Acrylic vs Polycarbonate

American Acrylics

acrylic vs polycarbonate

Acrylic vs Polycarbonate: A Comprehensive Comparison



Acrylic and polycarbonate are two widely used materials in various industries due to their unique properties and versatility. Both materials have distinct characteristics that make them suitable for different applications. In this post, we will delve into a detailed comparison of acrylic and polycarbonate, exploring their properties, functions, advantages, and limitations to help you make informed choices for your specific needs.

Properties – Acrylic vs Polycarbonate

  1. Transparency and Clarity:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic, also known as Plexiglass, offers exceptional optical clarity. It transmits light with almost 92% clarity, making it a popular choice for applications where transparency is crucial.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is naturally less transparent than acrylic, with a light transmission of approximately 90%. However, it still provides good optical properties and is often used when both clarity and impact resistance are required.
  2. Impact Resistance:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic is relatively brittle compared to polycarbonate and is more susceptible to cracking upon impact. It is best suited for applications where high impact resistance is not a primary concern.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is renowned for its exceptional impact resistance. It is virtually unbreakable, making it ideal for applications where safety is a top priority, such as bulletproof windows and protective eyewear.
  3. Chemical Resistance:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic is resistant to many chemicals but can be affected by some solvents, such as acetone and gasoline. It may undergo chemical degradation over time when exposed to harsh chemicals.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is more chemically resistant than acrylic and can withstand exposure to a broader range of chemicals. This makes it suitable for applications where chemical resistance is critical.
  4. Temperature Tolerance:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic has a lower heat resistance compared to polycarbonate. It softens and begins to deform at temperatures above 160°C (320°F), limiting its use in high-temperature applications.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate has a higher heat resistance and can withstand temperatures up to 120°C (250°F) without significant deformation. This property makes it suitable for applications where temperature fluctuations are a concern.

Functions – Acrylic vs Polycarbonate

  1. Design and Aesthetics:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic’s exceptional clarity and ease of machining make it a popular choice for display cases, signage, and architectural applications. It can be easily cut, shaped, and polished to create intricate designs.
    • Polycarbonate: While not as optically clear as acrylic, polycarbonate’s impact resistance makes it valuable for applications like safety barriers, machine guards, and protective shields.
  2. Safety and Security:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic is used for safety glazing in applications like aquariums and windows but is more prone to shattering upon impact compared to polycarbonate.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate’s superior impact resistance makes it indispensable for safety and security applications, including riot shields, protective helmets, and automotive headlamp covers.
  3. Outdoor Use:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic is susceptible to UV degradation over time, causing it to turn yellow and become brittle when exposed to sunlight. It may require UV coatings for extended outdoor use.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate possesses excellent UV resistance, making it a preferred choice for outdoor applications such as greenhouse panels, skylights, and durable outdoor signage.
  4. Manufacturing and Prototyping:

    • Acrylic: Acrylic is easier to machine and fabricate due to its lower melting point. It is often used in rapid prototyping and model making.
    • Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate, while tougher, can be more challenging to machine due to its higher melting point. However, it offers enhanced durability for long-term applications.

Advantages – Acrylic vs Polycarbonate

  1. Acrylic Advantages:

    • Exceptional optical clarity
    • Ease of fabrication and polishing
    • Lower cost compared to polycarbonate
    • Suitable for indoor applications with minimal UV exposure
    • Widely available in various thicknesses and colors
  2. Polycarbonate Advantages:

    • Unmatched impact resistance
    • Excellent chemical resistance
    • Superior UV resistance for outdoor applications
    • Enhanced heat tolerance
    • Suitable for high-security and safety applications
    • Well suited to CNC routing

Limitations – Acrylic vs Polycarbonate

  1. Acrylic Limitations:

    • Prone to cracking upon impact
    • Limited heat resistance
    • Susceptible to UV degradation in outdoor environments
    • Less chemical resistance compared to polycarbonate
  2. Polycarbonate Limitations:

    • Slightly reduced optical clarity compared to acrylic
    • Higher cost than acrylic
    • Can be more challenging to machine due to its toughness


Both acrylic and polycarbonate have their unique properties and functions, making them valuable materials for a wide range of applications. The choice between the two materials should be based on the specific requirements of your project. Acrylic offers exceptional clarity and ease of fabrication, making it suitable for indoor applications with lower impact and temperature demands. On the other hand, polycarbonate excels in safety and security applications, thanks to its unbeatable impact resistance, chemical resistance, and UV stability. Careful consideration of these properties will ensure that you select the right material for your needs, whether you prioritize aesthetics, safety, or durability.

Contact us to discuss your needs in detail.

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