Difference Between Acrylic (Plexiglass) vs Polycarbonate (Lexan) Glass
Acrylic (also known as Plexiglas) and Polycarbonate (also known as Lexan) are top popular clear plastics that are considered as eminent solutions for a broad range of visual applications. Lexan and Plexiglas are not specific names to generalize Acrylic and Polycarbonate. To be more specific on names, Plexiglas is a brand name of Acrylic, produced by the ‘Evonik’ corporation and Lexan is a brand name of Polycarbonate, produced by the ‘Sabic’ corporation.
Both of these plastic materials have a lot in common characteristics in appearance and do bump into each other whilst performing the same piece of work. However, these two plastic sheets have some key differing characteristics in their chemistry that you should recognize as you choose the right material between acrylic and polycarbonate for your next project. You’ve probably used many products with Acrylic Plexiglas and Polycarbonate in your lifetime, without realizing the difference between them.
Image: Tomas Sciskala
So first, let’s identify some actual properties that are unique to each material.
What is Acrylic or Plexiglas?
Acrylic Plexiglas is popular as a transparent shiny thermoplastic material, which does not contain harmful substances like bisphenol-A (BPA). Because of its strength, scratch-resistant, stiffness, and glass-like appearance, it is used as a lighter alternative to glass. Compared to many other transparent plastics, Acrylic Plexiglas sheets bond well with adhesives and have superior weathering properties. It is used to manufacture POP displays, LED lighting panels, Transparent manifolds, etc.
Here are some main characteristics of Acrylic Plexiglas.
- Less expensive
- Easy to thermoform
- High clarity than glass
- 17 times more impact resistance
- 92% light transmittance
- Insensitive to discoloration
- Durable against scratches
What is Polycarbonate or Lexan?
Polycarbonate is a strong, tough engineering thermoplastic material which contains 2 carbonate groups in their chemical structure. These Polycarbonates have good optical clarity and a higher level of heat resistance. Owing to the unique features like a low level of flammability, durability, can be drilled without cracking; it is ideal for making signs, eyeglasses, lighting fixtures, machine guards, etc. Polycarbonate costs about 35% more than acrylic material.
Here are some main characteristics of Polycarbonate plastic.
- 30x stronger than Acrylic
- 88% light transmittance
- Low level of flammability
- Durable against chips and cracks
- Bullet resistant grades
- Easy to fabricate
- Good electrical insulation
Now, it’s time to identify the difference between Acrylic and Polycarbonate materials.
Difference in manufacturing
In the process of making acrylic plastic sheets, the monomer and the catalyst is poured into a sealed, heated mold to form the acrylic plastic polymer. Normally, thin Acrylic sheets take 10 to 12 hours to cure while thick sheets take several days to cure. Continuous bulk polymerization and batch cell methods are used to manufacture acrylic plastic.
To get the desired shape of Polycarbonate sheets, melted Polycarbonate is poured into a high-pressure mold and drying it for 2-4 hours at 120°C. Injection molding and extrusion are the main techniques used in the process of manufacturing Polycarbonate sheets.
Difference in look
Acrylic has a glass-like gloss surface and scuffs the surface lightly. It is more transparent and can be softened to form any kind of shape. If the surface is tough, stable, clear, and lighter in weight than acrylic sheets, it is polycarbonate.
Difference in edges
Acrylic has perfectly glass clear edges which can be polished completely clear. However, the edges of the Polycarbonate sheet cannot be polished.
Difference in flexibility
Both of these materials are quite flexible. Depending on the thickness of acrylic, it can be broken and cracked after reaching the limits. However, Polycarbonate does not crack or chip even if you drilled it closer to the PC edges.
Difference in clarity
Acrylic have better clarity (light diffusing capability) than Polycarbonate. It transmits 92% of light even in their thickest sizes, unlike polycarbonate which transmits 88% of light. Also, Acrylic can be polished smooth and shiny to restore its clarity, while polycarbonate cannot be polished.
Difference in fire-protection
According to European fire testing standards, Polycarbonate has a b1 certification level which is the highest grade of fire certification. Acrylic has a b2 certification which is not the same level. So, the Polycarbonate Sheet offers high fire-protection over Acrylic sheets.
