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Thermoplastic vs Thermoset Plastics

Key Takeaways

  • Thermoset and thermoplastic polymers differ in their behavior when subjected to heat. Thermosets solidify upon heating but cannot be remolded, while thermoplastics can be reheated and remolded without altering their properties.

  • Thermosets possess high-temperature resistance and robustness, while thermoplastics offer cost-effectiveness, colorability, and ease of remolding

  • Thermosets find applications in components requiring strength and resilience at elevated temperatures. Thermoplastics offer versatility for various stress levels and environments, with examples like polyethylene, PVC, and nylon.

thermoplastic vs thermoset plastic composition

 thermoplastic vs thermoset plastic chemical composition

Thermoset and thermoplastics are two separate forms of polymer plastics, which are differentiated based on their behavior when reacting to the application of heat. The primary difference between thermoplastic vs thermoset is that a thermoset is a material that strengthens and solidifies when heated but cannot be remolded or heated after the initial forming, while thermoplastics can be reheated, remolded, and cooled as necessary without causing any chemical changes. 

As a result of these physical and chemical properties, thermoplastic materials have low melting points, while thermoset products can withstand higher temperatures without loss of their structural integrity. Read on as we delve into the specifics of thermoplastic vs thermoset plastics.




Molecular Structure

Composed of network polymers with strong bonds

Composed of linear polymers with weak bonds

Melting Point

Melting point higher than degradation temperature

Melting point lower than degradation temperature


Consist of solid resin and reinforcing fibers

Comprise elastic amorphous and hard crystalline regions


Brittle and inelastic; strength from crosslinking

Flexible, elastic, and impact-resistant; strength from crystallinity


Not recyclable

Recyclable and reusable

Chemical Resistance

Resistant to chemicals and heat

Highly resistant to chemicals


Insoluble in organic solvents

Can dissolve in organic solvents

Thermoplastic vs Thermoset Basics

While thermosets exhibit superior performance at elevated temperatures compared to thermoplastics, temperature resistance is not the sole consideration. Thermosets showcase remarkable flexibility even in cold conditions, maintaining the ability to lay flat. Additionally, thermoset plastics surpass thermoplastics in durability. Thermosets offer a combination of lightweight flexibility and the addition of strength, impact resistance, and toughness. They also permit further enhancement by incorporating reinforcing agents like carbon and fiberglass. A significant thermoset drawback is their inability to be recycled or decompose post-use due to their robust inter-polymer bonds, surpassing those of thermoplastics. 

Conversely, thermoplastics generally offer cost-effectiveness, reduced weight, enhanced colorability, and improved electrical properties. Although both materials possess high corrosion resistance, thermoplastics outshine thermosets in their resistance against chemical attacks. 

Thermoset and Thermoplastic Chemical Composition 

Thermoset plastics manifest as liquid resins at room temperature before heated. Thermosets are comprised of polymer structures that undergo curing triggered by irradiation, heat, or chemicals. In the course of curing, polymer chains intertwine with other molecules, forming a cross-linked network inherent to thermosets. 

In contrast, a thermoplastic presents as a solid resin at room temperature but transitions into a pliable state upon heating, eventually achieving a fluid consistency due to either crystal melting or crossing the glass transition temperature. In thermoplastics, no chemical bonding is involved during processing.

Thermoset Plastics Production

Post-initial shaping through heat, the capacity of thermoset materials to exhibit resilience against heat, corrosion, and mechanical deformation makes them exceptionally well-suited for components necessitating precise tolerances and remarkable strength-to-weight ratios, all while enduring elevated temperatures.

The production of thermoset plastics predominantly employs techniques like resin transfer molding (RTM) or reaction injection molding (RIM). Crosslinking emerges amongst the polymer constituents throughout this manufacturing process, resulting in an irreversible and indissoluble bond formation.

