Acrylic Definition and Meaning: What is Acrylic?

What is Acrylic?

Acrylic is synthetic material with a wide range of possible end uses. Acrylic can be made into yarn or fabric as well as many other types of products.

In the book Textiles: Fiber to Fabric. The author, Dr. Bernard P. Corbman, explains that "basically, acrylic is a type of plastic."

The Federal Trade Commission defines acrylic in the following way:

"Acrylic. A manufactured fiber in which the fiber-forming substance is any long chain synthetic polymer composed of at least 85 percent by weight of acrylonitrile units."

Let's break that down into plain, understandable English, shall we?

A "manufactured fiber" is one that is not found naturally, but rather is man-made. (In contrast, wool or cotton would be examples of natural fibers; an acrylic yarn does not fall into that category, but rather is categorized with the synthetic yarns.)

The "fiber-forming substance" simply means the stuff the fiber is made out of.

A "long-chain synthetic polymer" – To my way of thinking, (and I'm not a chemist,) this is just a fancy way of saying "plastic." But for the last word on that, I'll refer you to Anne Helmenstine, PHD, your Guide to chemistry at Anne explains, in a nutshell, what a polymer is here: monomers and polymers. While you're reading her article, keep in mind that, as applied to acrylic specifically, by definition, the FTC specifies that this particular type of polymer is synthetic, not natural.

Acrylonitrile units – Acrylonitrile is a clear, toxic, water-soluble liquid chemical substance. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, acrylonitrile is probably carcinogenic, meaning that it probably causes cancer.

For further information about its chemical composition, I'll again refer you to the chemistry site at Acrylonitrile's chemical structure.

So let's recap. Acrylic is, by definition, a man-made, synthetic fiber which is comprised of at least 85% acrylonitrile, which is a toxic chemical that the EPA warns is a probable cancer-causing substance.

Pronunciation: I say it "Ah-KRILL-ic," with the the emphasis on the second syllable.


Most of the yarn in my grandmother's stash is acrylic.

Kate is trying to decide whether to use acrylic or wool for crocheting her next hat.

Acrylic, Definition and Meaning

1. An acrylic resin.

2. A paint containing acrylic resin.

3. A painting done in acrylic resin.

4. An acrylic fiber.

Noun 1. acrylic - polymerized from acrylonitrile

acrylic fiber

man-made fiber, synthetic fiber - fiber created from natural materials or by chemical processes

2. acrylic - a glassy thermoplastic; can be cast and molded or used in coatings and adhesives

acrylate resin, acrylic resin

Acrilan, polypropenonitrile - acrylic resin used to make a strong soft crease-resistant fabric (trade name Acrilan)

polymethyl methacrylate - a transparent plastic used as a substitute for glass

synthetic resin - a resin having a polymeric structure; especially a resin in the raw state; used chiefly in plastics

3. acrylic - used especially by artists

acrylic paint

paint, pigment - a substance used as a coating to protect or decorate a surface (especially a mixture of pigment suspended in a liquid); dries to form a hard coating; "artists use `paint' and `pigment' interchangeably"

4. acrylic - a synthetic fabric

Courtelle - an acrylic fabric resembling wool

cloth, fabric, textile, material - artifact made by weaving or felting or knitting or crocheting natural or synthetic fibers; "the fabric in the curtains was light and semitransparent"; "woven cloth originated in Mesopotamia around 2000 BC"; "she measured off enough material for a dress"

Orlon - an acrylic fiber or the lightweight crease-resistant fabric made with Orlon yarns a·cryl·ic

[uh-kril-ik] Show IPA



of or derived from acrylic acid.



acrylic fiber.


acrylic resin.


a paint, prepared especially for artists, in which an acrylic resin serves as a vehicle.


a painting done with this type of paint: She sold several acrylics during the show.


The term "acrylic" is used for products that contain a substance derived from acrylic acid or a related compound. Most often, it is used to describe a clear, glass-like plastic known as poly(methyl) methacrylate (PMMA). PMMA, also called acrylic glass, has properties that make it a better choice for many products that might otherwise be made of glass. There are two basic types: extruded and cast.


Extruded acrylic is made through a process in which the liquid plastic is pushed through rollers, which press it into sheets as it cools. This is a comparatively inexpensive process, but the resulting sheets are softer than cast acrylic, can scratch easier, and may contain impurities. Extruded acrylic is still generally considered to be good quality, and is usually the more common type made available on the market.

