Acrylic (PMMA)

5 Types of Plastics and Their Applications

by | Jul 28, 2023

Plastic materials are essential to almost every industry worldwide. Besides packaging, plastics are used in aerospace, automotive applications, construction, textiles, transportation, electronics, industrial machinery, marine applications, military and defense, medical and healthcare, and numerous other sectors.

There are various types of plastic fabrication methods, and each plastic material produced serves different purposes. Discover five of the most common types of plastic, their properties, variants, applications, and differences.

1. Acrylic (PMMA)

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Polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), or acrylic, is a synthetic plastic polymer known for its transparent properties that was commercially introduced in 1933. The primary purpose of acrylic is as an alternative to traditional glass. For this reason, PMMA is sometimes called acrylic glass, despite not being an authentic glass material.

Properties of Acrylic

PMMA is a lightweight, transparent material with high optical clarity. Most transparent acrylic sheets possess light transmission rates of 85% to 92%, higher than typical window glass (80 to 90%).

Acrylic has a density of approximately 1.19 g/cm³ or slightly less than half the density of glass (2.5 g/cm³). The lower density means a pane of acrylic plexiglass weighs half as much as a pane of glass of the same dimensions.

Additionally, acrylic has higher impact resistance than glass, is less expensive to manufacture, and can be machined more easily. Acrylic sheeting is approximately ten times more shatter resistant than glass, making it much less likely to crack and break into shards when struck.

Common Applications of Acrylic

With dyes and fillers, acrylic sheeting can be fabricated into nearly any color and opacity level, making it a versatile material suitable for various applications.

Transparent acrylic sheeting is most commonly used as a substitute for glass, making it suitable for fabricating windows, outdoor enclosures, skylights, architectural features, and retail displays. Some forms of acrylic sheeting feature coatings capable of reflecting light. These coatings are used to produce acrylic mirrors.

Translucent color acrylic sheets are also used as a decorative material, such as lighting fixtures, dividers, furniture elements, or aquariums. Opaque color acrylic sheets can serve decorative purposes, such as wall panels, exhibits, signage materials, and other cosmetic displays.

Some acrylic sheeting also features additives enhancing their resistance to various forms of damage and degradation. They include UV absorbers, anti-yellowing agents, flame-retardants, and anti-bacterial compounds.

2. Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS)

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Acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene, or ABS plastic, was first commercially introduced in 1954. ABS is known for its hardness, toughness, and resistance to heat and chemicals. The most common applications for ABS plastic are in the automotive, electronics, and home appliance industries.

Properties of ABS

The most common ABS fabrication process is emulsion polymerization, which combines the three monomer components listed in its name: acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene.

Each monomer grants the resulting compound some of its properties:

  • Acrylonitrile is a nitrile group plastic with high chemical resistance, thermal stability, rigidity, and hardness.
  • Butadiene is a gas that gives ABS plastic its toughness, impact strength, and flexibility at low temperatures.
  • Styrene is a hydrocarbon providing ABS with two additional properties: a smooth and glossy surface and easier processing and extrusion.

Common Applications of ABS

ABS plastic has applications in many industries due to its ease of molding, durability, wear resistance, ease of cleaning and sterilization, and tactile feel.

ABS is widely used in the automotive sector to make dashboards, interior trim, center consoles, door panels, and other internal plastic elements. Home appliances and consumer goods also commonly use ABS to create parts and items such as housings and cases, computer peripherals, pipe housings, and furniture accents.

The rigidity of ABS plastic also makes it well-suited for fabricating strong, durable packing materials such as storage boxes, blister packs, or clamshell cases.

3. Polyethylene (PE)


While polyethylene (PE) is often cited as the world’s most common plastic, referring to PE as a family of plastic materials is more accurate. Polyethylene materials are categorized by density, each with its own properties and applications.

The most common PE materials are LDPE, LLDPE, MDPE, HDPE, and UHMWPE. All polyethylene plastics have high toughness, insulation properties, and chemical resistance. They are also waterproof, flexible, tough, and easy to recycle.

Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE)

LDPE has a density of 0.910 to 0.940 g/cm³. It is soft, flexible, and can be formulated into opaque or translucent forms. LDPE is typically used to manufacture plastic films and bags, cardboard coatings, and cable insulation.

Linear Low-Density Polyethylene (LLDPE)

LLDPE is a form of LDPE with higher tensile strength and a slightly higher average density (0.915 – 0.935 g/cm³). These properties create a flexible material for fabricating bags, liners, covers, stretchy films, and flexible tubings.

Medium-Density Polyethylene (MDPE)

MDPE is a polyethylene plastic with a density of 0.926 to 0.940 g/cm³. It is a solid plastic material that can be processed into opaque or translucent formulations. The most common applications for MDPE are piping and injection-molded plastic elements.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE has a density range of 0.93-0.97 g/cm³. It is another solid plastic material with high strength and thermal resistance. Typical applications for HDPE include gas and water distribution piping, food-grade plastic bottles and containers, toys, and playground equipment.

Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE)

UHMWPE is another dense polyethylene material (0.925 – 0.95 g/cm³) known for its smooth, self-lubricating texture. It can be formulated into sheeting, rods, tubes, and fibers. UHMWPE has exceptional strength and abrasion resistance and is commonly used to make climbing ropes, sailing cords, ballistic fibers for military body armor, fishing lines, conveyor belts, and cut-resistant apparel.

4.Polycarbonate (PC)


Polycarbonate plastic is a primarily transparent thermoplastic material known for its impact resistance, optical clarity, and thermal stability. While polycarbonate sheeting may appear similar to acrylic at first, the two materials do not share the same properties and applications.

Properties of PC

Polycarbonate (PC) is well-known for its exceptional impact resistance. It is approximately 250 times stronger than glass and 30 times stronger than acrylic. It also has excellent light transmission rates up to 88% and high thermal stability.

Common Applications of PC

The primary application for polycarbonate plastic is fabricating translucent, impact-resistant objects. It includes safety glazing, protective shields, safety visors, greenhouse panels, transparent canopies, and car or airplane windshields.

Heavy-duty polycarbonate sheeting can also be used as the primary material in bullet-resistant applications when combined with laminate layers and specific additives. Examples include windows for armored vehicles or blast-proof glass.

5.Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET)


Although polyethylene terephthalate (PET) features the word “polyethylene” in its name, PET is chemically distinct and not a part of the PE family. PET is a polyester plastic patented in 1941 that can be processed into solid pellets, films, sheets, fibers, or preformed packaging.

Properties of PET

PET is well-known for its low weight, strength, rigidity, and resistance to impacts, UV rays, and chemicals. It is also a food-safe material commonly utilized to store and transport food and drinks of all types.

Another benefit of PET is its recyclability. Scrap PET is easily processed to make new PET products, making it a more sustainable choice of plastic material.

Common Applications of PET

The most widely known use of PET plastic is the PET bottle, used for packing beverages of all types: water, sodas, juices, teas, coffees, energy drinks, and alcoholic drinks.

The textile industry uses PET fibers to fabricate polyester clothing. PET fibers are durable, resistant to stains and wrinkling, easy to dye, and quick-drying.

Other applications for PET include food-safe trays and containers, disposable drink cups, healthcare test tubes and blister packs, household carpets, upholstery, and labeling materials.

Get Professionally Fabricated Acrylic Sheeting with Plastic Zone

Plastic Zone is a California-based acrylic professional with over 35 years of experience fabricating and distributing acrylic materials.

We provide a complete range of acrylic sheeting and materials suitable for any application, including laser cutting and CNC machining services. Contact us through our online form or call (818) 345-5525 today to discuss your next project with us.