Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate

What's the Difference?

Acrylic and polycarbonate are both popular materials used in various applications due to their unique properties. Acrylic, also known as Plexiglas or Perspex, is a transparent thermoplastic that offers excellent optical clarity and UV resistance. It is lightweight, easy to shape, and has good impact resistance. On the other hand, polycarbonate is a durable and impact-resistant thermoplastic that is often used as a substitute for glass. It has high transparency, exceptional strength, and can withstand extreme temperatures. While acrylic is more scratch-resistant and easier to work with, polycarbonate is more impact-resistant and can withstand greater force without breaking. Ultimately, the choice between acrylic and polycarbonate depends on the specific requirements of the application.


Photo by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash
Impact ResistanceLowHigh
UV ResistanceGoodExcellent
Chemical ResistanceGoodExcellent
Heat ResistanceGoodExcellent
Photo by Дмитрий Хрусталев-Григорьев on Unsplash

Further Detail


When it comes to choosing the right material for various applications, it is essential to consider the specific attributes and characteristics of each option. Acrylic and polycarbonate are two popular thermoplastic materials that are widely used in a variety of industries. While both materials offer unique advantages, they also have distinct differences that make them suitable for different applications. In this article, we will compare the attributes of acrylic and polycarbonate, exploring their strengths, weaknesses, and applications.

1. Transparency and Clarity

One of the primary considerations when selecting a material is its transparency and clarity. Acrylic, also known as PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate), is renowned for its exceptional optical clarity. It offers excellent light transmission, allowing up to 92% of visible light to pass through. This makes acrylic an ideal choice for applications that require high transparency, such as windows, skylights, and display cases.

On the other hand, polycarbonate offers good transparency but falls slightly behind acrylic in terms of clarity. While it allows around 88% of visible light to pass through, it may have a slightly yellowish tint. However, polycarbonate compensates for this by providing superior impact resistance, making it suitable for applications where durability is a priority.

2. Impact Resistance

When it comes to impact resistance, polycarbonate takes the lead. It is an incredibly tough material, known for its exceptional strength and durability. Polycarbonate can withstand high impacts without shattering, making it virtually unbreakable. This property makes it an excellent choice for applications that require protection against vandalism, such as safety glasses, riot shields, and protective covers.

Acrylic, while not as impact-resistant as polycarbonate, still offers reasonable strength. It is more prone to cracking and shattering under high impact compared to polycarbonate. However, acrylic can be modified with additives to enhance its impact resistance, making it suitable for applications where a balance between clarity and durability is required.

3. Chemical Resistance

When it comes to chemical resistance, acrylic and polycarbonate have different properties. Acrylic is generally resistant to many chemicals, including alcohols, weak acids, and alkalis. However, it is susceptible to solvents such as acetone and certain cleaning agents, which can cause crazing or cracking. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the specific chemical environment when choosing acrylic for chemical-resistant applications.

On the other hand, polycarbonate offers excellent resistance to a wide range of chemicals, including solvents and cleaning agents. It can withstand exposure to harsh chemicals without significant degradation or damage. This property makes polycarbonate a preferred choice for applications that require resistance to chemical exposure, such as laboratory equipment, safety goggles, and medical devices.

4. Temperature Resistance

Both acrylic and polycarbonate exhibit different temperature resistance properties. Acrylic has a lower heat resistance compared to polycarbonate. It can withstand temperatures up to approximately 80°C (176°F) before it starts to soften and deform. This makes acrylic suitable for indoor applications or environments with moderate temperature fluctuations.

Polycarbonate, on the other hand, offers superior temperature resistance. It can withstand higher temperatures, typically up to 120°C (248°F), without significant deformation. This property makes polycarbonate suitable for outdoor applications where exposure to extreme temperatures is expected, such as automotive components, outdoor signage, and greenhouse panels.

5. Machinability and Fabrication

Both acrylic and polycarbonate are relatively easy to machine and fabricate, making them versatile materials for various applications. They can be cut, drilled, and shaped using common tools and techniques. However, acrylic is generally easier to work with due to its lower melting point and lower tendency to chip or crack during machining.

Polycarbonate, while slightly more challenging to machine compared to acrylic, can still be easily fabricated with the right tools and techniques. It requires careful attention to avoid overheating during machining, as excessive heat can cause melting or deformation. However, polycarbonate's superior impact resistance makes it more forgiving during fabrication, as it is less prone to cracking or breaking.


Acrylic and polycarbonate are both versatile thermoplastic materials that offer unique attributes and advantages. Acrylic excels in optical clarity and transparency, making it ideal for applications that require high visibility. Polycarbonate, on the other hand, offers superior impact resistance and chemical resistance, making it suitable for applications that demand durability and protection.

Ultimately, the choice between acrylic and polycarbonate depends on the specific requirements of the application. By considering factors such as transparency, impact resistance, chemical resistance, temperature resistance, and machinability, one can make an informed decision to select the most suitable material for their project.

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