Choosing the Right Metal for Your Custom Enclosure


6 min read

Choosing the Right Metal for Your Custom Enclosure

The test labs in your organization are bound to be filled with custom enclosures. Whether you're building the lab from the ground up or reworking one to better suit your next project, you'll need plenty of enclosures to populate your control/test systems needed to analyze your work. One of the first steps in the designing process is choosing the right metal for your custom enclosure.

In this blog post, we will examine some factors to consider when deciding which metal is the best choice for your project. Following that, we’ll review each of our metal options in detail so that you can make an informed choice when starting your next design.

A variety of factors will come into play when deciding which material is right for your unique design:

Environmental Conditions

If you’ll be using your custom enclosure for testing outdoors, you’ll want to choose an ultra-durable, corrosion-resistant metal, along with the proper finishes.

One of the biggest factors to think about when choosing the right metal for your custom enclosure is corrosion resistance. Metals will corrode at different rates when exposed to heat, UV light, harsh chemicals, or moisture.


Of course, for any enclosure you design, particularly in the prototyping stage, function should always trump form. However, having an aesthetically appealing and professional-looking prototype could be the difference-maker when seeking approval and buzz from your colleagues, stakeholders, and prospective clients.

Each of our metal options offers their own unique strengths when it comes to aesthetics, to help you along further, we offer a wide variety of custom finishing options too. Most metals will be visually in-discriminable if the same finish (particularly powdercoat) is applied. The right combination for your unique project can truly bring your design to the next level visually.


Weight can also be a crucial factor in determining the most suitable material for your custom enclosure. As an example, when building your test lab you'll often have your custom enclosures stacked on a rack, one on top of the other. If the enclosures are too heavy, it could cause some serious chaos and unwanted damages.

So, the weight of your enclosure could end up being a very important consideration, especially when factoring in the additional weight of your electronics/components once you’ve completed the final build.

The Metals We Offer

Now that we’ve reviewed all the different factors that will go into the decision-making as you complete the preliminary work of designing your custom enclosure, we can now examine each of our stocked sheet metals, and their best use cases.

  1. Cold Rolled Steel

Cold Rolled Steel is ideal for general purpose indoor enclosures. However, it will rust if not coated, so bare metal and grained finishes are not recommended. It can be extremely durable indoors when finished with powdercoat. However, it is not inherently corrosion resistant. Cold Rolled Steel will degrade quickly in harsh or wet environments and is therefore not ideal for outdoor use. It is a very stiff metal compared to aluminum.  For its structural integrity, it is an excellent cost-effective option.

  1. Stainless Steel

Stainless Steel is the premium solution to corrosion resistance. This is because of its chromium and nickel content. However, that chromium and nickel come at a cost and makes Stainless Steel more expensive than Cold-Rolled Steel, Aluminum or Galvanneal. It is a great choice general purpose enclosures when corrosion or aesthetics are a concern.

  1. Aluminum

Aluminum is corrosion resistant and lightweight. Its lower stiffness will require a thicker gauge to match that of steel. Finishing options include bare metal, grained finish or powdercoat. If electrical contact is required in your design, the aluminum must be chem-filmed (chromate coated). Chem film can also increase the durability of the Aluminum. Anodizing can be completed to provide a durable oxide coating. Consider Aluminum where minimum weight and/or corrosion resistance are your key priorities.

We carry two different kinds of Aluminum, 5052 Aluminum – H32 and 6061 Aluminum – T6.  For sheet-metal parts, 5052 is preferred, as the metal can bend to a tighter radius than 6061 without cracking. For CNC machined enclosures, 6061 Aluminum is ideal, because the material is softer and more is easily milled.

  1. Galvanneal

Galvanneal is a low-carbon steel that is coated with zinc and then annealed in order for the zinc to bond into the substrate, via diffusion. This prevents it from flaking off when formed or bent. The finish acts as a primer and thus easily adheres to paint, while also creating a rust-proof surface. Overall, Galvanneal offers good paintability, corrosion resistance, and formability.

5.  Copper

While we do offer Copper within our sheet-metal offerings, it is very rarely used as the material option for an enclosure. Copper offers excellent electrical conductivity; however, it is extremely soft and thus not ideal to form an enclosure.

Customers typically use Copper for bus bars or miscellaneous parts. Contact us to discuss your options.


When designing a custom enclosure for your specific prototyping/testing projects, it’s important to start on the right foot by choosing the metal that will best suit your unique needs.

To recap, here are a few good questions to guide you:

Contact one of our friendly and knowledgeable account managers to get started with us today.

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