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What is Acrylic?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 17, 2024
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The term "acrylic" is used for products that contain a substance derived from acrylic acid or a related compound. Most often, it is used to describe a clear, glass-like plastic known as poly(methyl) methacrylate (PMMA). PMMA, also called acrylic glass, has properties that make it a better choice for many products that might otherwise be made of glass. There are two basic types: extruded and cast.

Types

Extruded acrylic is made through a process in which the liquid plastic is pushed through rollers, which press it into sheets as it cools. This is a comparatively inexpensive process, but the resulting sheets are softer than cast acrylic, can scratch easier, and may contain impurities. Extruded acrylic is still generally considered to be good quality, and is usually the more common type made available on the market.

Cell cast acrylic tends of be of higher quality than extruded, but it's also more expensive. In cell casting, single sheets are made by pressing the liquid plastic between pieces of a mold, often made of glass, which is then taken through a gradual heating process. The resulting sheet is stronger than extruded acrylic. This type is often used for aquariums, awards, and other products that require shaping or machining of the final product.

Advantages

Many different products are made from acrylic, including shower doors, bath enclosures, windows, and skylights. It is many times stronger than glass, making it much more impact resistant and therefore safer. Falling against a shower door will not likely break it, for example; baseballs that would otherwise crash through glass windows will, in most cases, just bounce off acrylic windows. It also insulates better than glass, potentially saving on heating bills.

Acrylic glass is also very clear, allowing 92% of visible light to pass through it. Very thick glass will have a green tint, while acrylic remains clear. It also weathers well, keeping its clarity over the years without turning yellow or breaking down when exposed to sunlight over a long period of time.

Another advantage of acrylic is that it is only half as heavy as glass. This makes this material easier to work with, and makes it a better choice for projects where weight is an issue. It can also be sawed, whereas glass must be scored.

Virtually all major public aquariums now build display tanks out of this thermoplastic, and it is often used in many other buildings. When this material is just over 1 inch thick (about 25 mm), it is bullet resistant; the presidential motorcade, the pope's booth-vehicle, teller enclosures, and drive-through window enclosures all feature bullet-resistant acrylic. It is used for airplane windows as well.

Shaping

A unique property of this thermoplastic is its ability to be shaped. Extruded acrylic is not as strong as cell cast, and tends to crack or splinter when being machined, so most higher quality products are made from cast acrylic. Structures can also be made with no seams, as chemical welding at the molecular level actually "melts" seams into one piece of solid material. Seams that are welded and polished correctly are invisible.

Misconceptions and Disadvantages

There are some misconceptions about acrylic, namely that it yellows, turns brittle, and cracks over time. Though this might be true of cheap forms of plastic, it is not so with acrylic. If taken care of, this material can remain new looking for several decades, regardless of age or exposure to sun. Some people worry that it scratches too easily, but unlike glass, scratches may be buffed out.

For all of its advantages, there are two disadvantages of acrylic: It is more expensive than glass, and if exposed to a direct flame, it will melt and eventually burn. Burning releases toxic fumes, so safety precautions should always be taken when it is being cut with power tools or bent using heat. When it is not cared for properly, or when inferior acrylic is used, it can scratch, and improperly made joints can be very visible.

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Discussion Comments

By anon337446 — On Jun 05, 2013

Can anyone can guide me to find out which is the largest producer of acrylic tubes and pipes in the world?

By anon325911 — On Mar 19, 2013

What's the difference between acrylic and emulsion and distempers? Can you use acrylic paint for interiors?

What is the maximum heat reduction of acrylic paint?

By anon319720 — On Feb 14, 2013

Is perspex another name for acrylic?

By anon311164 — On Dec 30, 2012

Where can I get one-inch thick acrylic to use instead of glass window panes measuring say 2m by 2.5m (full-length) windows panes for my living room. Will this offer some security and negate the need for windows (burglar-proofing) bars? How much would it cost?

By anon309186 — On Dec 15, 2012

Can you guide me how to manufacture acrylic solid surface sheets?

By anon305817 — On Nov 27, 2012

One of the best ways to cut acrylic is with a laser. The laser system should have a filtration or ventilation method to take care of the fumes.

