What is the Difference Between Polycarbonate and Acrylic?

Top choices between clear or near clear plastics, acrylic plexiglass sheet and polycarbonate panel are often considered as solutions for a broad range of optical applications. How do they compare?

Both Acrylic and Polycarbonate are half the weight of comparably sized glass by volume. For what you lose in weight, you gain in strength with either product. Both are synthetic glass, and each offers tremendous flexibility.

Acrylic has roughly 17 times the impact resistance. Polycarbonate is the stronger material at 250 times the impact resistance of standard glass.

Polycarbonate offers much more resilience than acrylic, making it ideal for highly demanding applications like bullet-resistant windows. Acrylic has a high gloss finish and is more transparent, making it ideal for display cases. Acrylic is also easier to crack, while polycarbonate is easier to scratch.

Acrylic is also less expensive than polycarbonate and unlike polycarbonate, acrylics can be heated and molded to shape, then heated again while retaining its quality appearance.

Pros and Cons of Acrylic and Polycarbonate

  Acrylic or Plexiglass Sheeting Polycarbonate Sheeting
Pros
  • Easier to machine than polycarbonate
  • Can be polished, both for scratches and clean edges
  • Better glue bonding
  • Shinier
  • Less expensive than polycarbonate by as much as 35%
  • Greater strength than acrylic
  • More flexible than acrylic; can be shaped at room temperature
  • Can be exposed to high temperatures and is non-flammable
  • Highly resistant to chemicals
  • Can be drilled without cracking
  • Lighter in weight than comparable acrylic
Cons
  • More rigid
  • More likely to crack during drilling or upon impact
  • More likely to chip
  • Should not be exposed to open flames
  • Scratches easily
  • Cannot be polished
  • Can be dented easily
  • More translucent than transparent as compared to acrylic

How to Choose Between Polycarbonate and Acrylic

To find the right material for your project, it's important to take time to compare the two plastics side by side. This can give you a better idea of which one is best for your specific project. However, depending on what you are using acrylic or polycarbonate for, selecting the right plastic should be an easy decision.

To help choose the right material, here are a few ideal applications for each plastic:

Acrylic Plastic Applications

  • Windows and glass substitutes
  • Insulations
  • Craft projects
  • Retail displays

  • Polycarbonate Plastic Applications

  • Bullet-resistant windows
  • Clear molds for casting
  • Greenhouse windows
  • Models for high-heat applications

  • Additional Polycarbonate and Acrylic Resources

  • Advantages of Acrylic
  • What is Acrylic Plastic and What is it Used For?
  • Business Uses for Acrylic Plastic
  • Popular Uses for Polycarbonate Plastic
  • The Applicational Benefits of Polycarbonate Sheets