The paper shows that both the inward and outward bulge-type axisymmetric shape imperfections can significantly lower the buckling strength of steel conical shells. The FE results are provided for: (i) axial compression, (ii) external pressure, and (iii) combined action of both loads. Sensitivity of buckling loads to outward bulges has not been generally known or expected. It is shown that the sensitivity of buckling load depends not only on the shape, amplitude but also on the position of the imperfection along the slant.
Geometry of recently tested cones was also used in order to assess the influence of measured shape deviations on the buckling strength. The amplitudes of imperfections in these machined models were small (up to 5 % of wall thickness). As a result their influence on the buckling strength was found to be negligible.