Which is Best-Polycarbonate or Acrylic Panels?

In the past, glass panels were the material of choice for windows, doors, and other clear barriers due to a lack of viable alternatives. This has changed in recent years, as high-quality plastics became much more affordable due to advances in fabrication technology. As a result, acrylic and polycarbonate panels have started to gain traction as alternatives for glass panels. Outside their cost-effective nature, several other factors have led to the adoption of acrylic and polycarbonate panels skyrocketing.

First, both acrylic and plexiglass sheets are more durable glass. The benefit of this is twofold. First objects like thrown rocks or heavy bouts of hail will not cause these plastics to shatter, making them more dependable than glass. Second, the plastics are less likely than glass to be damaged during fabrication, handling, or transportation. Despite this high durability, acrylic and polycarbonate are actually half the weight of glass!

building with acrylic panels
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Although both polycarbonate panels and acrylic panels share some beneficial traits with each other, these polymers are still quite different from each other—making them ideal for different situations. Read on to discover which type of window would be best for your needs.

The Benefits of Acrylic Panels

For situations where a buyer is price sensitive, acrylic panels will stand out. Not only does acrylic have a low upfront cost, but these panels are also rather inexpensive to transport, handle, and install due to being half the weight of glass. However, there are more benefits to clear acrylic panels than their low price.

Despite their low weight, acrylic panels are considerably durable. They have fairly high impact resistance, making them difficult to break—in fact, acrylic panels are 17 times stronger than a panel of glass that’s the same thickness. Acrylic panels can become even more durable with the right film, which will protect against higher impacts, scratches, and UV light. For instance, level one bullet-resistant glass is made from acrylic, and can sustain the impact from a handgun’s bullet! If acrylic panels do break, then they will not shatter into sharp shards that cause injury, as glass would. This makes them ideal for situations that need a moderate amount of security.

In addition to this, acrylic is rather simple to install. Due to its low weight and high durability, it can be moved easily and with confidence. Not only that, but the flexible nature of its polymers makes it simple to alter and refine with standard woodworking tools. This can mean making last-minute sizing corrections, or just cutting acrylic panels into a range of custom shapes and designs for certain specialty architecture.

Finally, acrylic has quality light transmission. More than 90% of the light will pass through it, making it more transparent than glass, making plexiglass windows a great choice for many organizations. As well, optical clarity will still not be sacrificed in situations where a thick panel of acrylic is needed.

The Benefits of Polycarbonate Panels

Polycarbonate’s strongest appeal is its extreme durability. Not only is it shatterproof, but polycarbonate panels are virtually unbreakable. Compared to glass, polycarbonate sheets are 200 times stronger- and over ten times stronger than an acrylic sheet of the same size. This is why polycarbonate is often used for environments where intense protection is a requirement. For example, banks often use polycarbonate for their bullet-resistant windows, and police forces often use shields made of polycarbonate.

Like acrylic, polycarbonate panels are easy to install due to their light weight nature. While they’re more difficult to effectively fabricate with standard tools, plastics suppliers often have the materials necessary to thoroughly customize these panels.

Polycarbonate also has a high degree of weather resistance. It will take many years before a polycarbonate panel becomes yellowed or brittle from sun exposure. Further UV resistance can be attained with additional coating options. As well, it is highly resistant to heat and cold, outlasting most other common construction materials. For this reason, polycarbonate plastic is becoming increasingly popular for use as greenhouse panels and roofing panels.

Finding Which is Best for You

While both polycarbonate and acrylic panels have their benefits, the ideal choice between the two comes down to your unique situation. If glass is slightly too fragile, expensive, or difficult to machine, then clear acrylic is often the best choice. On the other hand, polycarbonate is by far the superior choice for high-security applications. No matter which is chosen, be sure to take into account the special cleaning considerations for both of these plastics.

Want to learn more about the purchasing options for acrylic or polycarbonate panels? Take a look at our product page for acrylic sheets or our product page for polycarbonate sheets. Or, if you have a special request, reach out and contact us today.