What is Acrylic Plastic? | The Ultimate Guide

What is Acrylic Plastic? (PMMA)

Hello everybody, PMMA or Acrylic or Plexiglass is used everywhere, from our windows to sporting equipment. Let’s find out more about the infamous plastic, which is an integral part of four lives.

What is Acrylic Plastic? (PMMA)

Acrylic plastic, also known by many names like PMMA (Polymethyl methacrylate), Plexiglass, Plexiglas, etc., is a transparent thermoplastic material known by its chemical name “plexiglass,”  with excellent strength, rigidity, and optical clarity. The material has many similarities with Polycarbonate and, due to its high impact resistance, is also heavily utilized as a replacement for glass.

One key difference between acrylic and polycarbonate is that the former doesn’t contain the potentially harmful substance bisphenol-A (BPA), and the latter has greater impact strength.

The one feature which differentiates acrylic from other transparent plastics is its excellent weathering properties. Acrylic plastic sheets are easy to process and blend with most organic solvents and adhesives.

The supreme optical properties make it one of the clearest plastic on the market. In addition, good transparency makes it suitable for various applications.

Today, most acrylic plastic is sold in sheets of varying thickness depending on the applications, but it can also be found in the form of rods or tubes. In addition, the stylized frosted, non-glare, and mirrored versions are also making the rounds in the market.

The History of Acrylic Plastic 

The History of Acrylic Plastics

The transparent thermoplastic was introduced in 1928 by three chemists named William Chalmers, Otto Röhm, and Walter Bauer. and was adopted by the US in 1933 by a company named Rohm and Hass Company. 

One of the first applications was made in WWII in submarine periscopes, airplane windows, and canopies. Even then, acrylic proved to be safer for airmen than glass.

How is Acrylic made?

Acrylic is made the way like other plastic materials. It all starts with the filtration of hydrocarbon fuels into lighter groups called “Fractions.” Some of those extracted fractions are reacted with certain catalysts to get acrylic(the same process called polymerization is used to make all the thermoplastic and thermoset materials) using polymerization.

Engaging Read – Which is the Best Acrylic Glue? | The Best Plexiglass Glue 

Key Properties of Acrylic Sheets and Plastic 

Acrylic has various unique properties making it ideal for a variety of applications. Here are the specific properties of acrylic (We’ll discuss the grades and properties later in the piece):

  • High optical clarity
  • Fantastic chemical resistance to all solvents
  • Excellent dimensional stability
  • Good weatherability and UV resistance
  • High impact resistance
  • Lightweight
Property Value
Technical name Acrylic(PMMA)
Melt Temperature 130°C (266°F)
Chemical Formula
(C5H8O2)n
Tensile Strength
65 MPa (9400 PSI) ***
Shrink Rate
0.2 – 1% (.002 – .01 in/in) ***
Flexural Strength
90 MPa (13000 PSI) ***
Specific Gravity 1.18
Typical Injection Mold Temperature
79-107°C (175-225°F) ***
Water absorption (immersion 24 hours)
0.20%
Light Transmittance
92%
Heat deflection temperature
95°C (203°F) at 0.46 MPa (66 PSI) **

Why is Acrylic used so often?

Why is Acrylic used so often?

Acrylic or Plexiglass is one of the sought-after transparent thermoplastics in the market. The optical clarity and scratch resistance make it perfect for both outdoor and indoor applications.

It is a pocket-friendly, lighter alternative to glass; yes, it is cheaper than polycarbonate and should be considered where strength is not an important factor. It can be easily cut into precise shapes using laser energy as PMMA vaporizes in the laser’s contact.

I recommend using acrylic when optical clarity is of utmost importance; if strength is also an important factor, more preference should be given to Polycarbonate.

The Acrylic material is easily processable with injection molding, thermoforming, and extrusion.

Acrylic Grades and Applications 

Acrylic Grades and Applications

Acrylic or PMMA is available in various grades, each with different properties, and suitable for different applications. Here are the most common acrylic plastic grades.

Extruded Acrylic: 

Extrudes acrylic is the commonly found grade or variation of acrylic manufactured in length resulting in cost savings as yield loss can be slashed when parts are cut from custom sheet sizes. This type of acrylic sheet blends seamlessly with cement solvents.

Cast Acrylic:

Cast acrylic sheet has greater chemical resistance and fabulous machine processing capabilities compared to extruded acrylic.

Extruded and cast are the most commonly known acrylic variations. Let’s see a brief comparison between them:

Interesting Read – Plexiglass Vs. Acrylic | What are the Differences and Similarities?

Extruded
Cast
Thermoformable
Better range n terms of thickness upto 4″, especially those made for bullet resistance
Phemonelol optical properties
Better long-term resistance to UV exposure and weather
Decent electrical and UV resistance
Lightweight and rigid
Impact resistance is better than glass(Not Kidding)
Lower water absorbtion

Continuous Cast Acrylic

Like cast acrylic in terms of chemical resistance and machining capabilities, continuous cast acrylic provides a more defined thickness and larger, broader sheet sizes due to the continuous cast manufacturing method’s nature.