By anon295685 — On Oct 07, 2012

How do you cut acrylic?

By anon295455 — On Oct 06, 2012

I have a question regarding use of kerrock in kitchen which is made of acrylic and is hazardous in contact in case is being accidentally consumed?

By anon269758 — On May 19, 2012

I want to know why light passes through an acrylic box and it does not reflect back light. And also its melting point.

By anon244428 — On Feb 01, 2012

Does it come in different colours? Because I love pink!

By anon244424 — On Feb 01, 2012

What is made with acrylics?

By anon244047 — On Jan 30, 2012

I need to know how you say cell cast acrylic in spanish. I'm making a large fish tank and buying the acrylic in spain and need to make sure they give me cell cast acrylic.

By anon241053 — On Jan 17, 2012

I need to know urgently what can it be used for?

By anon216441 — On Sep 21, 2011

why it is so tough to process acrylic? i have issues with black spots and milky lines on lens production on cars and why should there be a separate mc for it?

By anon212944 — On Sep 09, 2011

I have heard if you soak felt made products in liquid acrylic polymer, it makes it easier when cutting through the felt. What I need to know is can you give me the name of a liquid acrylic polymer to purchase (small amounts). It is a mine field when you look up acrylics!

By anon208956 — On Aug 24, 2011

I prefer Polycarbonate or lexan as it is more commonly known. It's 25 times stronger than acrylic and bullet and shatter resistant. If you are going for display material, acrylic is fine but for anything that requires strength, polycarbonate is the way to go.

By anon204403 — On Aug 09, 2011

My name is john and I was wondering how many types of acrylics there are and what are they used for?

By mj1002 — On Jul 13, 2011

we were cutting acrylic with a laser at work and a terrible noxious odor was emitted. Is it harmful to your health? What chemical exposure may have there been?

By anon174162 — On May 09, 2011

can you tell me what the difference is between acrylic and ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene), in terms of shower bases and walls? People say an acrylic base/wall is much better quality, but what is it that makes it so much better? is there a huge difference in quality?

By anon172503 — On May 04, 2011

Is this related to acrylic paint by any chance?

By anon167621 — On Apr 13, 2011

A question: How would it be possible to detect acrylic layer on a tooth? Would there be any way to do it?

By anon164961 — On Apr 03, 2011

what glue is used to glue wood to acrylic?

By t2talltary — On Mar 18, 2011

they are both great materials, with polycarbonate being the strongest. acrylic is a good material but is a little brittle and yellows over time.

By anon160924 — On Mar 17, 2011

Does acrylic have a fatigue endurance limit like many structural metals do?

By anon139990 — On Jan 06, 2011

If I put a sheet of acrylic across our doorway and threw a stick over it, would my dog see it or would he run straight into it and make me laugh histerically?

By anon126804 — On Nov 14, 2010

You can use chloroform as glue to cast two pieces of acrylic.

By swampgirl — On Oct 18, 2010

What are the main sources of acrylic? thanks to anyone who answers.

By anon104271 — On Aug 16, 2010

Can a small crack on the edge of polycarbonate be stopped or epoxyed to keep it from running?

By anon101891 — On Aug 05, 2010

Is there such thing as an acrylic counteractant?

By anon99320 — On Jul 26, 2010

How do you glue cast acrylic?

By anon94884 — On Jul 10, 2010

Acrylic is the best for fish tanks.

By anon92246 — On Jun 27, 2010

isn't the continuous cast a different type of acrylic formation?

By anon83883 — On May 12, 2010

What is the procedure of polishing the inside machine bore of acrylic square bar and to remove the tool marks also.

By anon83562 — On May 11, 2010

What glass paints can I use to paint onto acrylic/perspex?

By anon80018 — On Apr 25, 2010

If I use 1" thick acrylic for my gas station if someone shoots it would it stop handgun type bullets

EG:9mm 40 45 357mag

By anon76963 — On Apr 12, 2010

acrylic is a form of plastic so it is recycled and did you know that spray paint is a form of acrylic. Because when you spray paint on plastic, the ink will peel off the surface. Making it a plastic substance.

By anon76798 — On Apr 12, 2010

we are using it in dt.

