​ACRYLICS – A DEEP DIVE

Posted by Farco Plastics on 11th Jan 2024

​ACRYLICS – A DEEP DIVE

Introduction

Acrylic sheets are the ultimate versatile and accessible material for bringing your creative projects to life. From signs and displays to furniture and decorative pieces, acrylic opens a world of possibilities. Compared to materials like glass or wood, acrylic stands out for its lightweight yet durable construction. It's shatter-resistant, weatherproof, and easy to work with using basic DIY tools.

But what really makes acrylic an ideal material is the sheer range of looks you can achieve. Vibrant colors, sleek transparency, frosted textures, and more — acrylic can be customized to suit your exact design vision.

Whether you're an artist, crafter, builder or designer, acrylic sheets offer a fun, budget-friendly way to experiment with lighting effects, colors, shapes and patterns. With just a bit of imagination, acrylic can elevate your space and projects in stunning new ways.

The biggest benefits of acrylic include:

  • Lightweight - Up to half the weight of glass
  • Shatter-resistant - Unlike glass, it won't break into sharp shards.
  • Weatherproof - Stands up to sun, rain, and temperature swings.
  • UV-resistant - Won't yellow or fade over time
  • Easy to cut, drill, glue, and polish.
  • Available in a rainbow of colors and finishes
  • Creates unique lighting and design effects.

With the right know-how, these versatile sheets can bring your creative visions to life at home, work or anywhere in between. Let's dive in!

Acrylic Types

Acrylic sheets come in several main types, each with their own unique properties and best uses. Understanding the differences between them will ensure you choose the right acrylic for your project.

Cast Acrylic

Cast acrylic is created by pouring liquid acrylic into molds. This results in sheets that are very clear, glossy, and UV-resistant - perfect for displays, signs, windows, and other transparent applications. Cast acrylic also withstands high temperatures. It's easy to thermoform for shaping but is more prone to cracking if bent.

Ideal Uses:

  • Displays
  • Signs
  • Windows
  • Aquariums
  • Terrariums

Extruded Acrylic

Extruded acrylic is made by pushing molten acrylic through a shaped die. This creates sheets with a consistent thickness across their entire length. Extruded acrylic is less expensive and not as glossy or crystal clear as cast. However, it is stronger, more flexible, and less susceptible to cracking.

Ideal Uses:

Cell Cast Acrylic

Cell cast acrylic contains air pockets evenly distributed throughout the sheets. This gives the material an opaque, diffused appearance perfect for lighting applications. Cell cast acrylic is lightweight and resistors higher impact than cast acrylic. It can also hide imperfections.

Ideal Uses:

  • Light diffusers
  • Lampshades
  • Illuminated wall panels
  • Stage lighting.

Multi-Layer Acrylic

Multi-layer acrylic sheets consist of different acrylic types bonded together. This takes advantage of the unique benefits of each layer. For example, an abrasion or UV-resistant outer layer paired with an inexpensive, high-impact inner layer.

Ideal Uses:

  • Safety glass
  • Bullet-resistant glass
  • Aquariums
  • Bonded glazing substitutes

Thickness Matters

Choosing the right thickness is crucial for ensuring your acrylic sheets are optimized for the intended application. Thinner sheets bend and flex easily, making them ideal for projects like window replacements, light diffusers, and laser cutting.

Medium thicknesses between 3-6mm (about 0.24 in) offer a sturdy option for furniture, shelving, signage and decorative panels. For heavy-duty structural projects like large aquariums and bulletproof shields, acrylic sheets up to 25mm (about 0.98 in) provide maximum strength and durability.

When working with thicker acrylic sheets, take safety precautions. Have someone assist you in carrying large panels and take care when handling the edges and corners which can be quite sharp on thick acrylic.

Use clamps to secure the acrylic if drilling or cutting to prevent vibration and cracking. Always wear protective eyewear when fabrication, as acrylic shards can be dangerous. For the best results, use sharp drill bits and fine-tooth blades designed for smooth cuts in acrylic.

Here's a quick reference thickness guide for common acrylic sheet applications:

  • Window Replacements: 1-3mm (about 0.12 in)
  • Lighting Diffusers: 3-5mm (about 0.2 in)
  • Signs & Displays: 3-6mm (about 0.24 in)
  • Shelving & Furniture: 6-12mm (about 0.47 in)
  • Aquariums: 12-19mm (about 0.75 in)
  • Bulletproof Shields: 25mm (about 0.98 in) +

Choosing the optimal acrylic thickness for each unique project ensures the sheets have the right balance of strength, clarity, and workability required.

A Rainbow of Possibilities

Dive into the exciting world of acrylic colors and finishes. Acrylic sheets come in a vibrant rainbow of opaque, translucent, and transparent shades ranging from deep blues to bright neon. Go beyond basic clear acrylic to create dazzling displays and art.

Translucent Tints

For a soft, diffuse glow, try translucent tinted acrylics. These retain their see-through quality while adding a hint of color. Translucent reds and oranges add a warm glow to lamp shades or light fixtures. Cool tones like translucent blue or green acrylic make ideal partitions or bathroom windows for privacy with natural light.

Opaque Options

Opaque acrylic sheets block light for bold, vivid hues. Use opaque whites as an eco-friendly alternative to whiteboards. Incorporate opaque blacks into modern furniture or chic cosmetics displays. Go bold with a full spectrum of opaque shades from fire engine red to sunflower yellow.

Frosted and Mirrored Finishes

Specialty acrylic finishes open even more possibilities. Frosted or etched acrylic diffuses light for a soft matte that looks perfect for signage or room dividers. Mirrored acrylic adds sleek, reflective surfaces to create the illusion of space or depth. Get creative with frosted mirror acrylic combinations.

Working with Acrylic

  • Cutting Acrylic Use a sharp blade and straightedge to score acrylic sheets before snapping them. For circular cuts, a jigsaw with a fine-toothed blade works well. Clamp acrylic down to prevent unwanted vibration. Take it slow and steady to avoid cracking.
  • Drilling Acrylic Drill acrylic using a small bit and low speeds. Tape the entry and exit points to prevent cracking. For clean holes, drill halfway from one side, flip over, and finish from the other side. Lubricate the bit with oil or water.
  • Gluing Acrylic Use acrylic solvent cement to fuse acrylic joints. Lightly sandthe surfaces first for better adhesion. Avoid over-applying cement - a thin layer is best. Clamp bonded pieces as the cement sets for maximum strength.
  • Polishing Edges Smooth rough acrylic edges using wet sandpaper with decreasing grits. Finish by buffing with a fine polishing compound. Always sand/polish in one direction along the edge for a clean look. Protect surfaces and wear a mask when polishing.

With the right tools and techniques, acrylic fabrication is very approachable. These tips will get you started - the rest you'll pick up through hands-on practice. Don't be afraid to experiment!