Some plastic materials, such as fluoropolymers, are inherently UV stable and can be readily used in outdoor applications. However, most unmodified plastics will eventually become brittle and exhibit changes in appearance when used outdoors. Due to advances in polymer technology, it is now possible to modify plastics that would otherwise quickly degrade in outdoor environments with additives, coatings, and/or coextruded surfaces to extend their outdoor life. These enhanced plastic materials have excellent weatherability and will often provide many years of service in outdoor applications.
The service life of a plastic part in an outdoor environment will depend on a number of factors including:
- Latitude (North-South position on the earth)
- Climate (the operating temperature range and the presence or absence of humidity)
- Orientation of the part in relation to the sun
- Part geometry
- The color of the material
- Mechanical stresses on the part
These are all important considerations when selecting a plastic material for your outdoor application.
Transparent plastic sheet materials for outdoor glazing
UV resistant grades of acrylic and polycarbonate sheet are frequently used for outdoor glazing. Both materials are less than half the weight of glass and have better impact resistance than glass. Acrylic sheet offers the advantage of superior light transmission compared with polycarbonate. Additionally, thermoformable grades of acrylic sheet generally require less drying prior to thermoforming compared with polycarbonate. Polycarbonate has superior toughness compared with acrylic and it is often specified when outstanding impact strength and durability are required.
Outdoor glazing applications for plastics include:
- Sun room windows
- Security glazing for embassies and detention centers
- Bus shelter glazing
- Barrel vaults and canopies
- Windows for military vehicles
- Windows for construction, agricultural, and mining equipment
Material options for outdoor glazing applications:
Acrylic – OPTIX®, DURAPLEX® (impact modified)
Polycarbonate – TUFFAK®, TUFFAK® SL, TUFFAK® 15
SentryGlas® Interlayer – used as a bonding layer between sheets of glass for security glazing, hurricane windows, open-edged railings, facades, and canopies
Plastics for outdoor signs
Acrylic and polycarbonate sheet materials are widely used for signs because they come in a wide variety of colors, have outstanding aesthetic properties in reflected light (daylight) and transmitted light (for back-lit signs), and they are easy to form into complex shapes including letters and company logos. LED diffusing grades of acrylic and polycarbonate are specially engineered to diffuse light from LED lamps. These materials enhance the appearance of signs that are back lighted with LEDs. Acrylic and polycarbonate materials are easy to paint, print, and bond with adhesives and solvent cements.
Material options for outdoor sign applications:
TUFFAK® polycarbonate sheet and OPTIX® and Plexiglas® acrylic sheet are available in UV stable grades that are good choices for outdoor sign faces and channel letters.
Polycarbonate - Polycarbonates have superior impact resistance compared with acrylics and they are often specified when durability during shipping and installation are required. Polycarbonate is also preferred for signs that are to be installed in areas where the potential for vandalism is high.
Acrylic - Acrylics generally have superior optical properties compared with polycarbonate materials.
Fluted olefins - Plastic sheet materials such as Coroplast® are inexpensive and easy to print. They are ideal choices for yard signs including real estate signs and election signs that are intended for short-term outdoor use.
Plastics for wood replacement
Amusement park, playground, and marine structures that have traditionally been made from wood are moving towards safer, longer lasting plastic sheet materials, also known as plastic wood boards or plastic lumber. Unlike wood, plastics won’t rot, swell, suffer from insect damage, or create splinters. Most outdoor grade plastics are colored throughout the material, which eliminates the need for painting. Some of the most popular plastics for wood replacement include UV stabilized polyethylenes and expanded PVC.
Wood replacement options include:
UV stabilized HDPE (high density polyethylene) sheet materials are durable, wear and tear resistant, and available in many bright colors. These plastics, sometimes called HDPE wood or HDPE lumber, are scratch resistant, easy to fabricate, and easy to clean. They are widely used for playground components, amusement park structures, boat parts, and outdoor cabinetry. Multi-color engravable UV stabilized HDPE is available for long lasting signage and wayfinding applications, carnival games, and other architectural applications.
HDPE: Seaboard® HDPE, Seaboard® LITE, Seaboard® Grip-X®, Seaboard® Utility, Playboard® HDPE, Designboard®, King StarBoard®, King StarBoard® ST, King StarLite® XL
Woodgrain HDPE: TimberLine™
Multi-colored HDPE: Playboard® Polycarve®, King ColorCore®
UV stabilized UHMW-PE (ultra high molecular weight polyethylene) sheet is often used for marine dock fendering applications where outstanding durability, impact resistance, and abrasion resistance are required.
UHMW: King Hy-Pact®
Expanded PVC sheet is ideal for wood and metal replacement non-loadbearing applications where water, UV exposure and other harsh elements are present. Expanded PVC boards are perfect for marine seat backs and bottoms, cabinetry, shutters, consoles, case goods, and outdoor signage.
Expanded PVC: Seaboard® PVC, Seaboard® StreamLite™, PALIGHT® Outdoor
Improve appearance and performance with outdoor plastics
We have years of experience providing UV-resistant plastics that hold up outdoors. Our technical experts are here to help you with material selection for your outdoor application. To learn more about all of our plastic materials suitable for use outdoors, please contact us today.
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