Simulation of dislocations in aluminium. Only non-crystalline atoms are shown.

Since the dislocation density increases with plastic deformation, a mechanism for the creation of dislocations must be activated in the material. Three mechanisms for dislocation formation are homogeneous nucleation, grain boundary initiation, and interfaces between the lattice and the surface, precipitates, dispersed phases, or reinforcing fibers.

Irregularities at the grain boundaries in materials can produce dislocations which propagate into the grain. The steps and ledges at the grain boundary are an important source of dislocations in the early stages of plastic deformation.

The Frank–Read source is a mechanism that is able to produce a stream of dislocations from a pinned segment of a dislocation. Stress bows the dislocation segment, expanding until it creates a dislocation loop that breaks free from the source.

The surface of a crystal can produce dislocations in the crystal. Due to the small steps on the surface of most crystals, stress in some regions on the surface is much larger than the average stress in the lattice. This stress leads to dislocations. The dislocations are then propagated into the lattice in the same manner as in grain boundary initiation. In single crystals, the majority of dislocations are formed at the surface. The dislocation density 200 micrometres into the surface of a material has been shown to be six times higher than the density in the bulk. However, in polycrystalline materials the surface sources do not have a major effect because most grains are not in contact with the surface.

Geometrically necessary dislocations are arrangements of dislocations that can accommodate a limited degree of plastic bending in a crystalline material. Tangles of dislocations are found at the early stage of deformation and appear as non well-defined boundaries; the process of dynamic recovery leads eventually to the formation of a cellular structure containing boundaries with misorientation lower than 15° (low angle grain boundaries).

Adding pinning points that inhibit the motion of dislocations, such as alloying elements, can introduce stress fields that ultimately strengthen the material by requiring a higher applied stress to overcome the pinning stress and continue dislocation motion.

During positive climb, the crystal shrinks in the direction perpendicular to the extra half plane of atoms because atoms are being removed from the half plane. Since negative climb involves an addition of atoms to the half plane, the crystal grows in the direction perpendicular to the half plane. Therefore, compressive stress in the direction perpendicular to the half plane promotes positive climb, while tensile stress promotes negative climb. This is one main difference between slip and climb, since slip is caused by only shear stress.

One additional difference between dislocation slip and climb is the temperature dependence. Climb occurs much more rapidly at high temperatures than low temperatures due to an increase in vacancy motion. Slip, on the other hand, has only a small dependence on temperature.

Dislocation avalanches occur when multiple simultaneous movement of dislocations occur.

Two main types of mobile dislocations exist: edge and screw. Dislocations found in real materials are typically mixed, meaning that they have characteristics of both.

Schematic diagram (lattice planes) showing an edge dislocation. Burgers vector in black, dislocation line in blue.

A crystalline material consists of a regular array of atoms, arranged into lattice planes. An edge dislocation is a defect where an extra half-plane of atoms is introduced midway through the crystal, distorting nearby planes of atoms. When enough force is applied from one side of the crystal structure, this extra plane passes through planes of atoms breaking and joining bonds with them until it reaches the grain boundary. The dislocation has two properties, a line direction, which is the direction running along the bottom of the extra half plane, and the Burgers vector which describes the magnitude and direction of distortion to the lattice. In an edge dislocation, the Burgers vector is perpendicular to the line direction.

Kinks are steps in a dislocation line parallel to glide planes. Unlike jogs, they facilitate glide by acting as a nucleation point for dislocation movement. The lateral spreading of a kink from the nucleation point allows for forward propagation of the dislocation while only moving a few atoms at a time, reducing the overall energy barrier to slip.

Dissociation of a pair of dislocations due to shearing (red arrows) of an hexagonal crystal in 2D. A dislocation in 2D consists of a bound pair of five-folded (green) and seven-folded (orange) coordination number.
Etch Pits formed on the ends of dislocations in silicon, orientation (111)

If the material is deformed and repeatedly re-etched, a series of etch pits can be produced which effectively trace the movement of the dislocation in question.