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Acrylic Plastic for Art and Decor

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I am an artist who is always exploring different materials, tools, and processes.

Plexiglass art

Plexiglass art

Introduction to Acrylic Plastic

Acrylic plastic, often referred to as Plexiglas or Perspex, is a clear, tough transparent plastic that has many uses in commercial and residential settings. Its clarity and brilliance surpass that of glass and yet it can be worked with ordinary wood and metal-working tools.

Acrylic plastic not only comes in cast and extruded forms but in many colors and textures. The most common colors are transparent, but there are translucent and opaque colors for various decorative and display options. Frosted acrylic sheets scatter light and create a softer and gentler glow. The textured sheets are especially useful for tabletops for the patio and as room dividers for privacy.

Furniture Applications of Acrylic Plastics

Not only is acrylic plastic popular as a tabletop surface or decorative embellishments to other pieces of furniture, but acrylic can also be used to make elegant and modern shelving. Because acrylic plastic is approximately ten times stronger than glass, it is less prone to crack and break. This property makes acrylic surprisingly strong.

Chairs that have clear acrylic legs or support appear to be floating in mid-air. Serving trays, small end tables, and stackable table sets can be easily made from a single sheet of acrylic plastic. By making planned cuts and using heat to bend the sheets, the design possibilities are unlimited.

Acrylic Plastic for Organization

Just as there are numerous large-scale design possibilities with furniture, there are just as many smaller functional items that can be made from acrylic plastic. Useful items like pencil holders, desk organizers, letter holders, and paper trays just to name a few. For example, a handmade desk organizer could have as many compartments as desired. With the proper hardware, even a work lamp can be incorporated into the design.

The possibilities are not limited to the office. Acrylic plastic can be assembled into devices and structures that can also organize jewelry, cosmetics, as well as hobbies and crafting supplies.

LED luminated acrylic shoe display

LED luminated acrylic shoe display

Retail and Display Uses

Retail is a very competitive industry. Often several different firms compete in the same market for sales. The only way for any retail business to stay competitive is service, good products, and excellent presentation. Acrylic plastic in the hands of a skilled display creator easily meets the needs of presenting premium goods in a spectacular way.

The clarity and the ability to bend and reflect light make acrylic the ideal material for product displays. The easy fabrication of acrylic sheet b heat forming allows for displays to be made with strategic angles to show all the eye-catching features of the product for sale.

Fluorescent acrylic display in the school supply section of a store

Fluorescent acrylic display in the school supply section of a store

Fluorescent Acrylics for Eye-Catching Displays

Sometimes when space is limited in a retail setting but you really want to draw the attention of customers to a particular product, you need a vivid eye-catching display. Fluorescent acrylics are a perfect fit for limited space or when the display is to be rather small. Fluorescent acrylics do cost more hence they are regarded as specialty items in the retail industry.

Acrylic Plastic for Light Sculpture

Acrylic plastic is highly prized for its easy workability and its clarity. In fact, clear acrylic plastic transmits light better than regular glass. In fact, over 92% of light goes through a clear sheet of acrylic plastic. This opens the door for unlimited creative potential!

Not only is it able to make chairs appear as if they are floating in mid-air, but the acrylic can also attenuate the light similar to how a fiber optic cable does. So curved and polished forms can be created to create luminous and appealing works of art.

Acrylic light sculptures in Partisans Factory in Toronto, Ontario

Acrylic light sculptures in Partisans Factory in Toronto, Ontario

Engraving Acrylic Sheets

Considering the light-transmitting ability of acrylic plastic mentioned above, it would be safe to assume unpolished or dull surfaces of acrylic would scatter light. This assumption is correct. The best way to use this property for decorative or function use is by engraving. Sign manufacturing companies use sophisticated laser machines to create this effect. Although laser engravers and cutters are out of the budget for many DIYs, this effect can be accomplished with an ordinary rotary tool in skilled hands.

One merely needs to practice on scrap pieces to become proficient. Because of the transparency of the acrylic sheet, a design can be drawn or printed out and placed under the sheet. With the appropriate bit, the lines can be simply followed along. For greater ease and visibility, the acrylic sheet can be edge-lighted with super bright LEDs so it's easier to follow along.

Painting on Plexiglass With Acrylic Paints

The transparency and clarity of Plexiglas lend well to the display of decorative paintings and photos. Also, acrylic plastic can be painted directly with acrylic paint. The beauty is appreciated further if the paint is on the reverse side and one can observe the painting through the glossy Plexiglas. If the paint is transparent, it can be edge or backlit to create a stained glass look.

Because the surface of the acrylic is so glossy and smooth, paints don't readily adhere at first. In fact, after water-based acrylic paint is applied and dries, it can be readily scraped off acrylic plastic. After a week or two though, acrylic paint will form a more permanent bond with the plastic. The acrylic resin from the emulsion paints and the resin in acrylic plastic sheet is in fact the same resin and in time coalesce as water molecules leave the matrix.