Archive for Thermoforming

Metal vs. Plastic: 5 Key Comparisons

Metal vs. Plastic - 5 Key Comparisons

Metal versus plastic is an old argument and it’s likely that you or your company have previously compared them for past projects. However, innovations in both plastic materials and process capabilities, coupled with changes in industry demands have closed many of the physical and cost performance gaps that once existed between metal and plastic.

Many industries, such as aerospace, medical devices, and mass transit, are realizing the potential of the updated advantages of replacing large scale, interior, or enclosure metal parts with plastic materials and manufacturing processes, such as thermoplastic materials and the plastic thermoforming process.

Download Productive Plastics Metal vs Plastic Thermoforming Comparison and Conversion Guide

Below are 5 key comparisons to consider for METAL vs. PLASTIC:

1. Weight

Heavy weight equals heavier costs. Fuel efficiency, maintenance costs, logistics, installation – all see significant cost reductions in tandem with a decreased part weight. Referencing the chart below, you can see that this is a major advantage that plastic has over metal.

If you were to take a part made from steel and compare it to the same part made from thermoplastic, the plastic part could be more than 6 times lighter.

Take that same part, now manufactured with aluminum, and the plastic version would be approximately half the weight.

Plastics / CompositesSpecific Gravity
Acetal copolymer1.41
Acetal, 20% glass composite1.55
High-impact ABS1.03
MetalsSpecific Gravity
Aluminum2.55 – 2.80
Carbon Steel7.8
Cast Iron7.03 – 7.13
Cast Rolled Brass8.4 – 8.7
Stainless Steel7.7
Tool Steel7.70 – 7.73
Tungsten Carbide14.29

The Specific Gravity – SG – is a dimensionless unit defined as the ratio of density of the material to the density of water at a specified temperature.

(There are a multitude of grade and alloy variations of steel and aluminum, and there are just as many diverse formulations of plastic material. For more accurate weight comparisons, reference the specific material manufacturer’s data sheets for the applicable materials for your project – view plastic material datasheets.)

2. Strength-to-Weight Ratio

In the past, one of the biggest roadblocks to replacing metal parts with plastic was that plastic, while much lighter, could not compete with the strength characteristics of metal. Now, with advances in plastic composites and the addition of carbon fiber or other glass fibers to plastic material formulations, thermoplastic products can perform as well as and in some cases even outperform metal in ratios such as strength-to-weight and strength-to-stiffness.

Strength-to-Weight Ratio, also known as Specific Strength, is a material’s strength (force per unit area at failure) divided by its density.

When referencing the chart below note that examples of thermoplastic reside in the composite and polymer categories and that this data may not include all thermoplastic material products, many of which are specially formulated to compete with metal and alloys in strength and stiffness. Data for these materials can be found on thermoplastic material manufacture websites.

Source – By Nicoguaro – Own work, CC BY 4.0

3. Strength-to-Stiffness Ratio


Strength-to-Stiffness Ratio, also called Specific Modulus, is a material’s property consisting of the elastic modulus per mass density of a material.

4. Production/Lead Time

Whether you’re trying to meet a deadline or fill orders for an increase in demand, time to market can be an essential factor to the success of any project. With a dramatically less labor intensive process, plastic thermoforming can save production time, energy, labor, and cost compared to manufacturing components from metal processes.


Plastic Thermoforming ProcessMetal Fabrication Process
Plastic Thermoforming Processmetal vs plastic thermoforming process
• Programing

• Tooling construction

• Automated part forming

• Robotic part trimming

• Part finishing (bonding attachment points)

• Fixture/die construction

• Programing

• Cutting, bending, welding

•Cleaning welds, finishing

• Paint preparation

• Painting

5. Design Capability and Cost


You don’t have to watch the sheet metal fabrication process for very long to take away the fact that metal can difficult to work with and shape. Even with today’s technology, metal’s inherent characteristics prohibit complex part designs or shapes, such as compound curves or fluid designs from either a material capability or cost limitation.part complexity cost comparison chart metal vs plastic

Shaping a metal part can require die work, welding, grinding, rework, or bending on each individual part produced to achieve design specifications and desired look. In addition to greatly increasing production and lead times as mentioned above, as part design complexity increases, part cost increases at an exponential rate.

