Which Is Stronger Plexiglass Or Polycarbonate?

Plexiglass and polycarbonate are two widely used transparent plastic materials known for their versatile applications across various industries. Plexiglass, also known as acrylic or polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), is a transparent thermoplastic that offers optical clarity and excellent light transmission. Polycarbonate (PC), on the other hand, is an amorphous thermoplastic polymer that provides high impact resistance, toughness, and dimensional stability.

These materials are commonly used as alternatives to traditional glass in applications where safety, durability, and lightweight properties are critical. The objective of this paper is to compare the strength of plexiglass and polycarbonate, shedding light on their mechanical properties, fabrication techniques, and cost-effectiveness considerations to determine the most suitable material for various applications.

Material Properties(plexiglass VS polycarbonate)

Chemical CompositionPolymethyl methacrylateBisphenol A & Phosgene
Density (g/cm³)1.181.2
Light Transmission92%88%
Glass Transition Temp (Tg, °C)85-165147-155
UV ResistanceModerate (UV options available)High
Flammability (UL 94)HBV0 or V2

As you can see, there are some key differences between plexiglass and polycarbonate in terms of their material properties. While both materials offer excellent transparency, plexiglass has a slight edge with a higher light transmission rate. Polycarbonate, however, boasts better heat resistance and UV protection, making it a preferred choice for outdoor applications or in situations where exposure to higher temperatures is anticipated.

In terms of flammability, polycarbonate is less flammable than plexiglass and has better flame resistance. This property makes polycarbonate a safer choice for applications where fire safety is a priority.

Strength Comparison(plexiglass VS polycarbonate)

Strength PropertyPlexiglassPolycarbonate
Tensile Strength (psi)6,500 – 11,0009,000 – 14,000
Impact Resistance (ft-lb/in)0.35 – 1.712 – 20
Flexural Strength (psi)10,000 – 16,00012,000 – 17,000

As illustrated in the table, polycarbonate has a higher tensile strength, which means it can better withstand forces that stretch or pull the material. This property makes polycarbonate suitable for applications where high tensile strength is necessary, such as automotive parts and structural components.

In terms of impact resistance, polycarbonate significantly outperforms plexiglass. With up to 250 times the impact resistance of standard glass, polycarbonate is the ideal choice for applications requiring extreme durability and shatter resistance, like security windows and protective gear.

Lastly, when comparing flexural strength, polycarbonate has a slightly higher range than plexiglass. This means it is better suited for situations where the material is subjected to bending forces, like in curved structures or large, unsupported spans.

Taking these strength properties into account, polycarbonate emerges as the stronger material overall, making it the preferred choice for applications where strength and durability are of utmost importance. However, it’s essential to consider other factors like cost, fabrication requirements, and environmental impact when choosing the best material for a specific project.

Fabrication and Machining

Both plexiglass and polycarbonate can be fabricated and machined using a variety of techniques, which makes them suitable for numerous applications. Let’s explore the forming processes and machining techniques for each material.

Forming processes for plexiglass involve heating the material to make it pliable, allowing it to be shaped into various forms such as flat sheets, tubes, or custom shapes. Common methods include thermoforming, which uses heat and pressure to mold the material, and drape forming, where the heated material is draped over a mold and allowed to cool, taking on the mold’s shape. Plexiglass can also be cold-formed for simple bends, but this method is limited by the material’s flexibility.

Polycarbonate, being more flexible than plexiglass, can be more easily cold-formed for simple bends and curves. For more complex shapes, it can also be thermoformed, similar to plexiglass. Additionally, polycarbonate can be blow-molded or injection-molded, which allows for the production of intricate shapes and designs.

When it comes to machining techniques, both plexiglass and polycarbonate can be cut, drilled, and polished using standard woodworking tools. However, care must be taken to avoid generating excessive heat during the process, which can cause the material to melt or crack. For cutting, a fine-tooth saw blade is recommended, while for drilling, special plastic drill bits can be used to avoid chipping or cracking. Polishing and finishing can be done using a variety of methods, such as flame polishing, buffing, or using abrasive materials like sandpaper or polishing compounds.

Applications and Recommended Material

ApplicationRecommended MaterialReason
Architectural GlazingPlexiglassHigh transparency, lightweight, shatter resistance
Retail DisplaysPlexiglassExcellent light transmission, scratch resistance
Optical DevicesPlexiglassOptical clarity, light transmission properties
Bulletproof GlassPolycarbonateHigh impact resistance, durability
Automotive ComponentsPolycarbonateStrength, lightweight, UV resistance
Safety EquipmentPolycarbonateDurability, UV resistance, shatter resistance
GreenhousesPolycarbonateUV resistance, impact resistance, insulation
SignagePlexiglassClarity, lightweight, ease of fabrication
AquariumsPlexiglassClarity, lightweight, bonding strength
Aircraft CanopiesPolycarbonateImpact resistance, lightweight, UV resistance
Light FixturesPlexiglassLight transmission, heat resistance
Electronics EnclosuresPolycarbonateDurability, heat resistance, electrical insulation

plexiglass and polycarbonate each have unique properties that make them suitable for various applications. Plexiglass excels in situations requiring high transparency and scratch resistance, while polycarbonate’s strength and impact resistance make it ideal for demanding environments. Choosing the right material depends on the specific project requirements and finding the optimal balance between aesthetics, strength, and cost-effectiveness.

Cost Analysis

When choosing between plexiglass and polycarbonate, it’s essential to consider not only their unique properties but also the costs associated with each material. In this section, we’ll examine the raw material costs, fabrication and processing expenses, and lifecycle costs and maintenance for both plexiglass and polycarbonate.

Raw Material Costs

Plexiglass typically costs between $2 to $5 per square foot, depending on the thickness and quality of the material. Polycarbonate, being more expensive, ranges from $5 to $15 per square foot. This price difference demonstrates that plexiglass is generally more cost-effective in terms of raw material costs.

Fabrication and Processing Expenses

While it’s challenging to provide exact figures for fabrication and processing expenses, as they depend on the complexity of the design and the techniques used, we can estimate that plexiglass fabrication costs can be 10% to 20% lower than those of polycarbonate. This is primarily due to the ease of working with plexiglass compared to the stronger and more robust polycarbonate.

Lifecycle Costs and Maintenance

For an example of lifecycle costs, let’s consider a situation where a material is used for a protective barrier that needs to be replaced every five years if made of plexiglass, but only every ten years if made of polycarbonate. If the plexiglass barrier costs $1000 and the polycarbonate barrier costs $2000, the lifecycle cost for 20 years would be $4000 for plexiglass and $4000 for polycarbonate, making the overall costs equal in this case. This highlights the importance of considering long-term costs and durability when selecting a material for a particular application.


In summary, when comparing plexiglass and polycarbonate, it’s vital to consider their unique properties, costs, and environmental impact. Plexiglass is generally more affordable and offers excellent transparency, making it suitable for applications like architectural glazing and signage. Polycarbonate, though more expensive, provides superior strength and durability, making it ideal for applications like bulletproof glass and safety equipment.

Factoring in raw material costs, fabrication expenses, and long-term maintenance can help determine the most suitable material for a project. Ultimately, the choice between plexiglass and polycarbonate depends on the specific requirements and desired balance between aesthetics, strength, cost, and environmental impact.

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