Meet The Material: Plexiglass

Article Posted By: Jae Warren

of The Home Depot

Image of 1939 Pontiac Ghost Car made from plexiglass

Image via Twisted Sifter

German chemist Otto Rohm registered the brand name Plexiglas® in 1933, and by 1939 his company Rohm and Haas brought the first commercial grade acrylic glass to market. That same year Rohm and Haas teamed with General Motors to produce the first transparent car built in the U.S., the Pontiac Ghost Car, for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, according to Twisted Sifter. In August of 2011, the plexiglass Ghost Car was auctioned off for $308,000, which is not a bad return-on-investment for the $25,000 it cost to build the car in 1939.

What is plexiglass? Plexiglass is a transparent thermoplastic, known chemically as poly(methyl methacrylate), or PMMA. Plexiglass is a term that is also commonly used to refer to a wide variety of synthetic plastic products sold under the brand names of Lexan, Lucite, Perspex and others.

Plexiglass is often confused with polycarbonate, another transparent thermoplastic product that looks identical to plexiglass, but has different chemical and physical properties. Polycarbonate, sold under the brand name Lexan®, has 30X the impact resistance of acrylic plexiglass, is far less prone to scratching, and is available in bullet-proof grade thickness.

What are some of the cool properties of plexiglass? Plexglass is lightweight, yet has great impact strength, with a surface hardness roughly equal to that of copper or brass [RPlastics]. Acrylic sheet is a very versatile material, too – it can be sawed, drilled, routed, glued, painted, silkscreened and formed.

What is plexiglass used for? Want a lovely view of the night sky from your bedroom? Plexiglass is the perfect material for a skylight. Ever own a fish tank or go to an aquarium? The impressive strength and transparency of plexiglass was often the only thing standing between you and those sharks (or guppies). Do you wear dentures? They too are often made from acrylic(PMMA). Acrylic is even used as a bone cement to affix implants and remodel lost bone.

What can you use plexiglass for? If you’re a jewelry maker or have visions of becoming one, plexiglass is clearly an amazing material to work with. Consider updating the look of your kitchen using plexiglass sheets over your favorite patterned wallpaper to create unique DIY backsplash. You could also build a really sweet sounding pair of acrylic speakers out of plexiglass.

We spotted many other examples of creative uses for plexiglass, and here’s just a sampling of what we found. Check out our Meet The Materials board on Pinterest to see more interesting takes on plexiglass.

Image of Plexiglass on Staircase Risers

Image via Apartment Therapy

Watch your step. We fell in love with the trippy wallpaper behind plexi design of these staircase risers we saw on Apartment Therapy.  You could also use this technique to create a funky accent wall anywhere in your home.

Image of DIY Plexi Coaster

Image via Martha Stewart

Is there no material on earth Martha Stewart hasn’t found a way to transform into a useful decorative object for the home or garden? These colorful little coasters are super easy to make with plexiglass and any print or patterned paper you choose.

Image of stylish house numbers

Image via Instructables

Over at Instructables we found this slick DIY address plaque made with Home Depot house numbers mounted on Lexan®. Nice details like this are things your guests won’t soon forget.

Image of a Plexiglass Wish Tree

Image via My $10,000 Wedding

Make a wish. These multicolored plexiglass wish cards featured on My $10,000 Wedding give a quaint wedding tradition an artsy twist and show off the range of colors available to you for experimenting with acrylic.

Meet the Material is a series designed to introduce you to some of the everyday goods sold at The Home Depot. Is there a material you’d like to know more about? Just let us know in the comments!