By anon76665 — On Apr 11, 2010

would i die if i ate it or licked it up and down?

By anon71042 — On Mar 17, 2010

thanks for help, but how is it shaped?

By anon71041 — On Mar 17, 2010

i was wondering how acrylic is manufactured and shaped, cut, etc. thanks.

By anon70765 — On Mar 16, 2010

i am wondering what is the chemical formula for acrylic. And what its cost and common uses are. i am doing a project on it.

a. what is the description?

b. what are the properties?

and if there is any other information could you please tell me? thank you.

By anon68701 — On Mar 03, 2010

i want to know the difference between pmma and acrylic.

By anon62910 — On Jan 29, 2010

i need help on acrylic. What do you cut it with?

By anon62336 — On Jan 26, 2010

what are acrylic's properties and uses? it's for a school project and i know nothing.

By anon61990 — On Jan 24, 2010

i received a cocktail shaker made of acrylic and was wondering if that would be dangerous to use with alcohol or not?

By anon61864 — On Jan 23, 2010

is acrylic biodegradable? I need to know for my D&T Project.

By anon58809 — On Jan 04, 2010

what does acrylic look like?

By anon55115 — On Dec 04, 2009

can you be allergic to acrylic?

By anon54805 — On Dec 02, 2009

The main property you need to know is it can be molded into shape but is solid at room temperature, and it also come in many colours. Hope it helps!

By anon54030 — On Nov 26, 2009

hey i see many people are asking for the properties. well i'm one of them. i need to know for a school project. thanks

By anon54015 — On Nov 26, 2009

what should i use to stick acrylic to a mahogany wood? as its part of my year 11 GCSE course i need something that will look good and not leave marks.

By anon53869 — On Nov 25, 2009

hey what are the properties of acrylic? i need to know for a special project i'm doing. thanks.

By anon52913 — On Nov 17, 2009

just to let you know both the the presidential motorcade and the Pope's booth-vehicle have bullet proof glass that is about twice the thickness of normal car class and the presidential glass can withstand the force of a tank shell being fired at from 3 meters away.

By anon52668 — On Nov 16, 2009

Please can someone tell ne what acrylic is used for? thank you.

By anon52330 — On Nov 13, 2009

I recycle acrylic glass and make art out of it. It is beautiful and green, better than it being in a landfill somewhere!

By anon51968 — On Nov 10, 2009

i've got to find out what acrylic is used for.

By anon51338 — On Nov 05, 2009

I want to know what do we use to smooth acrylic?

By anon50207 — On Oct 26, 2009

hi i am wondering what is the chemical formula for acrylic. And what its cost and common uses are. i am doing a project on it.

a. what is the description?

b. what are the properties?

and if there is any other information could you please tell me? thank you.

By anon48707 — On Oct 14, 2009

How expensive is acrylic? I need to know for a project for tonight.

By anon48452 — On Oct 12, 2009

Hi, I am doing a research report and I need to know what acrylic is made of.

By anon47639 — On Oct 06, 2009

I think acrylic rocks. i have a big garden with a greenhouse and the area that is best for playing cricket, football and tennis, etc.. is right next to that area. It had been smashed numerous times until i read this article. Now my greenhouse is thick acrylic, and so is bullet proof and it gets hit again and again but still stands firm. Thanks a lot!

By anon46670 — On Sep 28, 2009

Hi is acrylic recyclable?

By anon46607 — On Sep 27, 2009

i made a clock out of acrylic

By anon43209 — On Aug 26, 2009

Is polycarbonate an acrylic? I need to replace tempered glass and drill four holes for a latch. I have a problem drilling the holes without it cracking. I’m going to use polycarbonate, does that sound right?

By anon43025 — On Aug 25, 2009

what is the meaning of hydrofob or hydrofil acrylic in the application of acrylic lenses used by eye doctors?

By anon40686 — On Aug 10, 2009

Any info on the Miracle Method of painting tubs with acrylic polymer enamel? Is it carcinogenic and/or leave an odor?

By anon38885 — On Jul 29, 2009

re-encased hand: To get the acrylic of without burning him well, it is brittle so you could break it off! mind you you may break his hand but you only seemed worried about burning him!

the real qeustion is why did he do it in the first place?

