“What is a good material for vacuum forming?”


This is a
popular question received from clients. This question has a rather long answer. Most Thermoplastic materials are thermo-formable, and thus vacuum forming compatible. Some of the most common and easier materials for forming are listed below.

Common Vacuum Forming Materials:Vacuum Formed PETG Part

Each plastic material has a variety of different properties, and they form at different temperatures. The Acrylic, PETG and Polycarbonate sheets are normally clear (can be special ordered in colors), however the Polycarbonate may have to be heat dried prior to the vacuum forming temperature phase (depending on thickness).
ABS and HIS both form very well, and are normally White or Black. The ABS normally has a fine texture called Hair Cell on the primary surface, the Styrene is smooth on two sides. On a special basis Styrene and ABS can be run in almost any thickness up to .375″ thick, and in almost any color (minimums apply) and in a huge range of custom run sheet sizes.
While many other materials may be available for special applications and with various improved properties, these are the most commonly available and used materials.
Some of the important factors in choosing a material for your vacuum forming project would be: clarity, strength of finished part, temperature, depth of draw, UV resistance, Flame Retardant Rating, thickness and size range.
Vacuum Forming Mold 300x183 Looking For Vacuum Forming (Formable) PlasticsChocolate Molds 300x200 Looking For Vacuum Forming (Formable) Plastics

Large parts can be produced using this process, for example – Hot Tubs and Pick Up Truck Bed Liners. Also vacuum forming is used to produce very small parts like chocolate molds and numerous packaging applications.

Most vacuum formers started in their garage (or kitchen). A simple vacuum forming ‘machine’ can be produced at very low cost using 2 X 4 wood, peg board, and your shop vac. Obviously this is not the way the above hot tub was formed, but the process is rather simple and is much more an art than a science. We have seen several YouTube videos showing entry level – DIY style vacuum forming machines.  Most use the kitchen oven as the heat source and are used to make small chocolate molds, wax molds, hobby parts and more. Many materials can be used in this simple process, and we are happy to assist you with your basic questions of the vacuum forming process.
There are also a wide range of commercial thermoforming machines (see video) available, in almost unlimited range of sizes.

There is a wide array of materials that can be used, and they have different properties – no one material meets all your needs. Contact us for details on your vacuum forming requirements or with question.

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About Plasticman

29 Responses to “Looking For Vacuum Forming (Formable) Plastics”

  1. Philip Biggins

    Great info:The HIS Styrene seems to fit my needs and color is not a factor what is least costly is better. Need . 040 thickness for testing and what sheet sizes i can buy.
    Thanks Philip Biggins

    Reply
    • Plasticman

      Hi Philip,
      Yes, styrene is very inexpensive. The thin material comes in white, but it is easily painted or silk screened.
      We do supply a .040 thickness sheet, and here is the link to check pricing: Styrene Sheet Pricing – the .040″ is listed as 3/64″ thick.
      Please let us know if we can assist further.
      Thank you, Your Plasticologist

      Reply
  2. Ray Call

    The plans for my homebuilt airplane call for 1/8 inch thick Plexiglas thermo formed into a wing tip light lens. The lens will have a compound shape. The plans start with a plastic sheet 8 x 12 inches. It seems to me an acrylic or polycarbonate would work and further, should the acrylic be extruded or cell cast? What material would you suggest? The airplane, if it flies per the plan’s specs, should see 200 mph or more in use.
    Thanks
    Ray

    Reply
    • Plasticman

      Hi Ray,

      Acrylic is the best choice for your inquiry. It is the most rigid of the two, and will form much easier.
      Regarding Extruded versus Cast Acrylic, the answer is Extruded. Much easier to form.
      Can’t tell you anything about how well it will handle the speed, that is a design issue.
      Let us know if you need further assistance.

      Reply
  3. Chris

    What I’m looking to form has been traditionally handled by PETG. The item must be as close to water clear as possible. Current piece thickness approaches 1/8″ (.125). My concern is the expense of PETG. I’ve seen less expensive formable plastics (Lexan, Makrolon, etc), but I do not know they’re forming characteristics / durability / etc. as compared to PETG. Is spending the money on PETG worth it, or can I use a less expensive plastic to achieve similar results? Thank You.

