Difference between plexiglass and polycarbonate

What is polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is a polymer that derives from carbonic acid, coming from the organic compound bisphenol A.

It is essentially a thermoplastic material, which has existed since the 1930s. 

The great transparency and resistance typical of polycarbonate make it perfect for multiple uses, replacing classic glass , but also other materials of plastic origin.

There are mainly two types of polycarbonate on the market: compact and honeycomb. 

Compact polycarbonate is much more transparent, almost like glass, about 250 times more robust, but much lighter. In addition to being resistant, it is also a good acoustic and thermal insulator. 

Alveolar polycarbonate has a very particular structure, made up of alveoli. This version is much less shiny than the other, but resistant to impacts and bad weather, therefore ideal for external solutions.

The polycarbonate sheets are also sold coloured , in case of particular needs and uses. 

While transparent polycarbonate is intended for various uses in construction, such as to replace glass in bulkheads, walls or canopies, colored polycarbonate is preferred for the production of furniture and design objects (such as our chairs ), or when it is necessary to a divider that guarantees privacy but at the same time also lets light pass through.

The main uses of polycarbonate concern the most disparate sectors, such as: construction, furniture, the military sector, optics, aeronautics, electronics and others. Thanks to the great ease of assembly of polycarbonate sheets, in construction this material is used to cover the facades of buildings, to divide internal spaces, to create windows, roofs and canopies (both curved and flat). 

In the optical sector , however, polycarbonate is used to produce lenses and objectives for cameras, but also for the production of lenses for glasses. 

In the military sector, polycarbonate is used in the construction of riot shields and bulletproof vests; while in the aeronautics sector, it is used for aircraft portholes . 

Given its characteristics and versatility, polycarbonate is also used in the medical field , to make some cardiac surgery equipment, childcare accessories and healthcare items, such as aerosols and baby bottles.

What is synthetic glass

Also called plexiglass , or more specifically polymethyl methacrylate, synthetic glass has long replaced classic glass. It is a transparent and resistant plastic material, made of methyl methacrylate (MMA) polymers.

On the market it is possible to find sheets of synthetic glass of different thicknesses (usually from 1 millimeter to 30 millimetres) and colours, in order to adapt to different usage needs. 

Plexiglass is a flexible and mouldable material, therefore it can be thermoformed to obtain the desired shapes.

Synthetic glass is extremely transparent , even more so than glass, but clearly less delicate and less subject to breakage; that's why synthetic glass has replaced glass in many industries. 

Among the most particular uses of plexiglass we find the production of intraocular lenses, accessories used in orthopaedics, components for dentistry and other instruments for aesthetic medicine and radiotherapy. 

Synthetic glass is also widely used for its sensitivity to the current that passes through it and for being an excellent conductor of light.

In addition, plexiglass can be recycled during production , thanks to the distillation of waste pieces which are polymerized again to obtain new plexiglass.

What is tempered glass

The common glass that we all know is a product resulting from the sieving of silica sand, which is then melted at high temperatures in glass factories. 

Tempered (or tempered) glass , on the other hand, undergoes an additional step, called tempering, in which the material is fired in special machinery at a temperature of around 640 degrees.

Immediately afterwards, it is cooled by another machine that blows jets of air. 

By doing so, the tempered glass sheet hardens immediately on the sides, exponentially strengthening resistance and elasticity, while the center cools more slowly. 

Thanks to this process, tempered glass becomes approximately 6 times more resistant than normal glass: it withstands impacts 4 times more and resists up to 250° C.

The great advantage of tempered glass, for which it is widely used in various fields, is that it is a very safe material , as in the event of breakage it shatters into blunt pieces that do not cut. The safety and resistance beyond normal allow tempered glass to be used in many contexts, such as for partition walls in closed spaces, shower cubicles , shop windows or, in construction, to make the exterior of modern glass buildings.

It must be underlined, however, that the tempering process requires that the glass cannot undergo further modifications, therefore the pieces must first be worked and shaped and then tempered.