The same increase in part design complexity has a relatively minimal impact on the cost of a part manufactured with the plastic thermoforming process.  This is because complex designs, shapes, branding, and surface textures can be incorporated directly into a part’s tooling. While this may add a slight increase in the upfront tooling cost of the part’s production, it will not add any additional secondary or shaping labor operations that would affect part cost or production time. This method and the nature of thermoplastic also offer a much larger scope of design complexity capabilities and options that are unavailable to metal manufactured parts (see Thermoforming Material Selection: 5 Ways Thermoplastic Materials Can Influence Product Appearance).

Productive Plastics is a heavy gauge thermoforming custom component manufacturer, including vacuum forming and pressure forming processes. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.


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Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process


5 Key Points in the Process of Upgrading Parts from Fiberglass to Plastic Thermoforming

Transitioning your product manufacturing process from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming can allow you to capitalize on some major upgrades, benefits, and cost savings for your project. (See some of the advantages of plastic thermoforming vs. fiberglass in a previous post).

However, the process of transitioning from one manufacturing material and process to another, and doing it correctly, may be more complex than simply handing over the existing design and tooling. Below are the basic steps and considerations for the transition process that Productive Plastics has found to help ensure you get the best results from the conversion.


  1. Choosing the right plastic thermoforming manufacturer and process
    1. Plastic thermoforming encompasses a number of sub processes such as vacuum and pressure forming. Consult with your thermoformer to aid in selecting the ideal process for your application. Visit our thermoforming process pages for more information on each process.
    2. Select a thermoforming contract manufacturer experienced in processing a wide variety of material options with a strong understanding of those material properties.
    3. Choose a manufacturer with experience in converting applications from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming to avoid common pitfalls that can delay or increase the cost of the transition.
    4. Strong consideration should be given to a manufacturer with in house design engineers. The onsite expertise will help to ensure a smooth technical transition from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming.
    5. Select a manufacturer that is up to date with best practice methodology such as ISO, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, etc.
  2. Adapting your existing product design to the plastic thermoforming process
    1. Manufacturing techniques, process capabilities, and material properties differ from fiberglass to plastic thermoforming. This is a good thing. The differences are what motivated you to consider converting your product in the first place. These differences will, more than likely, necessitate modifications to your existing design and tooling to meet your product’s needs and to maximize the advantages available with the thermoforming process.
    2. A design engineer, with plastic thermoforming experience, can adapt your product’s design to harness the benefits of the thermoforming process. (Productive Plastics utilizes our experienced in-house design engineers to help our customers with process conversions).
      1. Tighter part tolerances
      2. Reduction in part wall thickness
      3. Complex or aesthetic design enhancements unachievable or not cost effective with fiberglass
      4. Textured surface finish
      5. Lighter weight than FRP
      6. Consistent surface gloss
  1. Material selection
    1. An important consideration when manufacturing a thermoformed plastic part is the selection of appropriate material. There are a multitude of different types of plastic materials, each with their own specific characteristics, properties, strengths, and weaknesses. Communicating your product’s requirements and industry material standards early in the conversion process will allow your thermoformer to assist in selecting the ideal material for the application. Learn more about thermoforming material considerations and options.
  2. Tooling
    1. Properly designed and constructed tooling sets the foundation for tight tolerances and a high quality part. This becomes increasingly more important for complex and multi-part designs. Having your existing tooling evaluated by your thermoforming contract manufacturer as early in the transition process as possible can have a large impact on the lead time of your first part run.
    2. Choose a thermoforming contract manufacturer experienced with tooling materials options and processes to assure the right tool choice for your application and product life.
  3. Prototype testing
    1. Prototype development should be considered with a testing plan that includes dimensional as well as properties evaluation. Engaging in early involvement, support, and collaboration with a thermoforming manufacturer, like Productive Plastics, can aid in creating a successful verification plan.

