When purchasing an award, plaque, or custom trophy to honor the excellence of those in your workplace, acrylic, glass, and crystal are all possibilities. These materials often look similar at first glance. However, each material is unique and used for different reasons.
While all three materials look similar as finished products, they are very different on a chemical level. Acrylic awards are made of a synthetic polymer of methyl methacrylate. It is technically classified as a type of glass, but it is for all intents and purposes a thermoplastic. Acrylic is the most chemically diverse material of the three. Glass and crystal awards are more similar in terms of their chemical makeup. They both are composed of sand, sodium carbonate, limestone, and a few other additives. However, glass contains little to no traces of lead, while crystal possesses a higher lead content — which is what leads to the differences in light diffraction explained below.
It should come as no surprise that an acrylic award, a thermoplastic, is significantly more impact resistant than a glass or crystal award. In fact, acrylic is seventeen times more impact resistant than glass. It is very durable and difficult to break when dropped. Glass and crystal, on the other hand, are much more delicate. Both materials will shatter when dropped. However, due to its increased weight, crystal is the least impact-resistant material and is extremely delicate.
While acrylic is more impact resistant than glass and crystal awards, it is more susceptible to surfaces scratches due to everyday wear and tear. Acrylic is a much softer material and, therefore, easier to scratch and damage. Conversely, glass and crystal awards have tougher surfaces that are more scratch resistant than acrylic. If crystal and glass sustain surface scratches, though, the damage is more irreparable and may require professional help. Because the material is more soft and malleable, scratches on acrylic can usually be buffed and polished out.
Holding each finished material in your hands can help distinguish acrylic, crystal and glass awards from each other. Because it is a thermoplastic, acrylic is very lightweight and not nearly as heavy as glass and crystal. Depending on the design and style of the glass or crystal award, the weight can vary between the two materials. However, a crystal trophy is heavier than a custom glass trophy of equal shape and size due to its higher lead content.
In terms of appearance, one of the most noticeable differences between acrylic, glass and crystal is the dazzling aesthetic. Light beautifully sparkles, glitters and shimmers as it travels through the crystal and eventually is diffracted. On the other hand, acrylic and glass awards do not diffract light when it passes through. The glittering quality of crystal is one of the main visible characteristics that distinguish it from glass and acrylic.
When it comes to creating various trophies, awards, and plaques, all three materials can be formed into incredible shapes and complex designs. Because glass and acrylic awards are made of more flexible materials, they can be formed into just about any shape you can imagine and remain sturdy. Crystal is softer than glass, which makes it ideal for carving more complex three-dimensional shapes rather than molding them.
While crystal tends to be more expensive than acrylic and glass, it all depends on the of time and attention to detail required by the trophy, award or plaque design. Acrylic and glass are easier to work with and mold while crystal takes more time to cut and carve. Work time and design complexity is often the reason why crystal is more expensive than acrylic and glass. Some crystal awards, however, can be very affordable.