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What Is The Difference Between Acrylic And Polycarbonate

What Is The Difference Between Acrylic And Polycarbonate | 3D Printing Spot

Updated by

William Stone

/

August 30, 2022

Acrylic and polycarbonate are durable, strong, and versatile materials, but you will notice the differences with careful examination.

Depending on the project, you need to choose the proper material to get the best results. For example, using acrylic in a high-temperature situation or polycarbonate on a tighter budget would be the wrong decision.

The critical differences between acrylic and polycarbonate are cost, temperature resistance, impact resistance, durability, and chemical resistance. Polycarbonate is the better choice for high heat applications, while acrylic is more versatile, with excellent scratch resistance at a lower cost.

Both acrylic and polycarbonate are highly durable plastic materials used for different applications. They are made using synthetic polymers or polyester and serve as a lightweight and more durable option than glass. This guide will examine each material and explain how they differ.

We have run various tests using these plastic materials to compile the research mentioned below. All results and gathered data have been discussed below, and we even researched more about glass to provide proper comparisons.

Table of Contents

What Is The Difference Between Acrylic And Polycarbonate

Acrylic is a type of rigid plastic typically used in the production of art, models, ornaments, and other decorative items. It tends to be more affordable and easier to use too.

Polycarbonate, on the other hand, is a more flexible plastic that can be purchased in various grades depending on how flexible it needs to be.

When analyzing the key factors of these two materials, it is best to look at how they perform when compared to glass. This gives you an idea of where they stand and which material is better in each aspect.

A range of properties and features is worth comparing when identifying these two plastics' differences. We have included each of them below to determine which material works best for you.

Cost

Acrylic’s lower cost makes it more attractive to the consumer market. This is why you see it used in many more applications than polycarbonate.

Temperature Resistance

Polycarbonate provides much higher heat and temperature resistance than acrylic. Because of this, heat bending is often used to form acrylic materials.

Heat bending does not work as well with polycarbonate. This is why cold forming is used to bend the material without using heat.

This high-temperature resistance means polycarbonate is not nearly as flammable as acrylic. You must be careful when using acrylic to avoid excessive heat exposure that could catch fire.

Durability

Durability is an interesting comparison because both of these materials are extremely weather resistant. They also handle temperature changes with ease.

Depending on what they are exposed to, you can expect plenty of longevity with both materials. For example, durability decreases for acrylic in high-temperature or high-impact scenarios.

If acrylic avoids these two things, it can last for nearly ten years. The same is true for polycarbonate, and both average about a 10-year lifespan.

Chemical Resistance

Chemical resistance is one more category to keep in mind. Acrylic is known to withstand many chemicals without sacrificing clarity or quality.

These chemicals include detergents, fats, oils, acids, and some concentrated alkalis. Polycarbonate is also chemical resistant but to some different items.

You will see excellent resistance from polycarbonate with acids, greases, oils, alcohol, and hydrocarbons.

Impact Resistance

Polycarbonate is considered the champion of impact resistance among these two materials by quite a wide margin.

For example, the average polycarbonate sheet has 250 times more impact resistance than glass which is 30 times higher than what acrylic can provide.

Acrylic is still stronger than glass and provides plenty of strength. But it cannot be used for the same high-strength activities that polycarbonate can.

The other great thing about these two materials is their weight. They both weigh about half of what glass does while providing this increase in strength.

What Are The Characteristics Of Acrylic?

Acrylic is a type of plastic that is made from hydrocarbons, and it is known for its low melting point. It can be found in many different colors, and it has excellent clarity.

It is also much lighter than other plastics and glass, which makes it a great option for products that need to be lightweight.

It also has strong UV resistance, and it is extremely easy to heat for forming needs. Acrylic also has a reliable thermal insulator to provide better versatility.

Some common uses and applications for acrylic materials are aircraft windows, signs, and medical components. Acrylic plastics are often used for retail display cases.

What Are The Characteristics Of Polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate, on the other hand, is a type of plastic that is made from polymers with carbon atoms in their molecules. It can be found in many colors and has high impact resistance as well as impact resistance to chemicals.

This material has many flexible options available, but it is also strong, tough, and transparent and provides plenty of applications.

The low difficulty of producing polycarbonate is why it is so popular, but it is not as easy to form with heat like acrylic. Overall, you can expect a strong material that is used for things like signs, gear, or medical devices.

Is Acrylic Better Than Polycarbonate?

It is impossible to say which is better because they both serve a unique purpose. Acrylic is considered to be more rigid, while polycarbonate is more flexible.

You get better light transmittance and clarity with acrylic, but the superior option for impact resistance is polycarbonate.

It is best to consider what you need first. This will allow you to determine which of these materials truly is better.

Which Compound Is Clearer?

Another use case or property that can be important to some is clarity and light transmittance. When comparing these two materials, acrylic significantly outperforms polycarbonate.

If you only compare the initial appearance, the difference is slight, but when exposed to sunlight, you will see polycarbonate yellow over time. Acrylic remains clear because it can transmit light and UV rays.

This difference in clarity is one of the key reasons why these two materials have such different use cases and applications.

What Are Acrylic and Polycarbonate Made Of?

Acrylic and polycarbonate are the two most common plastics used because of their high durability and availability.

Both acrylic and polycarbonate are made of long chains of molecules called polymer chains. The polymer chains in these plastics can be made from various chemicals with different properties.

But each is made a bit differently. We will explain.

Acrylic

Acrylic has a similar feel to polycarbonate because they are both polymers. The process of creating acrylic is bulk polymerization, which is an advanced curing method.

This is when a monomer and catalyst mix into a mold. After the mixture, a seal is used at high heat to create a chemical reaction that forms acrylic plastic.

Once this occurs, you must cure the acrylic sheet. Depending on the sheet size, this can take as little as 10 hours up to a few days.

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate has an extremely similar design to acrylic, but the curing and mixture process differs. And this is why polycarbonate is considered one of the most unsafe plastics.

It is made with bisphenol A and phosgene COCl2. The mixture occurs from a chemical reaction, and it begins by using raw resin to extrude and melt the material into a sheet.

However, the process of manufacturing polycarbonate sheets is much faster than acrylic.

What Do You Use Acrylic and Polycarbonate Plastic For?

Polycarbonate is considered much more impact resistance than acrylic because it is of higher quality and more expensive. This means it gets used for different applications that require this durability.

One example is bulletproof windows. This is a common use for polycarbonate, and because of the durability needed, acrylic would never work for this application.

However, polycarbonate will scratch easier than acrylic, despite the better impact resistance. Acrylic is also clearer, so it is better used for plastic display cases.

Most of the retail displays and glass substitutes that you see are made of acrylic. Polycarbonate is the material used for many roofing panels and other high-temperature applications.

About THE AUTHOR

William Stone

William Stone

William has spent 20 plus years in the custom manufacturing industry as a COO, CEO and Owner of various custom product businesses. His experience has exposed him to all types of manufacturing from die cast, die struck, injection molding, CNC machining, laser etching, engraving and of course 3D printing.

Learn more about William Stone

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What Is The Difference Between Acrylic And Polycarbonate

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