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Polycarbonate vs. ABS — What's the Difference?

By Urooj Arif & Maham Liaqat — Updated on May 7, 2024
Polycarbonate is a strong, transparent thermoplastic with high impact resistance, while ABS is a durable, opaque plastic known for its toughness and machinability.
Polycarbonate vs. ABS — What's the Difference?

Difference Between Polycarbonate and ABS


Key Differences

Polycarbonate is known for its transparency and clarity, often used where visibility or light transmission is essential. ABS, on the other hand, is opaque and chosen for applications where high impact resistance and ease of machining are crucial.
Polycarbonate provides excellent impact resistance, making it suitable for protective equipment like face shields. ABS also has good impact resistance but is preferred for consumer electronics due to its moldability.
Polycarbonate can withstand higher temperatures than ABS, offering better heat resistance. ABS, however, performs better at lower temperatures without becoming brittle.
Polycarbonate is often more expensive than ABS because of its enhanced properties like UV resistance and clarity. ABS is cost-effective, suitable for mass-produced products where budget considerations are key.
Polycarbonate is less resistant to certain chemicals than ABS. ABS exhibits greater resistance to chemicals and weathering, making it a good choice for outdoor applications.

Comparison Chart


Transparent, high clarity

Impact Resistance

High impact resistance
Good impact resistance

Temperature Range

Higher heat resistance
Better performance at low temperatures


Generally more expensive

Chemical Resistance

Less resistant
Better chemical and weather resistance

Compare with Definitions


Transparent thermoplastic.
Polycarbonate is used for safety goggles due to its clarity and strength.


Opaque thermoplastic.
ABS is used in most computer cases because it's tough and easy to mold.


High impact resistance.
Police riot shields often contain polycarbonate for maximum protection.


High impact resistance.
Many automotive components use ABS for its impact resistance.


UV resistance.
Some car headlights are made from UV-resistant polycarbonate.


The machinability of ABS makes it suitable for prototyping.


Electrical insulation.
Polycarbonate serves as a reliable electrical insulator in many appliances.


Weather resistance.
Outdoor playground equipment often incorporates ABS due to its weather resistance.


Lightweight alternative to glass.
Skylights and greenhouse panels use lightweight polycarbonate instead of glass.


ABS is a budget-friendly material for consumer products.


Polycarbonates (PC) are a group of thermoplastic polymers containing carbonate groups in their chemical structures. Polycarbonates used in engineering are strong, tough materials, and some grades are optically transparent.


Abbreviation of abstract


Any of a group of thermoplastics that are linear polyesters of carbonic acid, especially those derived from bisphenol A and phosgene, characterized by high-impact strength, light weight, and flexibility, and used as shatter-resistant substitutes for glass.


(informal) The abdominal muscles. ab


(chemistry) Any of a range of polymers of aromatic carbonates; they are used to make light, flexible alternatives to glass. Abbreviation: PC


Acronym of absolute temperature


(mathematics) absolute value function


The abductor muscles of the stomach; - a contraction used by body-building and health enthusiasts. Used similarly to pecs and delts.

Common Curiosities

What are the main uses of polycarbonate?

Polycarbonate is used in safety equipment, optical lenses, automotive parts, and lightweight windows due to its transparency and impact resistance.

Are both materials recyclable?

Yes, both polycarbonate and ABS can be recycled, although recycling processes may vary.

Which is more heat-resistant, polycarbonate or ABS?

Polycarbonate has better heat resistance, suitable for applications involving higher temperatures.

Are polycarbonate products UV-resistant?

Some polycarbonate products are UV-resistant, although untreated polycarbonate can degrade under prolonged UV exposure.

How does polycarbonate compare with ABS in terms of impact resistance?

Polycarbonate generally has higher impact resistance, suitable for heavy-duty applications.

Can ABS be used in outdoor applications?

Yes, ABS's resistance to weathering makes it useful for some outdoor applications, although prolonged exposure may still affect it.

Can both materials be 3D printed?

Yes, both polycarbonate and ABS can be used in 3D printing, but polycarbonate requires higher printing temperatures.

Why is ABS popular for consumer products?

ABS is cost-effective, easily molded, and has high impact resistance, making it suitable for electronics, toys, and automotive components.

How does the machinability of polycarbonate compare with ABS?

ABS is generally easier to machine, whereas polycarbonate requires more precision and care.

Is polycarbonate safe for food contact?

Food-grade polycarbonate is used in certain containers, although some concerns over BPA (bisphenol-A) exist.

Is ABS suitable for high-temperature environments?

ABS is generally suitable for temperatures up to around 80°C but is less heat-resistant than polycarbonate.

Which material is more expensive, polycarbonate or ABS?

Polycarbonate is generally more expensive due to its enhanced properties like clarity and heat resistance.

Which is more chemically resistant, polycarbonate or ABS?

ABS is generally more resistant to chemicals and solvents than polycarbonate.

Can polycarbonate be used in electronic enclosures?

Yes, polycarbonate's electrical insulation properties make it suitable for electronic enclosures.

Does ABS offer good sound insulation?

ABS provides moderate sound insulation, often used in automotive interiors and appliance housings.

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Author Spotlight

Written by
Urooj Arif
Urooj is a skilled content writer at Ask Difference, known for her exceptional ability to simplify complex topics into engaging and informative content. With a passion for research and a flair for clear, concise writing, she consistently delivers articles that resonate with our diverse audience.
Co-written by
Maham Liaqat

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