Nowadays the value of each man’s life has increased greatly. Scientists all over the world develop individual defense equipment to make it more reliable and advanced. It’s all about body armor manufactured from different materials, equipped with plates of various types.

Light body armor protects from a pistol bullet, knife, and shrapnel. A heavy one can stop a rifle bullet. Intelligence officers and bodyguards prefer hidden body armor worn under clothing.

Types of Body Armor Plates
Light body armor protects from a pistol bullet, knife, and shrapnel.

How effective is this defense equipment? According to statistics conducted by the US army, the use of body armor by militaries reduces the number of injuries by 60%. The effectiveness depends on the materials armor plates are made of. 

What is Body Armor Plates

Body armors manufacturers use different materials of high durability. These are usually synthetic filaments («ballistic fabrics»), metals (titanium, steel), or ceramics (aluminum oxide, boron carbide). Plates are the main body armor elements that can consist of different types of materials to protect against specific ballistic threats.

Body armors as we know them today appeared in early 1950. Americans invented this equipment first and used it during the Korean War. The first body armor had several layers of high-strength fabrics – nylon. The aim was to protect soldiers from shell and mines fragments, which caused most of the injuries.

The first mass-used body armor (M-1951) was additionally reinforced with aluminum plate. It didn’t defend from bullets, though it well protected the soldier from shrapnel. In the Vietnam War, the standard body armor in the US army was M-1969. It was made of nylon threads.


Modern body armor usually has a modular structure, which allows you to strengthen the protection of certain areas by the special inserts. Lightweight equipment can have no armor inserts at all and protects only from knives and bullets of short-barreled weapons. It is very popular among law enforcement officers and bodyguards.

Body Armor Classes

US National Institute of Justice (NIJ) classifies body armor into six classes. See the details in the table below.

ClassCaliberBullet typeBullet weight (g)Max bullet speed (m/s)
Ispecial 38
round nose
long rifle with high velocity
II-A.357 Magnum
9 mm
full metal jacket
II.357 Magnum
9 mm
full metal jacket
III-A.44 Magnum
9 mm
full metal jacket
III7,62×51 mm  full metal jacket9.7838
IV7,62×63 mm armor-piercing10.8869

NIJ classifies armour plates in two different classes: type three and type four.

Type 3 plate can stop rifle bullets. It must survive three rounds to be approved. Type 4 plate can stop armor-piercing bullets. It will be enough if it survives only after one round. 

Different Types of Body Armor Plates

Armor plate manufacturing is variable in process and materials. The user can choose the plate’s type as well as what it will be made of.


Steel is the most common material the armor plates are made of. Titanium considered being better but it is a little expensive. More often, you can meet tiles manufactured from various alloys. 

Here are the distinguishing features of metals:

  1. Less deformation. Thereby metal plates have an excellent ability to extinguish impulse generated by bullet impact. 
  2. The bullet shatters after hitting the plate. Shell fragments spread across the plate and can damage the objects nearby. 
  3. The bullet depends on the angle it hits the plate can be deflected in various directions hitting surrounding objects and bystanders.


It can seem ceramic to be new material for armor but in fact, it has been used for decades. The ceramic plate is fundamentally different from the metal one:

  1. The bullet shatters after hitting the plate. The plate catches the bullet fragments so they don’t spread around.
  2. The plate locally destroys in the place of catching the fragments. Therefore, it can stop a limited number of bullets that depends on the plate’s damage degree. Despite the small diameter of a bullet, it makes a cavern sized up to three inches. The damaged section of the plate will no longer protect against ballistic threats.
  3. Ceramic is a rather fragile material. For example, it can crack after being dropped. Moreover, what is surprising, the cracks can be invisible to man’s eye. Microcracks make the plate useless and even dangerous as it gives a false sense of security.

No doubt, the main advantage of ceramic plate is weight – approximately 7.5 pounds. 


Polyethylene as a syntactic material exists for decades but its durability leaves much to be desired. Armor plates manufactured of polyethylene dates back to 1980th. However, at that time they were too big. Today we have a technology that permits us to make a plate durable and thin at the same time.

Prime Armor Level 3 Ballistic Plate Test and Review

Here are the distinguishing features of hard polyethylene plate: 

  1. The friction of bullet on polyethylene leads to the melting of the plate material. The bullet stops, polyethylene in this sector cools and becomes solid again. Thus, the armor «absorbs» the projectile.
  2. Unlike the ceramic, polyethylene plate can stop many bullets, as its integrity is not broken.
  3. Such plates are lightweight – no more than 3.5 pounds. 

There are disadvantages too:

  1. At this moment, no technology exists to make a compact polyethylene plate that meets the requirements for type 4 (protection from armor-piercing bullets).
  2. Price. Polyethylene plate is 25% more expensive than the ceramic one.


When we speak about hybrid plates, we mean the compound of steel and hard polyethylene. The main idea of the multilayer hybrid is to make the plate highly durable and not as heavy as the steel one. 

Hybrid plates have durability and stop multiple hits of almost all non-armor-piercing projectile. They meet the requirements only for type 3. 


Choosing armor plates, we select between the level of protection, weight, and price. Let’s summarize the information given in this article:

ProtectionTypes 3-4Types 3-4Type 3Type 3
DurabilityVery durableLess durableVery durableVery durable
WeightHeavyLightweightMuch lighter than ceramicLighter than metal
PriceDepends on the type of metalMore expensive than steelMore expensive than ceramicMore expensive than steel

The body armor industry has been developing and will develop in the future. Nanocomposite materials are in the focus of scientists and researchers working on armor plates. They are straight and lightweight at the same time surpassing all known materials.