PET, TPU, or Tempered Glass – all you need to know to choose a screen protector

A bit of a disappointment in the past, today's screen protectors are easier to install, cheaper, and better than ever in every aspect. There are three varieties - PET film, TPU (polyreuthane), and our undisputed favorite - tempered glass. And then there are two methods to get them on your display – dry and wet. So here's more about how screen protectors work and what they offer.

PET Film

Obviously, PET doesn't stand for a dog or a cat. It means "polyethylene terephthalate" - a type of plastic that's available in many variations depending on specific applications. In the manufacturing industry, it's used for mundane stuff like liquid and food containers. But this doesn't mean that PET film protectors are glorified water bottle plastic. They consist of polyester film with a scratch resistant matte coating on one side and a silicone adhesive on the other. Quality ones are quite clear and add a functional anti-scratch layer to your screen, but have no impact protection. And their scratch-resistance isn't better than what Gorilla Glass already has - it's limited to fingernails, coins and keys. They are cheap, and usually come in packs of three or more. Their downside is that plastic is the easiest to discolor from sun rays and oil buildup from your fingers, and it doesn't feel as nice as glass does to the touch.

If you have a cheaper or older phone, or you're fine with the most basic and affordable screen protection, get a PET protector. The manufacturer doesn't really matter, but if you have a soft spot for a particular brand, there's no reason not to go with theirs. Chances are that protectors from established brands will be better cut-out for your device and won't leave loose edges that can catch on to your clothes and peel the protector away (it has happened before).


TPU (thermoplastic polyreuthane) is next in the screen protector food chain. This is chemically-enhanced plastic whose properties include scratch resistance, elasticity, oil and grease resistance, and increased toughness. Since the material is elastic, it has limited "self-healing" abilities. This means that its slight softness gives it the power to absorb non-extreme impact, such as most drops and lighter scratches, while retaining all or most of its original composition. For example, lighter scratches usually leave just a small dent in the soft plastic, which slowly returns to normal.

The "military-grade" tag most TPU protectors proudly carry is worthy of an explanation. One manufacturer says that this material is used "to protect jetfighters". And what do you know, it's true! Skim through this Aerospace Surface Protection brochure - it's full of polyreuthane protective tapes used for "aircraft and windmill leading edge protection". However, getting a TPU case or screen protector doesn't guarantee it's made of the same quality of material. But your smartphone also isn't a fighter jet, right?

If you are willing to pay a slightly higher price, a TPU protector is, logically, better choice than PET film. At the very least, it's going to provide better impact protection (although you shouldn't be pushing your chances). It's also nicer to the touch, although it isn't glass-smooth. Arguably, the best part is that you'll get to explain to your friends and acquaintances how your phone has "fighter jet protection". Pretty cool, huh?

Tempered glass

Protection with a temper! Tempered glass (TG) screen protectors are the absolute best you can buy. Material-wise, a high-quality TG protector is multi-layered, usually starting with shock absorbent silicon on the bottom layer, followed by PET film, and an optically clear adhesive to 'sandwich' the previous two layers with the next two, which are tempered glass and oleophobic coating. All of this scratch, oil, and shock protecting goodness is compressed into a <0.4mm-thick sheet that's no harder to apply than a PET or TPU protector, and none heavier or otherwise obnoxious.

A glass protector is superior to its alternatives in every way. It has better light transmittance, making for a clearer display. It's anti-reflective and glare reducing. It has oleophobic coating, which heavily reduces fingerprints. It has the smooth feel of actual glass under your fingertips. Unlike Gorilla Glass 3, it resists sand scratches, making it the only viable option for beachgoers. And let's talk about shock protection. T-glass protectors boast a material hardness rating of 8H to 9H, meaning they are hard enough to resist scratches from anything that's not topaz or corundum (extremely hard aluminum oxide). Yet, they aren't completely shatter-proof. Since this is toughened glass we're talking about, in the event of a fatal drop, the protector will absorb all the damage and break into tiny shards. Chances are pretty good that your display will end up unscathed underneath. Thus, instead of having to replace the entire screen, you'll only have to get a new protector. Which is easier on both your soul and your wallet.

As you probably expected, tempered glass protectors are the most expensive kind. Most renowned brands can charge up to $40 for their products. And although that's money well spent if you are rocking an expensive flagship smartphone, excellent tempered glass protectors can be found for less than $15 online.

Dry vs Wet Mount

There are two methods for installing a screen protector - dry and wet. The method is usually specified on the box.