    Reply
    • Jesse

      Chris, the clearest plastic in .125″ would be Acrylic. As we have mentioned before in our blogs–each plastic has advantages and weaknesses. Acrylic is great for displays because it is clearer than glass and has a hard surface so it doesn’t scratch as easily as other plastics. The downside to Acrylic is that it is brittle.

      Lexan and Makrolon are name brands of polycarbonate which is more impact resistant and not as brittle as Acrylic. However, polycarbonate scratches a lot easier than Acrylic.

      PETG can be vacuum formed, looks great and doesn’t scratch as easily as polycarbonate and is not as brittle as Acrylic–so you get the best of both worlds. Yes, it may be a little more expensive, but well worth its value. I hope this helps make your decision easier!

      Reply
      • Chris

        Jesse, Thank you very much for the information. After doing additional research, I learned about “absorption rates” and that some materials need to be dried before than can be used. This, along with the other factors you mention, helped solidify my decision to use PETG. Thank You!

        Reply
  4. Roget

    If I’m making a series of small shapes (16 one-inch cubes with fine detail), what material will be rigid without going overboard? I don’t want the pieces to flex, but they don’t need to be bulletproof. Price is definitely a factor.

    Reply
    • Plasticman

      Hi Roget,
      There are dozens of materials that can be provided in 1″ cube size. Most plastics would be rigid in this size. We need to know a bit more about your application to recommend a material. Some options if you are looking for some suggestions would be: Acetal, PVC, HDPE or ABS. These are all relatively inexpensive materials, but have very different physical properties. Please contact us with further input so we can help you narrow down your choice.

      Reply
  5. philippe

    Hi plastic man

    Where can I buy white 1MM PETG (beside China)
    Rgards

    Philippe

    Reply
    • Plasticman

      Great question Philippe.
      The current stocked inventory of American manufacturers is the Clear PETG sheet. The white color (or any color for that matter) would be a custom run. Generally this is a 5,000 pound minimum run. The problem is that everyone wants a different color or shade, and so the factories produce these colors on a custom basis only. Sorry, but the only current stock is clear. Let us know if you want information on price and lead time to get this produced. Thank you.

      Reply
  6. DougE

    I’m looking for a vacuum formable plastic material with UV protection. The application will be outdoors, subjected to wind/rain and sun for up to 6 months of the year. A hobby project with aspirations of business offshoot.

    What do you recommend and where can I purchase it ? (Opaque Colors. Preferably bright colors; white, yellow, red blue etc)

    Thank you

    Reply
    • Jesse

      Hi Doug,

      It is extremely difficult for us to recommend a material when we do not know the application. However the requirements for your application would depend on the thickness of the material that you plan on using. Any idea what thickness that maybe?

      Reply
      • DougE

        Hi Jesse,

        The application of this is creating shape forms for “wind” mobiles. (Type in — wind mobiles for the garden– into Google to see images to help you understand)
        The mobile sizes will vary but each section will be roughly under 16 inches in length and 6 inches wide with a “form” depth of 4 inches.

        I am looking for something durable, but at the same time easily formable. (this is a hobby project at the moment. I am not using industrial type vacuum forming tools but -homemade-.

        Thank you for your patience and my lack of expertise in giving you the right info to help out.

        Thanks again
        .

        Reply
        • Jesse

          Doug,

          The easiest solution would be to get some PETG sheet which is easily formable, comes in a variety of thicknesses and a spray can of whatever color acrylic spray paint you want to use for colorization.

          Reply
          • DougE

            Thanks for the quick reply.

            I will look into PETG sheeting.

            Thank you very much for your helping me out with your information.

          • Jesse

            We definitely try our best to answer as many questions as we can to help our customers. Thank you for taking the time to ask us questions.

  7. Muneera

    Hello can you make for me plastic vacuum mold for chocolate if i give u size and pic
    Hope u reply, thanks!

    Reply
    • Jesse

      Hi Muneera,

      We primarily sell raw plastic materials in the form of Sheet, Rods and tubing. We can cut and sell you the sheets for the vacuum chocolate molds. However, we do not manufacturer anything here. Sorry about that! The silver lining here is that there are a lot of good videos on Youtube.com that can show you how to make your own vacuum molds at home.

