From the very beginning of its inception to this very day, plastic has served both its domestic and commercial consumers in numerous ways. While many people are simply familiar with the general word ‘Plastic’, very few know about its types and its extended qualities.
In this article, we strive to focus our discussion on to some of the most famous and widely used types of plastic, namely ‘Acrylic’ and ‘Polycarbonate’, the key components that make them different, their usage and applications; and also at some other related sub-types such as plexiglass and their respective qualities.
What is ‘Acrylic’?
‘Acrylic’ or ‘acrylic plastic’ or ‘acrylic glass’ is a type of plastic which to much extent resembles the traditional glass in more than one way. Although it bears many properties of the traditional glass, acrylic glass boasts more transparency and weighs almost fifty percent less than traditional glass.
While the acrylic itself can be put to many different applications, this transparent thermoplastic is mostly used in the form of sheets as a light weight and shatter impact resistant substitute to traditional glass.
Acrylic vs Plexiglass – the misconception
While the terms ‘acrylic’ and ‘plexiglass’ are used interchangeably and many people consider them the same, they are both different.
Most commonly, acrylic transparent sheets are known by the name of one of their most famous brand names called ‘Plexiglass’ with which it is traded.
So in other words, plexiglass means acrylic but acrylic does not mean plexiglass.
What is ‘Polycarbonate’?
‘Polycarbonate’ is another form of plastic. Polycarbonate denotes a group of thermoplastic polymers that have sets of carbonate particles in their chemical formation.
Much like acrylic plastic, polycarbonate plastic also has the quality of being light weight while being able to deliver heavy performance by combining a balance mix of factors like optical clarity, dimensional stability, excellent electrical insulation and high heat resistance.
Polycarbonates used in engineering works can easily be molded, worked and thermoformed.
Difference between acrylic and polycarbonate
In the practical world, both acrylic and polycarbonate forms of plastic are widely used and both play an important role in their own domain.
But definitely both these plastic types have a few critical differences as well which gives them an edge over each other but also provides a reason of why they should be preferred over using traditional glass when it comes selecting between the right type for any particular kind of job.
When it comes to strength, both acrylic and polycarbonate tend to be stronger than glass for having the ability to bear impact resistance at a greater level than glass while also each one being almost half the weight of an equivalent size of a traditional glass sheet.
As a matter of fact, the impact resistance strength of an acrylic glass sheet is 10 times to that of a traditional glass. This strength increases in the case of polycarbonate whose impact resistance strength is 250 times more than that of glass, making it a superior impact resistor than acrylic as well.
Acrylic also comes in inflexible form whereas polycarbonate is available in non-rigid grades.
Under conditions of high pressure, polycarbonates sheets remain intact while acrylic sheets have more chances of being easily cracked.
For example, riot police shields are made from polycarbonate plastic to withstand any form of high force and impact.
When compared with the clarity of traditional glass, both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets tend to be more transparent than traditional glass sheets but among each other, acrylic has more clarity than polycarbonate.
The light transmittance of acrylic is 92% whereas it is 88% for a sheet of polycarbonate.
Both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets can be used for glazing as well.
If an acrylic sheet wears off its clarity, it can be polished to bring back its clarity. Polycarbonates cannot be polished if they lose their clarity due to any reason.
3. Chemical resistance
While acrylic glass sheet is resistant to most chemical compounds such as detergents, inorganic chemicals, diluted acids, hydrocarbons, its chemical resistance is not that good as that of polycarbonate.
On the other hand, polycarbonate is highly resistant to chemicals such mineral acids, organic acids, salt solutions, saturated hydrocarbons and alcohols, and gasoline, waxes and oils.
4. Temperature resistance
When it comes to adjusting to the temperatures of the space where these plastic types are to be used, acrylic glass sheets can be used between a temperature range of -30⁰ F to 190⁰ F.
Contrary to this, polycarbonate sheets can resist temperatures as high as 240⁰ F.
Both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets may expand or contract slightly due to changes in temperature levels of their surroundings.
5. Ease of use
Unlike traditional glass sheets, both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets can be easily used.
Due to their light weight, they can be easily placed on heights such as when used for roofing purposes. While they both have more impact resistance level than glass, they are still capable of easily being cut as per the requirement using the same ordinary tools as used for cutting traditional glass sheets and do not require any special equipment or workshop facility.
6. Drill friendly
While drilling can be an essential point to make joints between two pieces of acrylic or polycarbonate sheet, if not done with due care drilling can cause damage to the acrylic sheet for more than one reason.
By using an inappropriate drill bit that is not intended to be used with plastic sheets or by drilling too close to the edge of an acrylic sheet, an acrylic sheet can easily get damaged.
