5 Common Misconceptions: Metalphoto vs. Etched Stainless Steel
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Published on September 08, 2022

Etched and filled stainless steel has historically been used for nameplate, label and panel applications in harsh environments. Engineers have long defaulted to steel under the assumption that it will survive better than other materials. However, Metalphoto photosensitive anodized aluminum is actually superior to etched and filled stainless steel in many applications. 

1. Durability

Misconception: Etched stainless steel is the most corrosion resistant label or nameplate material. 

Truth: The Metalphoto image is more resistant to corrosion than stainless steel in many environments. (One notable exception where steel would be preferrable is extremely alkaline environments.) 

Stainless steel labels attached to aluminum or steel containers often show significantly more corrosion than Metalphoto labels attached to the same materials. A major transportation manufacturer of shipping containers saw this phenomenon several years ago and switched from stainless steel to Metalphoto.

The reason for this is Metalphoto’s durability, which comes from its photographic image that is sealed inside anodized aluminum, offering the uncommon combination of high durability, image resolution and variable information capability. Metalphoto parts remain readable for more than 20 years, even after prolonged exposure to cleaners, salt spray, fuels, heat, humidity, sunlight and abrasion. The National Association of Graphic and Product Identification Manufacturers (GPI) Industry Standards and Practices Manual identifies Metalphoto photosensitive anodized aluminum as the most durable printed aluminum substrate available, citing its applicability for extreme environmental conditions and outdoor exposure.

Metalphoto vs Stainless Steel Saltwater Corrosion Tests Metalphoto vs. Stainless Steel 24 Hours at 700°F Metalphoto Cross-Section

2. Legibility

Misconception: Etched stainless steel plates support detailed, high-resolution graphics.

Truth: Metalphoto graphics are cleaner and higher resolution than etched stainless steel.

Metalphoto is a true, high-resolution photographic technology; unlike etched stainless steel, which is a material removal process. This affords ultra-high image resolution and contrast; making Metalphoto ideal for graphic tolerances other printing methods cannot accommodate. This is especially important for detailed schematics, wiring diagrams, maps, small labels with tight copy or small barcode/data matrix symbols.

Metalphoto vs. Etched Steel 2D Barcode @ 20x

Etched and filled stainless steel is simply unable to consistently reproduce detailed linear and data matrix barcode symbols. As such, Metalphoto is ideal for high-detail, small labels on small surfaces such as guns, sight and communication equipment. Metalphoto also supports security printing features that make it a trusted deterrent for highly counterfeited products and assets. 

Metalphoto Anti-Counterfeit Capabilities

3. Compatibility

Misconception: Only stainless steel labels and nameplates can be attached to steel surfaces without corroding. 

Truth: With proper attachment, Metalphoto provides very good corrosion resistance. 

A common misconception is that attaching an aluminum label to a steel substrate will cause galvanic corrosion. With respect to corrosion resistance, studies by the Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (Marintek), the U.S. Navy, and independent laboratories confirm that when coupled with proper attachment methods, Metalphoto provides no risk of corrosion when affixed to steel. 

The Norwegian Marine Technology Research Institute (Marintek) found that Metalphoto plates showed “very good corrosion resistance” when properly attached to a steel plate and submerged in seawater.  

Marintek found that a barrier layer of plastic or adhesive would be sufficient to minimize the effects of galvanic reaction. Likewise, when using mechanical fasteners, choose a fastener that is compatible with the attachment surface and fill the attachment holes with edge seal; alternately, separate the fastener with an insulating washer.Proper Attachment Methods for Metalphoto 

4. Affordability

Misconception: Etched stainless steel is always the lowest cost option for durable metal nameplates, labels and panels. 

Truth: Metalphoto nameplates can cost 10-20% less than etched and filled stainless steel, especially for variable data and/or runs of fewer than 500 nameplates. 

Metalphoto requires minimal set-up which allows faster turn-around and fewer labor hours per part – making it ideal for unique, customized parts and/or short production runs.

The reason is that Metalphoto’s imaging process is less labor intensive than etching and filling steel because it requires fewer steps. 

Etching steel requires many steps, whereas Metalphoto only requires three steps: expose, develop and seal. 

Moreover, at small volumes, stainless steel’s extra setup requirements add complexity to the manufacturing process, driving up costs at short run quantities.

Therefore, Metalphoto can be imagined by a single operator, cutting both labor time and cost. The result is shorter lead times and lower cost nameplates. 

Metalphoto vs. Stainless Steel : Cost/Quantity Relationship

5. Flexibility

Misconception: The easiest way to produce variable information nameplates is to individually engrave, punch or laser mark stainless steel plates.

Truth: Metalphoto can easily produce variable information tags tailored specifically to what is needed, without additional punching or engraving. 

Metalphoto’s ability to create hundreds, thousands, even millions of unique labels or nameplates is a function of its unique imaging process. Unlike etching and filing steel, where the many processing steps result in prohibitive costs for items containing unique information, Metalphoto’s three step processing makes it economically feasible to process a high volume of unique data plates. The benefit of this process is that Metalphoto labels and nameplates can contain “item-unique” serialized data, one-of-a-kind instructions and/or barcodes of any symbology. These durable barcodes can connect assets to computer systems, reduce data entry errors and enable asset tracking and management. 

Additionally, Metalphoto is available with a variety of physical options that etched and filled steel cannot offer. Metalphoto is available in thicknesses ranging from 0.003” to 0.125” and in four different finishes: matte, stain silver, brushed and mirror-like gloss. Metalphoto is compatible with an array of attachment methods. All these customization options ensure that Metalphoto can meet the requirements of a wide range of applications, and that each Metalphoto part is tailor made for its specific application, perfectly meeting the demands of its intended use.


Metalphoto will perform on par or better with stainless steel over a wide range of applications with the proper attachment methods. Metalphoto has five key advantages over etched stainless steel: durability, legibility, compatibility, affordability and flexibility.

Looking for a custom Metalphoto photosensitive anodized aluminum product? We would be honored to help meet your needs while keeping quality top of mind. STRYKER holds decades of experience in manufacturing with extreme precision and specifications. We are also the only Certified Metalphoto Converter in the state of Wisconsin. 

STRYKER is a third-generation, woman-owned small business that specializes in industrial nameplates and durable customized workwear with in-house screen printing and embroidery services. Our ISO 9001:2015 certification proves we are serious about quality and consistently strive to provide products that meet customer and regulatory requirements along with unmatched customer service. Visit the STRYKER showroom, get a quote or call 920-731-9105 to get started on your project today.