Thermoplastics for Vacuum Forming Applications

Thermoplastics for Vacuum Forming Applications

by Jennifer Oden April 12, 2018

This is a basic overview of the most commonly used types of thermoplastic materials. We will expand this post with more resources and information as we learn about it. 

Kydex Thermoform Plastic Sheets
Kydex is a line of thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride materials. For some applications it is used as replacement for leather, where it has the following advantages: waterproof, scratch resistant, holds its shape better, and will not stretch or shrink under normal conditions lower friction.

Applications for Kydex Sheets:
It has a wide variety of applications, including for Aircraft Bulkhead Partitions, Firearm Holsters, Sheaths, and for Knives.

Where to buy: We highly recommend

Boltaron is a proprietary, fire retardant, extruded thermoplastic alloy offering extreme durability, chemical resistance, and a UL 94 V-0 rating while exhibiting exceptional physical properties. 

Applications for Boltaron Sheets:
Firearm Holsters, Medical Device Enclosures, Electronic Equipment Housings, Kiosk Housings, Store Fixtures and Displays Kennel Housings

Where to buy: We highly recommend

ABS Thermoform Plastic Sheets
Due to its low cost and superior physical properties, ABS (Acrylonitrile-Butadine-Styrene) is one of the most popular thermoform plastics used for vacuum forming. ABS produces detailed parts that are tougher and more rigid than other plastics. It is manufactured in both black and white with a “haircell” texture on one side that helps resist and hide scratches, making ABS a popular choice for parts that need to stand up to heavy use. 

Applications for ABS Sheets:
Prototypes and Production Parts, Plaster and Concrete Molds, Drone Parts, Theater Props, Cosplay

Styrene Thermoform Plastic Sheets
High Impact Styrene is an inexpensive thermoform plastic that is easy to work with and produces excellent vacuum forming results, making styrene the perfect "beginner plastic" for folks who are new to vacuum forming. High Impact Styrene is capable of reproducing intricate mold details along with complex part geometries. It is smooth on both sides, comes in opaque white, and readily accepts paint. 

Applications for Styrene Sheets:
Prototypes, Packaging, Soap and Candle Molds, Scale Models, Theater Props, Cosplay

Wonderflex Sheets
Wonderflex looks like a piece of plastic, but it becomes soft and malleable when heated. It can be shaped by hand or over a mold while hot. Once it cools down it hardens retaining the shape. It can be re-heated and reshaped as many times as necessary, or worked in sections. It glues to itself if enough pressure is applied. It can be cut with scissors and finished with paint, gluing fabric on top, or any other method. It can be heated with a heat gun, a microwave oven, or dipped in hot water.

Applications for Wonderflex Sheets:
Theater Props, Cosplay

Worbla Sheets
Use hot air, water or steam (min.90 degrees C) to shape the plastic however you want. The material is heat-formable and solvent-free. Scraps can be conditioned and 100% re-blended, so there is almost no waste. These leftovers can be molded just like putty.

Applications for Worbla Sheets:
Theater Props, Cosplay

PETG Thermoform Plastic Sheets
PETG (Polyethylene terephthalate) is a transparent thermoform plastic that offers cost-effective vacuum formed parts with deep draws and precise details. PETG is significantly less prone to cracking than acrylic (Plexiglas). It is used for vacuum forming all kinds of clear plastic parts - especially blister and clamshell packaging and point-of-purchase retail displays. PETG is also FDA food safe and is commonly used to make molds and other kitchen products. 

Applications for PETG Sheets:
Blister and Clamshell Packaging, Candy and Chocolate Molds, Theater Props, Cosplay 

Polycarbonate / Lexan Thermoform Plastic Sheets
Polycarbonate (often sold under the trade name "Lexan") is the virtually unbreakable thermoform plastic used to make bulletproof glass. Thin-gauge, transparent Polycarbonate is the material of choice for folks who build ultra light, thin plastic parts that are exposed to a lot of abuse. 

Applications for Polycarbonate Sheets:
Prototypes, RC Car Bodies, Slot Car Bodies, Model Airplane Parts, Drone Bodies, Drone Parts

Jennifer Oden
Jennifer Oden


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