Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate

Our sales representatives constantly get questions about the different types of clear plastic sheets we carry, and we can’t blame our customers. It’s confusing! First, there are different types of materials. Then, you add in different trade names and manufacturers, and what you thought was going to be an easy task of purchasing plastic, suddenly, became overwhelming. This post is going to simplify the differences in acrylic and Polycarbonate.

Acrylic

Acrylic plastic is a lightweight, shatter resistant, transparent plastic that is often used as an alternative to glass.
Trademark names:  Lucite, Plexiglas, Acrylite
Common applications:

Polycarbonate

Polycarbonates are tough, transparent, engineering thermoplastics with high molecular weight and extraordinary impact resistance. They have good electrical and insulating characteristics and are normally not affected by greases, oils or acids. Polycarbonate products also have a low moisture absorption rate and good chemical resistance which makes it an extremely versatile engineering material and allows for its use in a multitude of industrial applications

Trademark names: Lexan, Palram, Monogal

Common applications:

  • safety and vandal-resistant windows for schools, banks, gas stations, and public buildings
  • windshields (automotive, boat, and RV)
  • skylights
  • outdoor signs
  • View all Applications »

This is a side by side comparison of the two materials. We always recommend speaking with a professional before you purchase a material, but this chart is a great place to start.

  Acrylic Polycarbonate
Strength 17 times impact resistance of glass 250 times  impact resistance of glass
Clarity 92% light transmittance – Better clarity than glass 88% light transmittance
Cutting Can be cut with conventional tools – Easier to cut, but there is a higher risk of cracking material. Especially, when working with thinner sheets. Can be cut with conventional tools – Fights the initial push of a saw or router, but it’s highly unlikely to shatter.
Drilling Will crack if it is near the edge. Need a plastic specific drill bit. Typically does not crack when drilling near the edge. Can use regular drill bits.
Gluing Cleaner glue joint than Polycarbonate Can be glued, but the joint will not be as clean as acrylic
Bending Heat bending Cold bending/ cold forming
Polishing Can be polished Cannot be polished, only buffed
Chemical Resistance Low – should only be cleaned with plastic cleaners Higher than acrylic- can be cleaned with products containing ammonia. Resistant to gasoline and acids.
Cost Less expensive than Polycarbonate More expensive material – cost difference can range based on thickness
This information reflects material without any specialty coatings. Both of these products can offer specialty coatings to enhance scratch resistance, UV protection, non-glare, etc. Check out our next blog that will explain the difference between cast and extruded material.