You have a great idea for signage, you worked hard on the concept, and now you need to bring it to life. You bring your artwork to the printer and they look at you and ask… “Do you want this on PETG or acrylic?” That question might not mean a thing to you. After all, you probably aren’t a material scientist. The better question might have been, “What will your sign encounter?”
Signage can be made out of a variety of materials, wood, steel, glass, vinyl, and paper to name a few. Each has qualities that can make inks and dyes look amazing. But sometimes you want your signage to be etched, carved, or routed. These processes give your signage a sense of depth and dimensionality, and two materials that can be used with those techniques are PETG and acrylic.
PETG and acrylic both have material qualities that lend themselves to different use cases. Each has a color range and degree of hardness that make them useful, but where they will be used and how you want it to look often helps to determine which material will best bring your signage to life and maximize your investment.
Suppose you want your signage in high traffic areas where people might come in contact with it. You can just imagine your sign being knocked off a table or counter and watching it fall onto the hard ground. Interestingly, most signage that breaks is due to the rigidity of the material from which it is made. This is one of the qualities that makes acrylic such a good material. Generally, acrylic is considered to be a rather flexible material. When it falls to the ground and hits at different angles, its ability to flex absorbs the impact of the fall. With that said, acrylic under certain stress can exceed its ability to flex causing it to shatter. Shattering is a bad thing because it can become a safety hazard—think about someone intentionally trying to destroy your sign, yet, the same thing that makes it susceptible to shattering also makes it more resistant to scratching.
In comparison, PETG is the material of your choice if you need strength. At approximately 5-7 times the strength of acrylic PETG is nearly impossible to break, and its flex tolerance is much higher than acrylic. However, the same qualities that give PETG its fantastic flex and strength make it a bit more prone to scratching. Although it has greater flex and strength, it is a softer material. PETG won’t develop major scratches; but, it’s less suitable for corner or aisle displays (where scratches are likely) than premium acrylic.
When color and clarity are a concern, acrylic is the superior choice over PETG. It has excellent optical clarity and is an excellent substitute for glass-like applications. In contrast, PETG’s clarity carries a blue/green hue. Depending upon the application, a customer might not want PETG’s color. Especially when printing on the back or “2nd surface” of the material and looking through the material to see the signage.
Acrylic offers more color options for backlit graphics like light boxes and translites and is available in optically clear to opaque white with a variety of translucent white options in between. Translucence is important to consider as it affects the brightness of the sign, the color vibrancy, and the transparency of the sign when backlit. This makes acrylic great for backlit, edge-lit and POP display applications like translites, headers, and high-end finishes. As for PETG, color options are more limited, and are generally only available in clear gloss or clear matte finishes.
Weighing the cost of PETG and acrylic isn’t straight forward. Depending upon the level of customization and the application, the cost can vary. Acrylic tends to be slightly cheaper, but PETG is easier to produce and print on which can make it nearly the same cost as acrylic. Another factor to consider is if the signage needs to be UV or weather resistant. If durability in adverse conditions is a consideration, acrylic tends to fair better in outdoor conditions which negates some of the cost difference.
Finally, cleaning signage made from PETG or acrylic carries a few warnings. Never use an ammonia-based cleaner on these materials as it can damage the material giving a milky appearance to the surface. In addition, cleaners that contain alcohol can cause the materials to become brittle and crack. The best option is plain old soap and water.
Thinking about the material that your signage will be made from is a trade-off between optics and durability. Both acrylic and PETG are excellent materials, but there is enough difference between them that you should think about what your sign will encounter. After all, when it is put into public view, you want it to look good for as long as possible.