Abstract As failure criterion for sheet metal forming, conventional forming limit diagrams (FLD) are often used. The FLD is a strain based criterion, which evaluates the principal deformations at failure. Different investigations show that the FLD is dependent on the forming history and strain path. However, this is not the case for forming limit stress diagrams (FLSD). For this failure criterion, the principal stresses at failure are determined by FEM simulation of the Nakazima-test. Both, the FLD and the FLSD experimental investigations provide the basis for the sheet metal failure criterion. In contrast, continuum damage mechanics describe the damage evolution in the microstructure with physical equations, so that crack initiation due to mechanical loading can be predicted. By using the Gurson–Tvergaard–Needleman (GTN) damage mechanical model, a failure criterion based on void evolution was examined in this work. The parameter identification for the damage model will be discussed. The investigations demonstrate that FLD is inapplicable for complex forming processes with strain path changes. The FLSD is better suitable than the FLD for multi step forming processes. Micro-mechanical damage modelling with the GTN model also shows acceptable formability predictions, in spite of its generally insufficient consideration of the effective deviatoric stress fractions. The quality of failure prediction using continuum damage mechanics models is able to be increased by applying a more suitable damage models and a modern overall-scale modelling approach.