Plexiglass vs. Glass: What’s the difference?

Plexiglass and glass are some of the transparent materials used in construction. They have separate uses because of their specific characteristics and advantages.

So, choosing between these 2 materials can be a quite difficult task.

One reason for this is that they’re both similar in terms of appearance. Both are strong, transparent, and can even be used for the same applications. So, how do you know which material to buy for your upcoming project?

If you’ve no idea whatsoever, worry not!

In this blog, I’ll show you some notable differences between plexiglass and glass. On top of that, we’ll discuss their benefits and limitations elaborately. That’s said, let’s get started by the definition of each material first!

What is Plexiglass?

The scientific name of Plexiglass is PMMA (Polymethyl methacrylate). It’s a form of a clear acrylic sheet made out of carbon and polymer. It’s considered a clear thermoplastic material since it’s a petroleum-based product.

Plexiglass is mostly used as an alternative to glass. Thanks to its impact resistance and transparency.

Another important thing you need to note is that Plexiglass is a brand name for the acrylic sheet. This is because acrylic was trademarked as ‘Plexiglass’ when it was first created in the 1900s. However, Plexiglass isn’t the only brand available in the market today.

Instead, there are other manufacturers of acrylic like Lexan, Perspex, Crylux, and Acrylite. These types of acrylic sheets are available in different grades, strengths, and qualities. Acrylic products may also be referred to as plastic sheeting.

What is Glass?

Normal glass is a non-crystalline (amorphous), inorganic compound. It’s usually made out of sand and silica. These components are subjected to intense heat.

Then cooled rapidly, without going through the crystalline state. This process results in a strong, transparent, and brittle material.

Differences between Glass and Plexiglass.

Here are some factors that can help you differentiate glass and plexiglass;

Weight

The density of acrylic can range from 1150 to 1190 kg/m3. While that of standard glass can range from 2400 to 2800 kg/m3. As you can see, the density of acrylic is almost 2 times that of glass. Simply put, the standard glass is a lot heavier than its modernistic counterpart.

This gives plexiglass an advantage over its counterpart in terms of shipping and transportation. Also, this solves the major concerns of handling the standard glass.

For instance, acrylic sheets don’t easily break or get damaged during transportation. This makes them easy to move around and lowers the shipping cost significantly.

Scratch Resistance

Acrylic sheets are softer and more susceptible to scratch than glass. Also, they’re reactive to abrasive cleaning compounds, making them difficult to clean. For this reason, you should gentle wipe acrylic sheets with a smooth cloth or fabric.

More importantly, look for cleaning solutions that are safe to use on plexiglass.

On the contrary, traditionalistic glass doesn’t scratch easily. This is an important aspect, especially for stores in business areas/ populated suburbs.

Transparency

Both glass and acrylic materials have excellent transparency. But acrylic allows more light to pass through than traditional glass. This is because the materials are slightly translucent.

To be precise, acrylic transmits up to 90 percent of visible light. While 80-90% of visible light is transmitted through the mineral glass. This will vary depending on the manufacturer as well as the type of the material.

In general, the optical transmittance of plexiglass can be better than that of glass by up to 15%. Although this may seem minor, it can be an essential factor in certain applications. For instance, it’s relevant when considering load-bearing surfaces with the same thickness.

Such materials are usually many centimeters thick. Therefore, the light transmittance in such materials will be quite noticeable. However, acrylic sheets always remain clear, regardless of their thickness.

Thermal Conductivity

Acrylic has lower thermal conductivity so they offer better thermal insulation than glass. This makes them ideal for insulation applications like skylights.

Such uses will lower the operating costs of air conditioning and heating your home. Also, you can use them on pool underwater windows since they minimize heat loss.

UV Resistance

Transmission of UV rays can affect the aesthetics of interior furnishing and carpet. It can also cause other interior objects to fade off. All these factors will increase the maintenance cost. Luckily, most transparent materials available today have added UV protection.

Nonetheless, plexiglass offers better UV blocking than normal glass. Some new acrylic sheets can even offer up to 99% UV protection, depending on the used tint.

Apart from protecting surfaces from UV rays, this allows acrylic to resist yellowing. Reputable manufacturers like Plexiglass guarantee up to 30 years of UV resistance.

