What is polycarbonate glass?
First, let's clarify what to call this particular kind of plastic. Polycarbonate and glass aren't quite the same things. They have unique qualities and some advantages and disadvantages over one another that we'll discuss later.
Polycarbonate is produced with a mix of glass with a couple of well-known plastics with carbons – hence the name polycarbonate. While there has been some concern about the use of BPA within polycarbonate, there are now some BPA-free polycarbonates.
What is polycarbonate useful in?
The most common item commonly made of polycarbonate is something you probably see every day – eyeglass lenses. Polycarbonate acts as a natural UV filter, so it is a great plastic to use for the purpose of offering some relief to your eyes.
In addition, polycarbonate is very strong, flexible, and even shatter-resistant. For a piece of plastic close to your eye, that is fairly ideal! Polycarbonate is also used for other purposes, like greenhouses and lots of other industrial applications.
How is polycarbonate different from glass?
There are some key differences between polycarbonate and glass. Glass is generally cheaper, though it is also more likely to shatter or break when struck or if it falls. Polycarbonate is hundreds of times stronger than glass and much lighter, making it ideal for carrying around or on anything that requires less weight.
There are some small disadvantages to polycarbonate compared to glass. Polycarbonate can scratch, so if you want an item that is scratch resistant, you might be better off with a different plastic. However, if you can live with a scratch instead of a shatter – which glass can do, you might welcome the scratch instead! While we don't have specifics, polycarbonate is also more expensive.
Glass is a bit different, as it requires a higher temperature for printing. In the context of 3D printing, you are more likely to print onto glass than you are to actually print with glass.
How do you print with polycarbonate?
Given that you know that polycarbonate is sometimes used for safety devices like bulletproof glass and eyeglasses, it's hard to imagine being able to “print” with it.
We'll make a long story kinda short here: 3D printers use plastic “filament,” which is more literally a long, flexible tube of a variety of plastic that is fed into an extruder to melt it and very gentle and precisely keep the melted contents on a tray using a set of pre-programmed instructions. Polycarbonate is a good plastic for the purpose, though it is not the easiest plastic to print with. Those honors go to some other plastics, including PVC, all of which have their own purposes and drawbacks. In the case of polycarbonate, it needs extra heat and isn't a fast printer – though I'm sure you are more than willing to trade speed and a potential mess for something nearly indestructible.
If you are familiar with 3D printing, we are trying to say that 3D printing with polycarbonate isn't different from other plastics, which is good, considering the strength and flexibility advantages provided.
Like all forms of plastic used for 3D printing, you'll put a tube of the polycarbonate filament into your printer. It'll be sent to the extruder for melting, so the actual process of printing isn't all that different or unique from other filaments. Note that you'll probably want an all-metal printing nozzle for polycarbonate as the melting plastic is hotter than average, and you'll find yourself with either a worn-out nozzle or a mess if it's made of plastic or soft metals like brass.
What can I make with polycarbonate?
The answer is just about anything, though polycarbonate is certainly one of the best filaments to choose in the event you need a very tough plastic that is also flexible and extremely durable. If you don't need all of these things – or you want a filament that is unlikely to scratch – you might want to choose a filament that costs a little less and is easier to print with. While you are welcome to print with polycarbonate however you please, there are other plastics in 3D printing as well – and you should really try what is best for your product.
Polycarbonate makes a great cast or mold for something that needs to be very strong and flexible. A couple of examples of this are parts for small machines that can accept plastic or even a shield of some sort. A polycarbonate is also a great option if you plan to make a print of something and want to hang it in a place where it could fall or be exposed to harsh elements.
Is polycarbonate physically different from glass?
Glass uses a variety of elements to make it stronger though in it's most basic form, glass is superheated sand. The addition of carbon instead of other heavier elements is also what makes polycarbonate so tough – carbon itself is one of the toughest alloy metals out there.