Plastic Fantastic

acrylic mannequin

What exactly is acrylic and what can you do with it? You can learn all about the properties and the uses of this extraordinary material here

A lot of companies come to us for a wide variety of acrylic displays and signage, all made as bespoke projects by our in-house team.  So what exactly is Acrylic?

Key2 Group deals with virtually every type of business, from design and marketing companies to international retail brands, engineering companies, pharmaceutical firms, schools and local authorities to cosmetics, fashion, fragrance and sportswear.  Many of them ask for items in acrylic.  But what exactly is it?

Put quite simply, Acrylic is a Plastic.  A polymer resin  to be precise and it’s lucky we call it Acrylic as its technical name is actually quite a mouthful –   Polymethyl Methacrylate (or, slightly easier to say, PMMA)  It is a thermo-softening plastic, which means it can be heated up, made to change shape and then can hold that new shape when cooled down. 

There are many other members of the ‘Resin’ family, some synthetic, some entirely natural.  Amber, for example, is a natural resin.

Acrylic is a plastic that is often – but certainly not always – clear and, therefore, can resemble glass. Because of this it is often used as a glass substitute in some applications – such as for boat windows, fish tanks, display cabinets and many other diverse uses.

Acrylic comes in two varieties for engineering and fabricating use by companies such as Key2 Group. Extruded and Cast. CAST acrylic sheet is made in small batches and comes in many different shades, varieties and thicknesses and has a superior transparency and light transmission, making it perfect for complex shapes, displays and designs. EXTRUDED is made in a long sheet by a more economical and less exacting process and is therefore better for less visual projects such as engineering applications .

Acrylic comes in a bewildering variety of colours, thicknesses and opacities so it is perfect for display of all types and also for signage.

So this brings us to Perspex.  What exactly is that? We often get asked for items in ‘Perspex’ but when we use the term ‘acrylic’ customers are often confused.

Well, Perspex is one and the same as Acrylic.  It’s actually a brand name – a bit like saying ‘Hoover’ for a vacuum cleaner – but its arguably the most famous one in the world for Acrylic.  So when someone tells you they have something made in ‘Perspex, they may well be correct. It could well be Perspex but it is definite that the actual material they are referring to is ‘Acrylic’. And, Key2 Group is proud to be an Approved Fabricator for Perspex Distribution so we work with this world-famous brand every day of the week to Fabricate (to construct or make) plastic items.

There are many other brand names for acrylic too, such as  Plexiglas, Acrylite and Lucite. They all have different colour choices and variations such as metallic, pearlised, opalescent, frost, matt and so much more. The most standard types you will find are, however, clear, white, opal and black.

The way we do this is by cutting a sheet of plastic into a shape or size – either by hand using a saw or by using our state-of-the art CNC flatbed routers.  The acrylic is then either heat bent into shape using a heat bender which has lengths of heated elements to soften the plastic in a seam, allowing it then to be bent into shape on a jig or other tool.  Or, instead, it may be placed over a purpose made mould and put in a specially made oven which allows the acrylic to ‘drape, over the mould and form a new shape.  This process is called Drape Moulding. There are also other methods of Fabrication that we use but these are a couple of the most popular for Acrylic as a material. We also vacuum form plastics and use blow moulding as an innovative way to create Acrylic Domes and Spheres – perfect for display features!

Once it is bent or formed into its new shape and it has cooled down, it may be glued into place using a variety of glueing methods.  It will certainly be finished in one way or another to provide a pleasing effect to the edges, either by Flame Polishing the joins with a jet of extreme heat or maybe by using a Diamond Polisher, which uses heads made of real diamond to buff, sand and polish all in one step to create a perfect, glass-like edge to the material. You can discover more about Plastic Fabrication here

A finished Acrylic item can then be branded if necessary using high resolution digital print, either directly to the Acrylic itself, or as a very effective applied vinyl digital print. We use the very best Mimaki and AGFA printers at Key2 Group so our print quality is second-to-none.  By keeping all our processes ‘under one roof’ we can follow your project all the way from design to completion and delivery by our own in-house team – no outsourcing needed.