Acrylic vs Plastic: What Is The Difference?


Retail items displayed on acrylic risers

Sure, you already know the difference between glass and acrylic. But what about acrylic vs plastic? If you thought they were the same thing, you’re sort of right. Acrylic is a clear plastic—but it’s just one of many different clear plastics. Here, we’ll talk about a few of those plastics, and what makes acrylic unique. 

Acrylic vs Plastic: What’s the Difference?

There are many different kinds of plastics made from synthetic or semi-synthetic materials, and acrylic is just one of them. Also called polyacrylate, acrylic is a petroleum-based thermoplastic made from methyl methacrylate (MMA) and/or poly methyl methacrylate (PMMA). It is sold under numerous brand names, including Plexiglas, Perspex, Lucite, Acrylite, and others. It can be injection molded or hand-crafted. Injection molding means that it’s manufactured by injecting PPMA into a mold. This yields a strong, clear plastic that costs less than a hand-crafted acrylic, which means that all joints are bonded by hand resulting in a clear, clean aesthetic that’s just as strong. This, of course, is a more labor-intensive and more costly process. Other plastics can be injection molded but tend to scratch easier and be discolored or yellow over time, compared to acrylic. 

Properties of Acrylic 

Acrylic is used in accessories, point-of-purchase displays, picture frames, signage, acrylic risers, acrylic blocks, windows, and more. Here are the qualities that make acrylic versus plastic more beneficial for those purposes: 

Easy to cut, bend, and shape. 

Acrylic is a thermoplastic, meaning it can be melted and molded into any shape—and then be reheated and reshaped without signs of degradation. 

Offers a high amount of clarity and strength.

It has a similar optical clarity to glass but has better impact resistance and a lighter weight.

 Scratch resistant.

Acrylic is less likely to scratch compared to glass and other plastics such as polycarbonate. And any scuffs that mark its appearance may be able to be polished out. 

Resistant to discoloration.

Acrylic is known to age without pronounced discoloration, such as yellowing, compared to other plastics.

UV resistant.

Acrylic’s UV-resistant properties help protect contents behind the acrylic from the sun’s harmful rays. 

Understanding Brand Names 

Acrylic is an umbrella term for thermoplastic. Brand names include Lucite, Plexiglas, Perspex, Acrylite, and others. (For instance, our acrylic blocks are made from Perspex.) Being manufactured from PMMA the brands share many similarities but there can be differences. Lucite, for example, has a slightly higher refractive index than acrylic, which makes it appear clearer and brighter. 

2 Alternative Plastics to Know

There are other clear plastics that have different qualities of acrylic. Here are two commonly manufactured plastics and they differ from acrylic.

1. Polystyrene

Polystyrene is made from the chemically bonded monomer styrene. It’s injection molded like PMMA but It’s not as strong. Typically clear, hard, and brittle, it’s one of the most widely used plastics due to its cost. It is used in disposable consumer goods, such as plates, utensils, food packaging, and egg cartons, as well as other plastic containers like jewel cases for CDs.

2.  Polycarbonate

Polycarbonate is a thermoplastic polymer, but it’s stronger (and more expensive) than acrylic and other plastics. It is used for applications where impact resistance is important, such as greenhouse panels, windows, and bullet-resistant acrylic sheets.  

Explore Your Acrylic Options with ShopPOPdisplays

When considering acrylic vs plastic, acrylic’s aesthetic and material properties make it ideal for a wide variety of displays and applications. At shopPOPdisplays, our displays are made with durable acrylic to provide the quality you are looking for. Contact us today.