Resin vs. Plastic


resin inside plastic

While you likely cannot picture yourself with the in-home manufacturing capabilities of melting and hardening plastic, viscous resin can be used for many projects, large and small, and transformed from a glue-like substance to a hard, scratch-resistant material right in your own home.

The key difference between resin and plastic is their origin; while resin originates entirely from plant-based, organic materials, plastic comes from a blend of synthetic materials and petrochemicals that reduce impurities in the final substance. Both go through melting, curing, and hardening.

While plastic is more durable, hardened resin is resistant to general wear and tear and also boasts of being more environmentally friendly since its organic material can be broken down more easily over a prolonged period. Keep in mind though that many synthetic resins are being produced for new generations of crafts and trades. Let’s take a closer look to find out more.

What is Resin?

If you are not yet familiar with the glorious material that resin is, you are in for a treat. Artists and craftsmen alike have been delicately refining processes by which hardened resin can become the final coat for masterpieces ranging from jewelry to fine dining room tables and beyond. But, before we go into why resin has continued to increase in popularity, let’s first take a closer look at what resin is in the first place.

Resin comes from organic compounds typically derived from plants. Resin can be transformed from its liquid state to a final hardened state through the addition of a hardening agent and a precisely achieved curation process. It comes in many forms, epoxy resin being among one of the most popular.

Because resin comes from natural materials (although it is often transformed into polymers), resin is known for its environmentally friendly nature accompanied by its durable longevity. As mentioned, while there are different types of resin, epoxy resin is one of the most common that you will see used by artists and craftsmen. 

Epoxy resin is combined with a hardening agent through precise measurements (depending on the specifications of each product), and then goes through a curing process for several hours. Once cured, the hardened epoxy resin can withstand most general wear and tear and can transform a small object into one with seeming impenetrability.

Further, resin typically comes in a more clear or yellow hue, but with accurate heating and adjusting, resin can be combined with various types of coloring agents that can provide a brilliant finished color. Without coloration added, resin is typically transparent in both its liquid and hardened state.

Finally, resin is described as viscous, as its viscosity refers to the general thickness. A resin with low viscosity would have decreased thickness (closer to a more watery, liquid state) whereas a resin with high viscosity would have an increased thickness (more similar to syrup or glue). Each type of resin, with its varying viscosity ratings, can be beneficial in unique ways to various tasks aimed to be completed by craftsmen or artists.

What is Plastic?

Now that we have taken a closer look at resin, it is time to take a closer look at plastic to determine the key differences between the two substances. While you will likely not be working with plastic in its curation and hardening phases in your own home (like you could with various types of resin), understanding the general properties and the product origin can help you to determine other decisions when choosing between the two materials.

Specifically, plastic is made of non-organic materials (or a blend of organic and non-organic materials) as it stems from synthetic materials or petrochemicals. In its liquid state, it can be molded and pressed to form a unique hardened shape that is highly durable and not prone to disintegrating. 

Of course, the fact that this material is made of synthetic materials (with polymers), alludes to the fact that this product does not break down easily and is consequently not environmentally friendly in either its liquid or finally hardened state. Of course, this is contrary to resin’s more natural origins as described in the section above. 

Still, plastic can come in many different shapes and sizes with various levels of thickness. Even further, while plastic materials can be bent when pressure is applied, plastic materials can withstand general wear and tear and are highly durable due to their pure and synthetic nature. 

While a well-known item, such as a plastic water bottle, can be bent and twisted into various contortions because of the thinner plastic material that is often used to construct it, the plastic material is still incredibly durable (although misshaped) in terms of breaking down completely. Plastics can also be placed into various categories depending on their overall chemical makeup and structure, and these help to determine the final use of the products that the plastic will create.

Key Differences between Resin vs. Plastic

Now that we have looked at both resin and plastic individually to determine these product’s origins and general makeup, you should have a pretty good idea about how each of these products are composed and what they can be used for. Still, it can be helpful to look at the two subjects, resin and plastic, side-by-side to gain a better understanding of what the real differences are between them.

Resin and plastic differ in terms of their origin (product makeup), hardness, density, resistance to wear and tear, resistance to heat, thickness, coloration, ability to use for home projects, and environmentally friendliness.

