March 22, 2021 | Blog
Is PlexiglasⓇ the KleenexⓇ of See-through Plastics?
Throughout the years, the term “facial tissue” has slowly drifted out of everyday slang while the trademarked brand name, Kleenex®, has taken over as the common replacement. Along that same vein, the term “plexiglass” is most often used by the general public to describe or search for any transparent plastic material. The reality is, while acrylic is a type of plastic, not all plastic is acrylic and not all clear plastic is Plexiglas®, just like not all facial tissue is Kleenex.
Why Can’t I Just Ask for Plexiglass?
Let’s begin with its origin story. Plexiglas has served as an industry-standard in acrylic manufacturing for over 75 years, and Cope has been one of only a few authorized distributors for almost as long. In the early 1900s, Otto Rohm, founder of Rohm and Haas, invented the chemical that formulates this thermoplastic, polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA). Rohm was trying to increase the resistance of glass by creating a lamination between glass plates when he inadvertently created an entirely new material, acrylic. In 1932, Rohm produced the first PMMA cast sheet and in 1933, he created a stable, transparent, hard, shatterproof polymer, which was registered under the Plexiglas trademark. Though plexiglass existed before the registered name of Plexiglas came about, the term plexiglass did not appear until years after Plexiglas dominated the glass and plastics industries. In 1998, Elf Atochem purchased the Rohm and Haas Company interests. Altuglas International, (formerly Atoglas), a business unit of Arkema Inc. (formerly Elf Atochem North America, Inc.), retained ownership of the Plexiglas trademark until May of 2021, when Trinseo™ took over.
This begs the question, if “plexiglass” is a generic reference for the trademarked Plexiglas, does that mean Plexiglas is the same as all other acrylic products? The simple answer is no. The biggest difference between acrylics is the way they are manufactured: extruded versus cast. Plexiglas® G is a cell cast product, which can be more expensive to produce than extruded acrylic but is harder, and therefore less susceptible to scratching, and ideal for machining. Additionally, the cell cast process introduces fewer impurities in the material, such as ripples, waves, or specks, which is preferred for engraving and edge lighting, but can have less uniform thickness tolerance throughout the sheet. Both offer exceptional clarity, UV resistance, transparency, weatherability, and chemical resistance.
There are a variety of brands, attributes, production techniques, ingredients, and additives for both acrylics and other see-through plastic materials. With so many options on the market, it’s no surprise that there is some confusion. Understanding the differences between them all can help prevent potential problems when it comes to your next project. Here’s what could happen:
- Expending Extra Cash. You could be spending more than you need to on your see-through materials! Understanding the options and what specific material will work best can save you more than you think.
- Cracking Under Pressure. Some plastics are stronger than others. Choosing the correct material and fabrication for your project conditions could save it from crazing or cracking while in use.
- Expanding, Discoloring, or Failing. Certain see-through materials can stand up to temperature highs and lows, and some cannot. Don’t make the mistake of buying a material that can’t take the heat.
See-Through Plastics at Cope
Although Plexiglas is the go-to name for clear plastic, we stock many product options that may offer the characteristics needed for your application:
- PolyMethyl Methacrylate (Acrylic). Acrylic (PMMA) is a robust plastic material that exhibits glass-like qualities at half the weight with up to 10 times the impact resistance. Some common acrylic applications include automotive trim, protective cases, lenses, light fixtures, signage, and POP displays. Recently, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, acrylic has been used for safety partitions, desktop barriers, and other shields and sneeze guards. Some common brands of Acrylic include Plexiglas, Excelon, Futurplast, OPTIX, and Polycast™.
- Polycarbonate. Polycarbonate (PC) is commonly transparent while being very impact and chemically resistant, especially when coated. At the same thickness, polycarbonate is 30 times stronger than acrylic and over 200 times stronger than glass. The material exhibits great machinability and can be easily thermoformed. Some common applications are exhibits, POP displays, signage, skylights, and windows. Today, polycarbonate is often used for medical face shields, temporary partitions, lightweight lenses, and eye protection. Some common brands of polycarbonate include PALSUN®, TUFFAK, and Lexan.
- Polyethylene Terephthalate Glycol (PETG). PETG exhibits optical clarity, toughness, chemical resistance, and is an excellent choice for thermoforming. The applications of this material include POP displays, store fixtures, interior images, and exhibits. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, PETG plastics have been used for medical face masks and plastic protective barriers in schools, offices, restaurants, and other public spaces. Common brands of PETG include SPECTAR™ and VIVAK.
- Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). This material is available in flexible or rigid and is chemically non-reactive. It has a broad range of applications, from high-volume construction-related products to simple electric wire insulation coatings. PVC can be easily machined to tight tolerances and multiple finishes. Typical applications for PVC are booths, enclosures, containers, corrosion control equipment, and desktop partitions.
Finding the Right Material For You
The process of choosing the right material for your application is complex and critical to the success of your project. To find the ideal material for your application, you can also use our simple and easy online Graphic Material Selector or contact a Cope material expert directly. Reach our team at 1-800-851-5510 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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