The dry method keeps the protector glued to the screen with static electricity. There's no adhesive involved, and the application is very straightforward. In short, you're supposed to enter a dust-free environment (either outside, or in your humid bathroom, preferably naked to prevent dust specs from your clothes), clean your phone thoroughly, align the protector and apply it. After a few tries, you will end up with near-perfect results. You don't have only one shot at this. Most dry-application protectors will let you carefully lift them off the phone and take care of misalignment and dust particles before trying again. Some even come with an electrostatic paper band to help you get rid of annoying dust.

The wet application method works by spraying liquid on the underside of the screen protector. It's a convoluted and awkward ordeal. You're tasked with the very precise placement of a thin, wet sheet of plastic - quite frustrating, because the liquid adds weight and gets the protector folding and dancing in every direction but the right one. Allegedly, wet protectors are easier to place without forming air bubbles or trapping dust, and are more resistant to peeling. If you mess up the installation at first, they too give second chances at applying them correctly. But all the phone drying, protector re-moistening and getting rid of excess liquid between it and screen is quite the patience test.


With so many options available, and at very fair prices, getting a screen protector for your device has become a no-brainer. PET film products are the best choice for basic screen protection. TPU protectors can be a bit rare, but they have the best ratio of affordability and toughness. Finally, Tempered Glass protectors offer the ultimate in protection and feel, but they are the priciest of the bunch. Still, even the most expensive ones make sense for flagship smartphones and tablets.

references: Toughened glass , Thermoplastic polyurethane , Liquid optically-clear adhesive , Types of screen protectors , Material hardness table



1. RuiBacelar

Posts: 153; Member since: Feb 25, 2014

Nillkin 9H Anti-Smash Tempered Glass for less then 10£ FTW. Have it on my Xperia z2 and it's as good as it gets.

9. luis.d

Posts: 354; Member since: Dec 04, 2013

Exactly. More power to Niilkin!

15. vincelongman

Posts: 5746; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

Agreed, I got one for my Nexus 5 for only $10 with free shipping I've seen many posts where people dropped their phone and their Nillkin saved their screen from shattering

20. Furbal unregistered

Got it on my m8 and g2. They're the go to for glass!

21. mixedfish

Posts: 1565; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

I don't like Nillkin glass, I use Overlay instead, I find Nillkin is slightly thicker and glass doesn't feel as good.

2. StraightEdgeNexus

Posts: 3689; Member since: Feb 14, 2014

Well thanks to paps.. err BILLGATES, Tempered glass will be my choice from now on. Already ordered one from Orzly at amazon :)

3. smsmrules

Posts: 1; Member since: Jan 30, 2012

Very good , was asking my self which one to get for my new LG G3 ,, i think iCarez Glass 2mm would be good with 12$ :)

4. npaladin2000

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

Well, clearly the author prefer's dry-mount over wet-mount, there's noticeable bias in that section. You will pry my spray bottle and squeege from my cold dead hands, have you ever TRIED to get dust off of the staticy side of a dry-apply protector? Not happening. And the longer you try, the more dust you end up with. Wet application suspends the dust in the solution allowing you to force it out. Yes, drying needs patience, it'll look like flap for several hours. It's worth the wait though. Let the flame war commence. :D

8. na7noo7

Posts: 278; Member since: Mar 29, 2014

Dry Installation is too hard. Wet Installation can cause water damage to your device. PET Film is too weak. Tempered Glass is still a bit weak. Get an xGear Krystal.

10. TheMoltenD

Posts: 109; Member since: Jul 13, 2014

All suck.

19. kevin91202

Posts: 642; Member since: Jun 08, 2014

roll some scotch tape around your finger to remove dust from screen and/or protector. Very easy.

31. xieth101

Posts: 1; Member since: Mar 19, 2015

I agree with you. It was mentioned to use tape and such to get rid of dust. Guess what, that doesn't aways work. SOMEHOW, dust finds a way. Not always, but still common. The author says that it is really awkward and folding flabby everywhere. I have never had any such issue with the countless ones I have installed. You also don't have to have "precise placement," as the author notes. You can be slightly off, then just slide it right where it needs to be for perfect placement. Only problem I have had here and there, is stretching the thinner edges around the earpiece and/or possible Home button too much, causing that part to never fully adhere. With dry placement, you DO need to have precise placement, despite being able to reapply once or twice to ge tit right.

5. RandomUsername

Posts: 808; Member since: Oct 29, 2013

I want a sapphire glass screen protector!

6. na7noo7

Posts: 278; Member since: Mar 29, 2014

There are Sapphire Screen Protectors, it's from xGear:

11. npaladin2000

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

And what if you have a real phone instead of an iPhone? ;)

18. Arte-8800

Posts: 4562; Member since: Mar 13, 2014

Will be searching for my Z2 and Note3, if it's available.

7. na7noo7

Posts: 278; Member since: Mar 29, 2014

xGear Krystal Genuine Sapphire Screen Protector is a beast, just wish they make one for the One M8 and LG G3.

