Both acrylic and polycarbonate are rigid plastic products and are available in clear plastic sheet, rod and tube form which are transparent and almost glass like in appearance. This is where the similarities end, however, as these plastic products perform different roles.
Acrylic or Perspex is the plastic sheet generally used for plastic fabrications, boat windows, display cabinets, raffle barrels, brochure holders, etc.
Acrylic has 8 times the impact strength of glass, has a high degree of transparency and can be fabricated, by bending, cutting and moulding, to almost any shape.
There are many colours of acrylic on the market, making it a fabulous plastic product to use in signage and displays. Also the good weatherability of acrylic is useful for sign writers.
Acrylic will melt at temperatures of 100°C. This is the plastic to use for your everyday plastic fabrication requirements.
Polycarbonate or lexan is the plastic sheet used when safety and security plastics are required. It is renowned for its high impact strength; it has 250 times the impact strength of glass and 30 times that of acrylic.
Polycarbonate is virtually unbreakable, light weight, durable, is UV stabilised (has good weather resistance) and is thermo formable to almost any shape. Its major uses are safety machine guards, riot shields, safety glazing, windows in race cars, telephone booth panels, etc. This is a strong plastic product, but it will scratch more than acrylic.
There is a mar resistant polycarbonate available, which has the same basic properties as regular polycarbonate, but it has a reduction in abrasion and scratching. Polycarbonate will melt at temperatures of 149°C.
So, to sum up, acrylic is used for non safety items and all types of displays. Polycarbonate is used for industrial strength applications where safety is a priority and where high temperatures are used. Naturally acrylic is cheaper than polycarbonate and regular polycarbonate is cheaper than the mar resistant grade.
The acrylic and polycarbonate range of plastic products is available from Pacific West.