Plastic is plastic, right? No. Nadda.
Just as there’s different kinds of wood (pine, spruce, oak, et al) there are many different types of plastic. Here’s how Wikipedia defines plastic:
The term “plastics” covers a range of synthetic or semi-synthetic polymerization products. They are composed of organic condensation or addition polymers and may (often) contain other substances to improve performance or economics. There are few natural polymers generally considered to be “plastics”. Plastics can be formed into objects or films or fibers. Their name is derived from the fact that many are malleable, having the property of plasticity. …
Some common plastics are acrylic, polycarbonate, Teflon, acetal/delrin, polyethylene, polypropylene, PVC, and Nylon. And, each of these have additional members of their respective families based on additives or how the molecular chains are re-arranged.
Assorted Plastic Sheet, Rod, & Tube
Granted, Warehoused Plastic Sales is a distributor of sheet, rod, & tube, and many of the pictures below are injection molded pieces, I offer them as examples of similar see-through items that, unless you phsyically tested them, you might not know exactly what type of plastic they are.
Styrene Measuring Cup
If it’s clear and you drink out of it or pour something into it, and bought it at Walmart then it’s probably styrene – you’ll know because when you drop it, it cracks and breaks apart in long linear shards. Styrene is a very inexpensive, utilitarian plastic ideal for this type of application.
Fancy Acrylic Cups
Acrylic is another see through product. Common brandnames are Acrylite, Lucite, and Plexiglas. It’s about 10 times the strength of glass and will crack and break under impact. Its optical characteristics are better than glass achieving upwards of 93% light transmission. It can be printed on, painted on, and accepts paint and vinyl lettering. It’s naturally UV stabilized and, depending on the manufacturer, it can be guaranteed for upwards of 20 years against discoloration providing its properly cared for (soap and water only). It isn’t very resilient to chemicals and will craze, haze, and crack if cleaned with ammonia based cleaners. It can be glued, its edges flamed to a glassy gloss, and cut with simple hand tools. Clear Acrylic is FDA approved and can be used for food applications.
Polycarbonate is the most rugged of the see-throughs. About 30 times tougher than Acrylic is often used for security applications such as protective coverings for doors and windows. It’s resilience is due to a rubberizing agent that allows it absorb and distribute shock. It can be cut and glued but you’ll never get a glass-like edge. If you are thermoforming it then the material must be dried first to reduce the amount of moisture in the sheet. Clear polycarbonate is FDA approved and can be used for food applications such as bulk food bins – that’s where you often see it used because of the constant contact with hands and scoops. Unlike acrylic, polycarbonate will be affected by sunlight so if you have an outside application you need to order UV treated polycarbonate – usually a liquid film applied to the sheet during the manufacturing process. Depending on the manufacturer, treated polycarbonate can be guaranteed for upwards of 10 years against discoloration from the sun.
Clear PVC Component
PVC is a rugged plastic as well but doesn’t have the clarity usually associated with acrylic and polycarbonate. You’ll often see it used in home-workshop vaccuum system components. PVC is a lot more resilient to chemicals than either acrylic or polycarbonate. You’ll see a lot of PVC pipe on shelves but rarely clear sheet, however there is clear vinyl film which was often used as blotter covers.
PETG, known under the brand VIVAK, is often used in thermoforming applications. It comes in sheet form and can be cut, glued, painted, printed on, and takes vinyl lettering. It is a bit tougher than acrylic but doesn’t come in the same brilliant colours or textures. It is primarily a printing and display product. Clear PETG is FDA approved for food applications.
Bullet Resistant Plastic
Bullet Proof Plastic – well, no manufacturer will ever say that exactly due to the potential liability associated with such a statement so, they’ll refer to their product as bullet resistant. We carry a Sheffield Hyguard product that, like the picture above and on the right, is a laminate product comprised of both acrylic and polycarbonate – each layer absorbs kinetic power as the round passes through it – so, in theory, by the time it gets to the final layers, the bullet has spent all of its energy.