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Plastic Thermoforming Materials

Productive Plastics, a leading thermoformed plastic manufacturer, offers information on plastic materials for heavy gauge thermoforming.

Note: The information provided on this page is only intended to give a basic overview of some of the generic thermoplastic material options available and provide their general performance characteristics. The content should be used as reference only.

What Heavy Gauge Thermoplastic Material is Right for An Application?

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, weaknesses, and cost. Proper selection of the appropriate plastic material for a specific application is an essential component in creating a successful plastic part. Below is some basic information on the different types of plastic materials available for use in the plastic thermoforming process and some considerations that will help determine the right plastic for the job.

Productive Plastics is Here to Help

The volume of information to consider when selecting the appropriate thermoplastic for your part and project can be overwhelming. Material characteristics, industry standards, aesthetics, and cost all have to be accounted for when making your material selection. Productive Plastics has over 65 years of thermoforming and thermoplastic experience and can help you find the thermoplastic material solution that will match the needs of your application, be cost effective, and add to your project's success.

Productive Plastics works with the industry's top thermoplastic material providers

Plastic Material Characteristics

Here are some general physical characteristics that are used to describe the unique properties of each plastic material grade. The material selected will depend on the project requirements.
  • IMPACT STRENGTH - how much abuse can a material take before it breaks
  • THERMAL CONDUCTIVITY - the amount of heat that can be conducted through the material
  • COEFFICIENT OF THERMAL EXPANSION - amount of expansion and contraction at a given temperature
  • CHEMICAL RESISTANCE - affect of chemical interaction
  • STIFFNESS (Flexural Modulus) - rigidity of material
  • HEAT DEFLECTION - the temperature at which the material will distort
  • HARDNESS - material resistance to abrasion, chipping, and cracking
  • FLAMMABILITY - extent to which a material will support combustion
  • MOLD SHRINKAGE - amount of shrink after the plastic is removed from the mold
  • FORMING RANGE - temperature range at which the plastic can be thermoformed
  • TENSILE STRENGTH - resistance to being pulled apart
  • DIELECTRIC STRENGTH - electrical insulation

Plastic Material Selection Considerations

It should be observed that most plastic materials can be, to various degrees, custom produced with varying compositions of fundamental materials or alloyed with other plastic types, which results in variations of the plastic’s inherent characteristics. However, many physical properties of plastic are in direct conflict with at least one other property. So, maximizing a particular property of a plastic material often has the side effect of weakening another.

For example, if you wanted to maximize the impact strength property of ABS, the basic formula would be modified to include higher amounts of rubber. This would result in a higher desired impact strength, but would consequently make the material softer and less stiff, making it more susceptible to scratches and abrasions. This is especially true for those plastics categorized as engineered plastics, such as ABS.

When determining the right plastic for the job, consider some of the following questions:
1. What characteristics are most critical to the application?
Amorphous Thermoplastics
  • Conductive to thermoforming
  • Low chemical resistance
  • Transparent applications
  • Distort and soften over a wide temperature range
  • Not suitable for bearing and wear
  • Poor fatigue resistance
  • Conductive to bonding with solvents and adhesives
  • Break down with extended UV exposure unless protective additives or laminates are used
Potential Material Choices
  • ABS
  • Acrylic
  • Kydex®
  • Noryl®
  • PETG
  • Polycarbonate
  • Polystyrene (HIPS)
  • Polysulfone
  • PVC
  • Radel R®
  • Ultem®
Semicrystalline Thermoplastics
  • Difficult to thermoform
  • High chemical resistance
  • Opaque
  • Sharp heat distortion point
  • Good for bearing and wear
  • Good fatigue resistance
  • Resistant to bonding with solvents and adhesives
Potential Material Choices
  • TPO
  • PET
  • Polypropylene
  • PPS
  • PTFE
  • HDPE
  • LDPE
  • Nylon
  • Acetal
  • PBT
  • PEEK
2. What External and Environmental Factors Will the Product be Exposed To?
   a. Temperature Range vs. Cost
Amorphous Thermoplastics


Cost Highest↑ to






Ultem® Radel R®
Radel R®   Ultem®
Polysulfone   Polysulfone
Noryl®   Polycarbonate
Polycarbonate   Noryl®
ABS   Acrylic
Polystyrene   Polystyrene
Kydex®   ABS
PVC   Kydex®
Acrylic PETG
  Semicrystalline Thermoplastics


Cost Highest↑ to






PEEK   Nylon
PVDF   Acetal
Nylon   PET
Acetal   Polypropylene
   b. High Traffic Areas (Impact Resistance)
Amorphous Thermoplastics
Izod Impact (notched)   Toughness



Kydex®   18
Polycarbonate   12 - 16
Radel R®   13
ABS   7.7
Noryl®   3.5
Polystyrene (HIPS)   2
PETG   1.7
Polysulfone   1.3
Ultem®   1
PVC   1
Acrylic   0.4
Semicrystalline Thermoplastics
Izod Impact (notched)   Toughness