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Is it time to convert your product to plastic thermoforming?

One of the most common inquiries we receive at Productive Plastics is customers considering plastic thermoforming as an alternative to their current product’s material and manufacturing process.

Is it time to convert to plastic thermoforming

Conversion to plastic thermoforming motivations range from quality and lead time issues with the current manufacturing process to material performance requirements and cost considerations. Just to name a few.

The chances are that if your product is currently utilizing fiberglass or metal for a an application in the medical device, transportation, kiosk, or industrial market, that you are missing out on the performance, aesthetic, weight, and potential cost savings advantages attainable by transitioning to plastic thermoforming.

Continue to check our company blog (Productive Ideas), LinkedIn page, or your inbox over the coming months for information and comparisons on the fiberglass and metal to plastic thermoforming conversion processes.


Temperature Considerations in Plastic Thermoforming Material Selection

Thermal Performance and Considerations in Plastic Thermoforming Material SelectionWhy is temperature an important consideration in thermoforming material selection?

If you’ve ever microwaved last night’s leftovers in the typical plastic to go container, you’ve witnessed the effect that high heat can have on thermoplastic. The plastic begins to soften and lose its stiffness as the material temperature increases and if you heat it long enough or exceed the limit of its operational temperature range, it will begin to distort. Worst case scenario, when you open the microwave door to enjoy your meal, you are presented with something that can be quite unrecognizable from what you put in.

While this example may not be relevant in all cases, it does demonstrate the importance of selecting a plastic thermoforming material with the appropriate temperature properties for your application’s operating environment. Imagine a similar scenario on an essential safety, structural, or functional component for a medical, transportation, or industrial application. Loss of stiffness (flexural modulus) and material distortion (heat deflection) are just a few of the factors to account for when addressing the temperature requirements of a project.

Material considerations for prolonged exposure to excessive temperatures

Most of the effects of temperature to thermoplastic occur at high heat levels, although excessively low temperatures can have an impact as well. Mechanical properties, chemical resistance, electrical conductivity, material fatigue, and many other attributes can be affected by increased temperatures. Below is a list of the most common considerations.

Note: The exact temperature thresholds and performance will vary for each different plastic material. In addition, factors like part geometry and material thickness will also affect material properties under extreme temperatures both high and low. The considerations below are just a general behavior characteristic of plastic in relation to temperature. (reference our article on material testing and data sheets for more information on standard testing of a material’s temperature performance)


  1. Exceeding a material’s approximate heat deflection temperature can cause the material to distort.
  2. Prolonged exposure to heat while subjected to a load or force can also cause plastic to deform or “creep” over time.
  3. Most thermoplastic materials have a heat distortion temperature (HDT) of less than 500 degrees F
  4. HDT is a good comparative specification of how different materials respond to the HDT test conditions but provides little information regarding the long term effects of continuous high temperature exposure on their physical, mechanical, thermal, and electrical properties.


  1. As temperature increases, material stiffness (flexural modulus) will decrease.


  1. As with most materials, plastic expands as temperature increases (coefficient of thermal expansion – CTE). This can be a consideration when the plastic is mated with another material, such as metal, that may have conflicting thermal expansion rates.
  2. If the dimensional change is obstructed, stresses can be induced in the plastic part due to excessive tensile, shear, or compressive stress loads that could result in unexpected failure.