Composite thermoset materials are composed of a matrix and a secondary phase, which can manifest as dispersed, fibrous, or continuous elements. Casting resins, an essential subset, incorporate catalysts or hardeners to achieve their intended properties. Thermoset electrical resins and electronic-grade products come into play in electronics and electrical components. They serve vital functions such as potting or encapsulating compounds, conductive adhesives, and dielectric sealants, ensuring the integrity of sensitive components.

Various types of thermosetting polymers contribute to the expansive landscape of possibilities. Melamine, epoxy, polyester, silicone, urea-formaldehyde, polyurethane, polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE), and polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF) represent a spectrum of producable thermoset choices, each with its own distinctive properties and applications. 

Thermoset Disadvantages

Utilizing thermosets comes with certain drawbacks, particularly in comparison to the more advanced material properties of thermoplastics:

  • The initial materials' low viscosity can lead to the occurrence of flash and necessitate additional secondary operations.
  • Parts made from thermosets often require designs with thicker walls due to their lower tensile strength and ductility.
  • The compounds employed in thermosets are reactive systems, potentially impacting their shelf life and usability.
  • Batch processes might display greater variation and less consistency between different lots.
  • The presence of high filler levels in materials could result in excessive tool wear.
  • The quality of the final product is influenced by the extent of crosslinking established during the molding cycle.

Thermoplastic vs Thermoset for Integrated Circuits

Thermoset epoxies have a long history of being robust materials for packaging electronic components. They are extensively used for packaging integrated circuits, especially DIP (Dual-In-Line) IC packages. As the electronics industry evolved, advances in IC package miniaturization, such as flip-chip and micro-BGA packaging, led to the development of over-molding entire circuit board assemblies using thermoset transfer molding. They are particularly suitable for over-molding PCB assemblies, providing excellent thermal management and protection. Because thermosets offer high strength, chemical resistance, and excellent adhesion, they are well-suited for high-temperature applications and are ideal for over-molding in harsh environments. 

Thermoplastic materials have also gained relevance in encapsulating PCB assemblies. Initially used highly in the automotive industry, this technology involves low-pressure injection molding using hot melt polyamide resins. While thermoplastics may not have properties as attractive as thermosets, they find applications in the telecommunications, computer, and medical industries. They offer benefits like reworkability, non-flammability, and simplified manufacturing processes. Thermoplastics, while not as robust as thermoset plastics, have cost advantages and are suitable for milder environments.

All About Thermoplastics

Thermoplastics originate as repeating units known as monomers, which link into chains or branches, forming the distinctive structure of thermoplastics. When thermoplastic pellets are exposed to heat, they are softened, progressively becoming more fluid with increased heat input. 

The constitution of thermoplastic materials involves chains of molecules that disentangle in response to heat application. This distinctive molecular arrangement grants thermoplastics the remarkable capability to repeatedly melt and undergo remolding processes.

Depending on the specific resin, thermoplastics can be apt for applications with minimal stress, such as plastic bags, or they can serve in contexts demanding robust mechanical properties. Notable examples of thermoplastic polymers encompass polyethylene, PVC, and nylon.

Thermoplastics transition from room-temp solids to liquid due to either the melting of crystalline structures or the passage through the glass transition temperature. Importantly, in thermoplastic processing, the absence of chemical bonding is a salient feature, allowing for flexibility in shaping and reshaping materials.

Types of Thermoplastic Materials

Some of the most common thermoplastic materials in use include:

  • Polycarbonate
  • cetal Copolymer
  • Polyoxymethylene
  • Acetal Homopolymer
  • Polyoxymethylene
  • Acrylic
  • Nylon
  • Polyethylene
  • Polypropylene
  • Polystyrene
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Teflon
  • ABS
  • Acrylic (PMMA)
  • Polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Nylon
  • Polypropylene (PP)
  • Polycarbonate (PC)
  • Acetal Copolymer
  • Polyoxymethylene (POM-C)
  • Acetal Homopolymer Polyoxymethylene (POM-H)

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