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Acrylic - Details and Uses

Written by JD
17/05/2018 21:58:34

A Guide About Acrylic and Its Uses

Acrylic and Its Uses
Acrylic is widely used because it makes an excellent alternative to glass. Being weatherproof, lighter, stronger and safer whilst providing prized glass-like assets such as clarity, brilliance and translucency.  Acrylic can also soften to form any shape which makes it an all-round popular, cost effective material.

How strong is acrylic
Acrylic is 10 x stronger than glass.

It is ideal for use indoors and outdoors as a way of improving the safety of glazing.   Acrylic is weather proof, unaffected by sun or salt spray.

When choosing clear plastic for strength, acrylic is often compared to a stronger clear plastic called polycarbonate.  Acrylic is not as strong as clear polycarbonate, which is 200 x stronger than glass and offers a virtually unbreakable option. But, unless bullet-proof material is required, the strength of acrylic is usually suitable for most glazing requirements.  Acrylic’s advantage over polycarbonate is that it scratches less easily and light scratches can be buffed out. Whereas they cannot with polycarbonate.
Acrylic is unlikely to break. If it does it will not shatter into tiny shards like glass – it shatters into a few larger sized pieces.

How clear is acrylic?
Acrylic looks like glass and lets in more visible light (92% compared to glass which allows 90%).  Acrylic remains clear at even its thickest sizes, unlike glass which develops a green tint as it thickens.  This clarity and strength distinguishes acrylic from glass. However, if you are choosing acrylic as a glass replacement and require a visible glass-like green on the acrylic edging for design purposes, it is also possible to choose acrylic with this appearance. 

Are there different types of acrylic?
Acrylic is available in clear as well as a wide variety of tints and colours.  It can also be mirrored or opaque.  There are 2 types of acrylic, extruded and cast. Cast acrylic is the harder of the two offering the benefit of being harder to scratch. This is due to the way it is manufactured.

Acrylic also comes in different grades to suit different manufacturing processes. These grades offer varying levels of heat resistance, light transmissions, impact strength, flow rates and release capabilities.

Acrylic can also be coated to supplement characteristics such as scratch resistance, anti-fogging, glare reduction and solar reflectivity.

Common brands of high-grade acrylic include Polycast, Lucite, Plexiglass and Perspex. For a great selection of brands to suit all projects and budgets, check out our acrylic range.

How easy is it to work with acrylic?
Acrylic can be cut, drilled, machined, softened and bent to make any shape.  And, being half the weight of glass, handling acrylic is easy.  We can do this for you. But if you want to work with acrylic yourself, here are the key aspects of working with acrylic.

Working temperatures for acrylic
Acrylic sheet can be used in a range of temperatures. From -30ºF (-24ºC) to +200ºF (93ºC). Though it is recommended that temperatures not exceed 160ºF (71ºC) for continuous service, or 190ºF (88ºC) for short intermittent use.  If you are cutting acrylic sheets over 6mm thick, or drilling acrylic sheets over 4mm thick, use water as a coolant.

How to cut acrylic sheets
Cutting Perspex or acrylic can be done at home using tools you already have. Such as a knife, table saw, hand saw or power saw.  Your choice should depend on the type of acrylic sheet you are cutting, its thickness and your desired shape.  Not all tools can be used in all cases. We can cut and shape acrylic for you. But if you want to work with acrylic yourself, look at our detailed guide on how to cut acrylic to learn more.

How to drill acrylic sheet
For best results use a drill specifically designed for acrylics. Although you can get a good result with care, proper technique and a correctly ground drill bit on an ordinary hand drill.  Carbide tipped circular saw blades and router bits that are designed for acrylics are best.  Acrylic sheet is relatively soft and so it is important that your drill has an edge that cuts with a scraping action. 

How to finish off acrylic sheet edges
If you want to smooth and square off acrylic sheet edges for a better finish, or to prepare them ready to join to another acrylic sheet you will need to scrape first and then file.  Scrape along the cut edge with a clean, hard, sharp, square edge tool (clean back of a knife blade).  Next, file the scraped edges with a 300mm clean, smooth cut file working in one direction only.  It is important to file on an angle and keep the teeth flat on the acrylic surface (to stop any unwanted grooves cutting into your acrylic).  If you are filing a small piece of acrylic, it might be easier to clamp your file and rub your acrylic across it.

How to polish acrylic sheets
Acrylic’s glass like transparency can be polished to a high shine. And the job is a fairly easy one to do with a little know how.   Choose to do this with either a sand-papering technique, or by using a paste suitable for acrylic.  Learn how to clean and polish acrylic sheets via both methods here.

How to bend and form acrylic
When acrylic is soft it can be formed to almost any shape. This shape will be retained if it is held until the acrylic is cool.  Specialised heating and forming equipment is usually needed but simple projects with straight line bends can be done using a strip heater.   Lie the acrylic on the heater with the bend line above heating element. When the acrylic sags, bend it away from the heated side.  For 4.5mm and thicker acrylic sheets, heat both sides of the acrylic.
Please note acrylic must be heated in a ventilated space – never a kitchen oven. 