By anon36905 — On Jul 15, 2009

can people who are allergic to latex be also allergic to acrylic? Are they similar?

By anon36108 — On Jul 09, 2009

I have a clear acrylic drumset. Can I use UV reactive paint on it? It's an acrylic based spray paint that goes on clear but reacts under blacklight. Will any chemicals in the acrylic spray have a bad reaction with the acrylic drums?

By anon35704 — On Jul 07, 2009

I'm framing a large photograph and need a light, protective covering (not glass). Is an acrylic sheet safe to use on archival prints?

By anon34238 — On Jun 19, 2009

my friend melted acrylic around his hand, it burnt through his hand and has now encased it.. how can i get it off without burning him?

By anon32269 — On May 19, 2009

Does anyone know if Intense Pulsed Light will heat/reshape acrylic? If so what wavelengths? Thanks.

By anon30334 — On Apr 17, 2009

To the person that asked about bottled water;

most bottles are made from PET or PETE. Acrylic is too brittle to use as a simple drink bottle so I don't think anyone can become allergic. Also allergies are not generally due to excessive exposure to a substance, there is more often than not an allergic reaction from the first contact. While we're on the note of bottled water always try and look out for bottles made from PETE as these do not leach chemicals into the water after continuous use and sun light as PET does.

By suebee — On Apr 13, 2009

Can you put a hot liquid into acrylic and it be safe for consumption?

By anon28674 — On Mar 20, 2009

For the person whose dog ate some acrylic, there is no chemical problem with the acrylic. It will just pass through. The concern would be if there are sharp edges that could cut the dog's insides. I work at a zoo, and our staff vet has given the OK to using acrylic around animals that naturally chew.

By anon28539 — On Mar 18, 2009

As a polymer, acrylic is non-organic. That means it takes thousands (no exaggeration) of years to break down. Isn't it nice to know that fake fingernails and ugly faux fur coats will be around 10,000 years from now?

It is also made from fossil fuels. Not only are fossil fuels non-renewable resources, they are the leading cause of air pollution.

Nice, huh. Destroying the planet for skylights.

By anon28012 — On Mar 10, 2009

I have worked with acrylic for many years and for me there is nothing better to work with.

By anon26952 — On Feb 21, 2009

Brilliant article, sad how few people can word a coherent question though.

Re: Acrylic Nails

Yes, Acrylic nails are made from Acrylic, surprisingly. Acrylic itself doesn't damage your nails, but the bonding agent (glue) might.

Re: Rust Resistance

Acrylic is not a metal, it is a polymer, it doesn't corrode.

Re: Acrylic Machining

Acrylic is very easy to cut, drill, saw, etc. but you must be careful not to put too much pressure on it, as it can snap

By isuzu — On Feb 04, 2009

Acrylic for boat windows. I have an old fiberglass boat and wanted to replace all the windows with acrylic. Can anyone advise how to cut and attach over the fiberglass window hole? I see many boats with acrylic these days and they have a black band on the edge with multiple screws. Pls help, Thks

By anon23493 — On Dec 26, 2008

Great articles, always good to know anything!

By avioilless — On Dec 10, 2008

We have to make some covers of acrylic sheet 2 mm thk. We do not know its machining process and joining process. What adhesive is required for joining? How to cut sheet ? How to machine and drill it. Kindly give me information.

By hollyruth1 — On Dec 07, 2008

Can a person become allergic to acrylic such as drinking bottled water?

By mikajmd — On Dec 06, 2008

Can it be easily shaped? What is the heat resistance of acrylic? I am building a rocket and wanted to know if I should use this material so the rocket is clear.

By anon21858 — On Nov 23, 2008

thanx so much. this helped me with my science fair project i am hoping to go to regionals.

By anon21817 — On Nov 22, 2008

hi i'm in year 7 and i really need to know what the melting point of acrylic is.

By anon21776 — On Nov 21, 2008

what is made out of acrylic?

By spolly — On Nov 19, 2008

I am building a canoe. can I use gesso to shrink the canvas and should I use an acrylic paint over it?

