Sandblasting Acrylic: The Ultimate Guide
Do you know sandblasting acrylic is one of the most effective ways of decorating and customizing your products?
Well, it is one of the most effective ways of getting your acrylic branded items out there.
Today’s guide focuses on the key pillars of sandblasting acrylic material, from basic definition, advantages to the actual sandblasting process.
So, in case you want to learn more about this acrylic fabrication technique, just read the whole guide.
Let’s dive right in.
What is Sandblasting Acrylic?
You can also identify sandblasting as abrasive blasting or bead blasting.
Sandblasting acrylic is the process of forcibly propelling a stream of sand against acrylic under very high pressure and speed.
You can compare the effect of sandblasting to that of sandpaper but it has an even and smooth finish.
It involves using pressurized fluid such as compressed air or a centrifugal wheel to propel the blasting media (sand).
You will learn more about the process later on in this guide.
Why Sandblast Acrylic Material
You can sandblast acrylic for the following reasons:
i. Making a rough acrylic surface smooth
ii. Make a smooth acrylic surface rough
iii. Remove contaminants on the surface of acrylic
iv. Obtain certain shape of the acrylic
v. Inscribe a pattern or writing on the surface of the acrylic
Besides the main functions let’s consider the advantages of sandblasting acrylic.
Advantages of Sandblasting Acrylic
Some of the advantages you will witness include:
i. Provides an even finish on the acrylic with no issues on the crannies and corners
ii. A quick process that will save you a lot of time
iii. Easy to clean up after sandblasting acrylic
iv. Offers wonderful surface preparation that allows you to proceed undoubtedly to the next process. It gives a wonderful finish for preparations such us undercoating or application of sealants.
v. Sandblasting is environmentally friendly and non-toxic unless you decide to add outside pollutants.
vi. Less machinery – sandblasting acrylic requires very few machines such as the sandblasting equipment.
Disadvantages of Acrylic Sandblasting
Sand blast patterns on acrylic – Photo courtesy: Instructables
i. Relatively expensive depending on the type of equipment you choose. There is certain equipment such as the sandblast pots and containers that are very expensive.
ii. Poses health risks to the user prompting the use of safety materials. You may fall sick when you use the sandblasting process because of the dangerous and toxic fumes. One common disease is silicosis that usually affects the lungs.
iii. It is also very harmful to naked skin prompting you to be very careful throughout the whole process.
iv. You have to sandblast the acrylic in an open room with enough ventilation to avoid choking.
Acrylic Sandblasting Safety Precautions
Sandblasting operations can pose a major risk to the safety and the health of the users.
There is a huge amount of dust that comes from the sandblasting operations.
Some of the abrasives are not harmful while others can be very toxic to the human system.
Sandblasting safety gear – Photo courtesy: Grainger
It can lead to serious danger to the operator such as:
i. Burns due to projections
ii. Falls due to walking on round shots on the ground
iii. Heat exhaustion
iv. Exposure to hazardous dust
v. Creation of explosive atmospheres
vi. Exposure to excess noise
It is, therefore, important to have safety precautions including the use of safety equipment such as:
i. Positive pressure blast helmet or hood with a view frame or window. It will protect your head and your eyes at the same time.
ii. Air supply to ensure efficient supply of air and proper ventilation.
iii. Hearing Protection such as ear plugs and ear muffs to protect your ears
iv. Body protection varies depending on the application. You need to have overalls and gloves, leather chaps and coats.
v. Nose mask to protect the operator from inhaling fumes.
vi. Protective shoes to protect the feet of the operator
Let us proceed and have a look at the sandblasting equipment.
Sandblasting Acrylic Equipment
There are quite a number of sandblasting equipment available for you to choose from.
Remember that these tools and equipment have specific applications and you should choose wisely.
In this section, we are going to look at some of the sandblasting equipment.
Here are some of them:
· Sandblast pots or Containers
This equipment contains a grit inside the sandblast containers.
Air pressure inside the container will force out the grit inside the container through a hose.
You can find them in various types and sizes such as the dust free type that vacuums excess dust.
The benefits of using the sandblast pots include:
i. Covers large surface areas and saves time
ii. Good for commercial applications
iii. Better penetration and removal of dust
iv. Moves more grits in comparison to cabinets
The demerits of using sandblast pots include:
i. Wastage of grit as excess grit goes into the environment
ii. Poses great health risks to the users
iii. More expensive in comparison to the cabinet system
· Sandblast Cabinets
This equipment keeps the grit inside the cabinet.
