TPE vs TPU: A Comprehensive Guide | Kent Elastomer Products


Both thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) are excellent alternatives to natural rubber latex, silicone, and other compounds for extrusion and injection molding applications. Many key industry sectors rely on TPE and TPU for critical applications, from surgical tubing to automotive components. 

Learn more about the similarities and differences between TPE and TPU, their properties, and their most common uses:

What is TPE (Thermoplastic Elastomer)?

Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) offers many of the properties of natural rubber latex combined with the processing efficiency of plastics. With desirable properties such as flexibility, dimensional stability, and chemical inertness, among others, TPE is a top choice for the medical and food and beverage industries.

Learn more about the physical properties and performance of TPE.​

What is TPU (Thermoplastic Polyurethane)?

Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) is a subset of TPE. TPU is a soft polyether type polyurethane that is available in a range of hardness grades. TPU is an ideal compound choice for applications requiring high abrasion resistance, excellent chemical resistance, and clarity, such as outdoor and medical products.

Learn more about the physical properties and performance of TPU.​

TPE & TPU Similarities

TPE and TPU compounds have a number of noteworthy similarities. TPE is a block copolymer, and, as a subset of TPE, TPU is as well, though there are differences between their hard and soft segments. Both TPE and TPU offer excellent colorability, clarity, flexibility, and elasticity. TPE and TPU are popular in many of the same industries. The medical device and automotive sectors, especially, utilize high quantities of both TPE and TPU. As TPEs and TPUs are fully synthetic, they contain no proteins which can provoke an allergic response that can occur with natural rubber. This makes them a popular choice in healthcare settings.

Both TPE and TPU are compatible with extrusion, injection molding, and other plastics molding processes. Neither TPE nor TPU lose any structural integrity when reprocessed, which means that both of these material classes are recyclable, and production waste can be reused, saving costs.

TPE & TPU Difference

Because TPU is a subset of TPE, these two material classes have a lot in common. However, there are a few key differences between TPE and TPU, including physical properties, environmental resistance, and common applications. Understanding these differences is key to selecting the right material for your product.


Thermoplastic elastomer (TPE) first became commercially available in the early 1950s, giving it a slightly longer history than TPU. TPE is generally lighter, softer, more flexible, and a bit easier to recycle than TPU. However, these desirable qualities come with some sacrifices: Compared to TPU, TPE is less resistant to abrasion, grease, oils, chemicals, and extreme temperatures, especially cold.


Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) was introduced in 1959, a bit later than TPE, but it has gained immense popularity since then, serving as a bridge between flexible rubber thermoplastics and rigid plastics. TPU offers superior resistance to high and low temperatures, ozone, grease, oils, chemicals, and abrasion, making it a great replacement for hard rubber. TPU also has greater load-bearing capacity than most comparable materials. However, TPU is less flexible than TPE, and while its rigidity is highly desirable in many applications, it’s less soft to the touch.

TPE Applications 

TPEs are highly versatile and used in a wide range of industries. Some notable applications for TPE include surgical tubing, medical devices, and food and beverage tubing. TPU is also popular in automotive components, sporting goods, and household items. And because TPE is soft and comfortable to the touch, it’s often used for hands-on applications, such as mouthpieces, grips and handles, and toys for children and babies.

TPU Applications

TPU is often used for applications that require high strength and durability. This includes automotive components, medical devices, high-pressure tubing, impact-resistant items and protective casings, and working parts. And because TPU’s hardness is highly customizable, it can be used to make both soft and rigid components.

KEP Solutions

KEP is proud to make high-performance TPE and TPU material compounds to suit your needs and goals. We offer a range of TPE material compounds, including FDA, NSF, and USP Class VI choices, and a popular TPU compound called K-300. With our years of experience working with elastomers, we can help you determine whether TPE, TPU, or another material is the ideal choice for your application. And with our extensive manufacturing capabilities in northeast Ohio, we can manufacture your product on American soil, meeting even the most exacting specifications. Our on-site labeling and packaging services ensure a streamlined manufacturing partnership, from start to finish.

Whether you’re looking to re-engineer an existing product or bring a new idea to life, KEP can help. To talk about material selection or get started on a project, contact us today >

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