Cell cast acrylic tends to be of higher quality than extruded, but it's also more expensive. In cell casting, single sheets are made by pressing the liquid plastic between pieces of a mold, often made of glass, which is then taken through a gradual heating process. The resulting sheet is stronger than extruded acrylic. This type is often used for aquariums, awards, and other products that require shaping or machining of the final product.


Many different products are made from acrylic, including shower doors, bath enclosures, windows, and skylights. It is many times stronger than glass, making it much more impact resistant and therefore safer. Falling against a shower door will not likely break it, for example, and baseballs that crash through glass windows will, in most cases, bounce off acrylic windows. It also insulates better than glass, potentially saving on heating bills.

Acrylic glass is also very clear, allowing 92% of visible light to pass through it. Very thick glass will have a green tint, while acrylic remains clear. It also weathers well, keeping its clarity over the years without turning yellow or breaking down when exposed to sunlight over a long period of time.

Another advantage of acrylic is that it is only half as heavy as glass. This makes this material easier to work with, and makes it a better choice for projects where weight is an issue. It can also be sawed, whereas glass must be scored.

Virtually all major public aquariums now build display tanks out of this thermoplastic, and it is often used in many other buildings. When this material is just over 1 inch thick (about 25 mm), it is bullet resistant; the presidential motorcade, the "pope"-mobile, teller enclosures, and drive-through window enclosures all feature bullet-resistant acrylic. It is used for airplane windows as well.


A unique property of this thermoplastic is its ability to be shaped. Extruded acrylic is not as strong as cell cast, and tends to crack or splinter when being machined, so most higher quality products are made from cast acrylic. Structures can also be made with no seams, as chemical welding at the molecular level actually "melts" seams into one piece of solid material. Seams that are welded and polished correctly are invisible.

Misconceptions and Disadvantages

There are some misconceptions about acrylic, namely that it yellows, turns brittle, and cracks over time. Though this might be true of cheap forms of plastic, it is not so with acrylic. If taken care of, this material can remain new looking for several decades, regardless of age or exposure to sun. Some people worry that it scratches too easily, but unlike glass, scratches may be buffed out.

For all of its advantages, there are two disadvantages of acrylic: It is more expensive than glass, and if exposed to a direct flame, it will melt and eventually burn. Burning releases toxic fumes, so safety precautions should always be taken when it is being cut with power tools or bent using heat. When it is not cared for properly, or when inferior acrylic is used, it can scratch, and improperly made joints can be very visible.

What Is Acrylic Fiber?

Acrylic Fiber
Acrylic fiber is a synthetic fiber that closely resembles wool in its character. According to the definition of the ISO (International Standards Organization) and BISFA (International Synthetic Fiber Standardization Office), fibers which contain a minimum of 85% acrylonitrile in their chemical structure are called "Acrylic Fibers".

Acrylic fiber is composed of acrylonitrile and a comonomer. The comonomer is added to improve dyeability and the textile processability of the acrylic fiber. Acrylic fiber is produced with two different systems: wet spinning and dry spinning. Acrylic fiber can be supplied as producer-dyed either by pigmentation of the dope or with jel dyeing systems. It can be used 100% alone, or in blends with other natural and synthetic fibers.

Aksa Process
The Aksa manufacturing process is based on wet spinning process. The fiber has a kidney shaped cross-section. Aksa produces tow, top or staple fiber in both ecru and in a broad range of colors by gel dying, dope dying and continuous tow dying. Today AKSA has become one of the world’s leading producers of acrylic fiber with a market share of 13.2%.

Properties of Acrylic Fiber
Easy to wash and good dimensional stability.
Resistance to damage by moths and chemical substances.
Excellent color-fastness and dyeability in brilliant colors.
Highly resistant to sunlight.

Lightweight, soft, and warm, with a wool-like touch.

End Uses of Acrylic Fiber:
Apparel: Sweaters, socks, fleece wear, circular knit apparel, sportswear and childrens wear
Household Textiles: Carpet, blankets, area rugs, upholstery, pile fabrics
Outdoor end uses: Car tops, boat covers, awnings, outdoor furniture
Industrial end uses: Filtration materials, reinforcement materials in construction, car batteries

Acrylic paint

Acrylic paint is made up of pigment suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion. In other words, the color is hanging in a mixture of multiple chemicals that create a thick paste. Acrylic paints are essentially plastic paints. The paint can be bought in either a thick or thin format. Acrylic paint is fast drying, making it great for painters that like to work quickly.

