Exploring the Four Primary Head Types for Pressure Vessels

types of heads for pressure vessels

Numerous industries rely on pressure vessels, and their design and construction involve various critical components. The vessel head is one such component, which serves as the end closure of the vessel. In this article, we will explore the four most common types of heads used for pressure vessels, their characteristics, and their applications.

Elliptical Heads (or 2:1 Elliptical Heads):


  • Shape: Elliptical heads are characterized by their elliptical or football-like shape, with the major axis being twice the length of the minor axis, resulting in a 2:1 aspect ratio.
  • Stress Distribution: The elliptical shape offers a smooth transition from the cylindrical body of the vessel, which reduces stress concentrations, making them suitable for high-pressure applications.
  • Strength: They provide good structural integrity, making them a reliable choice for pressure vessels.
  • Elliptical heads are among the most commonly used head shapes in pressure vessels.
  • They have a distinctive elliptical or football-like shape, with a major axis twice the length of the minor axis, hence the name “2:1 elliptical.”
  • These heads offer a smooth transition from the cylindrical body of the vessel, reducing stress concentrations.
  • Moreover, Elliptical heads provide good structural integrity and are well-suited for high-pressure applications.


  • Elliptical heads find widespread use in various industries, including petrochemical, oil and gas, and power generation.
  • They are suitable for pressure vessels such as boilers, storage tanks, and heat exchangers.

Hemispherical Heads:


  • Shape: Hemispherical heads have a semi-spherical shape, resembling half of a complete sphere. This shape provides a uniform curvature.
  • Stress Distribution: The uniform curvature results in excellent stress distribution, making hemispherical heads ideal for containing high-pressure gases or liquids.
  • Strength: They offer the highest possible strength among head shapes.
  • Hemispherical heads have a semi-spherical shape and provide excellent stress distribution due to their uniform curvature.
  • They offer a large volume-to-surface area ratio, making them efficient for containing high-pressure gases or liquids.
  • Additionally, Hemispherical heads provide the highest possible strength among head shapes.


  • These heads are commonly used in applications where maximum pressure containment is required, such as high-pressure gas storage vessels, industrial autoclaves, and some types of nuclear reactors.

Torispherical Heads (or ASME F&D Heads):


  • Shape: Torispherical heads combine a spherical crown with a conical knuckle, resulting in a head shape that resembles a squashed sphere.
  • Stress Distribution: This design offers good stress distribution, making them suitable for a wide range of pressure vessel applications.
  • Flexibility: The knuckle radius can be adjusted to meet specific design requirements.
  • Torispherical heads combine a spherical crown with a conical knuckle, resulting in a head shape resembling a squashed sphere.
  • They offer good strength and stress distribution, making them suitable for a wide range of pressure vessel applications.
  • Furthermore, the knuckle radius can be adjusted to meet specific design requirements.


  • Torispherical heads are versatile and used in various industries, including chemical processing, food and beverage, and pharmaceuticals.
  • They are often chosen for medium to high-pressure vessels like storage tanks, distillation columns, and reactors.

Flat Heads (or Dished Heads):


  • Shape: Flat heads are essentially flat plates used as the heads of pressure vessels.
  • Simplicity: They are the simplest and most economical head shape in terms of manufacturing and installation.
  • Pressure Limitation: Flat heads are typically used for low-pressure or atmospheric vessels due to their limited pressure containment capability.
  • Flat heads are essentially flat plates used as heads in pressure vessels.
  • They are the simplest and most economical head shape.
  • Moreover, flat heads can be easily manufactured and installed, making them suitable for low-pressure or atmospheric vessels.


  • Flat heads are commonly found in applications where pressure containment is not a primary concern, such as atmospheric storage tanks, some types of silos, and vessels for bulk material handling.

The selection of a head type for a pressure vessel is a critical engineering decision that takes into account factors like the vessel’s intended purpose, operating conditions, and design specifications. Each of these common head types offers unique advantages in terms of stress distribution, pressure containment, and cost-effectiveness, making them suitable for various applications across different industries. Properly chosen and designed heads ensure the safety, efficiency, and reliability of pressure vessels in diverse industrial settings.

