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How to know which material to choose for your product?

Updated: Feb 14

The TLDR: Most important aspect of selecting material is going to be knowing what is important for your part. If its purely aesthetic choose the most affordable material that matches your look. If you need it to be hard, tough, and hold tight tolerances? Go with a high quality metal or alloy. Read the article below to see how to identify what your parts needs to rely on and which materials might pair best with that. Still not sure? Feel free to contact McGonigle's Advanced Manufacturing to talk with a professional who has helped others make this decision too.

Understanding the Purpose for your Design

Before delving into what materials to use, you need to know the intentions and specifications to your design are. One common way to recognize this is in terms of your designs Form, Fit, and Function. Your design's purpose and specifications significantly influence material selection. Knowing these three core concepts are crucial for informed decision-making as we explore various material options.

Form - The shape, size, feel, weight, finish and other visual parameters

Fit - Ability to be made a part of or become integral with another part or the design as a whole

Function - The ability to do the action it is designed to perform

These three categories will influence what material and budget your design demands. As you address what your Form, Fit, and Function (FFF) is, then you might recognize one category might be more influential over your final product then another. For example, a simple mug will mostly rely on its, Form to have one that visually appeal to the customer, but also its Function to be water proof, dishwasher safe, or other needs.

The Fit of a part is more common with things like puzzle pieces, building blocks, or adapters where the precise dimensions and ability to mate with another piece are integral to its overall goal.

Choosing the Right Material

Now that you know what your parts Form, Fit, and Function you can match the material that meets the needs that your design demands. Read below to show some material and what they are best known for. Here are some questions you can ask yourself that will guide you to the right material for your job.

  • Does my part need to be strong and resistant to wear?

  • Does my part need to withstand high/low temperatures?

  • Do I or my customer care if it is a certain color or texture?

  • What properties does my part need to have to complete its function?

  • Is my part meant to interact with people or with other components?

  • Are their any regulations or compliances that my parts need to meet?

  • Will my part be exposed to any elements or outside conditions?

Use those questions above and your understanding of Form, Fit, and Function to now pick what will be the right material for project!


Known for versatility and affordability, Plastics can cater to diverse applications and uses. Here's a closer look at some popular options

Machined Plastics




Typical Applications


Tensile Strength, impact resistant, Low Friction, chemical resistant

Degrades in sunlight, flammable, experiences creep under constant load

Conveyor systems, rollers, housings, gears and bearings


Clear/transparent, lightweight, weather resistant, UV resistance

low hardness, brittle, easy to scratch, low melting point

Signage & Displays, lighting fixtures, Art and Crafts, Screen and enclosures


moderate strength and regidity, good temperature resistance, multiple available colors

degrades in sunlight, hazordous when manufacturing, non-biodegradble, not safe for food contact

toys, pipe fittings, model making, prototyping, luggage, electronic housings

Molded or 3D Printed Plastics




Typical Applications


Easy to manufacture, low cost, wide color variety, many infill options to change properties

Degrades in sunlight, low temperature resistance, low strength

Prototyping, Visual representations, art, decoration


Good tensile strength, rigid, impact resistant, UV resistant

chemical sensitivity,

Tools and equipment, automotive, lighting, sports


Extreme Temperature resistance, High Strength, High precision, outstanding chemical resistance

expensive, hard to produce, low UV resistance, limited color options

toys, pipe fittings, model making, prototyping, luggage, electronic housings


High Tensile strength, excellent impact absorbtion, wide color options, prone to deform instead of break, wide array of polymers

Absorbs moisture quickly, prone to warping, more costly to mold

Rope, clips, gears, housing, mechanical parts, compliant mechanisims


Metals can offer a wide range of applications both affordable and very expensive. Generally you might choose using metals over plastics due to constraints for strength, conductivity, durability, hardness or many other factors that come with metals you commonly know. Before picking a specific alloy, you should know that metals break down into two main categories, Ferrous and non-ferrous.

Ferrous Metals

Ferrous Metals are characterized by containing primarily iron. The term Ferrous is actually derived from the Latin word "Ferrum" which translates to Iron.

Ferrous Metals are known to be strong, durable, and able to withstand extreme environments and stresses.

Common examples of Ferrous metals are Iron, Stainless Steel, Nickel, and Carbon Steels.

Non-ferrous metals

Non-Ferrous metals, while not containing a majority of iron can still have a wide range of applications which their Iron rich counterparts also have, but mainly offer application specific strengths which would pull a customer towards their use. Very commonly a Ferrous Metal can be alloyed with another metal to bolster the strengths and weaknesses that each material can bring.

Common examples of Non-Ferrous metals are Aluminum, Copper, Zinc, and Titanium.

Choosing the right metal

Now that you now the two commons categories of metal you need to know what each metal is how it might impact your project. Unlike plastics, the price and quality of metals can very wildly from vendor to vendor. Use the chart below to see basic comparisons the type of metal and what sort-of price range you might find it in.


Tensile Strength



6061 Aluminum

69 GPa



1018 steel - Cold Drawn

190 GPa



1018 steel - Hot rolled

190 GPa



718 Inconel

190 GPa



304 Stainless Steel

200 GPa



C-5 Titanium

110 GPa



CC140C Copper

120 GPa



G1800 Cast Iron

180 GPa



Now that you know

Understanding the differences between plastic, metals, and other material will unlock how you design your parts for affordability and effectiveness. Grasping the concepts of Form, Fit, and Function will help you narrow down the differences between materials and allow you to pick the best fit for your job. If you are still struggling then feel free to click the button below to get in contact for free by our team at McGonigle's Advanced Manufacturing! We are glad to help you with your project no matter the size or the challenges

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