Difference in bonding and fixing to the frame
Many types of glues can be used to make the structure of these plastics stable. Acrylic or Plexiglas sheets have better glue bonding because they give a cleaner glue joint over Polycarbonate sheets.
Difference in color versatility
Acrylic sheets are available in a very wide range of color pallets. Polycarbonate sheets have a far more limited range of colors available, though it does come with the standard broad-colors. Unlike Plexiglas sheets, the color clarity of Lexan does decrease over time and will give a yellow hue over time.
Difference in strength
Both of these products are very strong when compared to glass. Acrylic is 10 times stronger than glass and in the same thickness, Polycarbonate is 100 times stronger than glass. Even though the strength of Polycarbonate is higher than Acrylic, Plexiglas is usually excellent for most glazing requirements.
Difference in UV-resistance
Acrylic Plexiglas is known as a UV filtering and transmitting plastic with 3% degradation in outdoors over a 10-years of time. However, Polycarbonate is not UV resistant. UV rays will discolor the surface color of Polycarbonate sheets.
Difference in price
Acrylic always comes out cheaper than Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can cost about 35% more than Acrylic Plexiglas. Acrylic always comes out cheaper than Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can cost about 35% more than Acrylic Plexiglas. If you are interested in Plexiglas or Polycarbonate, make that wish a reality by visiting Fab Glass and Mirror, your most trusted source for Plexiglas and Polycarbonate products. Fab Glass and Mirror is a top manufacturer and distributor of glass and mirror products. With top quality being their paramount priority, the company sources the best Plexiglas and Polycarbonate products in the market—and at the most competitive prices!
Which one is more user friendly?
When it comes to the workability of these two plastics, Acrylic is much easier, less noticeable, and manageable to cut with conventional tools. Also, both of these products are easy to clean with regular soap and water, but acrylic Plexiglas is less resistant to harsh chemicals than Polycarbonate. So Acrylic is much more user friendly than Polycarbonate.
Which one is recommended?
Even Plexiglas and Polycarbonate do have a lot in common characteristics at face value, you can choose one product that suits your project by bumping into each product whilst performing. If you want a plastic material that is shinier, less expensive, scratches proof, heat bent, high clarity, and recyclable material, acrylic plastic is ideal for your needs. If you are someone who wishes to have impact resistance glass that is 30 times stronger than acrylic, chemical resistant, or sheets that can be drilled without cracking, polycarbonate plastic is what suits your needs.Tags: acrylic polycarbonate difference, acrylic vs polycarbonate
What a great deal of information regarding acrylics and polycarbonates. I’d been seeking for anything like this for quite some time. Now I’m convinced that I’ll be able to locate the appropriate one for our needs. Thank you for sharing this information regarding the different types of acyclic on the market.
I believe the was left far too vague an article to address these two products in the real world.
One might actually believe the two products are relatively close in physical material properties after reading this; but they are apples to oranges.
I currently use Polycarbonate throughout my garage and shop, and one reason I’ll only use the Polycarbonate, is because I can trust it to protect me when standing behind it. If a machine let’s go of a part and throws the part with any amount of moderate force, the part will travel right through the acrylic and strike the person behind it. They call polycarbonate “bullet proof glass” for a good reason!
When sandwiching polycarbonate in laminated layers, it’s ability to stop high-speed objects is even further increased. It does come at a cost, luckily I derived a way to get top notch optical grade polycarbonate in 3×4′ sheets 0.125″ thick for nearly free! This is a trick I will not be posting for the whole internet to see, unfortunately, because the supply is limited in this regard and slowly being churned up.
For those who don’t need to save the dollars, Home Depot stocks both materials, access it would be a good idea to purchase a small piece of each, and then experiment–try to chip or break a corner of each of them, scratch each with a fork etc, just so you can get some real world experience with how the materials behave.
Most of all, use the right tools to get good clean cuts, stay safe, and have fun! Don’t forget to wax and polish plastic windows! Keep ’em shiny!