Need a reliable partner?

Red River specializes in the design and manufacturing of pressure vessels. We also fabricate related items such as prefabricated spools and skid packages.

Reach Out to us today and experience the Red River difference. Where American Made and American Values come together, we care more

FAQ: Common Types of Heads for Pressure Vessels

1. What are the different functions of various pressure vessel heads?

Different types of pressure vessel heads are designed to meet specific needs and functions. For instance, hemispherical heads offer the best resistance to pressure, making them ideal for high-pressure applications. Ellipsoidal heads, on the other hand, are often used when height constraints are a concern, as they have a lower profile than hemispherical heads. Torispherical heads are commonly used for their cost-effectiveness and are suitable for moderate pressure conditions. Flat heads, while not as common due to their lower pressure tolerance, are used in applications where internal pressure is minimal.

2. How does the choice of a pressure vessel head affect its durability and maintenance?

The durability and maintenance requirements of a pressure vessel significantly depend on the type of head used. Hemispherical heads, with their even stress distribution, tend to have longer lifespans and lower maintenance needs. Ellipsoidal and torispherical heads, while durable, may require more frequent inspections, particularly at the knuckle regions where stress concentrations can occur. Flat heads are generally less durable under pressure and might need more regular maintenance checks to ensure integrity, especially in applications involving cyclic pressure variations.

3. Can the type of head affect the overall cost of a pressure vessel?

Yes, the type of head can impact the cost of a pressure vessel. Hemispherical heads, while offering excellent durability and pressure resistance, are typically more expensive due to their complex manufacturing process. Torispherical heads are often more cost-effective due to their simpler design and easier fabrication process. Ellipsoidal heads strike a balance between performance and cost. The choice of head should consider both the initial fabrication cost and the long-term maintenance expenses.

4. Are there specific materials better suited for certain types of pressure vessel heads?

The choice of material for a pressure vessel head depends on the application, pressure requirements, and the type of head. For high-pressure applications, especially with hemispherical heads, materials with high tensile strength and ductility, such as stainless steel or carbon steel, are preferred. For lower pressure applications, where flat heads might be used, materials like aluminum can be sufficient. The corrosive nature of the contents and operating temperature also play a crucial role in material selection.

5. How do regulations and standards influence the design and selection of pressure vessel heads?

Regulations and standards such as the ASME Boiler and Pressure Vessel Code significantly influence the design and selection of pressure vessel heads. These standards ensure safety, reliability, and efficiency by specifying design criteria, material selection, fabrication processes, and testing requirements. Compliance with these standards is crucial, not only for legal and safety reasons but also for ensuring the vessel’s performance and longevity. The type of head must meet the specific requirements set forth for the intended application and operating conditions.


In the realm of industrial solutions, Red River emerges as a pioneer, offering a diverse range of custom-engineered products and facilities. Among our specialties is the design and production of Custom/OEM Pressure Vessels, meticulously crafted to meet individual client requirements, ensuring performance under various pressure conditions. Our expertise extends to the domain of prefabrication, where Red River leads with distinction.

The company excels in creating prefabricated facilities, modules, and packages, reinforcing its stance as a forerunner in innovation and quality. This proficiency is further mirrored in their Modular Skids offering, where they provide an array of Modular Fabricated Skid Packages and Packaged equipment. Each piece is tailored to client specifications, underlining their commitment to delivering precision and excellence in every project they undertake.

Pressure Vessel line art

Pressure Vessels

Custom/OEM Pressure Vessels designed to fit your needs.

Prefabrication line art


Red River is a leader in prefabricated facilities, modules and packages.

Modular skid line art

Modular Skids

Modular Fabricated Skid Packages and Packaged equipment manufactured to your specifications.


Need action? Ready to Get Started?

We are here to make it happen. Request a quote!