High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS), often referred to as styrene, is an easily machined and fabricated impact-resistant, versatile, and economical plastic. HIPS is often the preferred material for low strength structural applications. Its excellent dimensional stability, an affinity for paint, and glue make it an obvious choice for machining pre-production prototypes.

Forms of Polystyrene

Polystryene can come in a few different forms:

  • Styrene or Polystryene Plastic
  • Polystyrene Foam (often referred to as Styrofoam)
  • Polystyrene Film

styrene chemical makeup

What is High Impact Polystyrene?

HIPS, a form of polystyrene plastic, is combined with polybutadiene to increase its strength and versatility. In its original form, PS is a homopolymer, which results in a more brittle material. As high impact polystyrene, it is a copolymer which offers more durability and can be used in a wider set of applications.


High Impact Polystyrene Characteristics

Styrene Plastic has the following characteristics which can make it an optimal choice for your next project:

  • Maintains strength in high-impact applications
  • Can be painted
  • Recyclable with good property retention
  • Easily moldable
  • FDA compliant grades
  • Good dimensional stability
  • Good gloss
  • Low volatility

Additionally, polystyrene is considered a thermoplastic polymer, a classification that is determined by the material's reaction to heat. Thermoplastic polymers can be easily melted and reformed, making them easy to recycle. In contrast, thermoset polymers can only undergo the forming process once, making them more difficult to recycle.

History of Styrene Plastic

Eduard Simon accidentally discovered polystyrene in 1893, when he isolated a monomer from the resin, storax. The implications of this would not be recognized until later, when Hermann Staudinger, realized that Simon's discovered material was, in fact, a plastic polymer. In 1922, Staudinger published his discoveries, noting the similarities between natural rubbers and polystyrene, which were also composed of monomers. These findings would earn him the Nobel Prize in 1953.

Common Uses of High Impact Styrene Plastic

BASF began to manufacture polystyrene in 1939 for commercial use. Since then, high impact styrene plastic has been used in a wide variety of applications including countertop POP displays and indoor signs, since it is easily thermoformable; excellent for vacuum forming. Consider the following applications:


Styrene plastic is often used for framing due to its shatter-resistant and light-weight qualities. It is also cost-effective material, making it a good choice for consumers looking for a mode affordable option.


HIPS is often used in point of purchase or retail displays due to its strength and flexibility. You can often also see this material used in signage, promoting products or sales.

Is Styrene Harmful?

Styrene plastic is safe in the small quantities found consumers may encounter in food or air. Long exposure to styrene in close quarters can make some people feel nauseous or result in eye irritation. Fresh air can help resolve these symptoms.

Polystyrene's Structure

Polystyrene is a long chain hydrocarbon and is written as C8H8. The hydrogen bonds to the carbon in an alternating pattern via Van der Waals attractions (or the weak attraction of atoms and molecules of opposite charges). This weak force accounts for many of polystyrene's characteristics such as flexibility.


Polystyrene is formed when styrene monomers join together. This process breaks apart the carbon-carbon π bond. During this chemical reaction, a carbon-carbon σ bond is created, which is stronger and makes it difficult to convert the polymer back into its original parts.

Is High Impact Polystyrene Right for Your Next Project?

With its versatile properties, styrene might be a great fit for your next project. Contact our team today to learn more.