be altered to what you need. 

Predictable Reactions 

You’ll never know how a certain material will react to uncontrolled conditions, but this is usually not the case with steel as its reactions can easily be predicted. 

Disadvantages of Titanium

High Cost

The many benefits of titanium can be offset by its high cost. Without proper consideration, you can easily end up exhausting your budget.  

Deformation

Titanium has a low modulus of elasticity and can easily be deformed. The low stress to strain ratio of titanium makes it difficult to machine. 

Difficulty with casting

If you’re planning on using titanium for casting, you should stop and look for other alternatives. The inherent properties of titanium, such as its high melting point and strength, make the casting process complicated.  

Complicated processing

In layman’s terms, this property of titanium has to be managed differently in all production stages, making it expensive and complicated to process. 

Difficult to extract 

Extracting Titanium is difficult as well. Not only are the components required for extraction expensive, but they’re also dangerous to handle. Furthermore, the extraction process also leads to soil erosion and other environmental problems. 

Disadvantages of Steel

High Maintenance 

If steel isn’t properly maintained, it can lose up to 1.5mm of its thickness and hence, its strength each year. 

Low Strength at High Temperatures 

Steel also requires extensive protection against high temperatures. While you’ll never be in danger of combustion, steel can deform at high temperatures and can even lead to a collapse of the entire structure.

Buckling

Usually, steel sections are made of thin steel plates. If an additional load is placed on these plates, it can cause the steel to become distorted. 

Aesthetics 

For a majority of items, steel isn’t considered pleasing to look at.  That’s why steel products usually need surface finishing or cladding to make them more aesthetically appealing. 

Corrosion 

Steel is highly susceptible to corrosion and requires regular maintenance and protection to avoid rusting. One of the most common ways of protecting steel structures is through covering them with paint and limiting their exposure to air.

steel rust

Choose Your Best Partner

Still confused about whether to use titanium or steel? Or do you need a partner that can help you get the best out of both these materials and deliver premium quality products at the lowest price? If so, RapidDirect is exactly what you need. 

Rapiddirect platform

RapidDirect is proficient in the use of both titanium and steel and can provide custom fabrication and manufacturing services. We also provide competitive prototyping and manufacturing for low-volume production. You can contact us for both guidance as well as professional advice regarding the manufacturing of your design and material usage. Simply upload your CAD file and get an instant quote.

Titanium vs steel: Conclusion

There’s a reason why the choice between using steel and titanium isn’t as easy as it seems. Depending on the unique requirements of your design, you’ll prefer one or the other. It’s best to understand the fundamental properties of both materials before making your final choice.

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