Acrylic sandblasting cabinet
The cabinet keeps the grit at the bottom and circulates it using a gun and a hose.
It gives you the chance to recycle the grit until it becomes dust prompting replacement.
It also has an internal light that will enable you to see whatever you are doing.
Here are some of the advantages of using sandblast cabinets:
i. Recycles grit until you cannot use it any further
ii. Good for smaller and finer cleaning jobs such as cleaning car parts
iii. It creates little to no mess
The demerits of using sandblasting cabinets include:
i. Depending on the cabinet size, you will have smaller working space and object weight restrictions.
ii. Glass and glove films wear out with time prompting replacements
· Sandblast Guns
The guns do not need containers or cabinets are very common.
You can use them for DIY jobs such as decorations on acrylics.
It works in a similar fashion as the sandblast pots where the grit comes out through the housing onto the acrylic.
Sandblasting gun – Photo courtesy Gunson
Here are some of the advantages:
i. Inexpensive and very simple to use
ii. Good for minor decorations
iii. Compact design with their own containers or draws grit from other containers
Sandblast guns require a lot of pressure and you may need to have a large compressor with good duty cycles.
· Blast Room
This is a larger version of a blast cabinet.
It is able to accommodate larger sizes of acrylics.
It has enough space to accommodate people working on the acrylics.
In a typical blast room, you will find the following:
i. A containment system with a complete seal to prevent the escape of blast media
ii. Blasting system with wheel and air blasting systems
iii. Blast pots that contain the blasting sand
iv. Dust collection system for filtering the air in the room and prevent the escape of particulate matter.
v. An automatic or pneumatic media reclamation or material recycling system to collect the sand media for use.
With the sandblasting equipment in mind, let us have a look at the step by step process of sandblasting acrylic.
Step by Step Process of Sandblasting Acrylic
Whenever you are sandblasting acrylic, you need to have proper preparations.
Since you can use it for different applications, we are going to take you through a specific example.
In this case, we are going to sandblast an acrylic sign for a windshield of a vehicle.
Remember that the steps may vary according to the application.
Without further ado, let us dive right in.
Step One: Making a Template
First, you need to know the design or the writing to engrave on the acrylic.
You have to make a stencil out of the idea in your mind.
Draw the idea on a cardboard and cut it to fit the right size.
Make sure you make all the adjustments on the template before you transfer it to the template.
It is very difficult to make any changes on the template after transferring the template.
Step Two: Getting the Material
The second step is the acquisition of material such as acrylic from local stores.
Make sure that the acrylic is not too thin because it might break during the process of sandblasting.
Buy an acrylic that is bigger than the size that you require.
You can use the extra material for experiments before you continue with the sandblasting process.
Acrylic or plexiglass usually has a protective plastic film.
You should keep the protective film on as much as you can.
Acrylic is very sensitive and easy to scratch even with the film on.
Apart from the acrylic, you will need other equipment such as the sandblasting equipment.
You have to make sure that you put on protective clothing whenever you are sandblasting acrylic.
Step Three: Transfer Template to Acrylic
Place the acrylic on a working bench and secure it from moving.
You will bring the template and place it on the acrylic.
Trace the shape of the template on the acrylic using an overhead pen or similar tools.
Step Four: Cut the Shape
Place the acrylic on a Styrofoam for more support and even pressure.
It is important because it is brittle and it can crack or break very easily.
Using a jigsaw with a fine tooth blade but not too fine as it can generate a lot of heat.
As you start counting, make sure that you press down the acrylic firmly.
It will ensure that the saw does not bounce as you cut the acrylic piece.
Do not rush the cutting process as the blade may become too hot and melt the acrylic.
In case you have to rush the cutting process, make sure you use a cooling system such as pressurized air.
The air will also blow the acrylic dust as you cut.
Step Five: Smooth the Edges
The next step is to smooth the edges of the acrylic and remove the rough and sharp edges.
Do not remove the protective film yet.
You can use sandpaper to smoothen the edges better.
Use the rough sandpaper first before to smoothen the very rough surfaces.
Progress to the finer one and remember not to rub for too long on one spot as it might start to melt.
Step Six: Applying Blasting Template
You can proceed with this through two main ways as follows:
First, you can decide and be lazy and allow somebody to make the plan for you.
You can buy the sticker that you desire and use it on the acrylic.
