What do tennis racquets, hockey sticks, and golf clubs all have in common? They’re commonly made from carbon fiber. You may even find clothing made with carbon fiber, including protective gear such as helmets and shoes.
It’s easy to understand why carbon fiber is so popular. Stiff and strong but still maintains a lightweight quality. It’s also resistant to corrosion.
But how do you tell the difference between real vs fake carbon fiber? Here’s how.
Knock on It
Carbon fiber is a very rigid but lightweight material. Knock on it and check to see if it feels like a hollow, thin piece of plastic.
Yes, fake carbon fiber products imitate the real thing, but they’re commonly wrapped in a sticker made to look like carbon fiber. As you knock on it, anything that has a metallic, heavy, or solid sound is most likely fake. You can visit a reputable bike shop or a pro shop that sells golf clubs and practice knocking on real carbon fiber, familiarizing yourself with it.
When you purchase genuine carbon fiber materials, you’ll find that carbon fabric is inserted into an epoxy resin. If you’re checking a clear-coated piece of carbon fiber, you should be able to see the fabric fibers. This means that the vast majority of fake carbon fiber looks like the real thing, so finding something with painted carbon fiber is usually rare.
As manufacturers make carbon fiber, they layer the fabric in a mold. Since fabric can’t accommodate a complex part’s curves, it has to be cut and then joined by fabric pieces from other directions. This is how the shape of a certain part is accommodated.
The result is visible pattern misalignment. Yes, this can happen with vinyl made to imitate carbon fiber, but when dealing with real carbon fiber, you’ll notice that the fabric joining is deep inside the resin. Fake carbon fiber pattern joiners are surface-level.
Look Underneath the Carbon Fiber
Painted fiberglass can closely remember carbon fiber. If the material is thin, using the knocking test won’t be enough to tell a real from a fake.
Simply look underneath the part in question. If it’s real carbon fiber, both sides of the product will have a nice finish to it thanks to the vacuum process while creating the part.
If the underneath of the part is rough instead of smooth, it’s most likely a fake.
Is it Light?
It can be difficult to tell the difference between fiberglass and carbon fiber, but fiberglass is heavier than carbon fiber. It’s usually a lot thicker, too.
Yes, carbon fiber parts can occasionally be dense and heavy. But this means that the part is most likely cheap, so look for higher quality products.
Is the “Carbon Fiber” Stiff?
Carbon fiber is stiff, and if you’ve found a fake that’s nothing more than a carbon fiber wrap added to a cheap part, it won’t be as stiff as the real deal.
If it’s a fake, press into it with your thumb. You’ll probably notice the part bend under the weight. You can’t press your finger into a real carbon fiber part unless you push with a lot of force.
Avoid Colored Carbon Fiber
Why? It’s not real.
You can’t color real carbon fiber. Graphite materials can’t be tinted, so avoid colored carbon fiber at all costs.
Real vs Fake Carbon Fiber
Now that you know how to tell the difference between real vs fake carbon fiber, you can test out your skills. Carbon fiber is used in everything from sporting equipment to racing gear, and for good reason.
It’s durable and safe, so it’s important to purchase real, high-quality carbon fiber. Be sure to know how to tell the real from the fake.
If you’re in the market for quality engineered parts, SMI Composites is the solution. We work with a myriad of industries and offer everything from design and engineering to customized tooling for each project we work on. Request a quote today and let’s start working together.