UHMW-PE   12 - 16
Polypropylene   13
PTFE   7.7
PVDF   3.5
PEEK   2
PBT   1.7
Acetal   1.3
Nylon   1
PET   1
PPS   0.4
   c. Chemical Resistance
Semicrystalline Thermoplastics
High Chemical Resistance  
   d. FDA Compliance (FDA compliant formulations can be made available in the following materials)
Amorphous Thermoplastics
FDA compliance capable  
Radel R®  
Polystyrene (HIPS)  
Semicrystalline Thermoplastics
FDA compliance capable  
6. Is the product a structural or cosmetic application? Is bending stiffness important?
Amorphous Thermoplastics
Plastic Material Flexural modulus – stiffness (psi)
Ultem® (30% glass) 1,300,000
Polycarbonate (20% glass)    800,000
PVC    481,000
Ultem®    480,000
Acrylic    480,000
Polysulfone    390,000
Noryl®    370,000
Radel R®    350,000
Polycarbonate    345,000
Kydex®    335,000
Polystyrene (HIPS)    310,000
PETG    310,000
ABS    304,000
Semicrystalline Thermoplastics
Plastic Material Flexural modulus – stiffness (psi)
PPS    600,000
PEEK    590,000
Acetal    420,000
Nylon    410,000
PET    400,000
PBT    330,000
PVDF    310,000
Polypropylene    215,000
HDPE    200,000
UHMW-PE    110,000
PTFE     72,000
LDPE     30,000

Chart of Plastic Materials
Advantages, Disadvantages & Industry Examples

The following chart provides additional information about various plastic materials and their uses.
Plastic Material Advantages Disadvantages Industry Examples
Polystyrene Clear plastic, very moldable, inexpensive, recyclable, high chemical resistance, high electrical resistance, heat distortion ~200°F Cracks and breaks easily Disposable cups, disposable applications, decorative applications, electrical applications


(High Impact Polystyrene)

Very moldable, relatively inexpensive Marginal crack and break resistance Picture frames, shower walls, food containers
Polyethylene (PE) Chemically resistant, high impact resistant, high electrical resistance, fairly economical, can be UV protected with additive High mold shrinkage - not suited for tight dimensional tolerances, cosmetic deficiencies Pallets, tanks, truck bed liners, tote bins, tanks, self-lubricating tendency makes it ideal for non-stick/low friction applications
Polypropylene (PP) High level of stiffness, light weight, high heat deflection, chemical resistance at room temperatures Difficult to process, high mold shrinkage Tool cases, applications with a living hinge, food containers, acid tanks


(Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene)

Engineered plastic that can be customized to desired levels of stiffness, hardness, heat deflection, and many other characteristics UV sensitive – requires a UV protective cap layer for extended exposure Cases of all types, bath tubs, fenders, instrument panels, automotive applications, recreational vehicles, many others


(Polyvinyl Chloride)

Very high chemical resistance, stain resistant, stiffer than ABS, high room temp. impact strength, natural  flame retardant qualities Difficult to process Shower surrounds, moldings, kick panels, display cases
PVC/ABS (alloy) Easy to process, very cosmetic, dimensional stability, impressions well off a textured tool, maintains tight dimensional tolerances, retains some of PVC’s natural flame retardant qualities Not as stiff as pure PVC, heat distortion point lower than ABS Decorative fascia, equipment covers, mass transportation applications, outdoor applications with UV protective cap, many others
PVC/Acrylic Easy to process, highly customizable alloy, high impact resistance, very high chemical and stain resistance Low heat distortion point ~160°F Aircraft interiors, medical equipment covers, transportation applications, electronic enclosures, outdoor applications with UV protective cap
Polycarbonate Extremely high impact resistance, high clarity - good for transparent parts, precision molding, good insulator, high heat distortion point ~270°F Low chemical resistance to certain substances (oil, gasoline, harsh chemicals), can be difficult to process, higher material and processing cost Visors, plastic guards, transportation components (headlights, taillights, instrument panels), appliance drawers, skylights
Polycarbonate/ABS When compared to true polycarbonate - less expensive,  lower heat distortion ~240°F, much easier to process, higher chemical resistance When compared to true polycarbonate - reduced clarity,  lower heat distortion ~240°F Computer and machine enclosures, electrical applications, cellular phones, automotive applications


(thermoplastic olefin)

High impact strength (even at cold temperatures), high dimensional stability (low mold shrinkage), stiffness, high chemical resistance Can be difficult to process due to material sag during heating Car bumpers and other automotive applications, chemical shields, gear covers



Very easy to process, high clarity – good for transparent parts Not UV stable – unsuitable for extended exposure Structural automotive parts, hand tools, industrial components

Looking for more technical information?

Download the Thermoforming Design Guide, Process Comparisons, Conversion Guides, and other useful thermoforming information from our technical resource library.

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