Polyester vs. Acrylic Fabrication

Pros and cons, including quality and cost in solid surface choices. May 19, 2004

I would like opinions from those who use either polyester, acrylic or both for solid surface fabrication. The obvious benefit to polyester is cost, but is it worth the savings? I hear polyester breaks easier, has possible seaming problems, and scratches easier. I've found people who use only acrylic hate polyester based products, and people who use both have no problems with either. Anyone care to share their thoughts?

Forum Responses
(Laminate and Solid Surface Forum)
I use both and I pretty much hate most polyester products. I have had problems with the build up coming apart, seams fracturing, and - you're right - it is more brittle and can break easier. Also, it creates a lot more airborne dust when sanded. They have so many good acrylics out there, so why do polyester? I only do it when I am forced to by specs or for a box store.

We avoid the polyester products at all costs. If you look at the major players in the solid surface game, they have all shied away from polyester based products. Years ago, Wilsonart changed their polyester based "Gibrittle" (Gibraltar) to a 100% acrylic product. The reason is that Wilsonart felt there were indeed more problems with polyester based products. I'll bet if you asked Wilsonart or Formica about their change from polyester to acrylic, they would not hesitate to tell you that it was the right move. Hindsight is always 20/20... and having the 20/20 view support your decision is always nice.

In my opinion, the money you may save by purchasing polyester products will be lost due to hassles. One broken top can cost a whole lot more than the small percentage you may have saved on the purchase... multiple purchases, for that matter.

Someone has to mention Avonite as a major player, using filled and unfilled polyesters for some untouchable colors. Not that I like all their colors myself, but they offer unique choices. As far as fabricating it, I think the biggest problem is that the adhesive is acrylic based, to cure fast, and it is gluing polyester materials. Extra care is needed to keep seams from showing. As far as utility, they both do the job well.

Acrylic has the obvious advantage of thermoforming. As I now do all my edges 'on edge' (something I had to start doing when the particulates became larger), bending radii is often much quicker than fabricating a large radius. The only time I use a polyester is when it's a spec that I can't change, or when it's one of those fabulous Avonite colours. (I sell a lot of Goldmine.)

The issue you have with acrylic vs. polyester is in how the two are joined. In polyesters, seaming requires abrading the pieces because the bond is mechanical. In acrylics, the bond is chemical, which is less prone to human error. In either case, if you don't follow the rules, you're gonna pay. I find less headaches with acrylics, literally - the dust is fine and far more difficult to deal with.

We manufacture an acrylic - polyester blend solid surface, which tests equally with name brand products. We chose to do this because of the territorial limitations. We have sold thousands of countertops fabricated by us and other fabricators who buy our product.

I agree about the extra dust, but it hasn't been a complaint by anyone we deal with. The price of the acrylics has now come down to where it should be (could never understand why it was so high to begin with, because I know the cost to make it). The big advantage of companies like ours is that you aren't limited by size, thickness, color, territory, or imagination.

Our product cracks from time to time. The acrylics crack as easily under the same circumstances. We have proven this through labs as well as our own testing. There are classes offered by all the major companies on how to fix these cracks (or other defects) that are inevitable when working with solid surface. One thing I noticed at ISSFA last February is that acrylic fabricators dread fixing the cracks with all the cutting and gluing. We have a technique that makes this a half hour on-site process. Our customers are amazed and very happy.

The product is very easy to work with if you commit yourself to it. From my understanding, most of the products have their own pros and cons. Each requires a little bit of an adjustment in technique. We have matched hundreds of colors from Corian to Avonite, but we also protect our own look, which is unique to the industry and shared with very few.

Residentially, if the tops are fabricated the right way, there is no difference. It all comes down to color. Commercially - that is where the differences come in. If you're doing a top in a dental office, you will want to use a polyester. This is because a dentist will use acrylic glues for dental fixtures. The glue will adhere itself to the acrylic material, and chances are when they try to clean it off, they will take a chip out of the top. With polyester it will just wipe right off.

If you have a top that needs to be bent (thermoformed), you will need to use an acrylic material. Polyester will bend only to a certain radius, not as tight a radius as acrylic.

Yes, you do have to be a little more cautious moving polyesters around when moving the raw sheet. But once you add a piece of build up to an acrylic, you need to be just as careful when moving the top. The build up will stiffen the acrylic and if you twist the top a certain way, it will crack just as easily.

We fabricate more Avonite than any other material. Started working with the stuff before there was a distributor in Phx. (1985).

If you follow the rules and don't take short cuts, you will have success. The biggest problem seems to be that the acrylic boys don't know how to carry it. You must understand and eliminate stress risers. Even though we own a Streibig panel saw, I still use a tru-match on all seams. So many reasons. Quality is #1. It doesn't take much more time. If you consider the extra time it takes to sand misaligned seams, it is a real saver, particularly on 4' and longer. Stop using the belt sander and grinder for face sanding. It's a crutch and you will improve your skills and speed.

It is a different kind of material and you have to pay attention. We have installed hundreds of sheets without problems.

The comments below were added after this Forum discussion was archived as a Knowledge Base article (add your comment).

Comment from contributor L:
Acrylics and polyeters have more similarities than differences. Yes, blends are more brittle, create more dust when machining, and the seam interface for a polyester should be abraded since it is a mechanical bond.

However, polyester blends have some unique advantages including lower cost. They are more chemically resistant than acrylics. Acrylics are easily damaged by solvents and ketones (nail polish remover, acetone, thinners and other solvents), where polyesters are not. That is why acrylics are rarely used in dental applications - eugenol (a common dental reagent) degrades it (melts, and eats up acrylics) and the dental adhesives weld themselves to the acrylics and result in damage to the top when the technician tries to remove them.

The refractive index of polyester is a closer match to that of the ATH, which results in a greater depth, and colors and looks can be manufactured in polyester blends that are not possible in acrylic.

Also, acrlics tend to undergo much more creep in certain applications than do the polyesters (creep is deformation over time, like sagging under weight, etc.)

But well over 80% of the global market is acrylic, because of the ease of fabrication, thermoforming capability, and toughness of the acrylic product, but each type of chemisty has its place in the market.

We did extensive beta site testing between acrylic and a blend solid surface and found that for residential applications, the homeowner cannot differentiate between the acrylic and polyester products based upon performance.

From contributor T:
I am a fabricator that does work with big box stores, home builders, and commercial work. We work with all major brands; Corian, Wilsonart, Formica, LG, Avonite, etc, and strongly recommend our customers to 100% acrylic based solid surface. As of 2002 we have tracked all of our jobs, and below is how many material issues we had after the job was installed. I did a comparison between two Acrylic solid surfaces, Corian & LG Hi Macs, and two polyester solid surfaces, Avonite and Formica.

1,312 Corian jobs with 2 issues.
319 Hi Macs with 1 issue.
97 Avonite with 3 issues.
407 Formica with 6 issues.

We feel we follow the fabrication requirements of each product, which limits our liability. Although issues are minimal across the board, the percent of problems are higher for the polyester based products. I also know much more care has to be taken when working with polyester, and we have more damaged material during shipping (both finished product to the job site and raw material shipments to us) with polyester.

Both products work, but in my opinion acrylic is the way to go unless your customer is set on a certain color in polyester. Take a piece of both and drop it on concrete from waste high...Polyester while break most of the time and acrylic will hold up 99% of the time.