Acrylic panels (PMMA)1 used for home decoration differ greatly from other similar plastics due to their clear appearance at room temperature for visible light. This makes them ideal for kitchens and bathrooms where they can be coated with colour, or have vivid images printed onto them.
Sometimes even the hardwearing properties of these coloured and printed acrylic panels isn’t enough. For high use areas such as restaurants and gyms that also require the acrylic to be impact resistant, the use of Polycarbonate2 can be more appropriate.
Polycarbonate has similar glassy state3 properties to PMMA, as well as having incredibly high impact resistance. This means it can display vivid colours at the same time as resisting wear and tear, making it more cost effective and aesthetically pleasing for a longer period of time.
Because both materials have similar thermosoftening properties, either can be used for the same application. Most applications only require a coated PMMA to be used due to the lower cost and low wear, but Polycarbonate is available to use with the same production process as PMMA so both are offered.
For example; PMMA is made into its final shape using vacuum forming or casting, which are the same processes used in shaping Polycarbonate.
The same processes are also used to bond substrates to PMMA and Polycarbonate when used for decorative purposes with little discernable difference4. The image is printed onto a polyethylene mounting film which is then laminated onto the PMMA or Polycarbonate sheet.
4. Effect of molecular weight on poly (methyl methacrylate) resolution
M. Khoury and D. Ferry – Arizona State J. Vac. Sci. Tech. B 14(1), Jan/Feb 1996.