By floridian — On Oct 17, 2008

I had my screened porch replaced with acrylic windows and roof panels. With windows shut, the porch is extremely hot because of the Florida sun. I'm thinking of painting the acrylic roof panels with metallic silver paint (if I can find that paint). But first I need to know if those acrylic panels can take paint, oil-based or latex types. I plan on washing them first because of the dirt that stains them now. Any ideas or suggestions would be welcome.

By anon19667 — On Oct 17, 2008

Hey i need help with some homework. how do you use acrylic?

By anon19120 — On Oct 06, 2008

can old people be allergic to acrylic?

By anon18814 — On Sep 30, 2008

can that Acrylic sheet be substituted for High Density Polyethylene plate

By anon18813 — On Sep 30, 2008

What is the difference between Acrylic sheet & High Density Polyethylene?

By anon13657 — On Jun 02, 2008

Hello

I have a plant for milk powder packing and I use acrylic pipe to transfer the powder to the machine and I wonder is it safe to use acrylic pipe and could I contact anyone for more information?

By anon13533 — On May 29, 2008

hi, im really stuck, should i put acrylic in the pillow case to keep it straight? Oh and what about in my shoes to keep those straight?

By redhmom — On Apr 09, 2008

What is SAN acrylic?

By anon10429 — On Mar 27, 2008

chicken on fire:

thankyou for this information it really helped me understand the main principles of dealing with acrylic

By anon9241 — On Mar 02, 2008

why is it plastic????

By anon9065 — On Feb 27, 2008

In looking at tubs/showers - it appears "acrylic" which is really a combo of fiberglass & acrylic is better than just fiberglass because it is much better at resisting stains & scratches. How does acrylic compare to VIKRELL, which is a combo of fiberglass and polyresin?

By anon8989 — On Feb 25, 2008

what is the difference between Corian and acrylic? is acrylic a corian or is corian an acrylic? thank you.

By anon8716 — On Feb 19, 2008

Acrylic.

Used in the nail bars across the UK to give ladies confidence with natural looking false nails.

A word of warning though, nail bars can be addictive, the odor in the bars can be dangerous if inhaled regularly/constantly and letting a nail technician drill into your nail bed deeply with no complaints could lead to you developing a contagious illness from unsanitary equipment at the worst or at best weaken your natural nails and discourage healthy growth.

By anon8686 — On Feb 19, 2008

i think that the acrylic means, like an nail acrylic!!

is that all right??

By anon8384 — On Feb 12, 2008

I just bought some gorgeous acrylic drinking glasses from a museum gift shop. The saleswoman didn't know whether or not they could be safely washed in the dishwasher. Before I risk this, can you tell me whether they will scratch or melt?

By anon7965 — On Feb 05, 2008

re alcohol, strong alcohol will degrade or destroy acrylic drinking glasses, etc. Avoid.

By anon7414 — On Jan 25, 2008

How does micro-crazing affect the durability of continuous-cast acrylic?

By anon7404 — On Jan 25, 2008

Is acrylic hard to cut, machine, drill holes, etc? Will it crack during those processes?

By anon6875 — On Jan 11, 2008

Hi! Above you have explained all about acrylic over glass but can you tell me a bit about coloured acrylic? What can that be used for? What's good about it?

Please Help Me!

By anon6677 — On Jan 06, 2008

hi.. because of their molecular structure, thermoplastics can be reshaped when they are heated, as a result they can be reused whereas thermosetting plastics cannot be heated and shaped more than once, they melt, examples of these plastics are epoxy resin they're like the plastic electricity plugs on walls.

By anon6336 — On Dec 26, 2007

Is there a way to mold acrylic without heating?

By anon6128 — On Dec 17, 2007

I want to know industrial method of acrylic recycling.

By anon6112 — On Dec 16, 2007

which is more rust resistant, acrylic or enamel?

By anon5914 — On Dec 10, 2007

why can you re-use thermoplastics and not thermosetting plastics???

By anon5700 — On Dec 04, 2007

is acrylic edible? my dog pooped on my recently heated acylic, and then the dog ate a piece of it...

i took my dog to the vet, but the vet is too expensive, so i'd rather ask you.

