Using Plexi As A Photography Tool

Pumpkin (by udijw)I’m gonna talk about Plexi in a moment, but first, Happy Halloween everyone.

OK, Plexi. 

It is very common for a product shot to be built from two symmetrical halves, the product on top and a reflection on the bottom.

I tried taking shoe images like this using a mirror and some glass, but with both I got two reflection – one from the upper surface of the glass and one from the lower surface on the glass. I then tried using durable nylon to get the same effect which was nice, however the reflection image was not sharp.

Then. Came. Plexi.

What Is Perspex?

We may as well put it on the table as first item of business. Perspex A.K.A Plexiglass A.K.A Plexi is not glass. It’s plastic. However it is a special type of plastic. It comes in the form of sheets. And there are many sizes and colors to choose from. 

There’s a completely glass-like Plexi sheet, and there are colored sheets, and even sheets with glitters (which my daughter adores, she is in that age).

The more relevant types of Plexi for me are the opaque black, the white and the transparent ones.

While you can score some on amazon, your best bet is to turn to a local supplier. I had a night mare finding one. So if you know where to get some hit us in the comments.

Using Plexi In Photography.

Overflow 2 (by 96dpi)There are many uses for Plexi in your creative process. You can use it almost in any place where you used glass and then there’s more.

The most intuitive use for Plexi is setting it as a bottom surface for a product shot. Its reflective qualities are better that the ones of mirror or plain glass. 

Heineken Light (by Speed-Light)The qualities of it – strength, opacity, will also allow you to place a model on it and it will sustain the weight.

It is great for creating continuous white slopes (cause it bends); throw light through it (as shown in the upper left – thanks Andreas Levers).

It one of the best materials for underlighting (Heineken – left, thanks Ted Thompson). It even great for creating large diffusion screens.

In short – this material rocks.

Plexi Vs. Glass

As I said before Plexi is not glass, there are some qualities that set them apart and are worth considering when using it in your setups.

First the good things:

Opaqueness: The black Plexi is really black and is extremely opaque. It acts as a mirror with high reflectiveness and gives none of the second reflection we see with glass. It comes in other colors too, all opaque as a concrete wall.

It also comes in lots of translucent colors, which are great for some very creative stuff – like shining light through them.

Weight: Plexi weigh less that glass – this may be a key feature if you are considering taking it on location.

DIY studio light table. (by Pieter Baert)Bendability: Plexi bends. This is good if you need to have a curved surface, something that you can never do with glass. It also sucks if you need a perfectly flat surface and have no way to support it. Note that in the setup below I placed the Perspex on a wooden shelf to prevent it from bending. (Thanks Pieter Baert)

Another good quality of Plexi is that you can cut it with an Exacto knife and there is no need for special cutters like glass. So if you need a size just the size of your light tent, making one is a breeze.

Does it scratch? Yes, unlike glass, Plexi is more easily
scratched. In fact it is wrapped in special protective sticker while
shipped (see image on left).

When I use it (at least the black ones) I only take one side of the protective sheet and only when that side scratches, I remove the other protective sheet and  change sides.

Does it Break? Plexi also breaks, and when it does it is sharper than glass. However, Plexi can take quite a lot of pressure before it bends. So if you are wondering what to put your model on Perspex or Glass – Perspex will have better weight management.

Now the bad things:

Cost: Lastly, the price Plexi is higher than the price of glass. I got a 50cm X 70cm sheet for the equivalent of 17 USD.

Caring and Storing

As with any top smooth material, Plexi is a magnet for finger prints. It is always bet to wear gloves around it. Any speck of dust is highly visible in the picture when you are shooting against black or throwing light though translucent material. The good news is that Windex will get any dirt off kinda easily.

Plexi Protective Sheet (by udijw)The other thing to note is the protective sticker sheet (on the left). As I said before, when possible, I only remove one side of the protective sticker and use that side for a while. 

When that side “dies” from scratches, I remove the protective sticker from the other side. This, of course, will not work with the translucent sheet:)

It is a sensitive material, so I store it in a garbage bag. At least it prevents any dust from collecting on the surface.

Lighting Details

Pumpkin Setup (by udijw)
To end this post, I’d like to share the details on the pumpkin shot in the top left. I had many pumpkins to choose from, however, I chose the one that had the best costume when it came trick-or-treating me.

You can click the image on the left for more notes and placements of everything.

I started out with placing Plexi sheet on my sawhorses (see why I use them here). It bent. So I placed an old shelf below it to keep it flat.

On camera right, there’s an SB800 through a brolli. Here is a nice thing about Plexi. It is 100% reflective material. As long as I kept the brolli outside the Plexi’s family of angles, I did not have to worry one bit about reflections. (this is true as long as the Plexi is dust free).

I set a reflector on the other side for better details on the left.

Lastly, there’s a second flash ,with grid and blue gel on the floor pointing the black backdrop for the halo effect.

  • kodachrome

    I bought a piece of clear plexi from the hardware store a appiled black spray paint to one side. ater it drys use the shiney side as you workspace. Make for a beautiful reflection and at a fraction of the cost of that from a photo supplier. my sheet is about 4ft x 4ft square and the can of black paint im into it for about 10 bucks.

    • justd80010

      Thanks for this, I looked high and low for a suitable granite tile with no luck, what I did find was priced in the hundreds and the weight is prohibitive. I picked up a large plexi sheet and high gloss paint for $27 at the home depot, a much cheaper, more portable, practical solution. Right on.

  • Fellios

    I saw translucent and opaque Plexi. How can translucent do it’s reflective effect if it’s translucent? Will I need to paint it with glossy paint to achieve that? I also have shooting tent I bought so maybe translucent will fit here as there will be white to reflect off?

    I also saw opaque Plexi so I wonder if it will do the job better without need of glossy paint or white color material below Plexi.

    • mary

      No need to paint or pay high prices!! I work full time as well at Port Plastics. We sell half sheets and full 4×8 sheets. So look for your local Plastics Suppliers. We have locations nationwide! Or Google sign supply companies they stock it as well. Dont buy Lexan/Polycarbonate. ..its stronger in the fact less breakable but softer and scratches very easily with no buffing out. At least Acrylic you can buff if a small scratch.

      • Fellios

        How do I buff out scratches? Is there correction pen?

  • Samad Abdul

    I think this might help. On ebay look for “black acrylic sheet” and you’ll find 12×12 peace or larger pieces as well for cheap price. This is pretty much the same exact thing just different name I guess. I would put a link here but by the time someone checks it out, it’ll be expired.

    For me 12×12 worked because I take jewelry pictures and I don’t really need a large surface.