Acrylic Plastic VS. Polycarbonate: What’s the Differences?

When choosing between acrylic plastic and polycarbonate, it cannot be easy to decide which material is best for your needs.

Both have their unique benefits and drawbacks, so it’s essential to understand the differences before making a decision. This blog post will compare these two materials and help you decide which suits you.

Differences Between Acrylic And Polycarbonate

Strength

Acrylic and polycarbonate are two types of plastic that can create transparent surfaces. While they may look similar, acrylic and polycarbonate differ significantly in their molecular structure, which leads to differences in how they respond to certain stresses.

Acrylic material is softer and more brittle than polycarbonate. As such, it’s more prone to cracking and fracturing under the weight of an object or the stress of a strong impact. Depending on the application, this could result in a critical failure if an acrylic panel cannot bear the load put on it.

On the other hand, a polycarbonate panel is generally much better equipped for such applications since it’s made from lighter and stronger molecules that make it more resistant to large impacts.

Optical Clarity

Of the two materials, acrylic plastic is superior in terms of optical clarity. The light transmittance rating for acrylic plastic is 92 percent, which allows more light transmission than polycarbonate, which has a rating of 88 percent. This means that when used to craft items that require high transparency, acrylic plastic will provide clearer vision with less distortion.

Temperature Resistance

For many manufacturing and engineering processes, temperature resistance is crucial when selecting materials. Polycarbonate has a number of advantages over other plastics used in constructing molds, processing components, and other applications requiring a higher heat tolerance.

Compared to acrylic plastic, which can start to melt at temperatures over 90 degrees Celsius, polycarbonate can withstand temperatures up to 135 degrees Celsius or 275 degrees Fahrenheit — nearly 50 degrees higher than acrylic! Even at these high temperatures, the material remains strong.

Scratch resistance

One of the major differences between the two rests in their ability to resist scratches.

While both are resistant to everyday wear and tear, polycarbonate is more prone to being scratched than acrylic plastic. This means that if a material made of polycarbonate encounters an impact or higher levels of friction, it can suffer small abrasions or cuts that can damage its aesthetic appeal.

It is, therefore, generally recommended to use acrylic plastic when designing items that will be exposed to such conditions, as it is less susceptible to scratches compared to polycarbonate pieces.

Chemical Resistance

When it comes to materials that are resistant to chemicals, polycarbonate sheeting surpasses acrylic sheets by a wide margin. This enhanced resistance makes it the ideal choice for applications that require more excellent protection against corrosive elements.

From fabrication to end use, polycarbonate sheet is the clear preference for projects that need optimal protection from damaging chemicals.

Flexibility

One reason for the increased flexibility of polycarbonate is its molecular structure.

Polycarbonate consists of larger molecules than acrylic plastic, allowing it to remain intact even when twisted or bent. This makes it an ideal choice for applications requiring a more malleable material with excellent impact resistance than traditional plastics such as PVC or ABS. In a previous article, we discussed the difference between acrylic and PVC.

Its ability to bend instead of shatter when exposed to force offers more protection while allowing parts to move more freely. Additionally, due to its larger molecular structure, polycarbonate can hold onto heat better than regular acrylic plastic and remains more durable over time.

Cost

One of the most distinct differences between these two plastics is cost. Acrylic is generally much more cost-effective than polycarbonate due to its easier process in production and the possibility that recycled acrylic can be used in manufacturing.

For many applications, like art projects and displays, a significant saving can be associated with opting for cheaper acrylic plastic instead of pricier polycarbonate materials.

Aesthetics

When compared side-by-side, acrylic has a clear edge regarding aesthetic appearance. In its natural state, acrylic plastic is colorless and transparent. This can create interesting visual effects like reflection and refraction, which can be warmly embraced or actively used to shape an impression.

Polycarbonate is often more opaque, meaning light cannot pass through it as easily. As a result, any colored tint added to polycarbonate still reduces the amount of light that can reach any given surface — making it a less appealing choice if illumination or transparency is desired.

Overall, acrylic plastic offers far superior aesthetic value than polycarbonate because it can sparkle under the right lighting conditions while delivering maximum clarity with little loss of intensity.

Polish

Despite its impressive properties, polycarbonate has one major limitation: it cannot be polished.

Polishing involves using abrasive materials to remove the top layer of particles and create a smooth surface. However, this process would cause irreparable damage to polycarbonate as the material is simply too hard and brittle to withstand the pressure of polishing.

Consequently, polycarbonate products typically have a matte finish and do not shine. This can be an advantage in certain circumstances as there are fewer reflections to distract from whatever is being viewed through the plastic.

Applications

Acrylic plastic and polycarbonate are very different materials with distinctive characteristics and uses.

Acrylic is a lightweight, shatter-resistant material with superior durability and optical clarity, making it the ideal choice for applications such as acrylic signs, display boxes, acrylic mirror sheets, and vehicle windshields.

Due to its high strength-to-weight ratio and multi-directional properties, acrylic is also used in skylights, bulletproof glass, aquariums, fish tanks, domes, and more.

Meanwhile, polycarbonate has a much higher impact resistance than acrylic due to its’ “cushioning” quality when exposed to force.

This makes it perfect for industrial applications such as safety barriers and security glazing, as well as consumer products such as helicopter canopies and safety helmets used by athletes.

Beyond these common uses, some unusual polycarbonate applications include CDs, eyewear lenses, medical equipment components, and even replacement bones for medical purposes.

Conclusion

Both polycarbonate and acrylic sheets have unique benefits that make them ideal for different applications. Acrylic plastic is lightweight, shatter-resistant, and transparent, while polycarbonate is durable, heat-resistant, and has high impact resistance.

We hope you now have a comprehensive understanding of the difference between these two materials so that you can make an informed decision about which one is suitable for your needs. For more information about our products and services, please visit our homepage.

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