Acrylic and polycarbonate are two of the most popular sheet plastics used throughout the world. From CDs to windows, both types of plastics are found in many household products. While both are thermoplastics, they have different properties. These properties are the determining factor when deciding which material to use. Both materials come in a variety of colours and can be purchased with special coatings to suit specific needs.
Acrylic has 17 times the impact resistance of glass and weighs half as much, making it a good alternative for covering areas where weight is an issue. Acrylic also has better clarity than glass, with a light transmittance of 92 per cent. This plastic sheet can be used at temperatures ranging from --1.11 degrees Celsius to 87.8 degrees Celsius. However, it may expand and contract with changes in temperature. It won't permanently shrink over time, though. Acrylic may not be as rigid as glass but it's more rigid than polycarbonate and costs less than sheet glass.
Polycarbonate has 250 times the impact resistance of glass making it extremely strong. It’s also half the weight of glass and has a light transmittance of 88 per cent. Like acrylic, polycarbonate is weather resistant and expands and contracts with temperature changes without long-term or permanent shrinkage. However, polycarbonate can handle temperatures up to 116 degrees Celsius. Polycarbonate is also highly resistant to chemicals such as gasoline and acids but isn't as rigid as acrylic and tends to cost twice as much.
Both acrylic and polycarbonate can be cut with conventional shop tools, though acrylic cuts easier than polycarbonate. Polycarbonate fights the initial push of the saw or router at the start of a cut. Acrylic tends to crack when drilled close to the edge or with a drill bit not designed for plastic. Polycarbonate can be drilled close to the edge with a standard drill bit. Acrylic can be edge polished, while polycarbonate doesn't polish. Heat bending works better with acrylic than polycarbonate. Polycarbonate can be cold formed or bent without heating. When gluing with cements designed for acrylic and polycarbonate, acrylic gives a cleaner glue joint than polycarbonate.
Both acrylic and polycarbonate are easy to clean. Acrylic requires more specific cleaners, either mild soap and water or a plastic cleaner. Polycarbonate is more chemically resistant so it doesn’t suffer from the same damage due to alcohol and ammonia. Both acrylic and polycarbonate can scratch, so avoid wool rags and paper towels, which are made from abrasive binding agents. The best choice for cleaning is a microfiber cloth or 100-percent cotton rags. Never use solvents on acrylic or polycarbonate.
Size and Thickness
Acrylic ranges in thickness from 1/16th of an inch to 4 inches. Polycarbonate is available in 1/32nd of an inch to a half inch in thickness. Larger sizes can be custom ordered from the manufacturer. Standard full sheet sizes are 4 feet by 8 feet.