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Difference Between Thermoplastic and Thermosetting Plastic

What is Thermoplastic?

Thermoplastics are an intriguing family of materials that can be bent and moulded into a wide range of shapes by applying pressure and heat. Because of their lightweight, robustness, and affordability, they are becoming more and more common in manufacturing. They are very adaptable, with uses ranging from consumer items to aerospace components. The fact that thermoplastics may be recycled and reused in contrast to their counterparts, thermosetting plastics, which are virtually "set" once they have been moulded, is one of their most amazing qualities.

Difference Between Thermoplastic and Thermosetting Plastic

The structure of thermoplastic materials typically consists of long, linear or branched polymer chains held together by relatively weak van der Waals forces. These forces allow for easy movement of the polymer chains when heat is applied, which results in the softening and melting of the material. When cooled, the polymer chains solidify, and the material regains its original properties.

There are numerous varieties of thermoplastics, each with special characteristics and uses. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), polystyrene (PS), polypropylene (PP), and polyethylene (PE) are a few of the most popular varieties (PVC). From water bottles and plastic bags to automobile parts and medical equipment, these materials are used in a wide variety of products. Thermoplastics, however, may be extraordinarily beautiful as well as being highly functional materials. To produce a variety of aesthetic effects, they can be coloured, or even textured.

Examples of Thermoplastic

Thermoplastics are a family of polymers that can be repeatedly melted and remoulded without significantly changing chemically. Examples of thermoplastics include the following:

  • Polyethylene (PE): Polyethylene is a common thermoplastic polymer that is pliable, strong, and lightweight. Plastic bags, food packaging, and milk bottles are just a few examples.
  • Polypropylene (PP): Another popular thermoplastic material, polypropylene is renowned for its great strength and tolerance to heat and chemicals. It is utilised in products including furniture, vehicle components, and kitchen utensils.
  • Polystyrene (PS): Polystyrene is a multipurpose thermoplastic that is utilised in a wide range of products, including toys, CD cases, and food packaging.
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC): PVC is a thermoplastic utilised in a wide range of products, such as automobile parts, medical tubing, and construction. It is renowned for its durability, strength, and chemical resistance.
  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS): ABS is a thermoplastic that is utilised in a range of consumer goods, such as toys, auto parts, and housings for electronics. It has a reputation for being strong, long-lasting, and easily moldable.
  • Nylon: A thermoplastic with a reputation for strength, abrasion resistance, and high-temperature tolerance is nylon. Clothing, fishing line, and automobile components are just a few uses for it.

These are just a few examples of the many types of thermoplastics that are commonly used in various industries. Each thermoplastic has unique properties and characteristics that make it well-suited for specific applications.

Thermosetting Plastic

We frequently picture materials for plastics as ones that can be repeatedly melted down and rebuilt. Thermosetting plastics are a different class of plastics that are equally significant but have different features. These materials are vital to many different sectors of the economy, from electronics to construction, and they have special qualities that make them the best choice for particular uses.

In Simple words, it is a plastic that solidifies and takes on a permanent "set" in shape as a result of a chemical reaction that occurs when it is heated. As a result, unlike thermoplastics, thermosetting plastic cannot be melted down and reshaped after being moulded into a certain shape. Instead, it keeps its shape and characteristics forever. Its strength and durability are two of thermosetting polymers' main advantages. They can tolerate extremely high temperatures and pressures and are very hard to harm once they have set. They are therefore perfect for applications requiring abrasive environments, like those in the automotive, marine, and aerospace industries.

Plastics that are thermosetting can also be moulded into intricate shapes, which is a benefit. They can be moulded into elaborate and detailed shapes that are either challenging to achieve with thermoplastic. Because of this, they are perfect for use in ornamental or creative applications like sculpture or handmade jewellery.

The structure of thermosetting plastics consists of highly cross-linked polymer chains held together by strong covalent bonds. These bonds make it difficult for the material to melt or deform when exposed to heat. Once heated, the material undergoes a chemical reaction, known as curing, which forms strong covalent bonds between the polymer chains. This results in a rigid, highly durable material that cannot be remolded or reshaped.