12. npaladin2000

Posts: 165; Member since: Nov 06, 2011

I'm not sure if I like the whole solid glass screen protector idea. Nice thing about the TPU protectors is that they will actually pad and absorb impacts.

16. vincelongman

Posts: 5746; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

With glass screen protectors, the glass screen protector will shatter but your phone wont IMO its better than plastic screen protectors since plastic gets scratch easier, so you have to replace them a lot

22. mixedfish

Posts: 1565; Member since: Nov 17, 2013

Glass screen protectors are not 100%, they are dual layered glass on PET. so there is always shock absorption on your actual phone's glass.

13. syncronyze

Posts: 103; Member since: Apr 26, 2014

The biggest problem with glass screen protectors is you get what you pay for. Most regular plastic screen protectors are the same, but if you aren't paying above $15 for a glass one, you get some cheap knockoff that isn't aligned correctly and are fingerprint magnets... Not to mention they're usually thicker than more expensive ones.

14. fanboy1974

Posts: 1345; Member since: Nov 12, 2011

$8 ebay glass screen protector for the Note 3. Been rocking for over 8 months and it's as good as the day I put it on. Money well spent.

17. fzacek

Posts: 2486; Member since: Jan 26, 2014

The hinge method is the best way to apply a dry-application screen protector IMO. It's very easy and works flawlessly almost every time...

23. Crossblade

Posts: 224; Member since: Apr 21, 2005

good info

24. portsmouthisland

Posts: 2; Member since: Jan 21, 2015

dailymail (dot) co (dot) uk/sciencetech/article-2190668/The-science-shatter​ed-phone-screen-What-causes-crack-others.html My main reason for a screen guard is sand. You don't have to be at the beach to encounter it. Just drop your car keys into a residential street gutter where water runs. Pick the keys up, sand and dirt. The problem with sand is it can be, and most likely is, made up of stuff harder then your screen. Just that one little particle on that swiping finger. Worst, transferring some on the inside cover flap of your case where it can get rubbed into the screen being carried in a messenger bag. That said I do live in a high sandy area, beach just 2 blocks away and vacations to OBX.

25. Yulia unregistered

Just my few cents, TPU varies greatly depending on what it is based on: Polyether, Polyester or Aliphatic (which is the most expensive kind). If you search hard enough, you will understand that most Chinese-made TPU are the cheaper kind, which means it is not great for protecting your phone screens. Also, it is not thermoplastic polyreuthane, as the author wrote, but thermoplastic polyurethane: check your grammar please, before trying to sound like an expert. Also, 9H is a marketing gimmick (but that's a separate topic) and making a screen protector from Sapphire doesn't make any sense (ka-ching!). The industry is going away from temper glass, as you can witness by looking what companies like Zagg and Clear-Coat are up to.

26. williamshaw

Posts: 11; Member since: Dec 23, 2014

right now, there are too much different quality of tempered glass screen protector in the market. Do you know how to distinguish the different tempered glass screen protector? 1. thickness. there are 0.2mm, 0.26mm, 0.3mm, 0.33mm, 0.4mm tempered glass in the market. the thin, the more expensive, the better. 2. transparency. high transparency( up to 99%) is the best tempered glass screen protector. usually, the normal one is 95%-98%. 3. hardness. there are 8H-9H tempered glass screen protector. 9H hardness tempered glass is the best, it can protect your screen preventing scratch by sharp item, such as knives and nail, etc. 4. anti fingerprint and anti oil. usually, normal tempered glass screen protector have little function anti fingerprint or anti oil. the best quality one can keep your screen clean and comfortable. more info, pls link to: Shenzhen Western Electronic Co., Ltd

27. david316

Posts: 8; Member since: Sep 17, 2015

LOL,you really gave us practical about how to classify the screen protector,I‘m one of those accustomed to looking for really pretty quality tempered glass for protecting and making the phone unique and i found a shop with huge collections of great variety of tempered glass from onu-mall,I thought the tempered glass are so much more and cheaper than other shops online,would you give me a favor to give me some suggestions,I wonder what's your opinion,appreciated to your prompt recommendation.

28. eugenekat

Posts: 1; Member since: Oct 02, 2015

Really useful information on the classification. I have also been looking for a good quality tempered glass for my phone and tablet. I usually buy from online, but Prices do varies. Branded ones like Zagg and Bodyguardz are expensive! I bought mine from which is much cheaper and they are doing free shipping! You can give it try!

29. matt760

Posts: 1; Member since: Dec 09, 2015

well i have used tempered glass but i was not satisfied with the result. No matter what i did there was always dust present inside the screen which became very annoying after a while, Im using nano liquid protector these days by shark proof and im satisfied with the result so far

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