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A comparison of PE and PVC - the most common marquee materials

PE (polyethylene) and PVC (polyvinyl chloride), it must be said, are not the most catchy names for materials. For many people, these acronyms won't mean anything at all. In fact, they're both fantastic materials for forming the roof and walls of marquees and other heavy duty structures, but you wouldn't guess that from the name alone.

These are the most commonly used fabrics for making marquees, and the only material we use for our marquees and storage tents. Both PVC and PE can be produced in different colours, and can also be made completely transparent to produce effective windows. In this guide, we give you an overview of the advantages of each tarpaulin type. Below you will also find a video explaining the difference between PE and PVC tarpaulins.

What can you expect from a PE tent?

A white marquee with a PE tarpaulin

PE is the abbreviation and short form for polyethylene. Tarpaulins made of this fabric are lightweight, yet robust. Marquees with PE tarpaulins – often called poly tarps – are particularly suitable for occasional users who prefer easy handling to high robustness.

PE party tents are lighter than tents with PVC tarpaulins. This facilitates both handling during assembly and transport of the pavilion - because the total weight and the packing volume are lower with PE tarps. In addition, garden marquees with poly tarps are cheaper on average than similar PVC marquees, but still offer good protection against rain and wind with a high quality of workmanship.

Our tents with standard PE tarpaulin come in a large variety of sizes and are available in three models: Optiline Economy, Optline Premium and Optiline Professional. All products are 100% waterproof, UV-resistant and stable. Polyethylene tarps weigh either approximately 180g/m² or approximately 240g/m², depending on the variant. All seams are welded as standard using a high-temperature process and thus offer maximum protection against moisture penetration via the seams. The tarpaulins differ in their thickness, but all offer a high degree of cover from rain.

A tent with a poly tarp is suitable for all those who...

  • would like to buy an inexpensive marquee.
  • are looking for a waterproof tent with high UV resistance.
  • only want to use the structure occasionally, for a day or two at a time.
  • need a light tarpaulin that is easier to handle and erect.
  • would like to keep the packed size of the tarp as low as possible, for instance, while camping.

What can you expect from a PVC tarpaulin?

A blue-white marquee with a fireproof PVC tarpaulin

Heavy duty PVC tarpaulins are similar in feel to lorry trailer covers. They are characterised by their high durability and robustness. Marquees with PVC tarpaulins therefore offer a high level of weather protection, are winter-proof and particularly resistant to environmental influences. That means they're also suitable for longer-term set-ups up to year-round use. In addition, PVC is fire-retardant - this is an advantage if heat sources such as a barbecue or heaters are to be set up in the tent.

You will find our PVC marquees in the qualities Profiline Economy, Profiline Premium and Profiline Professional. Depending on the model, the tarpaulin weighs between approx. 500 and approx. 550 g/m² and also has an inner mesh fabric that significantly strengthens the tarp. These heavy duty tarpaulins are 100% weatherproof, UV-resistant, tear-proof and highly stable. As with PE products, all seams are welded using a high-temperature process and are therefore 100% waterproof - even in the event of waterlogging. In addition to our conventional PVC marquees, fire-safe certified marquees with super heavy weight tarpaulin roofs and sidewalls are also available. These provide two key benefits. Fire-safe certified tarpaulins obviously contribute to safety. In addition, fire certification is sometimes required for shelters according to regulations for public events.

A marquee with PVC tarp is suitable for all those who...

  • would like to set up a heavy duty marquee for a longer period of time or all year round.
  • are looking for a durable party tent with a waterproof tarpaulin and protection against UV rays.
  • are looking for a high quality marquee with a tarpaulin that has the feel of a truck tarp.
  • want to set up heat sources in or near the marquee.
  • want to allow smoking under cover.
  • are planning an event at which fire protection measures have to be taken into account.

Video: Choosing between a PE or PVC tarpaulin for the party tent

Poly tarps vs Vinyl tarps: A little more detail

What kind of material is PE?

PE and PVC tarpaulins in focus

Polyethylene (PE for short, also known as polyethene) is the most commonly produced plastic in the world. It is very versatile and is used for buckets, plastic bags, freezer bags, bottle crates, baskets and dustbins - as well as for tents. Pipes and cable insulation are also made of PE. Polyethylene belongs to the plastic family of thermoplastics (plastic = malleable), which become softer and softer the more they are heated. In contact with chemicals, however, PE is very resistant: The material is resistant to salt solutions, alkalis and inorganic acids. Polyethylene is obtained through the polymerisation of ethene, a gaseous substance produced by the petrochemical processing of crude oil. Essentially, a distinction is made between two types of PE: The stretchable PE-LD (LD = Low Density), which is used to make plastic bags and films, for example, and the more stable PE-HD (HD = High Density), which is used to make pipes, among other things.

What kind of material is PVC?

Extra strong PVC tarpaulin with inner mesh

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC for short) is used in large quantities in a wide variety of areas. The elasticity of PVC can be varied very well by adding different substances during the manufacturing process. This is why it is used on the one hand in a hard form (rigid PVC, an amorphous thermoplastic) for products such as gutters, pipes, records and shell cases, and on the other hand for flooring or garden hoses (soft PVC - an elastic, rubber-like thermoplastic produced by adding plasticisers). In its soft form, PVC is so flexible that it can even be used to laminate goods. It is applied as a PVC "coating" to wellington boots and the covers of upholstered furniture. It is also used as a coating on our polyester pop up gazebos. In addition, the heavy duty material resists alcohols, bases, fats, acids and oils. PVC is also naturally flame retardant. In our online shop, you will also find special fire-safe certified party tents on offer.

Recapping the main differences

Both PE and PVC fabric tarps offer a high degree of protection against rain and sun. While both tarps can stand up to the cold, including sub-zero temperatures, we recommend heavy duty PVC for use over the winter due to its strength in case of the accumulation of snow on the roof of your structure.

Poly tarps come with a lower price tag and are lightweight. They are convenient to handle and are more suitable for occasional use for a few days due to the thickness and texture of the tarp.

PVC, on the other hand, is a heavy, robust tarpaulin material that can withstand the effects of weather for longer periods of time. Heavy duty PVC tarpaulins are therefore suitable for long-term to year-round use and even resemble a truck tarp in terms of feel. In addition, PVC tarpaulins are fire-retardant.

Both fabrics are easy to clean. For particularly stubborn dirt and mildew, our cleaning detergent specifically designed for PE and PVC fabrics is the most effective product to use. If eyelets or sections of the canopy roof need to be repaired, you can read all about that in our article concerning the repair of PE and PVC fabrics. By the way: Eyelet repair kits are also available in our online shop in the accessories category - as well as side walls, gable walls with windows, bungee straps, bag sets and heavy duty anchors for the galvanised metal poles and the ground bar. You can find our full range of accessories, or order replacement parts on our accessories and spare parts page.

Do you still have questions on the subject? No problem - feel free to call our expert customer service on +440118 31 50 873.