Many people use clear plastic sheets as an alternative to glass for many different reasons. It might be to take advantage of the low weight of plastic compared to glass, or for safety reasons but even where practicality is the chief concern there may still be a need for the aesthetic of glass to be maintained.
Clear plastic is often used as a glazing material in boat windows, insulating secondary glazing, greenhouses, aquariums, car windows, roof lights and many more applications where something stronger or lighter than glass is required. Plastic sheeting is also suitable for these uses because of its resilience and the little amount of maintenance it requires – even in high moisture or marine environments it will not warp and retains its surface finish.
Polycarbonate is a particularly good material for use in glazing applications because of its incredible impact resistance, and it is often used in factories as machine guards, in sports facilities as a guard against projectiles and even to make bulletproof screens. Whether the polycarbonate or acrylic plastic sheet is being used in glazing for safety or for its weight and low maintenance advantages, a key concern will be the clarity of the material.
Acrylic admits up to 92% of light, making it optically clearer than standard plate glass. In fact, clear acrylic can be made up to 33cm thick and still remain completely clear! This simply cannot be achieved with glass, and thicker sheets of glass will adopt a green tinge that may not be appropriate for certain applications.
However, there are some instances where this glass-effect may be preferred, such as in the construction of retail displays, shower screens or other applications where the edge of the material is on view. The process of manufacturing glass-effect acrylic involves adding a little green dye to the resin before it is extruded on the production line. This has an indiscernible effect on the clarity of the plastic when viewed straight on, but gives it a glass-like tinge when viewed through the edge.
A shower screen is the perfect example of a use for clear glass-effect acrylic, as it combines the lightweight and shatterproof qualities of plastic with the aesthetic of glass.
So, does acrylic plastic look like glass? Yes, but there are different kinds of acrylic which are more suitable for different applications. Standard clear acrylic may look too much like plastic to pass as glass where the edge of the sheet is visible, but when it is used as a glazing material acrylic is very effective. Where the aesthetic of clear acrylic isn’t close enough to that of glass, there are glass-effect acrylic sheets which marry the performance of plastic with the look of real glass.