Stainless Steel Finishes: Your Choices

Thanks to its tremendous durability, incredible versatility, and unbeatable strength, stainless steel is a go-to choice for a number of products in commercial fabrication. And while you may mostly be familiar with the “brushed” finish of stainless steel that is used in home appliances and fixtures, there are many other finish options that are available for stainless steel.

Choosing the right finish for a particular product or project will help ensure that your customer is satisfied with the end result, and that you maximize the longevity and integrity of the steel. If you’re interested in learning more about stainless steel finishes and your top options, keep reading – and find out more about the different types of finishes that are commonly used for this metal.

Stainless Steel Finish Options

When stainless steel comes directly from the mill, it has what’s known as a “hot-rolled” finish, thanks to the manufacturing techniques used to create the steel. This finish has no shine or gloss, and it’s not brushed or reflective. It simply looks like metal, with little luster or shine.

A good example of this is a kitchen sink. Most traditional steel kitchen sinks use a hot-rolled steel material which does not have any fancy style or appearance – it just looks like metal.

However, steel can be further processed to refine its physical appearance further. The most common types of finish used for stainless steel are matte finishes (#2B or #2D), brushed finishes (#3 or #4) and a mirrored finish (#8). In the next section of this article, we’ll take a look at each of these finishes, and discuss them in further detail.

Facts about Finishes

When ordering a stainless steel finish, there are a few options that are the most popular on the market today. Let’s discuss each one of them in turn, and what they’re used for.

  • Matte Finish #2B/#2D – This type of finish is achieved by “cold rolling” the metal after the production process has concluded. As the name suggests, it has a matte finish that is quite dull, but a bit more bright than an untreated finish. It is often used in applications where durability is very important, and a shiny, reflective surface is not very important – such as industrial equipment. 2D finish is not very shiny at all, but 2D finish uses an additional cold rolling step that produces a finish that is more like a cloudy mirror.
  • Brushed Finish #3/#4 – These hot-rolled finishes are “brushed” with specialized belts to create a fine pattern of parallel lines, and are quite a bit more reflective than a matte finish. However, they are not reflective, due to the presence of the brushed lines. They are useful in applications where an overly-shiny finish would be undesirable – such as in the construction of skyscrapers and other buildings. Brushed steel is also commonly used in household appliances.
  • Mirrored Finish #8 – #8 mirrored finish can be created by using a series of abrasive materials to polish the material to a mirror shine, or by using a special hot rolling procedure to simulate this appearance. The surface is then buffed for up to 10 minutes to remove any scratches and abrasions and create a highly-reflective, mirror-like finish. This type of steel is used for mirrors, ornamental trim, reflectors and other such applications where high reflectivity is essential.

Basically, when you order a steel finish between #3-#8, you’re choosing how reflective it will be – the higher the number, the higher the reflectivity. There are also some types of steel finishes that are relatively rare today – #6, for example, has a dull, silvery-white finish, and most producers stopped making it in the 1980s.

There are also a few additional treatments and finishes that are not on this list. Bright annealed (BA) finishes are produced by a special heat treatment that creates a reflective appearance with some imperfections and cloudiness. Temper Rolled (TR) steel uses a light cold rolling process to stretch steel after annealing, and it hardens the steel and increases its tensile strength.

Considering your Choices

When you’re considering the right type of steel for your product, it’s important to think about the particulars about how it will be used.

For example, will your product be used in a high-traffic area, like an industrial kitchen? If so, a low-grade steel finish like 2B or 2D may be right for you, as it won’t show fingerprints or stains as easily, compared to a more highly-mirrored product. However, for consumer use and use where aesthetics are important, a brushed #3 or #4 finish or a highly-reflective #8 mirrored finish may be right for you.

The type of product and geographic location should also impact your choice. For example, while stainless steel is resistant to rust, brushed finishes are more susceptible to corrosion, due to the fine lines which can oxidize more easily than a mirrored finish.

You should also think about the different types of finishes already being used in a certain location – it’s a good idea to make sure that your products complement the existing steel that is in use, to ensure a uniform appearance.

Right Material and Right Partners

Not sure what finish is right for you? We’re here to help. At Engineered Mechanical Systems, we understand that choosing the right material and finish is just as important as finding the right supplier and fabrication partners.

That’s why we’re here to help. The needs of your project will influence which stainless steel finish may be right for you, and your fabrication team can help you choose the right product for your application.

At Engineered Mechanical Systems, we have all of the expertise and equipment that you need to get the best possible results. Whether you already know the right steel finish for your project, or you need help selecting the appropriate materials, we’re here to help. To learn more and get started, you can contact us online right away.