What Are Lucite® Frames?

Meg Higa

Lucite®, sometimes called acrylic glass, is a plastic. It is relatively easy to manufacture and mold into any shape, and is thus a popular material for various houseware products. It is an unusually transparent, clear plastic, even used for high-precision optical applications such as eyeglasses and military gun sights. For these reasons and more, some consider Lucite® frames one of the best ways to display art and other objects.

Woman posing
Woman posing

Also branded under other names such as Plexiglas®, Lucite® is, chemically, a polymer or long chain of the compound polymethyl methacrylate (PMMA), first synthesized in 1928. Industrially, it is a cheaper alternative to the polymerized carbonate plastics derived from petroleum, and a lighter, shatter-resistant alternative to glass. Functionally, it is less durable than either. Lucite® is more brittle and easily scratched, chemically stable but fragile and less heat-resistant.

Lucite®’s drawbacks are also its strengths. Scratches in Lucite® can be removed with heat; it can be cut and polished easily. Some solvents, such as glues, readily dissolve the plastic to allow seamlessly adhesive welding with other pieces of Lucite®. At temperatures far below water’s boiling point, it can be extruded, injected, or compressed into any desired mold. Commercial sheets are made in thicknesses from 0.12 – 0.79 inches (3 – 20 mm).

Crystalline transparency is generally considered Lucite®’s most desirable trait. Up to 90 percent of visible light passes through it; less than 4 percent of light reflects off its surface. A dramatic method of display is acrylic resin encasement, in which an object such as a souvenir insect is suspended within a hardened block of Lucite®. The same principle is popularly employed to equally dramatic effect in Lucite® frames that sandwich a photo or painting between two sheets of folded or glued acrylic. Without any circumferential frame such as ornamental wood or metal, and mounted onto a wall with a spacer, the clear Lucite® frames create a convincing illusion of the artwork’s magical suspension in space.

There are other qualities that favor Lucite® frames. It filters ultraviolet (UV) light at about the same effectiveness as ordinary glass. UV light is the singular enemy of color pigments, and both archival glass and acrylics are usually coated with substances to improve UV’s absorption and blockage. Compared with glass, Lucite® is half as dense and has nearly triple its impact strength. Particularly for a manufacturer with transportation liabilities and weight costs, Lucite® picture frames are obviously preferred.

These are important factors for the buyer of a picture frame to consider as well. A large image mounted on a weak wall exposed to accidental impacts favors Lucite® frames. Visibly, it is nearly indistinguishable from glass, and unrestricted from pairing with the material and design of its exterior, circumference frame. Custom shapes are also easily created. From tripod pedestals for porcelain to free-standing L-shaped wallet photo holders, head-high T-shaped point-of-sale advertising signs, to treasured wall-size three-dimensional fabric art, Lucite® is a versatile display medium.

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