Looking for an alternative to glass or stone for a translucent wall feature? If the application is suitable, you should consider using acrylic products. Not the paint, but rather sheet acrylic.
Acrylic is stronger, more scratch resistant, and lighter than glass. It comes in an almost infinite variety of colors and textures, and has stunning clarity- as good as or even better than glass. In fact, acrylic panels are typically half the weight of glass, and do not require bushings or gaskets when installing. And although acrylic may be slightly more expensive initially, the durability, ease of installation, and longevity of acrylic may make it the cheaper in the long run.
So now that acrylic is your clear choice, what exactly is it? And what do all those industry terms mean? Sheet acrylic is a form of plastic known as Polymethyl methacrylate, or PMMA. Different brands of acrylic include Plexiglas, Gavrieli, Vitroflex, Limacryl, R-Cast, Acrylex, Acrylite, Acrylplast, Polycast, Oroglass, Optix, and Lucite. But at the very basic manufacturing level, there are three main forms of sheet acrylic: extruded, continuous, and cell cast.
Extruded acrylic is mass-produced on giant rollers, and is usually produced in large volumes for commercial use. Of the three types of acrylic extruded is the most budget friendly, but also the most susceptible to scratches and blemishes.
Continuous Cast acrylic is mass produced as well. Huge vats of acrylic monomer and other chemicals are poured on large steel belts, which carry the heated acrylic through a series of coolers. Continuous cast acrylic is slightly more expensive than extruded, though the quality is slightly better as well.
Cell Cast acrylic is the most expensive form of acrylic and the highest quality. Molds, typically 4’x8’, are made, and acrylic is poured in. This method allows for a number of different colors and textures to be produced, and produces acrylic with the best possible optical clarity
Which one is best for you? If you’re looking for clarity, then cell cast acrylic has the best optical clarity as well as the greatest surface hardness. However, cell cast acrylic tends to have greater variation in thickness.
Continuous cast acrylic is the material of choice for skylights, and is the next best for clarity. It is not as hard as cell cast materials, nor does it have as many color and thickness options. However, it is much cheaper and maintains uniform thickness as sheets.
Extruded acrylic is dubbed the “industry workhorse”. It comes in a fair number of colors and sizes, and that combined with its low cost satisfies the needs of most acrylic applications. However, it is the softest of all acrylics, and is subject to expansion and shrinking over time.
It’s important to carefully consider your project before selecting which brand, and which type, or acrylic you wish to use.
For further reading, try: