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Acrylic Printing


Acrylic is a remarkable material, as popular as it is versatile.

At its heart a transparent, thermoplastic, this is no cheap alternative. Far from it.   

Better known in some circles by its brand name, Perspex/Plexiglas, the material itself is actually called polymethyl methacrylate.

One of the clearest plastics available its renowned for great strength and an ability to withstand even the harshest conditions. Comparable and perhaps superior to glass, it boasts most of the same attributes yet fewer weaknesses.

When it comes to print, acrylic has few peers, particularly in the creation of signage both internal and external. A unique make up allows for it to be milled , turned, laser etched and routed. Moreover, it can be printed onto directly.

Softened under heat, acrylic is surprisingly malleable and can be shaped to realise the most complex of designs. All this makes for printed assets unlike any other.

On this page we’ll explain the acrylic printing process in detail, exploring the material’s origins, its evolution and role in modern day society. We’ll also pit it against its two nearest challengers – glass and polycarbonate – to reveal why it usurps them both.

We’ve Got All Your Acrylic Printing Needs Covered

Evans Graphics specialise in acrylic printing, with 30+ years’ worth of experience delivering high quality products including office signage, splash backs, room dividers and more.

Our industry-leading machinery includes large format digital printers catering for the biggest and thickest sheets.

Print tables operated by our expert staff can image at better than 1000dpi, meaning we only ever print at the very best resolution, on both sides of a substrate and up to 3.2m by 1.53m.

Panels are precision matched to a final size and come complete with machine polished edges and holes if required.

Better still, Evans have the ability to image dense white directly onto black acrylic for those seeking a different effect. Similarly, we can lay down a super dense opaque white background layer with minimum fuss.

Given the rise of acrylic in branding, we have moved to offer laser cut acrylic characters. Letters, logos and numbers can all be produced this way and spray painted in a host of colours and surface finishes to boot.

If you’re going to print with your first or umpteenth acrylic design, team up with those who do it best.

In The Beginning

So how did this amazing substrate come to be and when was it first printed onto?

The first known example of acrylic plastic emerged in 1928 and was the result of painstaking research and experimentation by a host of different chemists.

Otto Rohm was one of those and had set out his ambition in a dissertation some 26 years earlier. Titled ‘Polymerisation of Acrylic Acids’ he hoped to serve up an alternative to glass.

He came close with the advent of LUGLAS, a safety screen for car windows. Soon after a process for polymerising methyl-methacrylate was discovered.

Fittingly, it was the company Rohm co-owned, Rohm and Haas, which brought it to market in 1933. The German manufacturers also settled on a trade name – the aforementioned Plexiglas.

By 1936 however it was ICI Acrylics which happened to master the widescale production of acrylic safety glass. This would come in handy for the outbreak of World War II was soon upon us.

Believe it or not, acrylic played a starring role during the heat of battle.

The material was used as a substitute for glass in the likes of aircraft, canopies, submarine periscopes and turrets. Military officials soon realised eye injuries were less severe when acrylic was penetrated than glass.

Once peace broke out acrylic became more commonplace and early examples of advertisement signs and glass roofing came to the fore.

How Is It Produced?

If that’s the backstory, how exactly does acrylic come to be?

Put simply, from monomer methyl methacrylate in either powder or syrup form. Both are heated into sheets (or tubes) using a polymerising catalyst like peroxide.

The polymerisation process itself is almost a century old and sees the marriage of two substances in order to create a third, entirely new substance with different properties entirely.

In the case of acrylic, acetone cyanohydrin is realised courtesy of a chemical reaction between acetone and sodium cyanide.

That, in turn, is reacted with methyl alcohol to birth methyl methacrylate. A covalent bond is established at this point between the carbon atoms of the methyl methacrylate monomer.

The monomers of the substrate are isolated for the polymerisation process. So… as methyl methacrylate is poured into a mould, alongside a catalyst, it breaks that bond.

The monomers – as a result – begin polymerising in the mould as the broken covalent bonds join other, similarly broken covalent bonds.

All of this creates polymethyl methacrylate, otherwise known as PMMA, otherwise known as acrylic.

From here what’s commonly referred to as batch cell bulk polymerisation allows for larger scale production.

How Do You Print Onto Acrylic?

In a word – directly.

Acrylic printing was once thought of as both technical and complicated, but technology has advanced to the point where this is no longer the case.

High performance, ink jet and - most importantly - flatbed printers are best deployed. A CNC cutter or laser is also required to cut outputs into shape and accurately match the initial design.

One alternative to direct printing is a method referred to as face mounting. This sees images printed onto high grade photo paper and subsequently reverse mounted to the acrylic substrate. It’s certainly a different approach and one that only lends itself to certain products.

Face Mounting - by common consensus – is time consuming and worse still costly. There is also a margin for error. Advocates of the process argue it leads to better quality products which digital could not facilitate. That’s debatable.

Here at Evans Graphics we favour the direct and digital route, with great success.


The sheer popularity of acrylic is best understood when assessing its qualities, of which there are many.

We’ve already touched upon how sturdy this plastic proves. It is both strong and stiff and therefore remarkably reliable. Indeed, PMMA is known for good weathering, durable inside and out. This is perhaps the biggest reason it’s become the go-to for business signage in the last twenty years in particular.

From a production standpoint acrylic is easily machined and thermoformed. Almost any finish can be achieved, which appeals to printers and designers alike. It’s also easily coloured, while those preferring a clear state are impressed by the fact it can contain no colour at all, not even a greenish hue sometimes visible within glass.

Acrylic is highly versatile, as outlined in its long list of applications. This is due in large part to its malleability. While scorching temperatures will eventually see it succumb and revert to liquid form, managed heat will make bending and shaping possible, opening up a world of design options incomprehensible with alternate materials.

All that considered, this substrate remains completely affordable. An economical alternative to both glass and polycarbonate, it’s little wonder its popularity and commonality have soared.

Discover the true magic of acrylic here.


When it comes to printing no material is without drawbacks, however acrylic does its best to disprove that theory.

Certainly, its disadvantages are few and far between, but they do exist.

They include the ease of which it can be scratched, at least in comparison to its closest rival – glass. In truth, a quick polish will buff out any visible markings, but a degree of care is necessary to avoid them altogether.

On a similar theme, acrylic is easily stained if it comes into contact with grease or oil. Of course, this is easily avoided but is something to be mindful of depending on your intended application/location.

While the material is generally considered to be cost-effective and cheaper than glass, custom sizing can see costs spiral, depending on your print provider. So, while more complex designs can be realised with acrylic, expect difficulty to be reflected in price.

We’ve already highlighted how this substrate can burn and even melt if exposed to high temperatures. Understandably, few tend to place it in that scenario. Where heat could become an issue is when signage or the like is met with strong sunlight over several years. It’s rare, but such exposure can cause yellowing and greatly undermine the overall look and feel. On the whole however, acrylic withstands the elements.

Finally, with an increasing focus on sustainability it should be noted that acrylic, while recyclable, is not biodegradable – and there are far better options for the environment.

Acrylic vs. Glass

Given its clarity and transparency, acrylic will always be viewed as an alternative to glass. But is it better?

When comparing the traits of both materials that argument can certainly be made.

Firstly, acrylic is half the weight yet boasts better impact resistance. This is crucial for those looking to print products that not only look the part but last the course. Indeed, acrylic has roughly 20x the impact resistance of glass – trouncing it in that department.

Surprisingly it also offers higher light transmittance, 92% bettering the 90% realised with glass. This is significant for those seeking transparency in design.

Not only is acrylic easier to process, it’s also lighter and by extension safer. As those WWII pilots found, glass has a tendency to shatter into little pieces and cause untold damage. Acrylic offers better protection if dropped from a serious height for example, all the more likely with heavier objects.

While acrylic can be easily coloured – a big plus point for print design – it also shows no colour at all when viewed in a clear state. You may think glass does likewise but there is in fact a greenish tone which is slight but noticeable.

Complex designs are that bit easier with acrylic, which can shaped and easily cut or machined. It can also be glued or screwed together with next to no fuss. Glass, by contrast, is ordinarily cast into form as cutting and shaping can prove difficult after that.

This may seem like an unfair competition, but glass still holds the upper hand in a few areas, including scratch resistance; there’s a good reason windshields remain universal.

It also has better chemical resistance, hence its continued presence in laboratories across the world. Scientists will always favour test tubes made from glass…

That said, it’s a fair summation to say acrylic outperforms glass in most departments and can point to many of the same attributes, minus the downsides.

Read a detailed comparison between acrylic and glass here.

Acrylic vs. Polycarbonate

Another material often held up as a direct alternative to acrylic is polycarbonate; understandable given they are each clear plastics.

Again, however acrylic is that bit clearer – its 92% light transmittance exceeding the 88% afforded by polycarbonate.

Polycarbonate is actually the harder of the two, able to withstand 30x the impact of glass. As highlighted above, acrylic’s resistance is closer to 20x. That said far more colour options are available when printing onto acrylic, which also keeps its colour far better. Polycarbonate will turn yellow if ever it’s exposed to UV rays. Even so polycarbonate can withstand higher temperatures, up to 240 degrees in fact. It also has the added benefit of being able to be cold formed and bent without any heat whatsoever.

Having been printed onto, acrylic is easier to laser cut and unlike polycarbonate does not contain harmful bisphenol-A subunits. Crucially it’s the cheaper of the two options...

While polycarbonate is durable it possesses little in the way of scratch resistance. Unlike acrylic, it is not easily polished or buffed. You are more likely to see polycarbonate deployed in industrial applications such as instrument panels. That said it can be found in everything from CD’s to drink bottles.

Evidently acrylic and polycarbonate can both be considered high performing substrates. With very little to separate them which side designers fall down on almost always hinges on the print project itself. Undeniable is together they have reduced the appeal of glass.

Read an in-depth comparison of acrylic and polycarbonate here.


Acrylic is one of the most versatile materials to print onto and for that reason it is no great surprise to see it utilised in a host of different scenarios.

Best known for signage, its durability has led to it becoming the obvious choice for the following…

  • Office Signage
  • Retail Signage
  • Building Signage
  • Office Decoration
  • Home Decoration
  • Splash Backs
  • Room Dividers

Click here to read why you should be considering acrylic for your next sign and what convinced the likes of New Look and Subway to do just that.

Away from signage, acrylic can be found in everything from brochure holders to skylights. Anyone who’s ever visited an aquarium meanwhile, will have viewed fish from behind an acrylic screen which offers far more protection than glass. Indeed, it is the obvious choice when windows are required around enclosures or exhibits.

Security barriers are now commonly created with this material, so too display shelves and lenses. Acrylic nails meanwhile have been a fixture of beauty routines for decades.

Elsewhere LCD screens made from acrylic are now commonplace, so too musical instruments. Yes, really.

Mirrors and headlights made not of glass, but acrylic have also grown in number…

Evidently there is plenty to be made – and printed – using this, the most versatile of materials.

Discover exactly what acrylic is capable of in this blog.

Why Use Acrylic For Signage?

When planning the creation of signage, it’s always important to weigh up the pros and cons of possible substrates. Doing so will almost certainly lead you to consider - and in all likelihood select - acrylic. Let’s take a look at just some of the reasons why…

Firstly, this is a super strong material. It may not look or indeed feel it, but acrylic is durable and can stand up to the harshest elements. This immediately appeals to anyone looking to place their signs outside of an office building.

Significantly, sturdiness does come at the expense of logistics. Acrylic is surprisingly lightweight, and signs made from it are easily moved between offices and events.

Unlike some materials meanwhile it’s easily coloured, making for bright, high impact signage likely to draw crowds and business alike. Recognisable storefronts created this way include Hugo Boss, New Look and Subway.

Some prioritise translucency over colour with a view to erecting illuminated signage. Again, acrylic comes up trumps in this respect, offering light transmittance as high as 92%. This allows for LED effects that shine long after working hours.

Perhaps the biggest draw however is its sheer malleability, something we’ve touched on at numerous points throughout this article.

Those companies hoping to create something out of the ordinary with their signage will automatically gravitate to acrylic, knowing it can be easily cut and shaped in comparison to alternative materials which are less forgiving.

Not only are complex designs achievable, they are affordable. Acrylic offers better value and quality than many heavier substrates.

And it’s not just exterior signage printed this way either. Far from it.

The likes of POS, directional and informational signage and front and back lit graphic panels are printed onto acrylic by the likes of Evans Graphics.

You’ll also have come across examples of restaurant signage and office branding, even if you’ve given their makeup little or no thought.

Read a detailed analysis of why acrylic is suitable for signage here.

Evidently, acrylic plays a starring role not just in signage but a host of applications, many of which play a significant role in our everyday lives. Acrylic printing, when done right, will not only stay true to a design but enhance it, affording maximum impact also.

Designers, business owners, visual merchandisers and marketeers alike have long known its benefits and ability to turn even the most ambitious designs into reality.

If you feel acrylic is best suited to your upcoming print project, why not contact Evans Graphics and discuss your requirements?

If you’re considering it as one of many possible substrates, you can always request a free sample pack made up of all those on your shortlist.