Apparently, you can also use a custom sticker you will make for yourself.
Remove the protective film on the side where you will be applying the blasting template.
Press the sticker firmly around the edges to make sure that there are no air bubbles.
Using a surgical knife trace the image of the template and make sure you avoid any scratches.
You can remove the scratches but it will be very difficult.
Step Seven: Sand Blasting
This is the fun part known as blast away.
This is the point where you sandblast the acrylic evenly.
Proceed with the process a little at a time and check on the template ensuring that it holds up.
You can confirm that the sandblast pattern is evenly matte by using light from the back of the acrylic.
You will continue with the sandblasting process until you have a fine image.
You can continue up to the point where the acrylic will not be able to hold anymore.
Stop sandblasting when the edges are still fine and have a definite shape for better results.
Step Eight: Remove Protective Film
After that, you are free to remove the protective film from the acrylic.
You can also remove the stencil from the acrylic carefully with enough caution not to scratch the acrylic.
Rinse in water to assist you to remove any sand residues or plastic shavings on the acrylic.
You can use some soap if you want to but do not use very strong detergents.
After that dry the water from the acrylic using a clean towel.
Well, you have the acrylic that you need with the shape that your heart desires.
Common Problems when Sandblasting Acrylic (Problems and Solutions)
The process of sandblasting acrylic may be problematic especially when you do not have enough experience.
You might make some mistakes that you did not intend to have.
Some of the common mistakes that people make including their solutions include:
i. Neglecting Safety Precautions
Whenever you are using any power tool such as the sandblasting equipment, you have to take safety precautions.
If you are not sure about what you are doing, you should stop immediately.
You have to understand that sandblasting is dangerous and may cause harm to you or the people near you.
To solve this problem, you have to ensure that you put on the following:
Coveralls – it is important to have coveralls that will protect your body from any form of harm.
Face Protection – the last thing you need is to have a fleck of sand in your eyes.
So make sure that you have goggles or full face mask with a plastic shield.
Gloves – to protect every inch of your skin and also as a safety requirement.
Distance – you should maintain a considerable distance considering the type of machine that you are using.
Despite the clothing, you should always maintain a considerable distance from the work station.
ii. Insufficient Acrylic Coverage
Many of the sandblasters forget to include a proper acrylic cover.
This mistake leaves the acrylic vulnerable to frosting or destruction during the sandblasting process.
To sort it out you need to have a clear shit of cover to hold it in the right place.
It will also protect the outer surfaces that do not require blasting from destruction.
iii. Using the Wrong Blaster
As versatile as the sandblasters may be, you will still find them in different sizes and pressure capabilities.
The choice of machine will affect the distance that you keep and the blasting area that you can cover.
To mitigate this problem, you will:
Use a small blaster on a large particle spread while using smaller objects.
This will also apply on larger objects which will require larger blasters.
Remember to look for a good model that will be right for you and the project.
iv. Using the Wrong Blasting Medium
In case you are new, the media to load on to your machine might overwhelm you.
Despite the name, there are many types of sandblasting media that you can use.
The wrong media might have minimal or serious damage to the acrylic.
To sort this out:
You have to choose the sandblasting material by looking at the underlying material.
Apart from that, consider the material that you will scrape off of it.
v. Forgetting to Recollect the Blasting Medium
You can use blasting material more than once.
In case you are using a blasting cabinet, you are free from recollecting the blasting medium.
Other machines, however, do not have automatic recollections.
In that case, lay down a tarp where the medium will fall on giving you the chance to recollect easily.
vi. Working Outside Your Comfort Zone
Do not exceed your abilities whenever you are working with sandblasting tools.
In this case, your experience will be the only way out of the problem.
The more experience you have, the higher the chances of doing greater jobs and handling big machines.
You might also need to call in a professional to assist you with jobs of greater magnitudes.
Sandblasting Acrylic Applications
You can employ the use of various sandblasting equipment in various applications such as:
i. Engraving and lettering on most of the modern cemetery stones, markers and monuments.
ii. You can also use it in sandblasting 3D signage on acrylics.
iii. You can also use sandblasting to engrave signs and writings of storefronts
Well, it is not as difficult as you were imagining it to be.
All you need to do, is, follow the instructions to the letter.
You are now capable of making your own inscriptions on the acrylic for the benefit of your company.
You can also decorate your car and write signages and logos for your business.
What are you waiting for?
Visit your supplier and order the sandblasting material for a better sandblasting experience.