The Differences Between Acrylic and Polycarbonate
Acrylic vs Polycarbonate
Acrylic and polycarbonate are two of the most popular clear plastics. They provide different benefits (and drawbacks). In summary the benefits are: acrylic is stiffer, shinier, more scratch resistant and cheaper than polycarbonate which is bendier and virtually unbreakable. Their drawbacks are: acrylic can crack/shatter under impact and polycarbonate is easier to scratch.
For a more detailed comparison it helps to consider individual criteria relevant to your needs. Here are some of the key areas to compare when choosing between acrylic and polycarbonate for your project. We hope it helps – if you need more advice drop our friendly team an email.
Strength – which is strongest?
Acrylic and Polycarbonate are both half the weight of a comparably sized piece of glass and yet both plastics are much stronger than glass providing much greater impact resistance. Polycarbonate is stronger than acrylic. That aside, both are very strong. If you are comparing to glass, acrylic has 10 times the impact resistance of glass. Polycarbonate has 250 times the impact resistance of glass. Acrylic is very rigid whereas polycarbonate can be bought in flexible grades. Acrylic cracks more easily than polycarbonate under stress.
police riot shields are made from virtually indestructibe polycarbonate
Light – which has better clarity?
Acrylic offers better clarity than glass, letting in more light with a light transmittance of 92% compared to polycarbonate which has a light transmittance of 88%. Both are used successfully for glazing – for example, polycarbonate is often used in bus shelter glazing as it is so strong and both acrylic and polycarbonate are used for secondary glazing. Acrylic can be polished to restore its clarity, while polycarbonate cannot be polished.
Working with Acrylic & Polycarbonate
Acrylic can be used at temperatures ranging from -30 degrees Fahrenheit to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. It may expand and contract with changes in temperature although it won’t permanently shrink over time. Polycarbonate can handle temperatures up to 240 degrees Fahrenheit. Polycarbonate is also highly resistant to chemicals such as gasoline and acids.
Which is easier to cut?
Both acrylic and polycarbonate can be cut with conventional tools such as saws or routers, though acrylic cuts easier than polycarbonate. Polycarbonate fights the initial push of a saw or router at the start of a cut.
Which is easier to drill?
Acrylic will crack if it is drilled near an edge or with a drill bit not designed for plastic. Polycarbonate typically does not crack when being drilled even if drilled close to the edge with a standard drill bit.
Which polishes up better?
The edges of acrylic can be polished smooth and to a high shine. Polycarbonate cannot be polished.
Which is easier to bend?
Heat bending works better with acrylic than polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can be cold formed or bent without heating.
Which is easier to glue?
Gluing with cements designed for acrylic and polycarbonate, acrylic gives a cleaner glue joint than polycarbonate.
Which is easier to keep clean?
Both acrylic and polycarbonate are easy to clean. The best choice for cleaning is a micro fibre or 100% cotton cloths (no other types!). Acrylic should only be cleaned with warm soap water or an acrylic cleaner. Chemicals should never be used on acrylic. Polycarbonate has a higher chemical resistance than acrylic; it can be cleaned by harsher cleaners containing chemicals such as ammonia. Neither plastic should be cleaned with solvents.
Which is more durable?
Both acrylic and polycarbonate are weather resistant and expand and contract with temperature changes without long-term or permanent shrinkage. Both acrylic and polycarbonate can scratch, so avoid touching them with anything made from abrasive binding agents. Acrylic is more likely to chip than polycarbonate because it is less impact-resistant. It does not scratch as easily, however, and will not yellow over time. Polycarbonate has low flammability, while acrylic will burn slowly and is not recommended in areas where flames may be present.
Which is cheaper?
Acrylic is cheaper to than Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate tends to cost about 35% more.