Would you like glass or plastic with that frame?
Question provided by Art Hejduk, Mantua, Ohio
A: Acrylic does the job, Art, but your choice might depend on the situation. Glass offers the benefits of being scratch-resistant and easily cleaned. It's also rigid, so you can transport a framed picture with little risk of the glass coming in contact with the artwork.
By contrast, acrylic scratches easily in handling, and you shouldn't clean it with any household cleaner that contains ammonia (crazing and cloudiness eventually result). Also, panels of 3⁄32 " or 1⁄8 " thickness can flex enough to rub against the artwork beneath. On the other hand, acrylic weighs about half as much as glass of equal thickness, and it won't shatter if the picture frame falls. Those characteristics make it a better choice for large frames (anything larger than 3' square, for example) and frames that will hang in a child's room or anyplace else where you can expect boisterous activity. To cut acrylic on your tablesaw, use an 80-tooth blade with negative hook.
Cost depends on your local sources, but expect plastic to be less expensive than glass. For example, at a home center we found 8 x 10" single-strength (3⁄32 " thickness) glass for about $2.25, and an 18 x 24" piece of 1⁄8 " acrylic for $3, which would provide four 8 x 10" pieces at 75 cents apiece.
Check into more expensive options when you frame an item that calls for top-quality preservation. Both glass and acrylic come in versions that filter out the damaging rays of ultraviolet light. Both materials also come in non-glare styles to improve viewing quality, and some glazing products combine UV filtering and non-glare characteristics. Ask about your choices at a home center, a glass or plastics supplier, an art store, or a framing shop.