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Glass vs Acrylic Glazing - Which is Best?
This guide will help you decide the right glazing for your framed artwork or photograph. When it comes to selecting between glass and acrylic (plexiglass), it can be tricky to understand which one is best for your needs. Whether you're looking for a lightweight, shatterproof option or a traditional, high-quality look, you'll find all the information you need to make the right choice.
Glazing is an important aspect of framing that often goes overlooked. Glass and acrylic are the two primary materials to consider, both of which we offer in our frames by configuring your perfect frame in our frame configurator.
Glass glazings come in a variety of thicknesses and finishes. For example, we sell 2mm thick float glass, which experts, including us, believe to be the more premium choice.
The manufacturing process specific to float glass results in sheets that are uniform in thickness and flatness, making it an ideal choice for use in picture frames.
Float glass is also highly durable and has excellent optical qualities, making it a popular choice for framing artwork and photographs. Also, float glass is easy to cut (score and snap), making it suitable for custom framing where sizes can vary from job to job.
Advantages of Float Glass
- Glass has a tough surface, making it difficult to scratch and easy to clean
- It will not degrade over time and will remain stable for hundreds of years
- Glass is easily recycled without any loss in quality, making it the greener choice
Disadvantages of Float Glass
- It is highly fragile and brittle, making it difficult to ship without damage
- It is less transparent than acrylic due to its slightly green tint
- When glass breaks, it shatters, which can damage the framed artwork or, worse, cause injury
- Glass is vulnerable to condensation, as it is an excellent thermal insulator. As such, there is a risk moisture may damage artwork in a frame
Acrylic (also known under trade names as perspex and plexiglass) is a lightweight shatter-resistant alternative to glass. Acrylic glazing solutions are considered a lower-quality option than glass. Still, in reality, it possesses more desirable optical qualities and is recognised by designers and artists as the best choice in most situations.
Advantages of Acrylic
- Acrylic is half the density of glass, and many times more impact-resistant, making it much easier to ship without damage and therefore cheaper
- Acrylic is more transparent, as there is no tint, and therefore will display the true colours of an artwork
- It takes less energy to produce than glass, making acrylic a greener option for single-use purchases
- Acrylic does not shatter when broken, making it a safer choice than glass
- Acrylic is resistant to condensation, which helps to prevent moisture from damaging the artwork
Disadvantages of Acrylic
- Acrylic can be easier to scratch than glass but can be avoided if cleaned with care
- Certain acrylics are not as easily recycled as glass (not ours, though)
- Acrylic easily generates static electricity, which isn’t a problem for most art mediums, but pastels need to be spaced away from the acrylic glazing
- Acrylic can warp in extreme conditions such as sudden fluctuations in heat and humidity (not something to be concerned about in UK homes)
Factors to consider when choosing
When choosing a glazing material for a picture framing project, there are several factors to consider. These include:
- Intended display location: The location where the framed item will be displayed can also influence the choice of glazing material. For example, items displayed in areas with high traffic or potential for impact may benefit from shatter-resistant materials like acrylic. On the other hand, items hung in controlled, low-traffic environments may be better suited to glass, which offers excellent clarity and durability.
- Size of the item being framed: The size and shape of the item being framed can impact the suitability of different glazing materials. For example, larger items may require materials like acrylic for safety qualities, while smaller items may be better suited to glass, where the added weight increase perceived quality. In fact, buying large frames can be tricky, so we've put together a handy guide.
- Budget: The cost of different glazing materials may be a factor. Glass is generally more expensive than acrylic, but it may offer better overall value in some cases. It is important to weigh each material's upfront and long-term costs in relation to the project budget. For more on framing costs and saving money, click here.
- Environmental impact: Acrylic is generally easier to recycle than glass, but it requires more energy to manufacture and transport. On the other hand, glass is more energy-intensive to produce, but it can be recycled indefinitely as long as it's not anti-reflective.
- Other considerations: Other factors that can impact the choice of glazing material include the style or aesthetic frame, the availability of different materials, and any specific requirements or preferences of the framing client.
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The intended display location of the framed item can be important when choosing a glazing material. This is because the location where the item will be displayed can impact the suitability of different materials. For example:
- High traffic or impact-prone areas: If the framed item will be displayed in an area with high traffic or the potential for impact, such as a public lobby or a child's bedroom, shatter-resistant materials like acrylic may be a better choice. Acrylic is less prone to breaking than glass and is generally safer to handle, making it a good option for areas where breakage is more likely.
- Controlled, low-traffic environments: On the other hand, if the framed item will be displayed in a controlled, low-traffic environment, such as a private office or a residential living room, glass may be a more suitable choice. Glass is highly durable and offers excellent clarity, making it a good option for situations where the framed item will be protected from potential damage.
Proximity to UV and Sunlight
Sunlight and UV light can affect certain types of artwork and photographs over time, causing fading and deterioration. When choosing a glazing material, it is important to consider your art's value and the protection offered against these types of light.
- Sunlight: If the framed item is displayed in an area with a lot of natural light, choosing a glazing material that offers some level of UV protection may be important. Both acrylic and glass can offer UV protection, but acrylic typically provides a higher level of protection. Acrylic glazing can help to reduce the damaging effects of sunlight on artwork and photographs, preserving their appearance over time.
- UV light: If the framed item is displayed in an area with artificial UV light sources, choosing a glazing material that offers a high level of UV protection may be important. Acrylic is generally a good choice in these situations, as it offers a higher level of UV protection than glass. Using acrylic glazing can help to protect the framed item from fading and deterioration caused by artificial UV light sources.
