Product Comparison: Acrylic vs. HDPE

Both acrylic and HDPE plastic film offer many high performance properties to companies in a wide array of industries. They share some of the same qualities, including general durability and customizability. However, they also have many differences. 


Understanding the differences of acrylic vs HDPE can help you make more informed decisions regarding your own plastic needs. Both offer plenty of advantages, so there is no singular right answer for every user. Instead, carefully consider the unique qualities of each one and consider how well they line up to the needs of your specific applications. 


If you’re considering acrylic vs HDPE for any projects that require quality plastic film, here’s a guide to the attributes and applications of each of these options. 


Attributes and Applications: Acrylic 


Acrylic is one of the most common thermoplastics available today. Here are some of the attributes this material is most known for: 

  • Impact resistance: Acrylic can be up to ten times more impact resistant than glass. So it can protect various materials from damage due to flying debris or daily wear and tear. 
  • Optical clarity: Though acrylic plastic and film can come in many colors and finishes, it is most commonly produced as clear and transparent. The film allows nearly all light to pass through, so it’s easy to see from one side to the other with little to no visual obstruction. 
  • Lightweight: Acrylic is one of the most lightweight materials available in many of the industries where it’s used. So it is incredibly easy to handle when installing or applying it to various surfaces. It can also be transported easily from one place to another.
  • Easy to customize: Acrylic is a thermoplastic, so it can be formed into various shapes using heat. It can also easily be cut to size and produced in various colors and finishes to suit the needs of specific applications. 


In terms of acrylic film, these attributes make the material an attractive option for graphics and display signage, packaging, transportation, and industrial applications. 


So how does acrylic differ from HDPE? Visually, most acrylic film is more clear than HDPE, though it can be produced in other finishes as well. It also provides more impact strength, but isn’t able to withstand other sources of damage as well, like abrasion from chemicals or scratches from sharp objects. 


Attributes and Applications: HDPE


HDPE may not have the name recognition of acrylic. But it still offers many high-performance properties, including: 

  • Stiffness: HDPE stands for high density polyethylene, so it is known for its dense makeup. This makes it especially rigid for applications that require an especially solid surface.  
  • High tensile strength: HDPE is able to withstand tension and compression well, so it can work in applications where the material may have to support heavy materials or other types of stress. 
  • Chemical resistance: This material is known for its low odor and high chemical resistance. It’s even available in specific grades that are safe for use around food and beverages. 
  • Easy to process: HDPE is easy to process into various shapes, sizes, and finishes. It can also be blended with other polymers and/or additives to give it specific qualities, like the ability to withstand extreme moisture or exposure to chemicals. 


HDPE is suitable for many of the same applications as acrylic, including graphics, transportation, industrial, and packaging. However, the specific uses between the two within each of these applications often varies. 


Wondering how the qualities of HDPE line up with those of acrylic? First, HDPE often has a more opaque or translucent finish than that of acrylic. So it’s often preferred in applications where more privacy or visual obstruction is necessary. 


Additionally, while both materials are strong and durable in their own way, HDPE is better suited for applications that require tensile strength, while acrylic is more impact resistant. HDPE is also more chemical and water resistant; acrylic only provides moderate protection against water and some chemical compounds. 


How to Choose: Acrylic vs HDPE


So how can you choose between acrylic vs HDPE for your specific application? First, start by evaluating the needs of your specific application. If you’re looking for film to protect components against impact damage or if you want full visual clarity for applications like driver or operator protection, acrylic film is likely a better choice. However, if you’re looking for materials that can protect against compression or offer a more rigid surface, HDPE is more suited to those needs. 


Since these two materials serve many of the same industries, it is likely that many firms will use both materials at some point for different purposes. For example, acrylic may be chosen by a packaging company for protecting medical devices or equipment, since its strength can protect important materials from punctures or damage. However, HDPE is easier to customize into food-safe grades, making it a top choice for food and beverage packaging. In fact, HDPE is well suited for any packaging application that requires FDA approval. 


Another example is the industrial or manufacturing field, where acrylic is a popular choice for machine guards that provide protection from impact due to moving equipment. However, HDPE offers more tensile strength, perfect for machinery applications where protection from general stress is beneficial. 


Whether you’re looking for acrylic or HDPE, PolymerFilms has all the quality plastic films needed for your applications. We offer a large inventory, and our plastics are available in various grades, colors, finishes, and textures to suit applications in a huge array of industries. The staff at our local facilities provide personalized service and guidance to help you find the perfect materials and services for your needs, and we offer quick and efficient shipping and communication. Visit our website to find your local facility today.


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