Comparing Clear Vinyl — Press-Polished vs. Rolled
Clear vinyl window material is an extremely versatile product often used for marine, automotive and even home projects. But it’s important to understand how these products are created, as these factors can determine the longevity of the vinyl and its recommended uses. Follow along as we explain the ins and outs of two different clear vinyl products: rolled vinyl and press-polished vinyl.
Some popular brands of press-polished vinyl products include Strataglass™, O’Sea®, Crystal Clear and Regalite®. But what do we mean when we say “pressed and polished” when discussing vinyl? Also called sheet vinyl, this term describes a high-quality vinyl product that is created by taking two or more layers of material and pressing them together between highly polished chrome plates to create one thicker, polished product in sheet form. A combination of high heat and pressure works together to weld the sheets of vinyl together, resulting in one superior clear vinyl window material.
Often available in 20-, 30-, 40- and 60-gauge thicknesses, this type of vinyl boasts excellent optical clarity, consistency and dimensional stability. It’s often used in a variety of projects ranging from domestic boats to high-end commercial applications. Some of these products, called coated sheet vinyl, are coated to ensure greater scratch resistance, UV-resistance, flexibility and, ultimately, longevity. Brands such as Strataglass and O’Sea feature these protective coatings. You’ll know which products are press-polished because they’re sold by the sheet.
With sheet vinyl, many times the longevity of the product is better assured. You’ll find brands that boast warranties, and these products are generally rated to last several years if properly taken care of. Applications that see steady exposure to elements, like a liveaboard boat, are a good fit for sheet vinyl products because they’re simply better equipped to handle long-term use while still looking great. You’ll also receive support if your product fails before the warranty has expired.
Uses: Pressed and polished vinyl products are great for dodgers, biminis and general enclosures as well as automotive and golf cart windows. You can also use thicker gauges for commercial enclosures, flybridge enclosures, and windows on marine cabin enclosures and dodgers. Thicker gauges of press-polished vinyl also have a higher cold crack rating compared to rolled products, meaning they are suitable for harsher outdoor conditions and lower temperatures.
Rolled vinyl, also called rolled goods vinyl, is a less expensive, alternative option for those who want the look of clear vinyl window material without some of the high price tags that can come from premium pressed and polished products. As the name suggests, you’ll find these products sold by the foot or yard as opposed to by the sheet. During production, the raw material is heated and extruded through a series of roller presses set to the desired thickness. This method allows the vinyl to be produced quickly at a low cost. This type of vinyl, also called extruded vinyl, is typically not coated, and is softer and more flexible than a sheet vinyl, allowing it to be easily scratched. Here at Sailrite®, you’ll find we offer Plastipane rolled vinyl products.
While it’s great for those on a budget, rolled vinyl can sometimes lack the optical clarity and scratch-resistant qualities found on higher-end pressed and polished products. This means that there’s a chance you could encounter some visual distortion when looking through it, and it may be more prone to scratching, brittleness and discoloration over time. You’ll normally find rolled good vinyl products ranging anywhere from 12 to 30 gauge, meaning they are generally not as thick as sheet vinyl products. Because the rollers are not polished like those used for pressed and polished products, some rolled vinyl products may have imperfections.
Uses: Rolled vinyl products are great for interior applications, but can also be placed outdoors if not used heavily. They’re great for applications that don’t see prolonged environmental exposure like a window in a sailboat’s mainsail. You could also consider rolled vinyl for automobile seat covers, tent windows, protective furniture covers and any application where minimizing weight is more important than optical clarity or durability. This vinyl sews easily and rolls up compactly.
If you’re penny-pinching and need a clear vinyl product for an application that doesn't experience heavy use and doesn't need to look perfect, consider rolled vinyl products. These are often thinner and excel in interior projects and those only experiencing occasional use. However, if you’re planning to use the application day after day and want it to last, especially on a boat, a pressed and polished vinyl product is the best choice. The thicker gauges found on these sheet vinyl products are often the most practical option for marine, commercial and outdoor projects.
No matter what type of vinyl you’re currently using, or plan to use, it’s crucial that you maintain a routine cleaning regimen to keep it in tip-top shape for as long as possible. We recommend rinsing your clear vinyl with clean, fresh water after each voyage, especially if your vinyl comes into contact with saltwater at any point.
Every one to two weeks, or when spots arise, clean your vinyl with a protective cleaning spray. Each vinyl brand may specify which cleaning products they would prefer you to use. For example, Strataglass only recommends Strataglass labeled IMAR™ products. There are also some soaps you can use to clean your vinyl regularly, and afterward you should dry your vinyl with a soft cloth or a chamois — never use paper towels.
Remember, never handle vinyl with sunscreen, bug spray or any type of fuel on your hands, as this could cause stains or discoloration. And if these products happen to make their way onto your vinyl, make sure you clean them off as soon as you’re able.
Curious about the intricacies of clear vinyl? Check out our blogs, “Comparing Crystal Clear & Regalite Vinyl” (#300201XHT), “Comparing O’Sea & Strataglass Clear Vinyl” (#300200XHT) and “What Is Isinglass Clear Window Material?" (#300400XHT) for even more information. And if you have any questions or concerns, our expert support staff is here to assist you at a moment's notice.