Acrylic for Architectural Applications

Acrylic’s impact resistance, lightweight, weather resistance, and, most importantly, clarity is an ideal materials for housing and office applications. It is mostly used for making windows, partitions, canopies, lighting fixtures, etc.

OPTIX® DA Acrylic for Digital Printing

OPTIX DA is extremely useful in UV protection without needing adhesion promoters.

AMGARD™ Acrylic for Safety Shields

It’s a transparent sheet coated with a silver ion antimicrobial agent that helps curb microorganisms like bacteria, mold, and fungi that will keep the product from staining and odor.

OPTIX® 95 Acrylic

OPTIX 95 is mostly used for decorative purposes as it comes with a matte finish. Widely used in display products as it also reduces surface reflections. Stain and fingerprint resistance improves its applicability even more.

OPTIX® Flexilume Specialty Film

Another variant with a matte finish and excellent uniformity. OPTIX® Flexilume film is highly utilized as an overlapping film for lenses or as a forming insert for forming metals and profiles.

OPTIX® LD Acrylic for Light Diffusion

OPTIX® LD has supreme diffusion properties and weather resistance. Those features allow higher design flexibility with slimmer letters. Visible hot spots and splendor fluctuations are removed without affecting the light transience.

OPTIX® Pattern 12 Panels

OPTIX® pattern 12 acrylic panels for lighting provide unprecedented efficiency and good glare control, not compromising the attractive appearance. The PL-21 sports a conical pattern in flexible sizes. It fits standard ceiling grids without much hassle for installation.

Fascinating Read – What is PTFE (Polytetrafluoroethylene)? | The Complete Guide

Advantages of Acrylic Plastic

Acrylic - advantages

  • Lighter but Stronger
  • Easy to Maintain 
  • Easy to process and Shape 

 Lighter but Stronger

The greatest advantage of using acrylic plastic over glass is its lightweight. It’s 50% lighter than glass but more durable and stronger. Processing acrylic in the cast or extruded form will not only cut costs but will provide ten times more toughness than glass.

From a safety point of view, if, in any case, an acrylic sheet product breaks, it won’t shatter but will fracture into large dull(blunt) pieces.

That feature diversified its applicability to products like windows, shower doors, sliding doors, etc.

Easy to Maintain

As far as the cleaning and maintaining part is concerned, some usually unspoken rules must be followed. Acrylic should always be cleaned or wiped with a wet microfiber cloth.

Using rough towels is also not recommended as they will create more scratches rather than removing them. Artificial cleaners are not be used as the chemicals in them will roughen the acrylic’s surface. Soapy water and Novus products will be ideal choices for cleaning.

Bonus Tip – It is recommended to clean the cloth with water to remove particles and grits because they can be responsible for leaving or enhancing the scratches on the acrylic’s surface.

Easy to Process and Shape

Acrylic plastic, when heated, becomes soft and moldable into various shapes, forms, and sizes. As it cools, it becomes hard and holds a formed shape, becoming easier to be processed in a machine.

The molds used are often made from metal or even wood. The process is very in-expensive and versatile, as acrylic sheets can easily be bent into many shapes.

Disadvantages of Acrylic Plastic

Acrylic - Disadvantages

  • It scratches more often than glass.
  • Easily stained by greases and oil. However, as I mentioned above, cleaning acrylic is also very easy.
  • Distortion is another problem that can be very negative for some people because acrylic bends very easily during construction.
  • Compared to thermoplastics, matte resistance is not at par.

Interesting Read – How to Select the Right Plastic Material? | Mechanical Properties | Special Properties | Types of Plastics

The Most Common Plexiglass Applications

Acrylic comes with many applications, the most common applications being glass display cases, bulletproof windows, skylights, etc. Below are the most common commercial and non-commercial acrylic applications.

Sporting Equipment

Ever wondered why your lightweight sports shoes make you run so fast are made up of? There are healthy chances that the sole of those shoes is made utilizing acrylic. In sports, every microsecond can make an astronomical difference; therefore, acrylic material becomes a must-use thanks to its durable yet light properties.

Acrylic is used in performance shoes, tennis racket handles, and even bike helmets. After carbon fiber, acrylic is the used plastic material for making sports goods.

Home Improvement

Acrylic’s transparency makes it a premium choice for the decoration furniture industry. With polycarbonate or perspex, acrylic has become an excellent alternative to glass for furniture and decoration, extensively used in cabinets, splashbacks, coffee tables, decorative panels, etc.