How to clean acrylic
Acrylic should only ever be cleaned with a soft cloth, mild soap or detergent and lukewarm water. Never use a scourer, chemical cleaners or solvents like acetone or benzene as they will damage acrylic.  If your acrylic gets greasy or in contact with oil or tar, use hexane or kerosene to remove it. Acrylic can be kept looking like new since accidental scratches can be buffed out.
What is acrylic used for?
Acrylic sheets are used in many different ways as a replacement for glass.  For example, places you might see acrylic are in stores, shopping centres, aquariums, boat windows and point of sale displays. 

Acrylic is also used in homes – here are some of the most popular uses:

To protect furniture.  Acrylic sheets look just like glass and are much lighter and much stronger. Making them a safer way to cover the surfaces of much loved furniture, so it does not get damaged.

acrylic disk protects table  Clear acrylic for celebration bar top  
clear as glass acrylic protects a wooden dining table and a bar celebrating a 25th anniversary

Splashbacks of colour.  Acrylic sheeting makes for great kitchen and bathroom splashbacks because they are  quick to install, grout-less, durable and waterproof. Acrylic splashbacks are seam free making a hygienic, easy clean solution. DIY installation is very easy too, making acrylic splashbacks a practical and affordable way to make over kitchens and bathrooms.

Pistachio High Gloss Kitchen Splashback  Acrylic Kitchen Splashbacks  
coloured acrylic makes a seamless, hygienic, easy to DIY fit splashback

To replace glass. Acrylic sheets are worthy alternatives to glass on bathroom and kitchen cabinet doors, due to them being more durable in their designs.  Broken glass is being replaced with acrylic becoming the popular choice because it is so much stronger and less likely to break than glass whilst looking just like it.

Acrylic vs glass can you tell the difference  Acrylic bathroom shelving  get the art gallery look with clear acrylic

Picture frames are being created using acrylic sheets, with the material lighter as well as more durable than frames designed with glass.

Wall shelves.  Customers are choosing a material that is more cost-effective, easier to install and able to stand the test of time much better than glass and plywood alike.

Coffee tables and end tables are being designed using acrylic sheets are able to hold up better against general wear and tear when compared to traditional glass alternatives.
Clear acrylic coffee table

Sun visors - usually made from break resistant acrylic, manufacturer specific sun visors are expensive to buy.  Save yourself some money like our customer above who had an acrylic sun visor made specifically to fit their vehicle. 

Light table - our customer who is a keen calligrapher used clear as glass acrylic, cut to size, to lean on her portable easel on her desk.  With a small fluorescent light behind it, she now uses her quick and easy and inexpensive light table to move to different elevations to help produce her best work.  Light tables are fabulous ways to explore the play of shadow, colour, light and transparency and for sensory play.   Give children a light table and watch the magic as their curiosity unfolds and problem-solving skills develop.
We enjoy seeing lots of customer projects using acrylic, you can view more of them on our Pinterest board 

Mirrored furniture - save yourself the expense of buying mirrored furniture and create your own from your existing furniture and mirrored acrylic. Learn how to make your own mirrored furniture. 


How to join acrylic sheets
Acrylic sheets can be joined together at home in 3 ways. Before you begin make sure your acrylic sheets have clean, smooth, flat surfaces where they are to join.

Capillary Cementing – this method bonds two pieces of acrylic which fit perfectly together in 48 hours. If your acrylic pieces don’t fit perfectly together, use the Viscous Cementing method below. Clamp your pieces of acrylic in place so their joint is horizontal and apply cement along it with a needle nozzle applicator.  The horizontal position is important to stop adhesive running out. For L shapes, apply the cement along the length of the joint from the inside. Allow 24 hours for bond strength to develop.

Viscous Cementing – this method bonds parts that don’t fit properly together as well as joints that are hard to reach. Apply the cement like glue to one edge of acrylic then gently press this to the other piece of acrylic, holding the pieces together for about a minute.  To allow the bond to develop leave for 24 hours in a clamp.

Can acrylic be used instead of glass?
Acrylic sheet is widely used as a replacement for glass. As it is half the weight, 10 x the strength and has glass like qualities of clarity and transparency. This makes acrylic a better choice for projects if weight or break resistance are issues.

Acrylic is also weather proof and can remain new looking for several decades, regardless of age or exposure to sun.  Scratches can be buffed out - unlike glass - and edges polished to a high shine for that brand-new look.  It also offers excellent resistance to ultraviolet radiation.

Acrylic is much more flexible than glass. When using large acrylic sheets for glazing, it is important that channels are deep enough to provide support against high winds.  If acrylic glazing is to be fixed to a frame, drill mounting holes slightly larger than the screw diameter.

Further Help
Our friendly customer service team are happy to help with questions and advice.  If you have any further questions about acrylic or require help with a project do let them know. 


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