Service Life

  1. Thermal Degradation – Plastic materials subjected to prolonged exposure to high temperatures will lose strength and toughness, becoming more prone to cracking, chipping, and breaking, at a rate in proportion to the temperature and time of exposure. Materials exposed to higher heat for longer duration will wear substantially faster than those exposed to more moderate temperatures and exposure times.
  2. The Continuous Use Temperature Rating is based on a thermal aging test that predicts the temperature at which a 50% loss of the original mechanical properties will occur after 100,000 hours of continuous exposure at that temperature. (see table below)

    Continuous Use Temperature Thermoplatic Chart

Thermal Conductivity

  1. The quantity of heat that passes through a cube of the material in a certain period of time when the difference in temperature between the two surfaces becomes one degree.
  2. Plastic materials generally have a much lower Thermal Conductivity than metals. This makes them excellent replacement materials when thermal insulation is important.

Some questions to consider to determine your application’s temperature profile and ideal material candidates

During the product development process, Productive Plastics uses the following questions to zero in on the plastic material options that will be temperature compatible for a customer’s application:

  1. What environmental temperature range (high and low) will the part be exposed to operationally?
  2. What dimensional and stiffness (flexural modulus) tolerances are required of the part at the high, mid, and low points of its expected temperature range?
  3. What loads or forces are expected on the part at the high end of its temperature range?
  4. What is the time/temperature relationship? A low temperature for a long time can result in comparable properties damage as a high temperature for a short time.
  5. What is the projected service life of the application?
  6. Will the plastic part be mated to any other material types, such as metal, as part of the application design?
  7. What are the specified (FST) flame, smoke & toxicity requirements?

Available thermoplastic options and temperature performance

As discussed in previous posts on material selection, when it comes to plastic material options, there are many choices and each has different thermal and mechanical performance properties. The information below will give you a general understanding of the operating thermal ranges of the common plastic material options available.

Note: The options listed are generic plastic material formulations. Many plastic material companies have specific plastic material products formulated and designed to meet the demands of a wide range of industry requirements. For information on the thermal performance of these products, visit our material supplier datasheet page or our thermofoming materials page.

Thermoplastic Material Heat Performance

Click here for a full list of plastic abbreviations and acronyms.


Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Thermoforming Material Selection (Material Testing and Datasheets Decoded)

When it comes to plastic thermoforming materials, one of the greatest advantages is that they can be manipulated and alloyed at the polymer level as well as being co-extruded to produce a multitude of variations. The result is a large list of available and even customizable plastic material products, each with its own unique properties and often formulated to meet the requirements of a particular industry.

Thermoforming Material Selection Material Testing and Datasheets Decoded

The task of comparing and selecting the appropriate thermoforming material can therefore be daunting. To make the selection process easier, plastic material manufacturers have their material products independently tested to provide potential users with general characteristic and performance data, which is then presented via material product datasheets. These data sheets are excellent for material property comparisons but not always a exact indicator of field performance due to test sample preparation.

See some examples of thermoforming material datasheets here.

This data can give the end user an indication on how that material will behave once thermoformed into a finished component and if it is compatible with their application.

Measuring Plastic Thermoforming Material Properties:

Below is a list of the common tests that are performed on each plastic thermoforming material product, a description of what is measured, and how it should be used to assist in material selection.

Note – The data from raw material testing may not be exactly representative of how a material will perform on your finished product and in the field. Testing performed on material samples is done in a very controlled environment, at a uniform thickness, and as a flat extruded sheet of plastic or often injection molded. Your component, once thermoformed and assembled into a finished product, will likely have complex geometry, varying part thickness, and environmental factors such as temperature that are unique to your application and unaccounted for in standard material testing. For example, a raw material test may indicate a heat deflection (material distortion) of 200 degrees. However, once that same material is thermoformed and assembled on your finished product, it may have a heat deflection of only 190 degrees. So, ultimately, while testing will give you a ballpark indication on how your product will perform, keep in mind that results may vary. For more accurate data, conduct product testing on a finished and fully assembled prototype.