This is not the case with polycarbonate sheets. While using the correct drill bit is important, polycarbonate sheets stand less chance of getting damaged when drilled on the edges.
Acrylic glass sheets can be bent by applying heat to its surface to form any customized shape or form.
Although polycarbonate sheets can also be bent, they do not require heat for this purpose and can be easily bent or shaped under normal temperatures without breaking or cracking.
8. Polishing for smoothness
For a better and smoother surface, acrylic glass sheets can be polished while polycarbonate sheets cannot be.
9. Clean sticking
While both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets can be stuck or glued to make a joint using the right adhesive or cement for the purpose, the joints in an acrylic sheet seem cleaner than that of polycarbonate sheets.
10. Cost factor analysis
As far as the production costs of both acrylic and polycarbonate are concerned, the cost to produce acrylic sheets is as much as 35% less than that of producing polycarbonate sheets.
In terms of transportation costs, both are almost half as heavy as a traditional glass sheet and more impact resistant, thus transportation costs as well as any in transit damage costs become negligible when compared with that of glass.
11. Easier to clean and maintain
While using any kind of solvents is altogether formidable on any kind of plastic sheet and not just acrylic and polycarbonate, when specifically comparing the cleaning of acrylic and polycarbonate surfaces, choice of cleaning liquids as well as equipment should not be ignored.
Remember that it is quite easy to clean and maintain both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets.
So for cleaning acrylic glass sheets, the best idea would be to use cotton or any other soft microfiber piece of cloth with either an acrylic cleaning liquid or warm soap water. Do not use any other liquid or hard piece of cloth to clean the acrylic surface as it will only damage it.
For cleaning polycarbonate surfaces, tough duty cleaners can be used with any choice of fabric material that can be easily used for cleaning.
When it comes to durability, both acrylic and polycarbonate sheets tend to resist weather and any other wear and tear factors to much extent.
To avoid any scratch on their surface, one should never make a contact with its surface with any kind of abrasive material.
When exposed to external weather and direct sunlight, acrylic glass sheets do not turn yellow or fade away and lose their transparency as it happens in the case of traditional glass.
When it comes to fire and heat resistance, polycarbonate sheets can resist fires and heats level at a higher rate than acrylic sheets. This fire resistant quality makes polycarbonate an excellent choice to be used in certain industries. For this reason, direct fire flame or areas where flames are usually present or occur; use of acrylic sheets is not suggested.
13. Consumer products
Extensive data collected on the use of acrylic and polycarbonate both have shown no signs of any hazards and are therefore considered safe for use in making any type of product which comes in direct contact with human food.
Types of acrylic and polycarbonate sheets
While each different type of acrylic and polycarbonate sheets is suitable for a different task and explaining each here won’t be feasible, we have still managed to compile a list of some of the most important types of both for your ease.
While planning to buy the right characteristic sheet, you might want to search a bit more about each of these.
Types of acrylic sheets
- Cast acrylic sheet
- Continuous cast acrylic sheet
- Extruded acrylic sheet
- Sign grade acrylic sheet
- Marine grade acrylic sheet
- Acrylic mirror sheet
- White acrylic sheet
- Abrasion resistant acrylic sheet
- Solar tinted acrylic sheet
- Textured acrylic sheet
Types of polycarbonate sheets
- Clear polycarbonate sheet
- Bulletproof polycarbonate sheet
- Abrasion resistant polycarbonate sheet
- Anti-static polycarbonate sheet
- Mirrored polycarbonate sheet
- Colored or tinted polycarbonate sheet
Applications of polycarbonate
While being strong and flexible is also important, the following list comprises some of the most significant uses of the versatility of polycarbonate to serve multiple purposes.
- Polycarbonate is used in making molds for casting urethane and silicone
- It is used for making industrial machinery guards
- In the automobile industry, car makers use it extensively to make different kinds of vehicle parts such as windshields and headlights
- Polycarbonate is also used in making telephone and computer cases and covers
- Polycarbonate is also used in making stationary such as scales/rulers, fountain pens, ball pens, writing boards, stationary boxes, etc.
- Polycarbonate is also used to make bullet proof glass sheets
- Polycarbonate is also used to make luggage bags
- Polycarbonate is also used in making eyewear. This is because polycarbonate is lighter than glass, more scratch resistant, has a natural ultra violet filter, is less likely to break and therefore allows safety. Other than being used for eye protection, polycarbonate is also used to make projectile resistant viewing and lighting applications that require much higher impact resistance and therefore makes it more preferable than using glass.
While both acrylic and polycarbonate have similar qualities, their only difference is between the levels of each quality which each of these plastic materials have to offer.
For example, while both acrylic and polycarbonate are more impact resistant than glass and both can be deployed at a place where there is more traffic and security is of high concern, polycarbonate beats acrylic in being more scratch and impact resistant.