Glass v Polycarbonate LED Tubes: Key Differences & Benefits

When purchasing LED lighting, you can opt for a traditional glass tube or a plastic tube (also known as polycarbonate). Each has its own advantages and disadvantages so we’ve been comparing the two to help you choose the best option.

In this guide:

A comparison of LED tube materials

What should you think about when purchasing either a glass or polycarbonate tube?

What is nano plastic and what are the benefits of the material for an LED tube?

More articles to help you buy LED tubes

Glass V Polycarbonate LED Tubes: A Comparison

Popularity Most commonly chosen for its aesthetic qualities rather than practicality. More popular due to the durability of the material and hassle-free installation.
Cost Generally more expensive to buy than plastic counterparts. However, many top end brands use glass tubes. Moderate price range and cheaper than glass generally.
Strength / Robustness in Transit / Installation Can easily break and shatter during installation or transit. Heavier in weight, which makes shipping and installation more difficult. Doesn’t break easily during installation or transit. Lighter in weight and easier to install and remove.
Shatter Resistance Susceptible to breaking/shattering in both installation and transit. Doesn’t break or shatter easily. Up to 30 times more resistant to breakage than glass.
Recycling & Disposal Both plastics and glass have environmental issues given both require natural resources to make initially and have large natural half-life’s. Glass however is endlessly recyclable once it is recycled giving it the edge over plastics.
Look/Feel Cover is completely sealed. Glass looks classy and charming. More durable against scuffs and scratches. The tube is not completely sealed, so water vapour can enter and cause condensation. Plastics generally defer to glass in terms of look and feel and can yellow over time. More prone to scuffing and showing marks.
Discoloration Takes longer for discoloration to occur. Discoloration happens frequently due to UV effects of light output.
Heat Resistance/Shape Doesn’t bend out of shape due to its low thermal expansion rate. Sagging in the middle may occur due to long working hours in high temperatures.
Heat Dissipation Offers better heat dissipation and less chance of LED failure. Has moderate heat dispersion levels increasing risk of LED failure.
Glare Produces harsh glare unless frosted. Reduces glare, causing light to appear softer.
Light Efficiency Doesn’t bend out of shape due to its low thermal expansion rate. Guaranteed to run at optimum efficiency for the life of the LED’s (which can be over 30,000 hours for a mid-range tube). Allows for the angle of the light beam to spread more evenly. Surface can become dry and cracked, causing dust to accumulate and reducing light efficiency. Static charge can easily accumulate, reducing light efficiency.
Colour Rendering LED tubes give a more natural colour rendering (usually 80 or higher).
Colour Temperature Ranges from 2700 to 6500 Kelvin.
Lumen Output Ranges from 250 lm to 2600 lm.

Key benefits to consider

Glass and polycarbonate have their own advantages and disadvantages and, in many ways, these will come down to the individual use cases of the tubes.

In this section, we’ll look at the key benefits and considerations in more detail:

Cost and Practicality

If you are responsible for lighting in a large building, for example a school or hospital, polycarbonate would be the best choice as it’s more durable, cheaper and less likely to mean hassle with returns. Although light may be impacted over time, these are applications where optimum output over time may not be a huge concern.

Best suited for:

  • Schools
  • Universities
  • Hospitals
  • Facilities Managers
  • Warehouses
  • Larger buildings

Polycarbonate tubes are better suited for areas in which aesthetics are not a key consideration.

blurred lighting

Look & Feel

On the other hand, if your focus is aesthetic and you won’t see the cost benefits of larger orders, glass is a better option. Glass is more eco-friendly than plastics and is generally a natural substance we enjoy having around us. If you need consistent light output over time, then glass may also be a good option to consider.

Best suited for:

  • Smaller offices
  • Studios
  • Retailers
retail lighting

Light Efficiency

If you plan to use the tubes in high-end environments, for example car showrooms or retail environments, then glass is the best option. It will guarantee your tubes work in optimum conditions for their duration. You will also get the classy look and feel of glass, perfect for selling products!

car showroom lighting

New Technologies: Nano Plastic

LED tube manufacturers are constantly looking for new ways to improve their products. We all know how beneficial LED technology is for the environment but it’s also important to consider the materials used to support this development.

In recent years, a newly patented material for producing linear LED tubes has appeared on the market - ‘nano-plastic’. Tubes made with this new revolutionary material are known as ‘nano tubes’.

Nano-plastic is the toughest plastic nano-composite material on the planet. It’s durable enough to be safely used in planes and rockets.

In addition to being exceedingly sturdy and hard, nano-plastic is also extremely lightweight. This makes it applicable for use in many fields and industries, one of those being the LED lighting industry.

Benefits of Nano-Plastic LED Tube Lights

Nano-plastic is being used as an alternative to glass and polycarbonate bulb coverings. Here are some of the benefits that nano-plastic bring to the LED industry.

  • Consistent light output
  • Better strength
  • Shatter-proof
  • High levels of thermal conductivity
  • Reduced light glare
  • Improved heat dispersal rates
  • Low thermal expansion rate
  • Lighter than polycarbonate and glass

Are Nano Tubes more expensive?

Given these tubes outperform both polycarbonate and glass – it is natural to think they are more expensive. In fact you can buy nano LED tubes are relatively competitive prices.

Useful further reading

We have a number of other useful resources relating to LED Tubes:

LED v Fluorescent LED Tubes

How to replace your fluorescent tubes with LED counterparts (includes cost comparisons)

Our most popular brands Energizer, Osram & Sylvania

Our best picks for warm white, white and cool white Led Tubes

Frosted V Clear Led Tubes – what you need to know

Picking T8 Tubes – Budget, Mid-Range and Premium options

Picking T5 Tubes – Budget, Mid-Range and Premium options

Waterproof Led Tubes – what this really means

Glass v Polycarbonate LED Tubes

Single v Double Edge LED Tubes

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