Brass vs Nickel Plated Brass Cases for Ammo & Reloading

Not sure to go with standard brass or the shinier nickel plated cases?  We’ll go over the pros and cons of each with regards to ammo and reloading.

Brass vs Nickel, Predator Masters
Brass vs Nickel, Predator Masters

Why Brass?

Brass is an alloy made from a mixture of copper and zinc.  It’s the primary case material for most cartridges for a couple of reasons:

  • Cheap
  • Soft enough to expand and fill a chamber
  • Not soft enough to split
  • Does not scratch gun parts
  • Does not spark with other metals
  • Reloadable many times

Cons of Brass Cases

We went over the numerous advantages of brass cases, but the one large con of brass cases is that they tarnish, especially when repeatedly handled, stored in adverse conditions, or kept in leather holsters.

Tarnished Brass Cases
Tarnished Brass Cases

What is Nickel Plated Brass?

Brass vs Nickel Plated Brass Casings
Brass vs Nickel Plated Brass Casings

Nickel plated brass is just that…it is regular brass that covered by a thin layer of nickel through electroplating.

Fun random fact, as of the end of 2013, it costs 9 cents to produce a US nickel coin which is 25% nickel and 75% copper.

Advantages of Nickel Plated Brass Cases

There’s a reason that many high end defensive ammo such as the Federal Hydra Shok 9mm above have gone towards nickel plated brass:

  • More corrosion resistant
  • Lower coefficient of friction which allows slicker feeding in semi-autos (easier sliding rounds on top of each other in the magazine)
  • Easier loading/unloading in revolvers
  • Looks pretty/different which allows easier identification of brass at the range or designation of a special load

Disadvantages of Nickel Plated Brass Cases

Split Nickel Plated Brass Case, Smith & Wesson Forum
Split Nickel Plated Brass Case, Smith & Wesson Forum
  • More expensive than regular brass
  • More brittle so may neck split/crack after fewer reloads
  • Different metal properties may require modification of reloading dies (check length and crimp)
  • Plating may flake and get into dies where it can scratch die and future rounds


The advantages of nickel plated brass are numerous and we believe you can use all the things you can get in choosing defensive ammo.  Nickel plated brass should be more corrosion resistant, offer slicker feeding, and designate your defensive rounds easier.  And remember to always periodically test out your defensive rounds!

The disadvantages of nickel are all centered around reloading.  We have some nickel cases in our reloads and haven’t found the necks more brittle.  But then again, we don’t reload more then 3-5 times before we lose the brass for good at competitions.

We find that regular yellow brass works fine for plinking and competing, but if you are reloading, just be sure to double-check the entire nickel case each time, clean out your dies, and check your length/crimps.  Or, just get a new set of dies for nickel cases only.


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brian Fortin
brian Fortin

You forgot a big difference in reloading. If you wet tumble, and you mix brass and nickel, you can end up with discolored brass. This is especially so with missing a few aluminum or steel casings, which are liable to ruin the appearance of both the nickel and brass casings. Bottom line, use a magnet to find the steel casings, you can’t afford to miss a single one, and clean your nickel and brass separately.


I think most discoloration comes from chemicals that are commonly used when wet-tumbling cases like Lemi-Shine, which is a “detergent booster”. Most of those products contain some ammonia which some claim will “draw out” the zinc from brass cases and cause a pinkish tint/discoloration but I’ve seen it happen more with steel cases than brass cases. I tend to think the leftover powder residues, which are all metals or metallic oxides combined with the various metals in the cases and possibly the “stainless steel” tumbling media often used which tends to be very “ferrous” so-called “stainless steel” and is highly… Read more »


Do you know of any particular brass that is just better made for reloading? Or worse to reload? I have found that Federal primer pockets are often tighter which makes them harder to reload without swaging.

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