Acrylic or PVC Sheeting : Farco Plastics Resources

Posted by Farco Plastics Supply on 28th Feb 2024

Acrylic or PVC Sheeting : Farco Plastics Resources

Which Material Reigns Supreme?

PVC and acrylic are both versatile and widely used plastic materials available in sheet form for a variety of applications.

PVC, or polyvinyl chloride, is a thermoplastic polymer known for its affordability, chemical resistance, durability, and ease of fabrication. PVC sheeting provides strength, rigidity, and weatherability at a low cost, making it suitable for construction materials, signage, display cases, and more.

Acrylic sheeting, made from polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), provides greater optical clarity, UV resistance, and surface hardness compared to PVC. With its crystal-clear transparency and brilliance, acrylic is an excellent choice for applications like aquariums, skylights, display cases, and point of purchase displays where visibility and aesthetics are important.

Both PVC and acrylic sheeting offer distinct advantages and disadvantages depending on the intended application and priorities like cost, chemical and impact resistance, temperature tolerance, and fabrication considerations. Comparing the two materials in depth allows for an informed selection when choosing the right plastic sheeting for specific projects and needs.

Acrylic vs PVC Durability

When it comes to durability and impact resistance, acrylic sheeting is generally superior to PVC. Acrylic has very high impact resistance, making it much less prone to shattering compared to materials like glass or polycarbonate. It is extremely resistant to weathering and UV degradation, retaining its optical clarity and mechanical strength even after many years of outdoor exposure.

Unlike PVC, acrylic is not notch-sensitive, so it does not easily crack from minor nicks and scratches. It also handles temperature fluctuations remarkably well, experiencing very little expansion or contraction compared to other thermoplastics. This dimensional stability makes acrylic well-suited for applications that demand tight tolerances.

In terms of chemical resistance, acrylic withstands exposure to many acids, alcohols, oils, and solvents much better than PVC or glass. It resists crazing, yellowing, and other forms of degradation when exposed to harsh environmental conditions. With proper care and maintenance, acrylic's optical clarity and mechanical performance can be retained for decades, making it a highly durable and reliable material for demanding applications.

Overall, acrylic's superior resistance to impacts, UV light, weathering, and chemicals makes it the clear winner over PVC in situations that require exceptional durability and long-term performance. Acrylic's durability and minimum maintenance needs make it an ideal choice for skylights, transparent signage, displays, and glazing applications where longevity and low maintenance costs are desired.

Optical Clarity and Aesthetics

Acrylic has a much higher optical clarity compared to PVC, making it an ideal material for applications requiring maximum visibility and transparency. Acrylic can transmit up to 92% of visible white light, giving it exceptional optical transparency very similar to that of glass.

This pristine clarity makes acrylic sheeting the preferred choice over PVC when the application demands flawless visibility, such as in windows, displays, signage, and any setting where maintaining a clear line of sight is critical. PVC sheeting has a slight cloudiness and is not as crystal clear as acrylic.

Acrylic's aesthetic qualities are also far superior to PVC due to its optical clarity. The material has a smooth, glass-like finish that lends a sophisticated, premium look. Acrylic can be cast and molded into complex shapes while retaining its perfect transparency. This allows acrylic to be used in decorative items, furniture, art displays, and retail settings where visual appeal is important.

PVC sheeting lacks the refined visual qualities of acrylic. While acceptable for industrial and basic exterior applications, PVC cannot match acrylic's flawless optical clarity and polished aesthetic appeal. When design, visibility, and sophistication matter, acrylic is the clear winner over PVC sheeting.

Cost Comparison

Acrylic sheeting generally has a higher cost compared to PVC sheeting. On average, acrylic can cost 2-3 times more per square foot than PVC. However, acrylic's higher initial price point is justified by its superior optical clarity, weather resistance, and durability compared to PVC.

The base price of cast acrylic sheets starts at approximately $15 per square foot, while the base price of PVC sheets starts around $5 per square foot. However, premium grades of acrylic with high UV protection or abrasion resistance can cost upwards of $50 per square foot.

When factoring in the total cost over the lifespan of the material, acrylic is often the more economical choice compared to PVC. Even though acrylic has a higher upfront cost, it will last much longer outdoors without yellowing or becoming brittle. PVC often needs to be replaced more frequently due to degradation from UV exposure.

Acrylic also retains its optical clarity for decades, while PVC will become hazy and opaque over time, losing its aesthetic appeal. The superior durability and performance of acrylic make it well worth the extra initial investment for applications where clarity, weather resistance, and longevity are important factors.

Acrylic's Superior Flexural and Tensile Strength

Acrylic demonstrates markedly higher flexural strength compared to PVC sheeting. Flexural strength refers to a material's ability to resist deformation under load. Acrylic has a flexural strength of approximately 14,000 psi, while PVC sheets have a flexural strength ranging from 7,000-10,000 psi.

The superior flexural strength of acrylic makes it more rigid and resistant to bending forces without permanent deformation. Acrylic's higher rigidity allows it to span greater distances unsupported. Acrylic is thus preferred for structural applications that demand resistance to bending stresses, like skylights, display cases, and architectural glazing.

Tensile strength indicates how resistant a material is to break when placed under tension or stretching forces. Acrylic has a typical tensile strength of around 9,500 psi, versus 4,000-6,000 psi for rigid PVC formulations.

Acrylic's greater tensile strength gives it a performance advantage for applications where resistance to breakage under tension or impact loads is critical. Acrylic sheets are less prone to shatter compared to glass or standard PVC. This makes acrylic a safer choice for applications like protective screens, riot shields, signs, and displays where impact resistance is paramount.

