Choosing the Right Material: Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate for Clear Prototypes


Clear prototypes play a crucial role in product development, allowing designers and engineers to visualize and test their designs. When it comes to selecting the right material for clear prototypes, two popular options are acrylic and polycarbonate. Each material has its own set of advantages and disadvantages, making the choice between them a critical decision in the prototyping process. In this article, we will explore the characteristics of both acrylic and polycarbonate to help you make an informed decision.

  1. Transparency and Clarity

Acrylic: better for clear prototypes, also known as Plexiglas or Perspex, is renowned for its exceptional transparency and optical clarity. It provides a glass-like appearance, making it an ideal choice for clear prototypes where aesthetics matter.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is also transparent but tends to have slightly lower optical clarity compared to acrylic. While it is still suitable for many clear prototype applications, it may exhibit some distortion under certain lighting conditions.

  1. Durability and Impact Resistance

Acrylic: Acrylic is relatively brittle compared to polycarbonate, making it more susceptible to cracking and breaking upon impact. It is less durable in high-impact applications.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is known for its outstanding impact resistance. It can withstand significant force without shattering, making it an excellent choice for prototypes that will undergo physical testing or may be subject to rough handling.

  1. Chemical Resistance

Acrylic: Acrylic is sensitive to some chemicals and solvents, which can cause it to craze or crack. Care should be taken when using acrylic prototypes in environments where exposure to chemicals is likely.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate has superior chemical resistance compared to acrylic. It can withstand exposure to a wider range of chemicals, making it a better choice for prototypes that will be used in chemically aggressive environments.

  1. Ease of Machining

Acrylic: Acrylic is relatively easy to machine, cut, and shape. It can be laser-cut or CNC-machined with precision, allowing for intricate prototype designs.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate can also be machined, but it is tougher and more heat-resistant than acrylic. This means that machining polycarbonate may require specialized tools and expertise.

  1. Cost Considerations

Acrylic: Acrylic is generally more affordable than polycarbonate, making it a cost-effective choice for clear prototypes, especially when budget constraints are a concern.

Polycarbonate: Polycarbonate is a bit more expensive than acrylic, primarily due to its superior durability and impact resistance. However, the added cost may be justified for prototypes that need to withstand demanding conditions.


Choosing the right material for clear prototypes depends on your specific project requirements. If you prioritize optical clarity and aesthetics, acrylic may be the better choice. However, if durability, impact resistance, and chemical resistance are critical factors, polycarbonate is the superior option.

Consider your project’s budget as well. Acrylic is the more cost-effective choice, while polycarbonate offers better performance in harsh conditions but at a higher cost.

In summary, both acrylic and polycarbonate have their strengths and weaknesses when it comes to clear prototypes. Assess your project’s needs, taking into account factors like transparency, durability, machining requirements, chemical exposure, and budget constraints. Making an informed decision based on these factors will ensure that your clear prototypes serve their purpose effectively in your product development process.


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