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.
Check with us for other materials that may be available for your requirements
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.
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.