Polycarbonate vs Acrylic: Choosing the Right Glass Substitute

When you need a glass substitute, you’re probably looking at either polycarbonate or acrylic. Both polymers offer the transparency of glass but are much more resistant to impact and scratching, and they’re more cost-effective and lightweight. If you’re developing a plastic component or product, which one is the better choice? Our plastics manufacturing company in North Carolina is sharing more about the qualities and uses for polycarbonate and acrylic to help you make the right choice for your company.

What Is Polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is a naturally transparent, highly durable thermoplastic polymer that contains chemical compounds of carbonic acid. This makes it incredibly strong and rigid and it can withstand both extreme heat and cold, as it doesn’t soften until around 295° F. It’s easily shaped through both thermoforming and injection molding, plus, it can withstand additional shaping and customization, including bending, drilling, and routing.

Uses for Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is used in a wide variety of applications, including:

  • Eyeglass lenses
  • Police riot shields and helmet visors
  • Vehicle headlight covers
  • Bullet-resistant windows and panels
  • Greenhouse windows
  • Protective barriers around hockey rinks
  • Computer screens

What Is Acrylic

Acrylic, also called Plexiglass®, is polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), a polymer containing methacrylic acid and methanol. This polymer is naturally transparent with a light transmittance of 92 percent and 10 times more impact resistant than glass, making it an ideal substitute in windows. Also, like polycarbonate, it is easily molded through thermoforming and injection molding, and because it’s a cost-effective material, it’s used for a broad array of uses.

Uses for Acrylic

Acrylic is used in countless day-to-day applications as well as specialty products, including:

  • Retail display signs and transparent shelves
  • Brochure holders
  • Fish tanks and aquariums
  • Light fixtures
  • Goggles and eye protection

Polycarbonate vs. Acrylic: A Side-by-Side Comparison

We know they both are lightweight, offer improved impact resistance over glass, and are more cost-effective than glass, but let’s compare the two polymers side-by-side on several qualities to help you get a better understanding of which option is right for your next product.

Impact Resistance

While both plastics are strong, acrylic has around 10 times greater impact resistance than glass. Polycarbonate has 250 times the impact resistance. That’s why it’s often used for riot gear and helmets.

Scratch Resistance

While polycarbonate wins out over acrylic in strength, acrylic is significantly more resistant to scratching and scuff marks. Eyeglass lenses made from polycarbonate are often protected with anti-scratch coating to make them more durable and resistant to scratching.

Temperature and Heat Resistance

Acrylic and polycarbonate both expand and contract with temperature changes and can be used at sub-zero temperatures. Acrylic can be used up to 190°, after that it will start to soften or bend, whereas polycarbonate is heat resistant up to 240°.


Both materials offer excellent clarity and allow light to pass through. Acrylic is slightly better with a light transmittance of 92 percent compared to polycarbonate’s 88 percent. They are both often used for windows and other needs for transparent materials, and the plastic chosen often is determined by the need for other qualities, like impact resistance or scratch resistance.

Acrylic generally maintains its light transmittance and can be polished to bring back clarity and it is resistant to yellowing. Over time, polycarbonate can lose clarity or become yellowed when exposed to UV light, but it can’t be polished.

Fabrication & Customization

Both materials can be shaped, fabricated, and customized in a variety of ways. Acrylic should be heated in order to be bent while polycarbonate is more flexible and can be bent without it being heated. If you need to cut the polymer to create a custom shape, both can be used, but acrylic tends to cut more easily with a saw or router. On the other hand, polycarbonate can be drilled into to create holes or place mounting pieces, while acrylic may chip or crack.


The price of polymers does shift with availability, but overall, acrylic tends to be less expensive than polycarbonate.

Contact Advanced Plastiform for a Free Quote on Custom Plastics Manufacturing

At Advanced Plastiform, Inc., we provide high-quality, durable plastics with low per-unit pricing and short lead times. Our experienced team will sit down with you and help you determine the right materials and design options in order to get the best results. To learn more about our services or to get a free quote on manufacturing, reach out to us today. We work with companies and industries across the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast, including North Carolina, South CarolinaPennsylvania,Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia.

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