Physical Property Testing

Notched Izod Impact Strength (Ref ASTM D256)

Test definition: Pendulum style impact test of a notched sample subjected to a shock force. Typically used on more notch sensitive materials such as HIPS and ABS. The force absorbed by the notchedsample is measured and the type of failure is described

Material selection application:

  • Good comparison test between similar materials
  • Not a direct indicator of field performance

Specific Gravity (Ref ASTM D792)

Test definition: The ratio of the density of any substance to the density of an equal volume of water. Because Specific Gravity is a ratio it is a unitless quantity.

Material selection application:

  • The Specific Gravity of plastic materials are an indication of their density
  • Higher Specific Gravity will result in heavier material so caution must be taken when estimating and comparing part weights with varied materials

Chemical Resistance (Ref ASTM D543)

Test definition: Evaluation of plastic materials for resistance to chemical reagents (ex. lubricants, cleaning agents, inks, foods) The test includes provisions for reporting changes in weight, dimensions, appearance and strength properties.

Material selection application:

  • The published chemical resistance properties are a good guideline for material selection. However since variable factors can affect chemical resistance one should always test under their own conditions
  • Chemicals can affect strength, flexibility, color, surface appearance, and dimensions of plastics.
  • Plastics often fail even under very low stress when in contact with some chemical agents. This is called environmental stress cracking and is of great importance in material selection

Stiffness (Flexural Modulus) (Ref ASTM D790)

Test definition: Rigidity of material / a measure of stiffness

Material selection application:

  • Provides design criteria to determine the necessary thickness required for a given load
  • Good for comparison of different materials

Hardness (Ref ASTM D2240)

Test definition: A measure of how resistant a material is to various kinds of permanent shape change when a compressive force from a harder body is applied

Material selection application:

  • This is a good measure of resistance to wear by friction or erosion
  • Material resistance to abrasion, chipping, and cracking

Tensile strength (Ref ASTM D638)

Test definition: Resistance to being pulled apart

Material selection application:

  • Tells how material stretches before breaking
  • Provides an indication of overall toughness
  • The most important indication of strength of the material

Dielectric Strength

Test definition: Electrical insulation- the maximum voltage that can be applied to a material without it breaking down

Material selection application:

  • Plastics are generally considered insulators but they can transmit some electrical energy at high frequency
  • Many variables such as material fillers and additives, part thickness, and environmental conditions will affect the plastic’s dielectric constant

Thermal Property Testing

Thermal Conductivity (Ref ASTM E1530)

Test definition: A measure of the ability of a material to transfer heat.

Material selection application:

  • Most plastics are insulators and not good conductors of heat

Coefficient of Thermal Expansion (CTE) (Ref ASTM E831, ASTM D696, and ISO11359)

Test definition: Amount of expansion and contraction at a given temperature

Material selection application:

  • Impact relating to very narrow dimensional tolerances
  • Potential interference and fitment issues when plastic components are combined in assembly with dissimilar material components
  • Tooling and process design considerations are affected by CTE
  • Strict control of temperature during forming, post forming, trimming, and QC processes must be understood and maintained

Heat Deflection (Ref ASTM D648)

Test definition: The temperature at which the material will distort

Material selection application:

  • Usually listed at 2 loading values (264 psi and 66 psi)
  • Lower heat distortion materials will require a greater processing time
  • The temperature up to which rigidity for mechanical loads is retained


Test definition: Extent to which a material will support combustion

Material selection application:

  • Plastics made up of organic chemical materials can have violent oxidation reactions in the presence of air at elevated temperatures like any other organic materials such as wood, paper and textiles.
  • Many plastics are now available compounded with flame, smoke and toxicity suppressant ingredients
  • In many applications, government mandated standards will dictate the required testing (See FST testing)

Fire, Smoke, and Toxicity (FST) Property Testing

In industries such as aviation and mass/rail transit, there are very strict regulations on the fire, smoke, and toxicity properties of utilized materials. Many thermoplastic suppliers produce material variations that are specifically designed to meet U.S. and international regulatory requirements. These very industry specific thermoforming material products will typically list the particular industry regulation directly on the material’s data sheet.