      Reply
  8. Jeff Platzer

    Can an automotive hood be made for cars? Have been buying fiberglass hoods and they are typically flimsy and break easily. It would be nice to have a good solid material that would hold it’s shape and be durable. Obviously the three big considerations are UV protection, underhood heat and paintability.

    Reply
    • Jesse

      Hi Jeff,

      The people that make automotive hoods for a living that want something better than fiberglass hoods usually end up replacing it with carbon fiber, there is no cheaper solution for this particular question, sorry!

      Reply
      • Jeff Platzer

        I was not looking for cheaper than fiberglass I was looking for better. My guess is that carbon fiber would be far more expensive than fiberglass. Are you suggesting that there are no thermoformed available materials that could work that would be more durable than fiberglass yet less expensive than carbon fiber?
        Thanks,
        Jeff

        Reply
        • Jesse

          To our knowledge there are no stronger materials that can be thermoformed with all three of your considerations. If you think about phenolics sheets like G-10, Canvas,Linen or paper. All these materials are reinforced with paper, cloth or glass fabrics. Even fiberglass and carbon fiber have to be layered in a very similar way. Unfortunately, so far we haven’t heard of any material (in plastic) that could be more durable than fiberglass and less expensive than carbon fiber.

          Reply
  9. Charles Fernandez

    Hi, I’m in Tampa, FL and getting into vacuuforming as a hobby, and I have a few questions.

    I’m planning out my table’s dimensions. I had originally intended it to work with 1/16 18×24 inch sheets, but then it occurred to me finding sheets with those specific dimensions might not be easy to come by. I wouldn’t want to build the thing and then have to have the plastic custom cut before I could work with it. Would something like 24×24 inch be more widely available?

    I’m also trying to find a supplier that will sell to the public and not require a minimum purchase. I want to start small and am working within a tight budget.

    I know material choice really depends on what you’re trying to make, but what is the cheapest material to work with?

    Sincerely,
    Charles Fernandez

    Reply
    • Plasticman

      Hi Charles,
      We are delighted to have you ask this question. We frequently speak with clients after they have made or purchased equipment, and they are upset to find that the available materials don’t quite fit their needs.
      The quick answer is that most thermoformable plastic sheet materials are produced in 48″ X 96″ sheet sizes. Therefore, your suggestion of a 24″ X 24″ blank is a good one. Or, 16″ X 24″ will work as well. What ever yields well out of a 48″ X 96″ is a good choice.
      Please also note that many of these sheet come in exactly 48″ X 96″, and to cut to size you will lose about .187″ for the saw blades. In other words, a 23.750″ X 23.750″ square is easy to yield from these sheets, but a 24″ X 24″ on the plus side probably won’t work well.
      Please feel free to discuss further if you have any addition questions or concerns, and thank you for your inquiry.

      Reply
  10. Deb Smith

    Hi Charles
    What would you recommend for thermoforming letters and numbers with an industrial machine 4×8 ? I need to keep costs down and provide rigid products for outdoor use in as many colors as possible. I am thinking ABS but in the USA their are very few colors available and I don’t want to get into painting. Acrylic has colors in 1/8″ but is brittle as you have said. Sizes would be 4″ to 24″.

    Also, what about machines for trimming the sheet after forming?

    Reply
    • Plasticman

      Hi Deb,
      When discussing UV resistant materials, the most common and popular material is Acrylic. This is because the Acrylic is almost invisible to the UV rays. Acrylic will hold up against the outdoors better than any other standard plastic. The other plus is that Acrylic is available in a wide range of colors. While it is brittle, it can be up to 10 times more impact resistant than glass.
      HDPE sheet is made in special UV grades for outdoor use, but not in the thin vacuum forming grades.
      ABS sheet and PETG Sheet (Vivak Sheet) are great for vacuum forming, but do not come in the rainbow of colors that Acrylic does, and would need to be painted for color and to add the UV resistance required. There are other formable plastics, but non have the wide range of colors nor the outstanding UV resistance that you get from Acrylic.
      I know this isn’t what you wanted to hear, but this is the nature of plastic sheet.

      Reply

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