Often seen as direct competitors, acrylic and polycarbonate do have a lot in common at face value and do occasionally bump into each other whilst performing the same tasks. But how can you pick between the two when at a glance you may not be able to differentiate between the two? The answer is straight forward enough as their actual properties are quite different, so it is not really a matter of which is better, but rather which is more suitable for your purposes.
Because both acrylic and polycarbonate are types of plastic they both boast impressive levels of resistance to forceful impacts and can hold their own against the majority of alternative materials. Often a comparison is drawn between them and glass, under which glass always comes out as the clear loser.
This is because both plastics are highly resilient to damage and will easily brush off an impact that would have reduced a pane of glass into thousands of shards. Between the two of them however Polycarbonate would emerge the victor, as it consistently boasts over 30 times the impact resistance of glass. Depending on the manner it is made acrylic can have anywhere between 10-24 times the resistance of glass, but will always fall short of the strength demonstrated by polycarbonate.
Acrylic is available in a very wide and varied colour pallet which is not something that can be said about polycarbonate which has a far more limited variety available, though it does come in most of the standard broad-colours.
Unlike acrylic though, the colour clarity of polycarbonate does diminish over time and will adopt a yellow hue with prolonged exposure to the UV rays.
Their resistance to forceful knocks while impressive does not translate on to their ability to withstand scratches and both (especially polycarbonate) will succumb to scratches, meaning abrasive cleaning solutions and rough sponges or scourers should be avoided.
Both are easily cleaned with regular soap and water, but acrylic is less resistant to harsher chemicals than polycarbonate is, and should not ever be cleaned with glass cleaners or ammonia-based sprays.
Polycarbonate can withstand the rigours of these types of cleaners and is therefore less likely to be damaged while being maintained; but once damage has been inflicted it is not easily fixed. Acrylic however can recover from minor damages, such as light scratches at next to no expense and even less difficulty.
Acrylic is marginally clearer than polycarbonate and the difference is negligible but the gap will widen if polycarbonate is allowed to yellow, as a result of sun-exposure.
Additionally over time both will lose visual clarity, the difference being that acrylic be polished to regain it; polycarbonate cannot be.
Polycarbonate can be anywhere from 35% to 300% more expensive than acrylic.
When it come cutting sheets of acrylic and polycarbonate, acrylic is more manageable and can be cut with greater ease and noticeably less resistance, especially when using electrical tools.
Drilling on the other hand is where polycarbonate come into its own, as it can be safely drilled anywhere on the sheet with a standard bit and 99% of the time suffer no damage. Acrylic will withstand drilling but becomes more and more likely to break the closer you drill to the corners.
If there are any differences between Polycarbonate and Acrylic that have not been addressed here, please leave a comment or contact us.