Impact Resistance

Since glass is a ‘frozen’ liquid, it’s much easier to break and the impact strength is 17 times less than plexiglass. Therefore, shattering acrylic requires a lot more force as compared to its counterpart.

Moreover, glass breaks into many tiny pieces so there’s a chance of getting injured when it breaks. This may not be an issue with acrylic sheets since they’re extremely hard to break. And if they break, they don’t shatter into many, dangerous pieces.

The enhanced shatter resistance of acrylic increases longevity and lowers maintenance costs.

Glare

Glass surfaces tend to reflect more light than acrylic sheets. This creates unwanted reflections and glares. Thus distorting the translucency and clarity for glass surfaces. Considering plexiglass is less light reflective, it has less glare and increased clarity.

Moreover, it has greater relative strength. This makes it ideal for marine and commercial applications.

Cutting

Cutting plexiglass is easier as compared to standard glass. Even better, you can cut plexiglass into different sizes and shapes to suit your needs. To cut acrylic sheets, you can use tools like table saws, routers, or scoring tools.

This, plus the lightweight nature of acrylic, makes it easy to cut, move and install.

The same can’t be said for glass though. It’s more brittle in nature and can easily break when cutting. So they’re less practical when creating custom designs and shapes.

Recycling

Glass materials are easier and cheaper to recycle than plexiglass. Besides, the process of recycling glass only requires intense heating. Although this may not benefit you as a consumer directly, it’s good for the environment.

Also, this means that you can recycle and reuse glass surfaces many times.

Recycling clear acrylic isn’t that simple though, especially since they’re petroleum-based. Therefore, recycling them will be incredibly complex and costly as well.

Cost

The initial cost of acquiring standard glass is lower as compared to that of plexiglass. However, this will vary depending on factors like size, glare-reduction coating, and thickness. Also, the price of tempered glass is almost the same as that of acrylic sheets.

While laminated or formed glass may be more expensive than plexiglass.

When it comes to replacement and maintenance costs, acrylic may be cheaper. Moreover, it’s more resistant to erosion and weathering.

Applications

Plexiglass is more used in areas that are like to break or shatter. For instance, it’s used to make eyeglass lenses. Thanks to its shatter-resistance and less-reflective nature. Also, it’s used in balcony barriers and display cases for commercial applications.

Unlike normal glass, tempered glass doesn’t shatter into sharp-ended pieces.

Instead, it breaks into small fragments with rounded edges. For this reason, tempered glass is used to make mirrors, fixtures, and showers. It’s also used to make windshields, glass shelving, medical equipment, and fixtures.

Plexiglass VS. Glass: Which is better in Different Circumstances?

Plexiglass is suitable in applications in areas where saving weight is important. Such applications include; boat windows, aquariums, and roof lights. Moreover, it’s an excellent choice when you’ve to process the materials for DIY projects.

This includes use in sunroom additions/ pergola, tabletop & deck covers, and stair rails.

Acrylic sheets have gained widespread use in other areas as well. For instance, it’s currently being used to make sales displays, screens, lenses, and signs. It’s a great material for demanding construction applications such as submarine windows.

The fiber optics used in flat-screen displays are also made using acrylic.

Even with these benefits, there are instances where glass is preferred over acrylic. For instance, it’s ideal for areas that have intense use and bright sunlight. A good example of this application is using them for your house windows.

Also, where safety and security are of major concern, you should choose glass over acrylic. The reason is that it has more heat resistance than the thermoplastic material.

As I stated earlier, glass is scratch-resistant, while plexiglass is not.

Therefore, acrylic cannot be used to make a car windscreen since the wipes will scratch it. Also, glass surfaces are widely available at an affordable price. Therefore, you can easily replace them at a cheaper price as compared to acrylic surfaces.

Conclusion

In summation, there are some notable differences between plexiglass and glass surfaces. On one hand, glass is scratch-resistant, cheaper, and easy to recycle. On the other, plexiglass is stronger, shatter-resistant, and weather resistant.

Also, there are benefits and drawbacks to each material. For this, one material may be chosen over then another depending on the circumstance. In other words, you can choose any material depending on your project needs and purpose.

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