The superior flexural and tensile strength of acrylic over PVC demonstrates its durability and suitability for demanding structural, transparent, and impact-resistant applications. When higher rigidity and impact resistance are required, acrylic is generally the preferable choice over PVC sheeting.

Chemical Resistance and Applications

PVC has superior chemical resistance compared to acrylic, making it very suitable for applications like plumbing and construction where exposure to chemicals is common. The molecular structure of PVC allows it to withstand exposure to acids, bases, salts, oils, and alcohols without degrading. This makes it an ideal material for pipes, fittings, siding, window frames, and roofing in construction applications where chemicals may be routinely encountered.

On the other hand, acrylic is not as chemically resistant as PVC, limiting its use in applications where chemical exposure is expected. However, acrylic is an excellent choice for visually demanding applications where its optical clarity and light transmission properties are leveraged. Acrylic is commonly used for skylights, signage, displays, and similar applications where high visibility and aesthetic appeal are important.

The optical qualities of acrylic make it suitable for applications like aquariums, terrariums, and custom furniture where people will visually engage with the material. So, while PVC has an edge for chemically intensive applications, acrylic is often preferred when optical performance is the priority.

Environmental Impact and Recycling

PVC sheeting stands out for its recyclability and durability, making it a sustainable option for various applications. Unlike many plastics, PVC can be recycled multiple times without significant degradation or loss of critical properties. This gives products made from PVC sheeting impressive longevity as the material can be reused rather than ending up in landfills.

The ingredients used in PVC sheeting, including the chlorine atoms, are tightly bound together, preventing them from being released into the environment during manufacture or disposal. Dioxin emissions during manufacture have also been dramatically reduced thanks to technological advancements. PVC's durability also leads to lower replacement rates compared to other materials, reducing waste.

PVC sheeting also scores favorably in life cycle assessment studies which analyze environmental impact. The low level of waste in production as well as recyclability results in a lower carbon footprint compared to many other plastics.

PVC sheeting and products are now sought after by companies looking to improve sustainability and lower the environmental impact of their operations. The material's utility, longevity and recyclability make PVC sheeting an excellent sustainable option for various construction, packaging and industrial applications.

Fabrication and Machinability

Both PVC and acrylic offer good machinability, but there are some differences when it comes to processing and handling the materials in manufacturing contexts.

Acrylic can be machined, formed, and fabricated using techniques similar to woodworking, with saws, drills, routers, and other conventional tools. It also allows for more intricate and detailed designs because of its high optical clarity and ability to be polished to a clear finish.

Complex laser cutting, etching, engraving, and even 3D printing is possible with acrylic. However, acrylic sheets can crack or craze if cut too fast or with a dull blade. Special care should be taken when machining acrylic to avoid excessive heat buildup that can melt the material.

PVC sheets are relatively easy to cut, drill, and machine as well using standard tools, even at high speeds. PVC doesn't tend to crack or melt during machining. It has good dimensional stability during processing operations. However, PVC doesn't offer the same extent of design intricacy as acrylic due to its slightly lower clarity.

PVC chemical welding allows for easy joining of PVC components, which isn't as straightforward with acrylic. The lower heat resistance of PVC must also be accounted for during any heat-generating processes.

Overall, both acrylic and PVC offer versatility in terms of machinability and manufacturing processes. Acrylic enables more complex and polished designs but requires gentler handling, while PVC withstands high-speed and high-heat operations better despite its lower optical qualities.

Impact Resistance

PVC sheeting offers moderate impact resistance, with advantages over acrylic in its overall strength and toughness. Acrylics and plexiglass are known for their shatter resistance properties however they are still inferior to PVC in minimizing the effects of impacts.

PVC can better withstand moderate impacts and resist fracturing. The molecular structure of PVC makes it more flexible and pliant, enabling it to absorb impacts without immediately cracking or breaking. This gives PVC an edge for applications where protection from occasional impacts is important.

While acrylic is often chosen for its optical clarity and resistance to shattering, PVC outperforms acrylic in handling blunt force. PVC sheets sustain dents and abrasions better, rather than splintering on impact. Products made from PVC can maintain their integrity after impacts that would likely cause plexiglass items to crack or fracture.

PVC's superior impact resistance stems from its molecular structure and inherent flexibility. This allows PVC to dissipate impact energy through its structure, rather than concentrate stresses in a way that causes immediate breakage. Acrylic is more brittle by comparison. For applications prone to bumps, knocks or debris, PVC is the safer choice over acrylic when impact resistance is a priority.


PVC and acrylic both offer useful properties as sheet materials but excel in different applications based on factors like cost, durability, strength, and optical clarity. Key points of comparison include:

  • Acrylic has superior optical clarity and aesthetics, making it ideal for applications where visibility is critical, like signs, displays, and skylights. Its transparency mimic’s glass.
  • PVC is more cost effective and chemically resistant, suiting it well to construction materials like pipes, siding, and fixtures exposed to weather and chemicals.
  • Acrylic has greater impact resistance and durability, resulting in a longer lifespan and lower risk of breakage. Its higher tensile strength also resists deformation.
  • PVC offers the benefit of easy recyclability without losing critical properties, making it a sustainable choice. Acrylic is less recyclable.
  • Both materials machine and fabricate well, but acrylic allows for more intricate and polished designs leveraging its optical clarity.
  • For temperature resistance, PVC expands less than acrylic when heated. It also absorbs less water.

When selecting between acrylic and PVC sheets, consider your budget, application needs, and priority factors like clarity, durability, strength, and chemical resistance. PVC suits cost-conscious applications like construction materials, while acrylic excels where optical performance is critical, or a premium material is desired. Evaluate your unique project requirements to determine the best material choice.

For pricing and more information contact a Farco Plastics Suplly office near you today!