Both options offer excellent clarity but may produce glare or reflections depending on the lighting conditions. You'll need anti-reflective glazing if your art needs to be framed, free of distracting reflections.
Our acrylic Clarity+ glazing filters out 97% of UV light, while our 2mm float glass does not offer any protection. That said, as long as your artwork is not placed in direct sunlight, it should last a long time.
If you have us print and frame your artwork, the use of professional, high-grade inks ensures that your printed artwork will last for a long time without risk of fading. These inks are rated to last up to 80 years, giving you peace of mind that your art will retain its vibrancy for many years.
The size of the framed item can be an essential factor to consider when choosing a glazing material. Larger items may require more sturdy materials like glass, while smaller items may be better suited to lighter-weight materials like acrylic.
- Large items: For larger items, such as big pieces of artwork or oversized photographs, a strong material like acrylic is a good choice. Its durability makes it suitable for framing items that may be handled frequently or shipped. While glass may offer excellent clarity and durability, it may only sometimes be the most practical or safe choice for bigger items due to its weight and potential for breakage. Larger pieces of glass may require additional support or framing techniques to ensure that they don't put too much strain on the frame. In these cases, acrylic or other lightweight, shatter-resistant materials may be better.
- Small items: Using glass for small frames can make the framed item feel more premium or high-end. Glass has a more luxurious and refined appearance compared to some other types of glazing materials, and it can add an extra level of quality to the overall appearance of the framed item. However, keep in mind that using glass for small frames may also increase the cost, as glass is generally more expensive than acrylic. If the goal is to create a premium look while considering budget constraints, acrylic glazing may be a good alternative. Acrylic can offer many of the same benefits as glass, such as clarity and durability while being more cost-effective.
Use sturdy frames and fixtures to support the weight of glass, especially for larger frames. Consider frames that are 20mm thick or more - or metal frames for a thinner option. Make sure the wall can also support the weight of the frame to avoid issues. There's more to consider than weight when you're hanging; check out our frame hanging guide for expert tips.
Budget and Cost
Different types of glazing can vary significantly in price, and it is important to consider the cost of each material in relation to your budget.
Glass is generally more expensive than acrylic. This can be a big factor if you're on a strict budget, as using glass as your choice of glazing may increase the overall cost.
On the other hand, acrylic and other types of glazing materials may be more cost-effective but may offer a different luxury feel than glass does.
Also weigh the upfront and long-term costs of choosing either based on their advantages and disadvantages above. In some cases, the less expensive acrylic is a more suitable choice. Its standout clarity added safety, and UV filter are often critical points when making a decision anyway. Win-win!
More and more customers consider the environmental impact of their purchases. However, it is difficult to definitively say which type of glazing material, glass or acrylic, is better for the environment, as both materials have environmental impacts that should be considered.
A lot of it comes down to how long you intend to use the frame.
- Acrylic: although acrylic is not a renewable resource like glass, which is made from natural materials, it can be recycled and reused to make new acrylic products (specifically Polymethyl Methacrylate (PMMA) that we use). In fact, our acrylic can be recycled multiple times without losing quality or purity, which makes it a more environmentally friendly option compared to other types of plastic.
- Glass: made from natural, abundant materials like sand, soda ash, and limestone, and it is 100% recyclable. However, the production of glass is very energy intensive, so greenhouse gas emissions are higher. Additionally, because glass is considerably heavier than acrylic, transporting it is more impactful on the environment.
As both are recyclable, they're both arguably an environmentally friendly option, as they can help to reduce the demand for raw materials and reduce waste in the future. Want to learn more about how framing materials and our operation affect the environment?
Did you know that you can shop for environmentally friendly frames that are FSC and PEFC certified?
A quick note on when not to use glazing
There are a few situations in which glazing should not be used in frames:
- When the artwork is very large: Very large artwork may be too heavy for the frame to support, especially if the frame is using glass glazing, which is heavier than acrylic. In this case, it may be more suitable to use a glazing-free frame or a frame with acrylic glazing.
When the artwork is delicate:
- Static: Delicate artwork, such as oil paintings or pastels, may be more prone to damage with glazing because the glazing material can cause the artwork to stick to it, especially if the glazing is acrylic. This can happen due to static electricity, which can cause the artwork to become stuck to the glazing.
- Moisture: Glazing can also cause damage to delicate artwork by trapping moisture between the glazing and the artwork. This can cause the artwork to become discoloured or damaged, particularly if the artwork is sensitive to moisture.
- When the artwork is intended to be handled: Artwork that is intended to be handled, such as children's books or educational materials, may be more difficult to access if covered with glazing. In this case, it may be more suitable to use a glazing-free frame.
For most customers, acrylic glazing is the better choice. It's lightweight, shatter-resistant and crystal clear. It is especially useful for items that will be shipped or handled frequently, as it is less prone to breaking than glass.
Glass is a traditional choice for framing and is best suited for small frames where clarity and a weighty, high-end frame feel are desired. To learn more about our quality, click here.
Please note that all our custom picture frames and standard size picture frames come with acrylic as standard, but you have the option of glass in our design studio. We also have a small range of glass Nielsen frames.
Other Glazing Options
Trade customers unlock a huge range of different glazing options, including AR70 glass (ArtGlass), which has qualities like anti-reflection coating, no colour tinting and a very high level of clarity, but there are still the drawbacks of the fragility, weight, and risk of shattering.