Acrylic is a common and versatile plastic, used in many everyday objects. Acrylic plastic usually comes in sheets of varying thicknesses, from which it can be cut and shaped. Most plastics are very useful, but acrylic has properties that make it extremely useful.
Sheet acrylic was invented and first used commercially in 1936 and since then has had many applications, both in industry and in the home.
Acrylic plastic is a man-made material. Its technical name is polymethylmethacrylate, and it is a polymer plastic, made of chains of monomers. The terms monomer and polymer refer to the molecules that make up the substance and give it the properties specific to that substance; monomers are single molecules and polymers are several of these molecules joined together.
Polymers, which include many different types of plastic, are used in a variety of different substances that are widely used. Because of their chainlike structure, polymers have properties that natural materials lack.
Acrylic was originally used, in its most common acrylic sheet state, as safety glass in 1936 and found many uses in World War II in such things as canopies, which would previously have used glass, making them safer.
Acrylic, because of its polymer formation, is very strong. If broken, it does not shatter but instead breaks into large pieces. This increases the safety, not only in working with it, but also in using it in the home and workplaces. People are less likely to cut themselves with larger shards, and the broken pieces are easier to remove. It is also transparent and can be made in a variety of colours.
Acrylic also is resistant to many external substances --- it is waterproof and is resistant to other inorganic substances, such as acids. However, it is not resistant to organic substances, such as gasoline or alcohol.
Acrylic is very easy to work with as it can be cut to almost any shape, and heated and moulded to any form.
As it is both weatherproof and transparent, as well as being less dangerous if broken, acrylic is an excellent substitute for glass in windows and doors. Acrylic is an especially good substitute for glass as it is a better insulator than glass and will retain shape and size for a very long time.
Because it can be heated and moulded to many different shapes, acrylic is also used in a variety of places, such as shower doors, skylights and covers for car headlights and rear lights.