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Get started with your vacuum forming project by filling out the form below. We’ll get back to you in 24 hours or less.

Please see the bottom of the page for in depth process details.

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The Thermoforming Process

Fundamentally, thermoforming works by drawing a hot sheet of thermoplastic down onto a mold. Each draw uses a single sheet. These sheets can be formed into one or multiple parts depending upon the size of the part. Increasing the number of parts created per draw is one of the best ways to decrease the cost per part of thermoformed products.

After the hot thermoplastic has been drawn down over the mold, a vacuum may be used to suck out any air and accurately reproduce the details of the mold. This process is referred to as vacuum forming. Once the part has cooled, any excess plastic from the sheet is trimmed away leaving a finished part. These cuts can occur at the base of the part, along the wall or in any number of custom variations to create features like holes and slots.

Before thermoforming can begin, tooling needs to be made. These molds and trim jigs can be 3D printed, cast, or machined. If the final product is going to be translucent or transparent, the mold may need custom finishing like sanding or polishing in order to achieve optimal surface finish as the finish will pick up on the tool side of theparts. Depending upon the technology and material used, the lifetimes of these molds can range from hundreds of forms to permanent tooling for unlimited forms.

Molds for Thermoforming

Traditionally, molds for thermoforming have been machined from urethane and aluminum or cast from aluminum. Now, 3D printing has become an excellent choice to produce permanent tooling for parts up to 19″x17″. 3D printed molds, especially those produced with Multi Jet Fusion printing, significantly lower the cost per part and speed up production time when compared to machined molds. Moreover, they can easily achieve complex shapes like undercuts that would be expensive or impossible to machine.

Ultimately, each technology offers different strengths for the tooling process. Molded tooling, for example, is good for creating temperature controlled, long-lasting molds. Machined urethane tooling is a cost effective option for making large molds and depending on the material density, can be permanent or semi-permanent. 

Thermoforming Design

Types of Thermoform Mold Tooling

3D Printed Nylon 12 (MJF)

  • The overall best tooling option for parts 19”x17” or smaller
  • Lowest cost and fastest lead time option for small parts
  • Not suitable for ultra high temperature materials
  • Very high detail and clean, matte finish
  • Permanent tooling
  • High accuracy

Machined Urethane Foam

  • The best option for larger tools up to 8+ feet
  • Lowest cost and fastest lead time option for large parts
  • 30# tooling board for prototyping (50 – 100 forms) – matte finish
  • 50# tooling board for production (permanent) – matte finish
  • 70# tooling board for production (permanent) – polish finish
  • Very high accuracy

Cast Aluminum

  • Create long-lasting tooling or multiples of a tool at a lower price than printing
  • Cheaper than milled aluminum for large parts but very long lead time (we ship a pattern to a foundry)
  • Requires a 3D printed or machined master mold
  • Permanent tooling
  • Highest part consistency from temperature controlled tooling

Machined Aluminum

  • Best for clear parts when polished finish is required and forming temperatures are high – polycarbonate and acrylic
  • Capable of the finest detail and thinnest mold features – casting requires thicker walls and composite/plastic is not strong enough
  • Permanent tooling
  • Very high accuracy
  • Not necessary or recommended for most projects 

*Note: Tool surface finish is only important for clear materials or glossy finishes on the mold side. For most opaque materials and positive/male molds tooling surface finish is not important. For clear plastics a matte finish will leave a frosted/diffused texture on the mold side, which may or may not be desirable.

Thermoforming Materials

Thermoforming is compatible with a variety of materials that can achieve a wide range of thermal, mechanical and chemical properties. Below, we’ve put together a little guide to the materials we commonly use for thermoforming and some of their ideal applications. Though we provide some examples here, these materials can be used for many different products. If you’d like more information about any of the materials listed below, reach out to us at info@rapidmade.com or at 503-943-2781.

Standard - No Minimum Order

These materials are stocked at RapidMade or easily obtained at a local distributor. Color and finish are limited. Materials are not always readily available in every thickness but typically they can be purchased by as little as a single 4’x8′ sheet. Lead time is typically 1-2 weeks. Custom orders of these materials are available to offer more finish, color or additive options (like UV or FR rating) and to reduced cost (lower cost per lb and better yielding cut sizes.) These runs can take 5-10 weeks and require 6000 lb material minimums.

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HIPS (High Impact Polystyrene)

Low cost and easy to form. Smooth, flat and clean surface finish which paints well. One of the most aesthetic forming grade plastics. Available in food grade. Popular for packaging, material handling and signage. Less mechanical than ABS and poor chemical resistance. Stock white and black colors.

