Polyester resins are the most widely used resin systems, particularly in the marine industry. By far the majority of dinghies, yachts and workboats built in composites make use of this resin system. Polyester resins such as these are of the ‘unsaturated’ type. Unsaturated polyester resin is a thermoset, capable of being cured from a liquid or solid state when subject to the right conditions. It is usual to refer to unsaturated polyester resins as ‘polyester resins’, or simply as ‘polyesters’. There is a whole range of polyesters made from different acids, glycols and monomers, all having varying properties.
There are two principle types of polyester resin used as standard laminating systems in the composites industry. Orthophthalic polyester resin is the standard economic resin used by many people. Isophthalic polyester resin is now becoming the preferred material in industries such as marine where its superior water resistance is desirable.
Most polyester resins are viscous, pale coloured liquids consisting of a solution of a polyester in a monomer which is usually styrene. The addition of styrene in amounts of up to 50% helps to make the resin easier to handle by reducing its viscosity. The styrene also performs the vital function of enabling the resin to cure from a liquid to a solid by ‘cross-linking’ the molecular chains of the polyester, without the evolution of any by-products. These resins can therefore be moulded without the use of pressure and are called ‘contact’ or ‘low pressure’ resins. Polyester resins have a limited storage life as they will set or ‘gel’ on their own over a long period of time. Often small quantities of inhibitor are added during the resin manufacture to slow this gelling action.