Introduction To assess an optimized 3D imaging protocol for intracranial nitinol stents in 3D C-arm flat detector imaging. For this purpose, an image quality simulation and an in vitro study was carried out. Methods Nitinol stents of various brands were placed inside an anthropomorphic head phantom, using iodine contrast. Experiments with objects were preceded by image quality and dose simulations. We varied X-ray imaging parameters in a commercially interventional X-ray system to set 3D image quality in the contrast–noise–sharpness space. Beam quality was varied to evaluate contrast of the stents while keeping absorbed dose below recommended values. Two detector formats were used, paired with an appropriate pixel size and X-ray focus size. Zoomed reconstructions were carried out and snapshot images acquired. High contrast spatial resolution was assessed with a CT phantom. Results We found an optimal protocol for imaging intracranial nitinol stents. Contrast resolution was optimized for nickel–titanium-containing stents. A high spatial resolution larger than 2.1 lp/mm allows struts to be visualized. We obtained images of stents of various brands and a representative set of images is shown. Independent of the make, struts can be imaged with virtually continuous strokes. Measured absorbed doses are shown to be lower than 50 mGy Computed Tomography Dose Index (CTDI). Conclusion By balancing the modulation transfer of the imaging components and tuning the high-contrast imaging capabilities, we have shown that thin nitinol stent wires can be reconstructed with high contrast-to-noise ratio and good detail, while keeping radiation doses within recommended values. Experimental results compare well with imaging simulations.