The Difference in Appearance of Stainless Steel vs. Inconel

Linda Richard

Inconel, a product of Special Metals Corp., has a nickel, chromium and molybdenum composition. Inconel is resistant to corrosion and pitting and comes in several different alloys. Stainless steel is composed of carbon, manganese, phosphorus, sulfur, silicone, chromium and nickel.

Both Inconel and stainless steel use a numbering system for different alloys and strengths. These products have silver finishes, but different textures create matte or shiny surfaces.


Inconel is used in fine wire that can be subjected to corrosion, and is sometimes used for chain maille jewelry. This metal alloy is lighter weight than stainless steel. Although the appearance of stainless and Inconel might be the same, the difference in weight is obvious. For instance, the Reel Deal fishing line is made of Inconel, and is easy to retrieve, corrosion-resistant and doesn’t kink. Inconel looks like silver metal, but the way it responds as fishing line isn't the same as stainless steel. Stainless steel line or wire retains the rounds created on the reel whereas Inconel remains straight when unwound.


Inconel is more expensive than stainless steel. For example, exhaust valves for fast cars cost $150 more than stainless, at the time of publication. Special Metals Corp., the inventor of Inconel, sells this alloy in flat sheets, pipes, tubes, flat bars, wire and other shapes. Special Metals shows production of 25 qualities of Inconel. Each product has different characteristics and a different price.


Inconel's corrosion-resistance and strength while hot are its most distinguishing features, essential for jet engines and exhaust systems. Automobile manufacturers use Inconel for superior exhausts and valves as well as spark plugs, sensors and safety devices. Pollution control is one of the newer uses for Inconel. Its corrosion resistance and strength while hot make it ideal for stack liners, scrubbers and boiler tubing in industrial settings. Inconel alloys can be superficially textured for a matte finish or smoothed for a shiny metal finish, much like stainless steel. Inconel withstands heat better than stainless and resists pitting, making it a superior product for some industrial uses.


Inconel fasteners provide strength and corrosion resistance for industry and individuals. Aerospace and automotive engineering industries use Inconel alloys for electrical resistance heating, thermal processing, heat treatment and electronics. The chemical and petrochemical industries also use Inconel. This alloy is ideal for marine engineering and oil and gas extraction because of corrosion resistance. Inconel is attractive for chain maille jewelry, but contains nickel, a common allergen. Nickel whitens metals, including white gold, and some jewelry lovers can’t wear white gold or Inconel. Chain maille jewelry made of Inconel is lighter weight than it appears, and does not discolor with skin contact. Because of the cost of Inconel, jewelry costs more to weigh less. Inconel jewelry looks like stainless steel, but feels more like aluminum in weight.