Transparent & Clear Prototypes made requests more expertise to the technician’s skill and experience ,require them to be very serious focusing on every detail.Unlike other plastic prototyping, When it comes to clear prototypes, choosing the right material for rapid clear prototyping becomes even more critical as it directly influences the transparency, durability, and overall quality of the prototype. Acrylic and polycarbonate are two popular options, each with its own unique characteristics. But which one is better? In this blog post, we will let you know acrylic vs. polycarbonate for clear prototypes. we explore the properties, advantages, and considerations of both materials, helping you make an informed decision for your next prototype project.

What is clear prototypes machining?

Clear prototypes and optical prototypes machining are mainly referring to the machining of transparent acrylic (PMMA) and polycarbonate (PC), including CNC plastic machining and 3D clear printing and Urethane Casting clear materials. Most applications choose them to get a mirror-clear effect. For example, automotive lighting lamp lens, light guides, or product external components, displays, etc.

What is clear prototype for?

Clear prototypes for aesthetics

Clear prototypes hold great significance in various industries for several reasons. Firstly, they allow designers and engineers to assess the visual appeal and ergonomic aspects of the product design. Clear prototypes for aesthetics provide a clear visualization of the internal mechanisms, fit and finish, helping to evaluate the product’s form and its integration with other components. High Clarity is needed for these kinds of clear prototypes.

Clear prototypes for function test

clear prototypes are invaluable for product testing and validation. They allow for functional testing, where engineers can assess how different components interact and validate the design’s functionality. This is particularly crucial in industries such as optic prototypes in automotive lighting , VR headset prototype in consumer electronics, and medical beauty instrument prototype in medical devices, where precise fit, clarity of displays, and proper alignment of components are paramount.

So, here come to a table to show the requirements for a clear prototype in different projects

Factors to be considered for Clear prototypes

When choosing between acrylic and polycarbonate for clear prototypes, several factors should be considered to ensure the best fit for the specific project requirements, budget, and intended use. Here are some important factors to take into account:

  • Clarity and Transparency: Every prototype part requires polishing after production to regain its real clarity. Lack of polishing will leave the machined part translucent and not completely clear.  Acrylic offers excellent clarity, making it ideal for applications where optical transparency is critical. Polycarbonate also provides high transparency, but it may have a slight yellow tint compared to acrylic, which could affect certain applications.
  • UV Resistance: If the clear prototype will be exposed to outdoor environments or sunlight, polycarbonate’s superior UV resistance may be more suitable, as it is less likely to yellow or degrade over time.
  • Impact Resistance: Polycarbonate stands out in impact resistance, being approximately 20 times more impact-resistant than acrylic. If the prototype is intended for rugged or high-impact applications, polycarbonate may be the preferred choice.
  • Strength: If the prototype needs to withstand mechanical stress or load-bearing, polycarbonate’s higher strength makes it a better option.
  • Heat Tolerance: Acrylic generally has a lower softening temperature compared to polycarbonate. If the prototype will be exposed to high temperatures or heat sources, polycarbonate’s higher heat tolerance might be more suitable.
  • Fabrication Ease: Both materials can be easily fabricated and molded. However, acrylic may offer more flexibility in terms of machining and finishing options.
  • Budget Considerations: Acrylic is often more cost-effective than polycarbonate, which could be a significant factor in projects with tight budgets.
  • Intended Use: Understanding the specific application of the clear prototype is crucial. Consider factors such as environmental conditions, exposure to chemicals, regulatory requirements, and the functional or aesthetic purpose of the prototype.

Acrylic VS Polycarbonate

TransparencyBetter than Polycarbonate, Excellent transparencyHigh transparency, reach to 85%
Ease of polishingEasily to be polished to reach the level of tooling partsneed longer time and not good as tooling parts if you look carefully
Impact ResistanceModerate impact resistanceExceptional impact resistance
Strength10 times stronger than glass200 times stronger than glass
Heat ToleranceSoftening temperature: 115-135°CSoftening temperature: 147°C
UV ResistanceGood resistance to UV radiationExcellent UV resistance
Post treatment to be clearhand Polishedfumigate

Applications of acrylic and polycarbonate for clear prototypes

ApplicationAcrylic Clear prototypes Polycarbonate Clear prototypes why
Lighting FixturesLenses, light diffusers, coversExcellent transparency and light transmission
Point-of-Purchase DisplaysDisplays, retail fixturesClarity and ease of fabrication
Signage and displaysSignage, information boardsClarity and legibility
Safety EquipmentGoggles, face shields, protective equipmentGoggles, face shields, protective equipmentfor aesthetics: Acrylic prototypes clarity is more closed to tooling parts
For function test: polycarbonate have better impact resistance
Automotive ApplicationsHeadlamp lenses, sunroof panels, instrument clustersHeadlamp lenses, sunroof panels, instrument clustersfor aesthetics: Acrylic prototypes clarity is more closed to tooling parts
For function test: polycarbonate have better impact resistance
Electronic EnclosuresMobile device covers, protective casesMobile device covers, protective casesfor aesthetics: Acrylic prototypes clarity is more closed to tooling parts
For function test: polycarbonate have better impact resistance


Ultimately, the selection of the appropriate material for clear prototypes made by Rapid prototyping technology should be based on careful evaluation of the project’s unique needs, considering factors such as transparency, functionality, budget, and environmental conditions. Overall, Acrylic is more popular in porotypes due to most prototypes is used for aesthetics purpose.

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