Acrylic is a versatile plastic material that can be fabricated into a wide variety of custom products, displays, and structures. Acrylic fabrication refers to the process of cutting, bending, bonding and otherwise working with acrylic sheets and tubes to produce custom acrylic items. Here is an in-depth look at what custom acrylic fabrication entails and how it works.
Overview of Acrylic Properties
Acrylic is an ideal material for fabrication and manufacturing custom products because of its unique properties and qualities. Acrylic is a transparent thermoplastic, meaning it is a plastic polymer that becomes pliable and moldable when heated, and returns to a solid state upon cooling. One of acrylic’s most useful properties is its transparency – it transmits light very effectively while maintaining a crystal clear view. This makes it perfect for applications like displays, signs, lenses, and any application where a see-through material is needed.
In addition to transparency, acrylic is highly durable and resistant to impact. It is much stronger than glass and weathers very well over time without fading or yellowing. Items made from acrylic maintain their like-new appearance even with regular use and handling. Acrylic also provides versatility in fabrication. It can be thermoformed when heated, allowing it to be shaped into different 2D and 3D forms. Acrylic sheets can also be bent and folded. Acrylic bonds well to itself using solvents, and it can be cut, routed, and worked similarly to wood.
Common Forms of Acrylic
Acrylic is a versatile material for fabrication, and it is commonly available in sheet, tube, rod, and cluster forms to suit different production needs. Acrylic sheets are flat, rectangular panels used for laser cutting, routing, and fabricating many items. They range in thickness from very thin 1mm sheets up to over 1 inch thick sheets. Common uses are acrylic walls, dividers, signs, displays, and any application needing a flat clear plastic sheet cut to size.
Acrylic tubes are hollow rods extruded from acrylic plastic. Tubes provide excellent material for pipe railing infills, lighting structures, display frameworks, and architectural features. Tubes come in diameters ranging from several inches down to just a fraction of an inch. Acrylic rods are solid cylinders shaped like dowels. They can assemble into display grids and supports or any structure needing clear solid rods rather than tubes. The solid rod shape provides more durability for weight-bearing applications.
There are a number of techniques used by fabricators to transform raw acrylic sheets and tubes into custom products, displays, and structures. Cutting acrylic is typically done with power tools like table saws, band saws, drill presses, laser cutters or CNC routers. These tools effectively cut acrylic sheets or tubes to precise specifications and with clean, polished edges. This allows acrylic to be cut to size for a project. For bending and folding acrylic, a specialty bender heats the sheets to between 265-320°F which softens the material enough to be able to create sharp folds and bends using pressure. This technique creates boxes, signs, displays and more.
Bonding and joining acrylic is crucial for assembling fabrication projects. Acrylic solvent cements contain chemicals that partially melt the surfaces to be joined and fuse them together once dry. Proper solvent bonding technique results in strong, clear seams between acrylic pieces. Polishing through buffing and flame polishing removes fine scratches and creates a glossy, glass-like finish on acrylic surfaces and edges. This achieves an optically clear appearance. For shaping acrylic into complex 3D forms, thermoforming allows thin sheets to be heated and then vacuum formed over a mold shape, conforming the acrylic to the mold.
Applications of Custom Acrylic
Acrylic is commonly used for fabricating custom displays, signs, furniture, lighting, architectural features, and more. One major application is custom displays like acrylic display cases, product stands, wall mounts, and retail displays. Acrylic fabrication allows displays to be customized to highlight objects and products.
Signage and wayfinding is another common use. Cut acrylic sheets readily accept vinyl lettering and graphics to create custom branded signs, restaurant menus, event signage, donor walls, directional signage, and more. For interior spaces, fabricated acrylic creates transparent partition walls, railing infills, and space dividers. Laser etching can make dividers translucent for privacy while still transmitting light.
Acrylic works beautifully with lighting. Lit acrylic signs, lampshades, light boxes, and backlit displays take advantage of acrylic’s ability to transmit and diffuse light in captivating ways. In furniture, tabletops, desks, chairs, and shelving can be constructed from bent, molded, or laser engraved acrylic for a contemporary look.
Benefits of Choosing Acrylic
Acrylic possesses many advantages as a material choice for transparent structures, displays, and fabrication projects. One of the biggest benefits is affordability. Acrylic sheets and rods cost significantly less than glass, plexiglass, or polycarbonate plastics. Acrylic is an economical choice for projects needing clarity and transparency.
Acrylic is also extremely durable. Unlike some plastics, it resists yellowing and retains its clarity over many years without fading. Acrylic stands up well to impact and also withstands UV light exposure and weathering. Items made from acrylic maintain their like-new appearance after years of use. Another advantage is the ability to customize projects through techniques like laser engraving, thermoforming, and solvent bonding. These techniques allow acrylic to take on unique shapes, branding, and designs. One-of-a-kind acrylic fabrications are possible.
Compared to glass, acrylic is lightweight yet remains rigid and strong. Large acrylic structures weigh much less than glass, saving substantially on shipping and installation costs. For many public and commercial settings, acrylic adds a contemporary, modern aesthetic quality that enhances the space visually compared to traditional materials.
A custom acrylic fabrication offers endless possibilities for bringing creative transparent designs to life through custom fabrication. With its optimal balance of clarity, strength, and versatility, acrylic can be transformed into stunning displays, structures, furniture, signage, and architectural features. While glass breaks easily, acrylic’s durability ensures fabricated projects maintain their beauty over years of use. Whether desiring a contemporary look or seeking to highlight products and spaces, acrylic’s aesthetic appeal and fabrication potential make it the ideal choice for innovative custom projects.