First available in the 1950s, acrylic paints are newer to the art world than most other paint types. These early paints were made from a mineral spirit blend. It was sold by Bocour Artist Colors and named Magna. Acrylic paints became available in their modern form in the 1960s, initially sold by Liquitex.

There are many ways to buy acrylic paints. High-quality, professional grade paint is available in tubes. This paint is thicker than most of the other varieties. Acrylic paint is also available in small plastic pots, each containing a few ounces of product. For schools and organizations that need to by a lot of paint all at once, it is available in plastic jugs. Because acrylic paints don’t require the strong smelling chemicals of other paint types, they are ideal for students to use.

Acrylic paint has several unique attributes that set it apart from other paint mediums. It can be made thick, allowing the artist to create oil-painting like effects. Using different additives, acrylic paints can also be thinned out until they mimic the appearance for watercolors. The finished paint can either be high gloss, or have a matte finish. Acrylics have the ability to bond to several different surfaces by mixing in additives.

These additives are any of multiple products available to change the properties of acrylic paints. They have the ability to make the paint thicker, thinner, or slower drying. Additives can change the transparency level of the paint. Other additives change how the paint looks, or what it can be applied to. Water can also be added to acrylic paint, up to 30%, to thin it out for a softer look. Adding more water than that can make the paint unusable.

There are a couple important things to remember when using acrylic paint. The first is that, because it dries quickly, it can be difficult to blend new colors into paint that has been sitting on the canvas for more than a few minutes. Another thing to remember is to clean up any spills as soon as they occur to prevent staining the surfaces of your workspace.

Because of its adaptable nature, acrylic paints can also be used for more than canvas paintings. Pottery and glass can be painted with specialty acrylic paint. The paint does fine in the dishwasher, but is not safe to eat off of. Use it for decorative pieces only. Specialty acrylic paints are also available for fabrics, to decorate clothes. Exterior acrylic paint is available for home and garden use.

Acrylic fabric

Acrylic fabric is a type of fabric made from acrylic fibers, and was first manufactured by the DuPont Company. DuPont no longer manufactures acrylic fabric, but it is still widely manufactured throughout the world. It does use a chemically produced substance called acrylonitrile, which is also used in the production of plastics. Acrylonitrile tends to break down easily in the environment, though there is some argument on this point. High levels of acrylonitrile exposure might be considered toxic, but the quick break down often keeps acrylic fabric marketed as environmentally friendly.

Acrylic fabric is used widely in knits, as upholstery covering, and the fibers may be woven to make rugs. People often think of acrylic fabric as an excellent wool substitute, and certain forms of it are exceptionally soft, while remaining lightweight. Certain cashmere substitutes are made with acrylic fabric and are considered as good or better than cashmere in softness and appearance. Some woven garments may contain an acrylic blend with natural fibers.

Early acrylic fabric was prone to pilling, and washing it regularly could cause the top of the fabric to have a worn appearance. To this end, Monsanto Chemical Company developed a chemical process called Pil-Trol® that keeps acrylic fabric from pilling. This has proven helpful, but acrylic fabric still requires gentle care, may need to be dry-cleaned or at the very least washed in cold water on gentle cycle in your washing machine. The more carefully you treat acrylic fabric, the more likely the garment will last longer and retain a “new” appearance. For best results, always follow the garment’s tags for cleaning care.

Acrylic fabric has grown popular in a variety of sports garments. The National Football League, for instance has acrylic socks as part of their standard uniform. You will often have to purchase acrylic socks for kids playing baseball, football or soccer. Socks in acrylic fabric are a great choice because they keep their shape and can be highly elastic. They may be a better choice for hikers, because you are far more likely to get blisters from cotton blend socks than from those made of acrylic.

Acrylic fabric is favored for a variety of other reasons. It is warm, can be quite soft, holds color well, and is both stain and wrinkle resistant. These can make acrylic fabric a popular choice, and for those who love wool but are allergic to it, acrylic can be an excellent substitute.

When acrylic fabric was first made, it was often thought “cheap” and not as valuable as natural fiber garments. Some early acrylic fabrics weren’t comfortable and were quite itchy. New manufacturing processes have mainly solved these issues, and many prefer acrylic to natural fibers because it tends to be easier to care for.
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