Some common industry regulations:


FAR25.853d iv & v



DIN 5510

ASTM E662 & E162

Look & Appearance Property Testing

Accelerated Weathering (Ref Q-Lab)

Test definition: Provides a simulated exposure sequence to ultra violet radiation that allows weatherability to be categorized

Material selection application:

  • The advantage of thermoforming and the use of coextruded material stands out here with the ability to form parts subject to ultraviolet radiation on the outside with a coextruded material that has high weatherability coextruded with a lower cost rigid substrate material
  • Evaluation of color fade relating to time and UV exposure

Scratch & Mar (Ref Taber Method)

Test definition: Provides a measurement of the scratch or mar resistance of plastic sheet

Material selection application:

  • The visual appearance of a scratch or mar normally involves changes in surface topography, color or brightness
  • Some plastic materials have elastic recovery properties that occur after removal of the applied stress


Click here for more detailed information on the testing of thermoplastic properties. (Society of Plastics Engineers – Thermoforming Quarterly 2015 Q1)

For additional information on ASTM standards of material testing, visit the official ASTM website.

You can also visit our Plastic Thermoforming Materials page for more in depth information.

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Thermoforming at Its Best Article Features Productive Plastics

Productive Plastics was recently featured in the February 2016 edition of Business in Focus magazine. The article describes Productive Plastics as an industry leader in heavy gauge plastic thermoforming, highlighting the company’s manufacturing capabilities, quality and efficiency processes, history, values, and commitment to customer value. View this “Thermoforming at its Best” article on the Business in Focus website or via their digital magazine viewer

Productive Plastics featured in Business in Focus

An excerpt from the article:

Productive Plastics has grown into an industry leader, always in pursuit of excellence and profitable growth. It differentiates itself by focusing on core values of honesty, integrity, respect, and fairness and by investing in its people and processes. These values have served as a cataylst for generations of growth and success in the family-owned and managed company.

For additional press releases or news about Productive Plastics, visit recently updated News Room and Recognition page.

Productive Plastics is top contract manufacturer for heavy gauge thermoforming, including vacuum forming and pressure forming. Contact us or request our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information.

Please contact Productive Plastics for more information on the thermoforming process
Please download our complimentary thermoforming design guide for more information on the thermoforming process

Productive Plastics Presenting at SPE European Thermoforming Conference March 2016

Productive Plastics will be presenting at the Society of Plastics Engineers European Thermforming Division Conference on March 11, 2016 at 8:45am in Sitges (Barcelona), Spain.

Productive Plastics presenting SPE Europe

Lean Manufacturing – Proof that the ‘Old Way’ isn’t always the best Way!

If you will be attending the conference, please join Evan Gilham, Productive Plastics COO, as he shares the benefits and advantages to both the customer and the manufacturer in embracing a lean and smart manufacturing culture.

Evan will examine a number of case studies, tools, and techniques that have proved successful in producing a very efficient and streamlined design and manufacturing process at Productive Plastics. View the conference program and schedule for program information.


Not attending the show this year?

Stay tuned to the Productive Ideas blog as we release highlights of Evan’s presentation on the benefits of lean manufacturing and smart production techniques.

Thermoforming Can Help Shape Your Product & Brand – Geometry and Mating Points

Product designs come in all shapes and sizes as savvy and experienced executives, engineers, and designers strive to differentiate their product or part. If you are one of these individuals, you know that whether your target audience is a consumer, a passenger, a patient, or an operator, that the look and feel of your product or part shapes the perception and experience of the end user.

Part Geometry and Mating


Why is Part Geometry and Mating So Important to a Design?

A study done by the Chalmers University of Technology and published in the International Journal of Design in 2013 showed that

Roughly 2 out of 3 people will select a product with good geometry over a product with geometric deviations, such as gaps between assembled parts

The study also stated that people may associate products with geometric deviations, such as gaps in a product’s design, with poor quality, durability, reliability, and performance. (Click to read the full study for more details.)