Thermoset polymers do have certain downsides despite their great advantages. Most importantly, unlike thermoplastics, they cannot be recycled or reformed after being moulded. So, it is necessary to dispose of any scrap or waste material correctly, which might occasionally be difficult. Toxic fumes and gases can be released as a result of the chemical reaction that happens when thermosetting polymers are heated, thus it's crucial to take the proper safety precautions when handling these materials. To safeguard both the environment and the workforce, proper ventilation and protective gear are crucial.

Examples of Thermosetting Plastics

Here are some examples of thermosetting plastics:

  • Epoxy: A class of thermosetting plastics noted for their exceptional strength and durability are epoxy resins. The aerospace and automotive industries are frequently employed in products like adhesives, coatings, and composites.
  • Phenolic: Phenolic resins are a type of thermosetting plastic that has great resistance to flame, chemicals, and heat. Electrical parts, automotive components, and consumer items like pool balls are just a few of the uses.
  • Polyester: Polyester resins are thermosetting plastics widely employed in the creation of composites like fibreglass. For purposes like roofing and insulation, they are also utilised in the building sector.
  • Urea-formaldehyde: Resins made of this thermosetting material are frequently used to make particleboard and other wood-based goods. The excellent strength and heat and water resistance of these materials are well known.
  • Silicone: Silicone resins are thermosetting plastics that excel at electrical insulation and heat resistance.

Difference between Thermoplastic and Thermosetting Plastic

Here's a table comparing some of the key differences between thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics:

Properties Thermoplastic Thermosetting Plastic
Definition Can be melted and reshaped multiple times when exposed to heat Cannot be reshaped once it is formed
Molecular Structure Linear or branched polymers Cross-linked polymers
Curing Process No curing process required Requires curing process, such as heating or chemical reaction
Mechanical Strength Weaker than thermosetting plastics Stronger than thermoplastics
Resistance to Heat Soften and melt when exposed to heat Can withstand high temperatures without melting or degrading
Hardness Softer and more flexible Hard and brittle
Examples Polyethylene, PVC, Nylon Epoxy, Phenolic, Bakelite

Applications of Thermoplastic:

  • Packaging - Thermoplastics such as polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene are commonly used in packaging applications, such as food packaging, beverage bottles, and plastic bags.
  • Automotive parts - Many parts of cars and other vehicles are made from thermoplastics, such as dashboards, door panels, and bumper covers.
  • Toys - Many toys are made from thermoplastics, including action figures, dolls, and construction sets.
  • Pipes and fittings - Thermoplastics such as PVC and PEX are commonly used in plumbing applications, including pipes and fittings for water and gas.
  • 3D printing - Thermoplastics are often used in 3D printing due to their moldability and ease of use. Some popular thermoplastics for 3D printing include ABS, PLA, and PETG.

Applications of Thermosetting Plastics:

  • Aerospace and aviation - Thermosetting plastics are often used in the aerospace industry due to their high strength and durability. They are used in applications such as aircraft components, satellite parts, and rocket nozzles.
  • Electrical insulation - Thermosetting plastics such as phenolic resin and epoxy are commonly used in electrical applications, including insulation for electrical wiring and circuit boards.
  • Construction materials - Thermosetting plastics are often used in the construction industry, particularly for applications requiring heat resistance or fire resistance. Examples include insulation, flooring, and roofing materials.
  • Consumer products - Thermosetting plastics are commonly used in a range of consumer products, such as kitchenware, adhesives, and molded decorative items.
  • Composite materials - Many composite materials, such as carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP), are made from thermosetting plastics. These materials are used in a range of applications, including aircraft and automotive parts, wind turbine blades, and sports equipment.


In the end, both thermoplastics and thermosetting plastics have their place in our modern world, and both play important roles in our daily lives. Whether we are working in construction, manufacturing, or the arts, understanding the properties and applications of these materials can help to make informed decisions about the best materials to use for your projects. And as technology continues to advance, it is likely that new and even more versatile plastics will be developed, opening up new possibilities for innovation and creativity.

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