Plastic Identification Tool
Explanation Plastic Identification Tool

The Plastic Identification Tool is an interactive website that guides the user through a series of questions with yes/no answers and simple tests to identify plastics with a high probability. The tool is accompanied by a workshop and a PIT-kit with instruments and reference materials. The workshop explains the structure of the tool and teaches participants how to use it and the PIT kit effectively.

The IDENTIFICATION page offers a choice between four categories of plastic materials: foam, film (or tapes), elastomer (rubbers) and rigid. The category rigid is further divided into sheet, industrial product and made by artist.

After making a choice for a category a page opens with on the left side a list of questions that can be answered with ‘yes/no/not applicable or don’t know’. Under the icons     more information or examples with an image can be found. Upon answering YES additional questions may appear to refine the answer. All questions that would be answered NO can be skipped.
On the right side of the page a list of plastics appears in order of probability. This is determined by the number of points each plastic scores for an answer..
Just explore the tool first, chose YES or NO and experience what the consequence of an answer is for the probability and the identification of a plastic.

The first question asks for the date of the artwork or object. Plastics were discovered, developed, and produced at a particular moment in time. An artwork from 1925 can never be made of a plastic that appeared on the market in 1960. If the date of the object is known, it rules out the plastics that were introduced after that date. These plastics change from black to grey in the probability listing. Plastics that were taken out of production after a particular date or fell out of fashion cannot be ruled out. They could have been available still, recycled, or reused after that date.

Reference samples & instruments
The PIT-kit contains reference samples for comparison and instruments to conduct simple tests. Questions in the tool refer to them, for example ‘Is the sheet transparent? Compare with reference sample P-01’. ‘Can the foam be compressed easily, like reference sample S-03?’ or ‘Is it possible to hold a piece of film between two polarising filters?’

Probability score
A particular answer to a question results in a number of points for each plastic. Plastics with the most points move to the top of the list. They haif so they are in alphabetical order.) A difference of more than ten points with number two on the list is significant.

Such a big difference may not always be achieved, not even after answering more questions. Plastics can be so similar in their properties that placing them in a particular category is the best possible result.
The probability list should not exclude brain power. Always think along with the scores. Do the top three plastics have an acceptable probability? Does the data on the material-specific information pages of the plastic fit well with the object?
Experience with the Plastic Identification Tool leads to easy recognition of types of plastic and their application. It is worthwhile studying the plastic pages with the material-specific information of the (problem)plastics. Especially when there is no clear winner in the probability list or there is some other doubt. If the highest probability plastics have the same preventive conservation requirements it may not be necessary to continue in order to identify the plastic correctly unless it is for registration purposes.

Problem plastics
Problem plastics are plastics that age faster than average, often along with problematic behaviour. For example, polyurethane foam becomes tacky and cellulose acetate produces acetic acid. CA, CN, PVC, NR and PUR (especially soft PUR foam) belong to this group. It is important to locate problem plastics in the collection and develop appropriate procedures for storage and conservation.
Problem plastics can also be created by artists who experiment with materials and thus affect properties and durability of the plastic. For example mixing two-component systems in the wrong proportions, adding colourants or additional plasticisers, heating plastics or adhering them under tension. Such practices have an effect in the ageing behaviour of a plastic.

Get started now!
>> to the IDENTIFICATION tool

The website also offers a choice of:
INFO Background information about the website, tool, PIT kit and the Project Plastics, preventive conservation of plastics, references and attachments for identifying plastics.
>> to INFO

Plastics These pages contain material-specific information about the plastics. Information about specific properties, some history, applications, history, properties and recommendations for preventive conservation etc. The specific plastic can also be found by clicking on the plastics in the list on the right of the screen on the page of an IDENTIFICATION questionnaire.

ARTWORKS are exemplary artworks in which plastics have been used and which can serve as a starting point into the identification of plastics in similar artworks.