Acrylic vs Nylon: What are the Key Differences?

Nylon (Polyamide) and acrylic (Poly Methyl Methacrylate) are both made from synthetic polymers derived from petroleum. As thermoplastics, they both can be easily melted and molded into many shapes. They are both incredibly versatile materials with a wide range of uses. But they have differences that will matter depending on their use. Here, we discuss their differences, their pros and cons, and some considerations to help when choosing acrylic vs nylon for your projects. 

Acrylic vs Nylon: Is There a Difference? 

While both are thermoplastics, there are key differences between acrylic vs nylon that will determine their best uses. 

What is acrylic? Acrylic, known for its strength and optical clarity, is often used in applications where those characteristics are required, such as roof panels, windows, aquarium glass, retail displays, and safety shields. 

What is nylon? Nylon’s flexibility and wear resistance lends it to a variety of uses, including consumer goods (pantyhose, clothing, brushes), machine parts (gears, bearings), and in industries such as automotive and electronics. 

The Pros and Cons of Acrylic

Acrylic Pros 

Some of the pros of acrylic include:

  • Inexpensive. Acrylic is less expensive compared to other plastics, including nylon.  
  • High durability. Incredibly strong, acrylic can be cut, drilled, and machined without breaking or cracking. In use cases, its strength is counted on to create products from sturdy furniture to retail signage. 
  • Transparent. Acrylic has a transparency rate of 93%. It is used when optical clarity is important, such as for goggles/glasses, screen protectors, windows, and skylights. It also doesn’t yellow as it ages compared to other plastics. 
  • Safe. Acrylic is shatter-proof making it much safer than using glass, which produces sharp remnants when broken.  
  • Low water absorption. Acrylic doesn’t absorb water and moisture making it a great material for aquariums and outdoor retail signage.
  • Lightweight. Acrylic weighs 50% less than glass of equal thickness. It’s light weight, along with its optical clarity, makes it a suitable alternative for glass. 

Acrylic Cons

Some of the cons of acrylic include:

  • Hard to recycle. While it can be repurposed (even melted and remolded), it can’t be easily recycled due to the expense. 
  • May scratch easily. Acrylic can be easily marred with surface abrasions. However, some surface scratches can be polished or buffed out. 
  • Low heat resistance. Humidity and high temperatures can warp the plastic.
  • Can be brittle. Compared to nylon, acrylic is too brittle for use in 3D printing and is not recommended for CNC machining. 

The Pros and Cons of Nylon

Nylon Pros

Some of the pros of nylon include:

  • Scratch-resistant. Nylon is a flexible material, allowing it to resist scratches and light dents. Compared to acrylic, nylon can yield to pressure and resume its shape. 
  • High insulation. Nylon does not conduct heat or electricity. This electrical resistance makes it an excellent insulator for electronic parts. 
  • Lightweight. Nylon is 1/7th the weight of conventional materials, making it a good replacement for metal in applications with weight considerations. 
  • High tensile strength. It’s a strong, durable material, even under extreme conditions. It can bear heavy weight without breaking and withstand wear and tear. Consider fish nets. They can withstand harsh elements and are strong enough to haul larger fish.
  • Abrasion and wear resistance. Nylon’s low friction allows it to keep its shape and functionality without much lubrication. That quality is key in industrial applications, such as gears and bearings. 
  • Easily dyed. Nylon is usually colorless or a milky white and takes to dyes easily. 

Nylon Cons

Some of the cons of nylon include:

  • Heat sensitive. The material can shrink and melt when exposed to extreme heat. 
  • Tough on the environment. The manufacturing of nylon is not especially eco-friendly and it’s nonbiodegradable. Nylon emits hazardous toxins when burned so it’s relegated to the landfill when no longer in use, and once there, decays slowly. For instance, nylon fabric can take 30 to 40 years to decompose. Like acrylic, some processes can recycle the material, but they are expensive and not widely used. 
  • Expensive. Nylon is more expensive than some other plastics, including acrylic. Taking into account its environmental impact, and the cost of recycling (nearly twice as much as it costs to produce it), nylon ends up being an expensive material. 
  • Causes static. Nylon, like other plastics, is likely to produce static electricity.

Acrylic vs. Nylon: Which for Your Next Project?

Since there are similarities in the two plastics, there will be some overlap in uses when deciding between acrylic and nylon for a project. However, their key differences (clarity, cost, flexibility, and strength) will help guide you in choosing the best material for your needs. For instance, acrylic is a good choice for windows, shields, and retail displays while nylon is a good choice for fish nets, automotive and machine parts, CNC machining, and 3D printing.

Pick Out the Acrylic You Need With Acme

If you’re still unsure whether nylon vs acrylic is best for your needs, talk to our sales professionals for additional information. Acme Plastics carries a wide selection of acrylic and nylon in rods, sheets, and tubes. We are happy to help you find the right materials.