Labor Cost: ★☆☆

Material Cost: ★☆☆

HIPS Data Sheet

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PETG (Polyethylene Terephthalate) (Polyester)

Moderate cost and easy to form. High gloss surface finish. Food grade and available in medical grade. Popular for packaging, food processing and pharmaceutical applications. Stiff and flexible material. Clear plastic which easily shows the mold finish – polished molds can be expensive if high clarity is needed. Frosted finish on tool side for standard molds.

Labor Cost: ★☆☆

Material Cost: ★★☆

PETG Data Sheet

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ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

Low cost and easy to form. Hair cell surface finish. Impact-resistant general purpose plastic which blends workability, cost and solid mechanical properties. Beloved by engineers for high volume production parts for automotive industrial and consumer applications. Low part variance and high repeatability.

 

Labor Cost: ★☆☆

Material Cost: ★☆☆

ABS Data Sheet

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Kydex T (ABS/PVC) or Kydex 100 (Acrylic/PVC)

Expensive and easy to form engineering plastic with excellent stiffness and mechanical properties. Custom colors and finishes for low 600lb MOQ – white and black standard. Used for moderate-load structures, stiff covers and enclosures. UL-94V0 for flame retardant applcations. Medical grade. FST (flame/toxicity rated.) Go-to plastic for aerospace and transit engineers. Kydex 100 is RFI (radio frequency invisible) for the radomes. 

Labor Cost: ★☆☆

Material Cost: ★★★

Kydex T Data Sheets

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PC (Polycarbonate)

Expensive and difficult to work with engineering plastic with great mechanical properties. Clear plastic. Very prone to cosmetic defects and must be pre-dried. Not recommended unless customer needs certain properties. Used for medical, clear and high-temp applications. Due to high heat requires very expensive aluminum tooling and many geometries are difficult to impossible.

Labor Cost: ★★★

Material Cost: ★★★

PC Data Sheet

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HDPE (High Density Polyethylene)

Soft and flexible plastic with high UV and chemical resistance. Smooth surface finish. Natural and black color. Does not off-gas at high temperatures. Chemical and thermal properties makes it well-suited for food, medical and pharmaceutical applications. Higher shrink rate than other materials, which makes it more difficult to succeed with part that have deep draws and tight tolerances or naturally warp prone designs. Very slow form cycles, high scrap rates and volatile material prices make for relatively high part cost.

Labor Cost: ★★★

Material Cost: ★★

HDPE Data Sheet

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PP (Polypropylene)

Soft and flexible plastic with high UV and chemical resistance. Common alternative to HDPE. Has all the same benefits and drawbacks of HDPE – high shrink, low accuracy and long forming cycles. Very high UV and chemical resistance. Good for applications involving direct food contact. Very common for thin gauge food packaging. Works for living hinges. Can be inconsistent geometrically without temperature controlled tooling.

Labor Cost: ★★★

Material Cost: ★

PP Data Sheet

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PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride)

Rigid engineering plastic with great mechanical properties; high chemical and electrical resistance. Smooth surface finish. Food and medical grade. Very similar to ABS but with a higher material cost. Used for potable water, chemical processing, pharmaceutical and agricultural applications. Easy to work with, if a bit stinky. Engineers pick PVC when ABS does not have the chemical properties and HDPE is too soft.

Labor Cost: ★☆

Material Cost: ★★★

PVC Data Sheet

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Acrylic (PMMA)

A moderately expensive and rigid plastic with high UV resistance. Extremely high stiffness means under extreme stress it is more likely to break than bend. One of the most difficult to form – it simply does not have the elasticity to form complex, high draw shapes. Not intended for tight bends or details. UV resistance makes it well-suited to outdoor applications. Due to the heat required expensive milled and polished aluminum tooling is required. We are extremely selective about the designs we are willing to make in acrylic

Labor Cost: ★★★

Material Cost: ★★★

Acrylic Data Sheet

2500 lb MOQ Specialty Materials

These materials are made to order with a 6 week lead time and require a minimum order of 2500 lbs. These are premium automotive plastics that posess exceptional finish and durability.

TPO

TPO (Thermoplastic Poly Olefin) is a compounded alloy of polypropylene, elastomers and mineral fillers offering a unique balance of stiffness and thermal expansion. TPO has superior weather-ability so it does not require a cap and it ranks extremely high on impact and chemical resistance.

TPO Data Sheet

PC/ABS 

Alloying Polycarbonate blended with ABS results in the best of both worlds. You get the ease of processing ABS and the durability of polycarbonate. This combination also improves heat deflection temperature, stiffness, and and low-temperature impact resistance. Needs paint or coating for automotive applications.

PC/ABS Data Sheet

EXULTRA® TPE/TPO

Cap of partially cross-linked TPE coextruded over TPO Soft-touch TPE cap – 90 Shore A

This material is outdoor weatherable, has excellent chemical resistance, very low gloss and offers options of  HMS, FR, & Glass-filled TPO.