Geometric design flexibility with plastic thermoforming

Precision mating points on multiple part assembly with complex geometry using plastic thermoforming

Creating a product design with excellent and highly appealing part geometry may only be limited by creativity and inspiration. However, it is one thing to render an image of a flawlessly designed part or product, it can be quite another to manufacture such a design with the same elegant geometry, continuity of parts, and seamless assembly.

Producing this design physically will be dependent on the capabilities of the medium and manufacturing process selected. This is especially true of projects comprised of multiple parts requiring assembly, as achieving a seamless mating of parts with geometry can be difficult if not impossible with some manufacturing processes. Material characteristics, manufacturing tolerances, mold and processor capabilities, and many other variables will ultimately influence the ability turn your ideal design into an achievable finished product.


Part Geometry and Mating Points with the Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Process

complex part geometryand mating points with plastic thermoforming

Complex part geometry, undercuts, and mating points with plastic thermoforming

If aesthetic design, high quality part geometry, or brand differentiation are important to your project, you should consider the benefits of the heavy gauge thermoforming process. The thermoforming process has a number of advantages in achieving high quality finished parts with unique styling and design more economically than other processes.

Consider some of the advantages:

  • Complex geometry achieved economically
    • extensive styling can be achieved with much lower tooling costs than matched mold processes in either metal, composites or other plastic molding methods
    • includes very large parts
  • Styling and design geometry flexibility
    • design can include aerodynamics, a rugged look, logo and other features
    • parts are not limited to a boxy look or enclosure as with certain processes such as sheet metal
    • make a product recognizable from a distance no matter the color
  • Part design continuity, tight tolerance capability, and mating points
    • can provide design continuity over multiple part assemblies, even with complex design geometry
    • creation of “lap joints” for mating parts is much easier with thermoforming and can be more stylish than with metal
    • one advantage of this type of assembly mating is to avoid gaps created by varying materials expansion/contraction allowance
    • thermoforming design flexibility allows for more stylish mating edges and surfaces
    • a “returned edge” on a thermoformed part can provide a clean sharp edge and will provide greater part rigidity
  • Tactile geometry
    • soft touch and feel thermoformed plastic materials can convey features of safety or add to styling by varying surface look and feel throughout the geometry of the component
    • thermoforming assemblies can include varying geometry parts with surface decoration to simulate the look of carbon fiber, camouflage, brushed metal, and many more

Looking for more information on how the heavy gauge thermoforming process can help shape your product or brand? Please explore our website or contact us.

Texture and In-Mold Design with Plastic Thermoforming

Texture and In Mold Design with Thermoforming

Fascia with In Mold Design and TextureSurface texturing and in mold design features can be an integral component of your project and offer potential enhancements in design, branding, aesthetics, and functionality.

The thermoforming process, through pressure and vacuum forming techniques, has a wide range of surface texture and in mold design capabilities. Reference the table below for brief overview of some the options, features, and benefits available.

Forming parts with in mold textured surface
  • Texture can be etched into the mold in defined patterns and areas
  • A shot peen or grit blast mold surface finish provides a more cost effective in mold option
  • Greater texture detail and depth than rotational or FRP molding
  • Contrasting surface finishes
  • Best results obtained with pressure forming
  • Texture formed directly into finished part
  • Non slip surface
  • Styling with surface variation
  • Enhanced product cosmetic and aesthetic detail
  • High level of detail capable
  • Multiple texture options are available
Forming parts with pre textured plastic sheet
  • Pre textured plastic material is available from many thermoplastic suppliers
  • Less detail than in mold texturing
  • Minimal texture pattern options
  • Depending on the draw depth there can be “texture wash” and a texture depth variation over the part surface
  • Lower tooling cost than in mold texturing
  • Similar benefits to in mold texturing
Multiple texture choices
  • Increased styling opportunities
  • Custom branding
Forming parts with in mold cosmetic or functional features
  • Design features such as vents and louvers
  • Embossed logos, style lines, or custom brand patterns


  • Greater design flexibility
  • Results comparable with injection molding
  • Enhanced product branding

How Can Texture Enhance My Product’s Design, Look, and Brand?

