Viscoelastic vs. Viscoplastic

What's the Difference?

Viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials are both types of materials that exhibit time-dependent behavior, but they differ in their response to applied stress. Viscoelastic materials, such as rubber or certain polymers, have both elastic and viscous properties. This means that they can deform under stress but also return to their original shape once the stress is removed. On the other hand, viscoplastic materials, like metals or ceramics, do not exhibit any significant elastic behavior. Instead, they deform permanently under stress, without any recovery upon stress removal. This difference in behavior makes viscoelastic materials more suitable for applications where elasticity and energy absorption are desired, while viscoplastic materials are often used in applications requiring permanent deformation or shaping.


DefinitionMaterial that exhibits both viscous and elastic behaviorMaterial that exhibits both viscous and plastic behavior
Response to StressDeforms under stress and returns to its original shape when stress is removedDeforms under stress but does not fully recover its original shape when stress is removed
Time DependencyBehavior is time-dependent, with the response varying based on the rate of loadingBehavior is not time-dependent, with the response being independent of the rate of loading
CreepExhibits creep, which is the gradual deformation under a constant load over timeExhibits negligible creep, as plastic deformation occurs instead of gradual deformation
RecoveryShows partial recovery after deformation, with some residual strain remainingDoes not show recovery after deformation, as plastic deformation is permanent
ApplicationsUsed in materials like viscoelastic foams, damping materials, and biological tissuesUsed in materials like metals, ceramics, and polymers for plastic deformation processes

Further Detail


Viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials are two distinct types of materials that exhibit different mechanical behaviors under stress. Understanding the attributes of these materials is crucial in various fields, including engineering, materials science, and biomechanics. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials, highlighting their differences and applications.

Viscoelastic Materials

Viscoelastic materials possess both viscous and elastic properties, combining the characteristics of both fluids and solids. When subjected to stress, viscoelastic materials exhibit time-dependent responses, meaning their behavior changes over time. This behavior is often described by a stress-strain relationship that includes both instantaneous elastic deformation and time-dependent viscous flow.

One of the key attributes of viscoelastic materials is their ability to dissipate energy. Due to their viscous nature, these materials can absorb and dissipate energy when subjected to cyclic loading or impact. This property makes viscoelastic materials suitable for applications where energy absorption is critical, such as in shock absorbers, damping systems, and vibration isolation devices.

Viscoelastic materials also exhibit a phenomenon known as stress relaxation. When a constant strain is applied to a viscoelastic material, the stress initially decreases rapidly and then gradually reaches a steady-state value. This relaxation behavior is often exploited in applications where materials need to maintain a constant stress over an extended period, such as in gaskets or seals.

Another important attribute of viscoelastic materials is their ability to exhibit creep. Creep refers to the time-dependent deformation that occurs under a constant stress. This behavior can be observed in materials like polymers, where long-term exposure to stress can lead to permanent deformation. Understanding creep is crucial in designing structures or components that will be subjected to sustained loads over time.

Viscoelastic materials also display a phenomenon called hysteresis, which refers to the energy loss during cyclic loading and unloading. This energy loss is due to the internal friction within the material, resulting in a lag between the applied stress and the resulting strain. Hysteresis is often observed in materials like rubber, and it can be advantageous in applications where damping or energy absorption is desired.

Viscoplastic Materials

Viscoplastic materials, on the other hand, exhibit plastic deformation under stress without any significant recovery upon unloading. Unlike viscoelastic materials, viscoplastic materials do not possess any elastic behavior. When subjected to stress, viscoplastic materials deform permanently, and the deformation is retained even after the stress is removed.

One of the primary attributes of viscoplastic materials is their ability to undergo plastic flow. Plastic flow refers to the permanent deformation that occurs when a material is subjected to stress beyond its yield point. This behavior is often observed in metals and alloys, where plastic deformation is desirable for shaping and forming processes.

Viscoplastic materials also exhibit strain hardening, which refers to an increase in the material's resistance to further deformation as plastic strain accumulates. This attribute is particularly important in applications where materials need to withstand high loads or repetitive plastic deformation, such as in structural components or metal forming dies.

Unlike viscoelastic materials, viscoplastic materials do not exhibit time-dependent behavior. Once the stress is removed, the deformation remains permanent, and the material does not recover its original shape. This attribute makes viscoplastic materials unsuitable for applications where elastic behavior or shape memory is required.

Viscoplastic materials also have a yield stress, which is the stress required to initiate plastic deformation. This yield stress is an important parameter in designing structures or components that need to withstand loads without experiencing permanent deformation. Understanding the yield stress of viscoplastic materials is crucial in ensuring the structural integrity and safety of various engineering applications.

Comparison and Applications

While viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials have distinct attributes, they both find applications in various fields.

Viscoelastic materials, with their ability to dissipate energy, are commonly used in industries such as automotive, aerospace, and sports equipment. They are utilized in shock absorbers, vibration dampers, and protective gear to absorb and reduce the impact of external forces. Viscoelastic materials also find applications in biomedical engineering, where they are used in prosthetics, orthotics, and cushioning materials to provide comfort and support.

Viscoplastic materials, on the other hand, are widely used in metalworking and manufacturing industries. Their ability to undergo plastic deformation allows for shaping and forming processes, such as forging, extrusion, and rolling. Viscoplastic materials are also utilized in structural engineering, where their resistance to further deformation after strain hardening is crucial for ensuring the stability and load-bearing capacity of structures.

It is important to note that the selection of viscoelastic or viscoplastic materials depends on the specific requirements of the application. Factors such as load conditions, time-dependent behavior, energy absorption, and permanent deformation tolerance play a significant role in determining the suitability of each material type.


Viscoelastic and viscoplastic materials exhibit distinct attributes and mechanical behaviors under stress. Viscoelastic materials combine the characteristics of both viscous and elastic materials, displaying time-dependent responses, energy dissipation, stress relaxation, creep, and hysteresis. On the other hand, viscoplastic materials undergo plastic deformation without significant recovery, exhibiting plastic flow, strain hardening, and a yield stress. Understanding the differences between these material types is crucial in selecting the appropriate material for specific applications in various industries.

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