Types of polymers and their uses

Most polymers are formed by processing crude oil. Rubber is a plastic that is found naturally.

Thermoforming polymers

Thermoforming polymers can be heated and formed repeatedly. They are pliable and recyclable.

Thermoforming polymerPhysical propertiesWorking properties
Acrylic (PMMA)Hard, brittle, shiny, available in a wide range of coloursResists weather well, can be cut, folded and polished well, scratches easily, used for car lights, visors and baths
High impact polystyrene (HIPS)Rigid, cheap, available in a lot of coloursCan be cut and vacuum formed easily, food safe but toxic when burned, used for CD cases and yoghurt pots
High density polythene (HDPE)Stiff, strong, lightweightLightweight and flexible, can be recycled well, used for washing baskets, pipes and chairs
Polypropylene (PP)Easily coloured, available in sheetsTough and flexible, used for plastic chairs and casings
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)Cheap, can be matt or high glossBrittle but durable, can be extruded or in flat sheets, used in blister packs and window frames
Polyethylene terephthalate (PET)Clear, smooth finishLight, strong and tough, used for clothing and drinks bottles

Thermosetting polymers

Thermosetting polymers are brittle and can only be formed once. They are hard to recycle. They are good insulators and are resistant to heat and chemicals.

Thermosetting polymerPhysical propertiesWorking properties
Epoxy resin (ER)Supplied as two parts, one resin and one hardener (see image) - the resin and hardener combine to create an extra-strong adhesiveRigid and durable, strong, expensive and heat resistant, used to bond materials, waterproof coatings and lamination
Melamine formaldehyde (MF)Hard, brittleFood safe, printable surface, used for picnic wear
Phenol formaldehyde (PF)Rigid and brittleEasily injection moulded, good insulator, used for snooker balls and bottle caps
Polyester resin (PR)A resin and a hardener, sets clear and smoothStrong, heat resistant and good insulator, used as waterproofing and for encapsulating items
Urea formaldehyde (UF)Smooth finish, available in limited coloursHeat resistant, hard, brittle and easily injection moulded, used for electrical fittings
Some fingers squeezing two tubes of epoxy resin (ER) - one is resin and one is hardener.
Epoxy resin (ER) in two parts, one resin and one hardener