The Difference Between Acrylic Plastic And Polycarbonate

Today we will discuss the differences between acrylic plastic and polycarbonate and analyse which would be better for particular purposes. Of all the plastics used for construction materials, whether industrial or small-scale, acrylic and polycarbonate are the most popular choices. This is due to their flexibility, versatility, and generally low price, traits that make for efficient building materials. 

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic plastic, otherwise known as polymethyl methacrylate, is an engineering plastic used for various purposes, including acrylic nails, paint, LCD screens, and furniture. Acrylic sheets are also used in schools for practical projects, the reason being their high flexibility and versatility. 

Acrylic plastic is exceedingly clear. So it is also suitable for non-safety windows, tanks, enclosures, and exhibits. Acrylic boasts outstanding strength and durability and despite its status as a thermoplastic, the melting point is still at a high of 160°C. 

Thermoplastics can be repeatedly softened and hardened by varying temperatures, unlike thermosetting plastics. Thermosetting plastics are irreversibly cured, unaffected by changes in temperature, and have a melting point of 270°C, which makes them perfect for electrical switches and utensil handles, which must withstand high temperatures. 

Not all plastic is acrylic, Polymethyl Methacrylate is just one of seven different types of plastic. The others of which are Polyethylene, Polypropylene, Polyethylene Terephthalate, Polyvinyl Chloride, Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene, and Polycarbonate

What is Polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate shares many similarities with acrylic, in that it is also a thermoplastic, and is used in engineering industries thanks to its strong, tough, and transparent qualities. The use of polycarbonate is slightly different from acrylic sheets though, as polycarbonate is used in medical devices, automotive components, protective gear, and digital disks, to name a few. 

Polycarbonate was used in various personal protective equipment throughout the pandemic, such as in the windows between supermarket checkouts. Its ability for use as a protective measure is granted by its nearly unbreakable nature. There are even some bulletproof shields made of polycarbonate, which should act as a testament to its resistant properties. 

The melting point of polycarbonate is much higher than that of acrylic plastic, 110°C higher. Its melting point is almost identical to that of thermosetting plastics. 

So, aside from their scientific composition, what are the differences between acrylic plastic and polycarbonate?

What are the differences between acrylic plastic and polycarbonate?

There are several differences between acrylic plastic and polycarbonate which make the plastics more suitable for particular applications than others. It is important to know this so you ensure to use the correct plastic for your purpose.

  • Strength

Compared to glass, plastic is almost half the weight but is much stronger and provides far greater impact resistance. The shatterproof properties of the plastics make them far safer for use than glass also, when broken, the shards aren’t small and sharp, they tend to be large and dull. Although this may seem like a similarity, because it is, there are still differences between acrylic plastic and polycarbonate. 

Acrylic has only ten times the impact resistance of glass, whereas polycarbonate stands at 250 times stronger. This is what makes polycarbonate a great choice for safety equipment over acrylic. 

  • Durability

Both plastics have incredible durability properties, but polycarbonate is the better option for high-risk environments in which high resistance and non-flammability are required. Polycarbonate is far less flammable than acrylic, and its impact resistance allows it to avoid chips, dents, and scratches. 

  • Clarity

There are many variations of polycarbonate and acrylic plastic which allows you to choose the level of clarity you prefer. However, the UV resistance of polycarbonate does let it down in this category, as it reduces the transparency slightly and only allows 88% of light to ingress. Due to its frequent use as roofing material in greenhouses and other external purposes, polycarbonate needs this UV resistance to avoid yellowing, but it does make it less clear as a result. 

If you’re looking for clarity, acrylic plastic is the best option. 

  • Ease of use

Regarding its usability, there are a few factors that must be considered. For example, its working temperatures, its malleability, polishing capabilities, and more. 

With regards to its working temperatures, we covered above that polycarbonate has a far higher melting point than acrylic, so for high-heat applications, polycarbonate would be best. 

Concerning cutting, due to its high durability and stronger makeup, polycarbonate is slightly harder to cut. This doesn’t mean that it is generally difficult. Simply that acrylic is far smoother by comparison. So for ease of cutting, acrylic plastic is preferable. 

Drilling into acrylic sheets is not impossible, but if it can be avoided, or conducted by a professional, it isn’t recommended. This is because acrylic is susceptible to cracking if drilled with the incorrect drill bit or too close to an edge. Polycarbonate doesn’t tend to have this problem and can be drilled freely without the risk of cracking or shattering. Thus, polycarbonate is more suited for drilling. 

Polishing and cleaning are far easier with acrylic sheets. Firstly, polycarbonate cannot be polished, else more scratches will simply be embedded in the surface. The edges of acrylic can be polished, and only soap and warm water are needed to clean acrylic. Polycarbonate can be cleaned with harsher chemicals due to its sturdier composition, but neither plastic should be cleaned using solvents. Generally, cleaning acrylic sheets is far easier. 

Bending and gluing are also far easier with acrylic sheets than with polycarbonate. 


Essentially, acrylic plastic is better for low-risk purposes and smaller projects, whereas polycarbonate is far better suited for more high-risk applications. Fortunately, regardless of the intended purpose, we at Sheet Plastics can supply you with everything you need. Whether you require a plastic supplier, or you’re seeking help and advice, we’re happy to help. 

Browse our ranges now and contact us today if there’s anything you’re looking for that you can’t find!