So how do scientists measure clear plastic? The boundaries between ‘transparent’ or ‘clear’ and ‘translucent’ or ‘opaque’ are often highly subjective. What is acceptable for one observer is possibly not acceptable for another observer. It is possible to measure the degree of light transmission using ASTM D-1003 (Standard Test Method for Haze and Luminous Transmittance of Transparent Plastics). This test method is used to evaluate light transmission and scattering of transparent plastics for a defined specimen thickness. As a general rule, light transmission percentages over 85 are considered to be ‘transparent’. The perceived transparency or optical clarity is dependent on the thickness of the sample used for assessment, and the optical clarity will decrease with increasing thickness. Standard glass can be relatively optically clear in thin sections but will show a green tint (due to iron in the glass) as the thickness increases. Optical clarity can only be achieved when the refractive index is constant through the material in the viewing direction. Any areas of opaque material (such as colorants) or areas of different refractive index, will result in a loss of optical clarity due to refraction and scattering.
Optical clarity is also dependent on surface reflections from the sample. The surface reflections at the air/plastic interface create significant transmission losses. For example, PMMA’s transmission loss is around 93%, and PS’s is around 88%. These surface reflections can come from two basic causes: specular reflection, which is the normal reflection from a smooth surface, and diffuse reflection, which is dependent on the surface flatness of the sample. The transmission loss as a result of surface roughness or embedded particles is more often termed ‘haze’, and this is generally a production concern and not a property of the material. In producing blown film, haze can be caused either by melt fracture at the surface or by interfacial instability between the layers of the film.