All You Need to Know About Clear Plastics

Clear plastics are among the most common manufacturing materials. Designers and manufacturers alike use clear plastics (Transparent polymers) instead of glass when glass would be too weak or heavy to get the job done. It’s worth noting though that there are many different varieties of clear plastics, each with their own advantages and disadvantages.

Acrylic or Clear Plastics?

Given all the different choices of clear plastics available, it’s hardly surprising so many don’t understand all the differences. The individual kinds of clear plastics are made with different materials and manufacturing processes, creating a range of price points for the different plastics. We’re here to clear away the confusion by answering some of the most common questions such as looking at the difference between acrylic and plastic, and whether plastic, acrylic, and glass would be better. For a start, acrylic is indeed a kind of plastic, but not every kind of plastic is acrylic. “Acrylic” is a term that is used to describe a family of petroleum-based thermoplastics created through the derivation of natural gases. Acrylic is also known as “polyacrylate”, which is the most common form of acrylic. It is made with Poly Methyl Methacrylate, Methyl Methacrylate (MMA), or some combination thereof.

Why All the Brand Names?

Despite having fairly similar compositions, there are a number of brand names associated with acrylic. It was originally trademarked under the name Plexiglas by the Rohm and Haas Company, but it is now known by other brand names including Lucite by DuPont and Acrylite by Evonik Cyro LLC. Other common brand names for acrylic include Oroglass, Perspex, Altuglass, and Optix.

The Difference Between Hand-Crafted and Injection-Molded Acrylic

Injection-molded acrylics are made by injecting acrylic or another kind of polymethyl methacrylate material into molds. The thermoplastic made in the process is a great transparent alternative to glass. It is commonly used for sunglasses, display risers, and bakery bins. They have the edge over polystyrene as they can be made without any hazing or coloration issues. The material is also generally much stronger and has almost no relief markings when taken out of the mold. Injection molding is easier than hand-crafting, meaning that it can be done at a reduced cost.

Hand-crafted polymers are among the most upscale plastics for displays. While it takes longer to produce polymers by hand and is, therefore, more expensive, there is a noticeable difference in quality that makes it worth it. There are almost no defects from the manufacturing process including common issues such as relief marks and haze from the mold. Hand-crafting is different from injection0moolding in that the joints are all bonded by hand with solvent agents. These agents “melt” the plastic together creating a strong, crystal-clear material.

Other Types of Plastic

Injection-molded polystyrene is a form of aromatic polymer made using chemically bonded monomer styrene. Polystyrene is generally thinner and more brittle than acrylic acid. The upside is that it is cheaper than other kinds of plastics. Given that the material is made with molds, it may have relief markings or a blue haze effect when it is removed from the mold. This is why it isn’t the best choice for preserving collectibles or for creating showcases. It is primarily used to make low-cost consumer goods such as license plate frames, disposable razors, CD cases, and disposable dinnerware.

Polycarbonate is a kind of thermoplastic polymer which is used for manufacturing. It is a clear plastic that is generally more expensive than acrylic plastic and polystyrene. With that added cost comes added durability, as polycarbonate is much stronger. Polycarbonate is associated with “bulletproof” glass as it is used to make armored windows for government vehicles and airplane windows. It is manufactured under several brand names, with Lexan being one of the most popular. There are some disadvantages to polycarbonate though, including that it yellows when exposed to sunlight for prolonged periods of time.