Specifically, let’s take a closer look at each of these categories in the key differences between resin and plastic:

  • Origin (Product Makeup). As stated above, the origin or the chemical makeup of the two products- resin and plastic- is the primary difference between these two substances. While resin has an organic origin and can be found in nature, the components of plastic are both synthetic materials and petrochemicals (potentially blended with organic matter).
    The general makeup of resin and plastic has a great impact on the remaining differences between the two substances. While they can be similar in function, their origin (or their product makeup) sets these two apart in terms of functionality and beyond.
  • Hardness. If you were to attempt to tap a nail into a dense piece of plastic or hardened resin, you might not notice the difference in the hardness of the two substances. This goes to show you how each product can remain stable and withstand a considerable amount of pressure.
    However, plastic is known to be consistently harder when poured at the same density as resin. Of course, this can depend on the type of plastic that you are referring to, and its general makeup, but this is a common trend. Consequently, this can affect both products’ longevity.
  • Density. Plastic is particularly dense once it has been poured and hardened. This has a lot to do with why it is considered to be a hard material once it has solidified. However, resin is particularly dense both when it is in its liquid state and after being fused with a hardening agent that allows the resin to completely set.
    Still, when you are working with resin in its glue-like, viscous state, you will find various levels of density (i.e. viscosity ratings) that will transform the type of projects that you can complete with each unique type of resin. Since you will not generally be working with plastic in its liquid state, you simply will not observe this phase.  
  • Resistance to Wear and Tear. When artists or craftsmen are choosing the type of product that they want to work with to create long-lasting products, the ability for the substance to withstand general wear and tear is of particular importance. Fortunately, both resin and plastic can withstand a considerable amount of wear and tear before exhibiting any damage.
    Of course, if you are working with resin, you will need to keep in mind that the thickness (and precision) of the pour for your final resulting project will, of course, affect its overall level of resistance to general wear and tear. Still, both plastic and resin can withstand abrasion, a wide range of weather conditions, and beyond. 
  • Resistance to Heat. When it comes to heat resistance, though, plastic is much easier to melt down than resin. Once the resin has hardened (generally with the assistance of a hardening agent added to the mixture), it is pretty difficult to melt back down the entire project. Since resin, like epoxy resin, works to harden via an exothermic reaction, the production of heat is what actually helps it to lock in its final hardened state.
    Contrarily, various types of plastic can be melted down and reformed or remodeled into new products. Of course, it is not recommended to melt down plastic on your own (considering the toxic fumes that can be emitted from the synthetic materials), but it is still possible. You may even notice warping on plastic materials that have been exposed to extreme heat (such as an incredibly hot summer), but this is not typically true of resin.
  • Thickness. The thickness of resin versus plastic varies depending on if you are referring to the product in its liquid or hardened state. While resin is classified in various levels of viscosity (density), plastic is much more commonly found available to the consumer in its hardened state.
    Still, you can pour various types of resin to varying levels of thickness which is a major benefit to artists and craftsmen alike. Contrarily, when working with plastic, you will generally be able to purchase a particular mold or piece of plastic with a predetermined thickness, but it is unlikely that you will be able to modify this yourself.
  • Coloration. Resin and plastic vary in coloration in their liquid state as well as in their final hardened shape. Resin is naturally more of an amber or yellow color while plastic can be synthetically made into a variety of colors using synthetic materials. However, resin can be colored using various products such as mica powder pigments or other coloring agents.
  • Ability to Use for Home Projects. When considering working with resin or plastic, you can transform resin into just about any type of shape or contortion that you desire. This is because you, the consumer, will be working with it in its liquid state. You can then add a hardening agent (such as when working with epoxy resin) and create a final product that is unique to your design.
    On the other hand, when working with plastic, you can, of course, use various types of plastic to create unique products and pieces. However, you will only be able to mold the shape of the product based on how you are able to work with the hardened plastic. You will likely not be bending and molding the plastic from its liquid to its final hardened state within the context of your own home projects.
  • Environmentally Friendliness. When it comes to being friendly to the environment, resin is the winner compared to plastic. Since resin is made of completely organic materials, it can decompose at a much quicker rate than synthetically made plastic. 
    Still, this does not mean that resin products will be prone to disintegrating before your very eyes considering the wear and tear that this product can withstand. Instead, this takes into effect the long-term consequences of working with resin versus plastic in which case plastic will, unfortunately, be much harder for the earth to get rid of.

Jedediah Arnold

Jedediah has been working with epoxy resin for a couple of years. When he started, he wanted to share everything he learned as he learned it which continues.

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