Strength vs. Clarity: Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate for Clear Prototyping


Prototyping is an essential step in product development, allowing designers and engineers to test concepts and designs before committing to final production. When it comes to clear prototyping, two popular materials are acrylic and polycarbonate. Both have their unique strengths and characteristics, making them suitable for different applications. In this article, we will explore the strengths and clarity of acrylic and polycarbonate for clear prototyping.

Acrylic: The Clear Choice for Clarity

  1. Optical Clarity Acrylic, also known as PMMA (polymethyl methacrylate), is renowned for its exceptional optical clarity. It offers a level of transparency similar to glass, making it ideal for applications where visual clarity is paramount. When you need to showcase intricate details or create transparent prototypes, acrylic is often the clear choice.
  2. Ease of Machining One of acrylic vs polycarbonate comparison significant advantages is its ease of machining. It can be easily cut, drilled, and shaped into various forms using standard machining tools. This makes it an excellent choice for rapid prototyping, where quick iterations and modifications are essential.
  3. Cost-Effective Acrylic is generally more cost-effective than polycarbonate, making it a preferred choice for projects with budget constraints. It provides a balance between clarity and affordability, making it accessible to a wide range of applications.
  4. UV Resistance While acrylic has excellent optical clarity, it is susceptible to UV damage over time. When used outdoors or in applications exposed to sunlight, acrylic may yellow or become brittle. UV-resistant coatings can mitigate this issue to some extent, but it remains a limitation.
  5. Brittleness Compared to polycarbonate, acrylic is more brittle. It is prone to cracking and shattering upon impact, which limits its use in applications that require high impact resistance.

Polycarbonate: The Strength Champion

  1. Impact Resistance Polycarbonate is known for its remarkable impact resistance. It is virtually unbreakable and can withstand severe impacts without shattering. This property makes it an ideal choice for clear prototypes in high-impact applications, such as protective covers and safety equipment.
  2. UV Stability Unlike acrylic, polycarbonate is inherently UV stable. It does not yellow or degrade when exposed to sunlight, making it suitable for outdoor applications and environments with prolonged UV exposure.
  3. Flexibility Polycarbonate is more flexible than acrylic, allowing it to bend without breaking. This flexibility is advantageous in applications where the material needs to absorb or distribute impact energy, reducing the risk of damage.
  4. Chemical Resistance Polycarbonate exhibits excellent resistance to a wide range of chemicals, making it suitable for applications where exposure to chemicals or solvents is a concern. This property can be essential in prototyping parts for chemical processing equipment.
  5. Scratch Resistance While polycarbonate is highly impact-resistant, it is more susceptible to scratches and abrasion than acrylic. To improve scratch resistance, coatings or treatments may be necessary in some applications.


The choice between acrylic and polycarbonate for clear prototyping ultimately depends on the specific requirements of your project.

Choose Acrylic When:

  1. Optical clarity is critical: When you need exceptional transparency and visual clarity, acrylic is the clear choice.
  2. Cost is a concern: Acrylic is cost-effective, making it suitable for projects with budget constraints.
  3. Machinability matters: If you require easy machining for rapid prototyping and quick iterations, acrylic’s ease of processing is a significant advantage.

Choose Polycarbonate When:

  1. Impact resistance is crucial: In applications where durability and impact resistance are paramount, polycarbonate excels.
  2. UV stability is required: For outdoor or long-term applications exposed to sunlight, polycarbonate’s UV stability ensures longevity.
  3. Chemical resistance is necessary: When dealing with chemicals or solvents, polycarbonate’s resistance can be a crucial factor.

In summary, acrylic is the clear choice for projects where optical clarity and cost-effectiveness are essential, while polycarbonate shines in applications where strength, impact resistance, and UV stability are critical. Careful consideration of these factors will help you make the right choice for your clear prototyping needs.


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