By anon5454 — On Nov 26, 2007

I wanted to know if acrylic tubing is glueable to pvc pipe? I know the pvc fittings don't generally fit the acrylic tubing but I can stretch the pvc to accommodate the acrylic tubing. If the two can be joined what type of glue should be used?

By anon5360 — On Nov 22, 2007

Hello can you help me

how is acrylic recycled and what is it made into ?

By anon5148 — On Nov 15, 2007

I do not know exact impact resistance but I think you should use a 15mm Acrylic sheet it is safer,

I m a chemical engineer and I also own a Acrylic sheet production line in Turkey, Do you have a producer in İran?

By mokhtary — On Nov 13, 2007

hi. i am a structural engineer in iran. i want to build a SQUASH GLASS COURT. this is the first glass court in Iran. while i want to design the front wall, i have a problem and i can not solve it without knowing the impact resistance of the acrylic glass sheet. the thickness is 0.01 meter and the length is 2.05 meter and width is 1.28 meter. the impact force is 1000j and the impact area is 0.04 square meters. thanks

By anon5040 — On Nov 10, 2007

without Ox it decomposes to monomer and other organic forms in the air char form occurs

By anon4965 — On Nov 07, 2007

What would happen to acrylic if it was overheated?

By anon4735 — On Oct 30, 2007

i am an acrylic distributor and i wanted to help you guys with whatever i could do. Acrylic is called acrylic. the two types are extruded and cell cast. Although marble gives you a nicer more appealing look acrylic is better because of the aging properties and its ability to withstand impact whereas marble will crack and chip and is more expensive to replace and repair. expansion is minimal but do use caution when installing, I recommend to my customers to leave a 1/8" gap to allow for expansion. to adhere acrylic to itself you want to use a product called weld-on it is a acrylic type of glue and would work the best. alcohol may stain acrylic but damage would not occur.

By anon4466 — On Oct 19, 2007

Are acrylic nails the same as acrylic? i didn't think they were. and any way of course they damage your real nails!

By anon4243 — On Oct 09, 2007

Why does acrylic smell?

By anon4166 — On Oct 05, 2007

Can acrylic nails really damage your real nails?

By anon4136 — On Oct 04, 2007

I am doing homework does anyone know what the real name for acrylic is?

By anon3959 — On Sep 26, 2007

Is it possible to prevent scratches on acrylic? how? or how does one remove them?

By anon3958 — On Sep 26, 2007

pls advise what is the different between fiber glass and acrylic?

By anon3944 — On Sep 25, 2007

what is acrylic & identify the two basic types of acrylic???

By Dayton — On Sep 24, 2007

though I'm not an engineer or scientist, I'm fairly certain that the density of acrylic changes, based on its purpose or method of manufacture. Anyone else have an idea?

By anon3911 — On Sep 24, 2007

what's the density of acrylic??

By liam11 — On Sep 14, 2007

hi i am doing homework i have to describe the properties of acrylic can anyone help?

By anon3590 — On Sep 06, 2007

yes acrylic sheet can be used to protect your wood from your tv, it is actually a very good idea.

By anon2545 — On Jul 16, 2007

What about expansion and compression due to temperature change of acrylic sheets? Should it be considered when using it for skylights? Are there any sounds associated with expansion (or compression) of an acrylic sheet?

By anon2465 — On Jul 12, 2007

Do acrylic bath surrounds off gas? Are there any toxins such as formaldehyde in the acrylic products?

By anon1463 — On May 31, 2007

what can i use to stick acrylic firmly together?

By anon1363 — On May 27, 2007

I am going to put a 275lb tv into an armoire but want to protect the wood...do you think a piece of acrylic under the tv is an option? Any ideas would be appreciated. Thank you.

By anon1305 — On May 24, 2007

hello

yes acrylic is recycleable. very easy to do so. thanks x

By anon1054 — On May 13, 2007

Is Acrylic recyleable ?

By anon570 — On Apr 28, 2007

Is acrylic the best choice for a tub/shower enclosure. Is it a better choice than marble?

By lieiti — On Apr 19, 2007

Hi, I am wondering what will happen if I store a liquor or other alcohol (Isopropyl) in an acrylic jar. Is it safe?

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