TPE/TPO Data Sheet

ONESTEP® Vinyl/ABS

OneStep® Vinyl/ABS products offer a textured, leather-like appearance and a refined feel. While maintaining dependable performance for forming applications, it retains the durability and rigidity to withstand wear and tear. A vinyl foam composite is laminated over ABS to create a piece that mimics hand-wrapped parts and is near impervious to scratches and marring. 

Vinyl/ABS Product Information

SOFTFLEX® ASA/ABS

SoftFlex® ASA/ABS is a coextruded styrenic system that offers the weatherability & chemical resistance of ASA combined with the versatility of ABS. The high elastomer content of the ASA cap provides an ultra low-gloss look and a soft-touch feel that makes it ideal for multiple interior and exterior applications.

ASA/ABS Data Sheet

Vacuum Forming Services Near Me: How RapidMade Can Help Maximize Efficiency and Quality

If you’re in need of vacuum forming services, you’re probably wondering, “Are there any plastic shops near me that can help?” The good news is that your search ends here! Whether you’re looking to prototype a new product or mass produce a specific part, RapidMade is your go-to resource for maximizing efficiency and quality in vacuum forming.

Vacuum forming is a highly versatile and cost-effective process for creating plastic parts and packaging. By heating a plastic sheet and vacuuming it over a mold, intricate shapes can be achieved with ease. But what makes our shop so special?

Firstly, our proximity in the Pacific Northwest, specifically the provincial state of Oregon, ensures quick turnaround times, reducing your production timeline. You won’t have to wait for parts to be shipped from distant suppliers or pay exorbitant freight costs. And you don’t pay the sky high rent and taxes typical in California. Secondly, our expertise and experience guarantee superior results. With knowledge of various materials and techniques, we can provide valuable advice and tailor their services to meet your specific needs.

So, when it comes to vacuum forming services, why settle for anything less than the best? Choose RapidMade and experience the efficiency and quality that will take your project to new heights.

Applications of vacuum forming in different industries

Vacuum forming has a wide range of applications in various industries. Its versatility makes it suitable for a multitude of products and parts. In the automotive industry, vacuum forming is commonly used for interior trim components, such as dashboards and door panels. The process allows for the creation of complex shapes and textures, providing a high-quality finish.

In the packaging industry, vacuum forming is widely used for creating trays, clamshell packaging, and blister packs. The ability to customize the shape and size of the packaging ensures that products are securely held and protected during transportation. Vacuum formed packaging also provides an excellent display for retail products, enhancing their visual appeal.

The medical industry also benefits from vacuum forming services. It is used for creating medical device enclosures, instrument trays, and custom packaging for pharmaceutical products. Vacuum formed parts can be easily sterilized and are resistant to chemicals, making them ideal for medical applications.

Common challenges in vacuum forming

While vacuum forming offers numerous benefits, it also comes with its own set of challenges. One common challenge is achieving consistent wall thickness throughout the formed part. Variations in material distribution can lead to weak spots or structural issues. To overcome this, RapidMade employs various techniques such as adjusting heating temperatures, optimizing vacuum pressure, pre-stretching material and using mold designs that promote even material flow.

Another challenge is the formation of surface defects, such as air bubbles, webbing or wrinkles. These defects can affect the aesthetic appeal and functionality of the final product. RapidMAde uses different methods to minimize or eliminate these defects, including using textured molds, adjusting heating and cooling cycles, and employing proper sheet handling techniques. Many of these defects are a result of poor part or mold design and require an experienced engineer to catch these potential issues up front in order to avoid costly tooling rework.

Factors to consider when choosing a plastic shop for vacuum forming services

When selecting a local plastic shop for vacuum forming services, there are several factors to consider. Firstly, look for a shop with a solid reputation and a track record of delivering high-quality results. Check their portfolio and client testimonials to gauge their expertise and experience in vacuum forming.

Secondly, consider the shop’s capabilities and equipment. Ensure that they have the necessary tools and machinery to handle your specific project requirements. Ask about the range of materials they work with and their ability to customize colors and textures.

Another crucial factor is the shop’s customer service and communication. A good local plastic shop will be responsive to your inquiries, provide regular project updates, and be open to discussing any concerns or modifications. Effective communication is essential in ensuring that your project is executed according to your expectations.

RapidMade has a team with decades of experience, a robust engineering team and a sales team that is available around the clock, millions of dollars invested in equipment including formers and cutters 10 feet long, and a 25,000 square foot facility. In short we are your one stop shop for parts large and small.

We encourage you to fill out the lead form at the top of the page to get a quote for your project. We know you won’t be disappointed with the end product or the process it takes to get there.