Difference between plexiglass and polycarbonate

Plexiglass and polycarbonate are often considered to be the same material but, even though they are two valid alternatives to glass, there are substantial differences between the two.

    1) Starting from the intrinsic characteristics of these two plastic materials, plexiglass has a density of 1.19 g/cm3, while polycarbonate has a density of 1.2 g/cm3, both values ​​are extremely lower than the density of glass , which corresponds to 2.5 g/cm3.

    2) Impact resistance is fundamental, given the use made of both materials. 

Although both plexiglass and polycarbonate are very light, weighing about half as much as glass, polycarbonate is 250 times more resistant to impacts than glass, while plexiglass is 17 times more resistant. 

    3) Polycarbonate is flexible and can be handled and worked with more freedom without risking injury, while plexiglass is much more rigid and subject to breakage.

    4) Another characteristic that makes the two materials different is brightness , or more precisely transparency .

It is particularly important when polycarbonate and plexiglass are used to replace walls or to create roofs that must bring light to the rooms. 

Plexiglass is brighter , it has a light transmittance factor of 92%, while polycarbonate has 88%.

To obtain greater transparency, polycarbonate is treated with special procedures but, over time, it tends to yellow.

    5) Resistance and durability are indisputable for both; what can make the difference, however, is that plexiglass, once scratched, can be polished and return as good as new, which however does not happen with polycarbonate.

When you decide to opt for plastic materials such as plexiglass and polycarbonate, it is best to choose their use also thinking about people's  safety .

In fact, although they are safer than glass in case of breakage, they are not fireproof in case of fire, but polycarbonate is less flammable than plexiglass.

Finally, as regards cleaning polycarbonate and plexiglass, it can be performed simply with water, if necessary with the addition of neutral soap, and a soft non-abrasive cloth.

It is important to avoid the use of aggressive detergents , given that the two materials fear chemical agents and solvents.

Atmospheric agents, UV rays and chemical agents

In order to ensure high durability of the materials, it is necessary to know the strengths and weaknesses of plexiglass and polycarbonate.

Inclement weather and inappropriate products used for cleaning could in fact compromise the resistance and other characteristics.

As regards atmospheric agents , before choosing the material it is good to understand the use you want to make of it. Polycarbonate is more elastic than plexiglass and also more resistant to impacts and weather. Precisely for this reason, it is more suitable for outdoors.

UV rays, on the other hand, are the enemies of both of these materials, but polycarbonate yellows much faster if exposed to sunlight, also risking becoming opaque without remedies. The only solution to prevent polycarbonate from ruining is to treat it with special additives to protect it. Plexiglass on the other hand, although it can yellow if exposed to UV rays, can be polished later.

When cleaning polycarbonate and plexiglass sheets or objects, it is preferable to use non-abrasive cloths and water and, when necessary, neutral soaps (Marseille soap is perfect for this purpose). 

For example, polycarbonate is afraid of esters, ketones and alcohols, i.e. compounds present in many commonly used detergents, which cause it to become opaque. 

Plexiglass, on the other hand, gets damaged in contact with chemical agents such as acetone, ethyl acetate, benzene, phenols and thinners in general.

Price difference between plexiglass and polycarbonate

Both of these materials are sold by weight, so to make comparisons you should compare two sheets of the same weight. 

In general, both plexiglass and polycarbonate are more expensive than classic glass, but are often preferred for their greater resistance to impacts and bad weather, as well as for their durability.

For the same weight, polycarbonate has a higher price than plexiglass.

When buying polycarbonate sheets, however, you must always pay attention to the weight, since the dimensions can be misleading.

Even if of the same size, in fact, a sheet of honeycomb polycarbonate is lighter than a sheet of compact polycarbonate.

Although polycarbonate costs more than plexiglass, given its characteristics, it can be said that between the two, polycarbonate is the material with a better quality-price ratio .