Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate: A Comprehensive Comparison for Clear Prototypes

When it comes to creating clear prototypes, choosing the right material is crucial for achieving your design objectives. Acrylic and polycarbonate are two commonly used materials for transparent applications, and they each have their unique properties and advantages. In this comprehensive comparison, we will explore the key characteristics of acrylic and polycarbonate to help you make an informed decision for your clear prototypes.

Transparency and Clarity

Acrylic: Acrylic, also known as Plexiglass or PMMA (Polymethyl Methacrylate), is renowned for its exceptional transparency and clarity. It offers a crystal-clear appearance that closely resembles glass. This property makes acrylic an excellent choice for prototypes where aesthetics and visual appeal are essential.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate also provides good transparency, although it may not be as crystal-clear as acrylic. Polycarbonate’s clarity is more than sufficient for many applications, but if absolute clarity is your top priority, acrylic may have a slight edge.

Strength and Durability

Acrylic: Acrylic is a relatively brittle material compared to polycarbonate. While it can withstand everyday handling and some impacts, it is more prone to cracking or shattering upon significant force. This characteristic limits its suitability for prototypes that require high impact resistance.

Polycarbonate: better for clear prototypes is renowned for its exceptional impact resistance. It is virtually unbreakable, making it the preferred choice for prototypes that need to endure rough handling or potential impacts. If durability and toughness are critical for your project, polycarbonate is the superior option.

Temperature Resistance

Acrylic: Acrylic has a lower temperature resistance compared to polycarbonate. It can become brittle at temperatures below freezing (-40°C) and may warp at high temperatures (above 80°C). This limitation should be considered when designing prototypes for extreme temperature environments.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate exhibits a wide temperature tolerance, remaining stable at temperatures as low as -40°C and as high as 120°C. If your clear prototype will be exposed to extreme temperature variations, polycarbonate is the better choice.

UV Stability

Acrylic: Acrylic is generally resistant to UV radiation but may yellow and become brittle over time when exposed to prolonged sunlight. UV-resistant coatings are available to mitigate this issue, but they may add an additional cost.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is inherently UV stable and does not yellow or become brittle when exposed to sunlight. This property makes it an ideal choice for outdoor applications or prototypes that will be exposed to UV radiation.

Machining and Fabrication

Acrylic: Acrylic is relatively easy to machine and fabricate. It can be cut, drilled, and shaped with ease, making it a favorite among DIY enthusiasts and hobbyists. Its ease of machining allows for intricate and precise designs.

Polycarbonate: While polycarbonate is a durable material, it can be more challenging to machine compared to acrylic. It requires specialized tools and techniques to achieve precise cuts and shapes. If precision machining is a priority, acrylic may be the more convenient option.

Cost Considerations

Acrylic: Acrylic is generally more cost-effective than polycarbonate, which can make it a preferred choice for projects with budget constraints. It provides an excellent balance between performance and affordability.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate tends to be more expensive than acrylic due to its superior durability and impact resistance. If the project’s requirements demand the toughness of polycarbonate, it’s essential to budget accordingly.


In the acrylic vs. polycarbonate showdown for clear prototypes, the choice ultimately boils down to your project’s specific needs and priorities. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Choose Acrylic if:
    • You prioritize crystal-clear transparency.
    • Your project demands precision machining.
    • Cost is a significant factor.
    • The prototype won’t face extreme temperature variations or high-impact situations.
  • Choose Polycarbonate if:
    • Durability and impact resistance are top priorities.
    • Your prototype will be exposed to UV radiation.
    • Extreme temperature tolerance is necessary.
    • You can accommodate a higher material cost.

By carefully considering the transparency requirements, strength, temperature resistance, UV stability, machining needs, and budget constraints of your clear prototype project, you can make an informed choice between acrylic and polycarbonate to ensure your design vision is realized effectively.


Leave a Comment