Polycarbonate vs. Acrylic For DIY Projects

Posted: June 13, 2018 in Acrylic, Polycarbonate
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It’s very common for the home project enthusiast to not know what to ask for when it comes to clear plastic for a project. Often we’ll get “I need polycarbonate or acrylic for a project” and we on the distribution side, at the sponsor of this blog, Redwood Plastics and Rubber, are left with making a decision on materials. You know that? That’s OK! We love to help but instead of picking something for you, we would instead work with you to figure out the details of your application because there are good reasons for doing so.

Firstly polycarbonate and acrylic are *not* similar materials beyond the fact that they’re hard and clear. The first difference you should probably be aware of is price. Polycarbonate is about 25% more than acrylic meaning if all things are equal you could be potentially paying too much for a plastic that isn’t optimal for your application. So when is each plastic optimal? Lets start with what each plastic does well and where it is poor.

Polycarbonate is incredibly strong which is why it’s often used as safety glass. Any application where you’re going to face impact you want polycarbonate. Additionally polycarbonate has a bluish tinge that some people find more attractive than just a pure “clear” (like acrylic has). Polycarbonate is the only version of the “twin” or “multi” wall greenhouse plastic so if you’re needed that corrugated product than you need to know it will be polycarbonate. Where polycarbonate has trouble is outdoor weathering (UV-resistance) and very poor scratch resistant. Polycarbonate will eventually scratch and it will degrade in the sun over a couple of years. There are anti-scratch and anti-UV versions of the product but this is done by a film being applied (not a chemical added) which means eventually the film will degrade and the plastic will be vulnerable.

Acrylic on the other hand has excellent scratch resistance and good resistance to UV and weathering. However, acrylic is more brittle and is not available in less expensive economy forms like twin-wall polycarbonate. Colored acrylic actually has poor availability due to so many colors, levels of transparency, etc. It is also important to know that acrylic comes in two major grades: extruded and cast. Extruded is less expensive whereas cast is stronger, clearer, and yes, more expensive. How do you know which is which? Well, if you drawing or plans you’ve looked up happen to call for 49″ x 97″ acrylic sheet than that is cast – because it’s 1″ wider and longer than the standard sheet size of 48″ x 96″. Otherwise, you probably wouldn’t notice a difference.

Hopefully that helps narrow things down a bit?

Good luck with your projects and here’s to a great 2018!

 

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