Aquariums

This one’s a no-brainer. The tight glass material you see in shark tanks at aquariums is often made up of acrylic. Other materials are also used as an alternative to glass, but acrylic has been proven to be the best option as it meets all the required specifications at half the price of glass.

Fiber Optic Cabling

In the past, fiber optic wiring was heavily dependent on the glass as the wiring tips were made from it. This was done to protect the fiber lining while still allowing light to transmit through the line and carry the data from point A to point B.

These days, the emergence of acrylic has made fiber optics realize that using acrylic makes much more sense than glass. It provides an additional benefit – acrylic remains intact when bent or stretched, where the glass breaks.

Water Resistant Paint

One of the most crucial benefits of plastic material is water-resistant. When you pour water onto a plastic surface, you will notice that it slips off from the surface. This property makes acrylic paint a great innovation. Traces of acrylic plastic added to the paint give a similar effect. Although acrylic paint is making its way to house wall paint, it is currently primarily used for car paint.

Fluorescent Light Lenses

Fluorescent light has come under much trouble due to its emission of many blue lights. Fluorescent lights have been linked to mental health disorders like depression, anxiety, and insomnia. Recently, acrylic plastic has been successfully formed into lenses that can fit over any fluorescent light bulb to soften the lighting and eradicate blue light.

Military Use

From breaking the sound barrier to diving deep into the ocean, acrylic has many uses for the military. Submarine windows and airplane cockpits are the most common applications for the military. Acrylic is super popular among the defense forces: of its adaptability, high strength under pressure, and transparency.

Acrylic is also heavily involved in the indoor decoration industry and is utilized heavily to make plastic dentures.

Is Acrylic Toxic?

Acrylic - toxicity

For toxicity, acrylic comes with the benefit of not containing or releasing Bisphenol A (BPA) during hydrolysis. On the other side, Polycarbonate does contain BPA. Although the overall impact of BPA is still unclear, it still gives acrylic an edge over PC.

The government research studies conclude that acrylic is toxic for humans, but as the private sector(plastic Processing companies) research goes, the government reports exaggerate the harm.

However, while processing acrylic or even polycarbonate, a safe distance between the machine and the released fumes should be maintained. Wearing a mask can be an excellent option to avoid fumes.

The processing should be done in a well-ventilated facility to avoid unwanted casualties.

The Future of Acrylic/Plexiglass 

According to a Market Research Future study, the global Acrylic market will register a CAGR of 5.5 % and reach USD 6 billion by 2027.

The number can show drastic change because, as of writing this post, the Covid-19 pandemic is still on and has left a staggering impact on the world economy and manufacturing.

But if we look long-term, the future looks bright because of rapid acrylic adoption by various sectors worldwide. The largest consumer of acrylic is the building and architecture industry, and it will continue to hold a large chunk of the market share in the future. Acrylic’s optical clarity, transparency, chemical resistance, and lightweight make it a darling of the construction industry.

Other essential industries would be communications, retail, automotive, and furniture & design. Their contribution to acrylic consumption will steadily rise in the near and long term.

The Asia-pacific region is the largest consumer of acrylic, followed by North America and Europe. However, China and India are the main markets in Asia, with more than 50% market share together in the region.

Asia-Pacific is said to keep the top spot in terms of market share in the future, thanks to tremendous economic growth, rising purchasing power, and changing lifestyles.

FAQs 

What is the molecular structure of acrylic?

(C5O2H8)n

Can plexiglass be easily shaped?

Acrylic is easy to fabricate and shape. It also has good machining properties because of its good shaping properties and its ability to become soft under high temperatures.

What is heavier? Glass or acrylic? 

Glass is twice as heavy as acrylic, making acrylic ideal for many applications where the traditional choice was glass. The construction industry is an excellent example where acrylic quickly replaces glass.

Is acrylic harder than plywood?

Acrylic is said to be 30 times harder than a half-inch plywood sheet.

Is acrylic heavier than MDF?

Acrylic is denser than MDF, making acrylic at least a pound heavier. To be accurate, the acrylic platter has 0.125% wow & flutter compared to 0.175% for MDF. However, acrylic has a cleaner and more detailed sound. Acrylic is also great at decreasing unwanted vibrations because of its high density and low stiffness.

Suggested Read 

The Takeaway 

Finally, I would like to say that utilizing acrylic plastic and sheets proves exceptionally beneficial for manufacturers. Acrylic transparency keeps it in good demand for the decoration industry. I have tried my best to keep this post brief and informative.

I hope you liked it. Kindly share your reviews in the comment box.

5 thoughts on “What is Acrylic Plastic? | The Ultimate Guide”

  1. Can I expect any more ad-ons..to this info.
    Really hope. I’m doing my best in this obvious cause.

    Reply
  2. WHAT is the best GLUE to use with clear acrylic photos? I want to mount them in floater wooden frames. Gorilla glue says they glue anything but gives warning about certain plastics etc.

    Reply

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