News Center

Our broad product applications

Some Differences Between Thermoplastics and Thermosetting Polymers


A thermoplastic, or thermosoftening plastic, is a plastic material, a polymer, that becomes pliable or moldable above a specific temperature and solidifies upon cooling.

Most thermoplastics have a high molecular weight. The polymer chains associate through intermolecular forces, which weaken rapidly with increased temperature, yielding a viscous liquid. Thus, thermoplastics may be reshaped by heating and are typically used to produce parts by various polymer processing techniques such as injection molding, compression molding, calendering, and extrusion. Thermoplastics differ from thermosetting polymers, which form irreversible chemical bonds during the curing process. Thermosets do not melt, but decompose and do not reform upon cooling.

Some thermoplastics do not fully crystallize below the glass transition temperature, retaining some or all of their amorphous characteristics. Amorphous and semi-amorphous plastics are used when high optical clarity is necessary, as light is scattered strongly by crystallites larger than its wavelength. Amorphous and semi-amorphous plastics are less resistant to chemical attack andenvironmental stress cracking because they lack a crystalline structure.

There are dozens of kinds of thermoplastics, with each type varying in crystalline organization and density. Some types that are commonly produced today are polyurethane, polypropylene, polycarbonate, and acrylic.

Sometimes, thermoplastics are confused with thermosetting plastics. Although they may sound the same, they actually possess very different properties. While thermoplastics can be melted to a liquid and cooled to a solid, thermosetting plastics chemically deteriorate when subjected to heat. Ironically, however, thermosetting plastics tend to be more durable when allowed to cool than many thermoplastics.

Thermoplastics have been around for a long time, but are a huge component of everyday life today. For example, acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is a type of thermoplastic used to manufacture sports equipment, toys, and various automobile parts. Polycarbonate is used to make compact discs , drinking bottles, food storage containers, and eyeglass lenses, among other things. Polyethylene is likely the most commonly encountered thermoplastic and is used to make shampoo bottles, plastic grocery bags, and even bullet proof vests.