Should I Use Glass Or Acrylic?

As every frame shopper eventually finds out someday you’ll be asked the question “would you like glass or acrylic in your frame?” So to clear up this age old question let’s first start with glass and acrylic 101.

There are really three different types of finishes for glass and acrylic. There is clear, matte (also called non-glare or frosted) and a UV reflective coating. Each of these finishes you specify when selecting your glass or acrylic. So what are these finishes?

The Three Finishes Available for Acrylic or Glass

The clear finish is just that- clear. Clear is definitely the most common because it allows you to see your image clearly and is the least expensive option.

Non-glare or matte, on the other hand, acts as a non-reflective surface and actually softens the look of your image. This is used with portraits or pictures that you don’t’ want a clear reflective surface. It costs slightly more than a clear finish.

The last finish is UV which helps to block ultraviolet light from damaging your framed photo or artwork. UV finishes are used primarily to protect expensive or irreplaceable artwork or photographs. The only problem is that UV finishes won’t block 100% of UV rays so you still want to avoid your picture and frame from getting direct sun exposure. This extra protection will cost more but if you’re framing a valuable picture or artwork this will certainly be worth the additional money.

Now that we’ve covered the finishes, let’s talk about when you should use glass versus acrylic.

Glass vs. Acrylic Usage

Glass is really the most common and is used in most picture frames in sizes 11x14 or smaller. The benefit of glass is that it’s resistant to scratching and is easy to clean. The only disadvantage of glass is that it’s heavy for shipping and can be a hazard if broken.

Acrylic or plexiglass is used primarily in posters and large picture frames (bigger than 11x14). Acrylic is used in large format frames because it’s more resistant to breaking than glass and costs less to ship. It is also used in frames in heavy traffic areas because if it’s broken it won’t be as dangerous as glass.

One big disadvantage of acrylic is that it scratches easily and requires extra attention when cleaning. Acrylic should only be cleaned with soap and water or a soft damp towel. Never use paper towels as this will scratch acrylic. Whatever you do don’t use any cleaners like ammonia or Windex on acrylic because that will ruin it. Another complaint with acrylic is that some people don’t like the look of it because it looks “like plastic.” However, if you’ve ever priced out a large piece of glass for a 16x20 frame or larger you’ll quickly agree that acrylic is the way to go for large frames.

So, the next time you’re asked if you want glass or acrylic I’d recommend selecting acrylic for three situations:

  1. Use acrylic for anything bigger than 16x20 and

  2. If you’re shipping a frame and want to save money

  3. If you don’t want to risk the glass from breaking and damaging the original photo if it’s hanging on a wall in a high traffic area.

    For everything else, stick with glass and the finish of your choice and chances are good that you’ll be happy with your choice.


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