Know Your Plastics - Do I Choose PC or Acrylic?

Transparent Plastic

Would you stand on this ledge if it was made of Acrylic? Polycarbonate? Glass? Choosing the ideal material can be a matter of life or death!

It's almost certain that if you are creating retail displays requiring a transparent plastic, you'll be evaluating Polycarbonate (PC) and Acrylic. Very similar at first look, these two can be worlds apart, depending on your requirements. Without prejudice, let's consider properties of each, for when you next have to make this decision - and learn some more fun plastic trivia along the way.

STRENGTH

No surprises here - PC has 15x impact resistance as compered to Acrylic and 250x compared to glass. Little wonder it's the choice of world leaders for bulletproof car windows - and my personal choice for the reading glasses I regularly drop. PC is less rigid than acrylic, so this flexibility provides a degree of shock absorption. Do you need this degree of strength for a retail display item? Probably not for a static display - but if it's a functional item that may need to flex a little, PC is back in the frame.

Strength is also a factor for some designs. Does your fitting need to be drilled? PC is a clear winner here, particularly if those holes are close to the edge.

DURABILITY

Both materials are durable, with some nuances. Both materials can scratch - acrylic is the more resistant to this. Cleaning is best done with a non-abrasive cloth. For acrylic, stick to warm soapy water, as it has a low chemical resistance. PC is more resistant, so some chemicals, such as ammonia cleaners, are suitable. But for both - no paper towels and woollen rags. 

Acrylic starts off with a higher clarity than PC - and unlike PC, it doesn't yellow over time. You can polish acrylic, so as to bring it back to its original clarity. For beautiful displays of high-end merchandise, this is a key reason to choose acrylic. We can also polish cut edges clean during manufacturing, to get rid of those rough corners.

Using them outside? Great news - both are weather resistant and won't shrink permanently in the elements. 

COST

If there's nothing else to separate the two materials, then dollars will make a difference. PC is 30-40% more expensive as a raw material. Both are easy to work with in a manufacturing sense, so the cost to work with either will be similar in most circumstances.

One important thing to consider, however - for large display constructions made from acrylic, you may require more material. This is why we still see glass displays - acrylic does not have the same rigidity, so the longer the piece of acrylic, the thicker it needs to be to prevent bowing. Alternatively, some sort of reinforcement needs to be in the design. We still love acrylic though - unlike glass, it does not shatter. 

IN SUMMARY

Consider your environment, your need for display clarity and your budget.

 - PC is incredibly strong and a great choice for fixtures needing a degree of flex. An example of a PC product where strength is important is here 

 - Acrylic has the highest clarity and can be polished back to its original condition. Finishing quality is higher with acrylic. An excellent choice where transparency is high priority, such as for this type of display component

 - Both materials are weather resistant, recyclable plastics. 

Author profile

Steve Nelson believes in incredible retail spaces that sustain communities. Steve is a Retail Display specialist, who has worked with iconic retailers across the globe. As leader of Euroswift Retail Creations in Australia, his focus is delivering solutions and techniques that help retailers develop dexterity at the shop floor, to predict the needs of their local community and react rapidly. Connect with Steve on LinkedIn

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