Textures and tactile responses are the feel or appearance of a surface. The use of physical and visual textures in a product’s design can convey a variety of messages and emotional responses. Just as people react in an emotional way to colors, tints, and shades, they also react equally to textures in a psychological or emotional way.

Physical and visual textures may stimulate feelings of elegance and class with smooth, high gloss finishes, or strength and industrial responses from rough or hard finishes. Visual textures can also give the illusion of having a real, physical texture, such as wood grain, sand, canvas, metal, glass, and leather.

Every texture has its corresponding personality trait and must be taken into consideration before considering it for your brand. Whatever message your Brand is looking to express, textures allow you the opportunity to further reinforce the “feel” of your brand.

Check out this video from one of our thermoplastic sheet suppliers – SEKISUI-SPI (formerly KYDEX) Thermoplastics: Texture Is The New Colour


How the Thermoforming Process Can Enhance Product Design and Branding with Color and Gloss

Why are Color and Gloss Important to Product Design & Branding?

Branding and Color with Plastic Thermoforming

Research has shown that the very first thing your brain registers when looking at a product is its color and whether you consciously realize it or not, that color communicates meaning and evokes an emotional response that is, more or less, universal to all of us. Green is associated with health and growth, brown symbolizes dependability and solidity, etc. (View more color associations.)

Here is what the studies say:

  • 84.7% of consumers cite color as the primary reason they buy a particular product
  • Color increases brand recognition by up to 80%

(Sources: Secretariat of the Seoul International Color Expo 2004, University of Loyola, Maryland study respectively)

These statistics make it easy to see that color can be of vital importance in product design and product branding.

How can the thermoforming process help enhance product design and branding through color and gloss?

The thermoforming process has some unique capabilities when it comes to color and gloss that other processes such as metal, fiberglass, or alternative plastic processes may lack. With the heavy gauge thermoforming process, you can take advantage of any combination of the following color and gloss capabilities to enhance the design and branding of your next project.

Integral Plastic Colors (Plastic with Coloration)

Kiosk enclosure utilizing a non painted integral colored plastic

Kiosk enclosure utilizing a non painted integral colored plastic

  • Eliminates increased COST and TIME associated with the additional process of painting
  • Custom brand and color matching capabilities
  • Resistance to UV discoloration
  • Cosmetic and environmental value of no rusting or oxidization

View some integral color options and patterns from one of our thermoplastic sheet suppliers.

High gloss or low gloss surface finishing

Medical device enclosure high gloss painted and buffed

Medical device enclosure high gloss painted and buffed

  • Creates a look of depth to part’s surface
  • Multiple options available to achieve the level of gloss desired
  • High gloss color acrylic film capped material
  • UV resistant
  • High chemical resistance
  • Eliminates orange peel surface texture inherent to standard sheet plastic


Custom painted thermoplastic

Custom painted thermoplastic

Painting and Silk Screening

  • Most thermoplastic material can accommodate paint or silk screening to produce complex imagery or surface paint patterns and tones
  • Custom brand and color matching capabilities
  • Cosmetic and environmental value of no rusting or oxidization


Distortion printed kiosk enclosure

Distortion printed kiosk

Distortion Printing

Distortion printing is the cutting edge process of printing a distorted two dimensional version of an image onto a sheet of plastic that, once thermoformed, results in the desired finished image perfectly proportioned on the now three dimensional part. This process has virtually limitless imagery and branding possibilities.

View more info and a video on distortion printing.

Some additional and interesting articles on the effect of color on design and branding: