Introduction: Thermoforming Werkplaats IDC


We are Stan and Maarten.
We are students Industrial Product Design and we will try to teach you the tips en tricks on how to use a vacuumformer.

In this proces we will explain everything from preparing your model until the finished form.

PLEASE NOTE: This instructable will not suit everyone because every vacuümformer is different,
BUT you will have to keep in mind the technics and tricks we are going cover here.

Step 1: The Necessities

You'll need

  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Sandpaper
  • Some wooden boards (some bigger than your model, some as big as)
  • Woodfile
  • Drill + drillbits
  • A couple of screws
  • Double sided tape
  • Materials to make your model (in the next step we will go over the mainly used materials)
  • Plates of ABS or Polyurethane (the tickness depends on what you want to achieve)

Step 2: Model Materials

The first thing you'll need to know is that you can use a lot of materials to vacuümform.
The most common ones are:

  • PU-Foam (high or low density)
  • Clay
  • Wood
  • 3D-printed parts (Make sure you have enough infill, the vacuum puts on a lot of pressure on the model)

Step 3: Design

For this instructable we will make a box with a thickening on the bottom out of PU-foam.

To make the sanding a lot easier and to keep the sides straight, we made a sanding block where we can attach some sandpaper onto. This way, you can't push to hard on one side and you'll keep your planes straight.
Also we made a small sanding block to get the right curve on the top and sides.

Step 4: Preparing Your Model

The first thing you need to know is that a vacuümformer sucks all the air away between your model and the heated material, and this is how you get the form.

The problem with this model is that there is a small edge in the middle.
We chose this design so that we can explain what you will need to do when you have sharp edges in your design.

If you want the heated material to get sucked into the small edge, you will have to make sure that the machine is able to get to the air in the edge.

We did this by drilling small holes right in the corner all throughout the model.
Next, we want to make sure that al the small holes are connected so that the machine can suck out the air via one place. We did this by drilling large holes in the bottom.
(You can also remove the inside completely but we wanted some firmness.)

Step 5: Making the Model Base

Before vacuümforming your model, you will have to attach it on a base.
This base will make sure, that the hole were the machine sucks the air trough is connected to all of the smaller holes in your piece.

  1. You begin by taking a piece of wood and tracing the outlines of your model.
  2. Now drill holes along this line.
    (These holes will make sure that the air gets sucked from underneath the heated material.)
  3. You can see we raised the model with a small piece of wood, this is so that all the previous drilled holes come together and are all connected via another drilled hole in the board (Photo 3).
  4. Now we raised the board itself with an outline, so that the hole in the vacuumchamber is connected to all the other holes.
  5. Now the only thing you need to do is to attach the model to the board.


If we work from the bottom up, you know the machine has to suck all the air away between the heated material and your model. So we have to make sure the hole in the machine that suck the air, is connected to all the holes in the model. This is a quick explanation how:

  • The machine sucks the air out of the chamber underneath the wooden structure.
  • Then, the air gets sucked out of the holes on the outline of the piece. Because of this, the heated material gets sucked against the model outlines.
  • At the same time, the machine sucks the air away trough the big hole in de wooden board out of de model holes
  • These holes are connected to the smaller holes drilled in the corners.
  • This makes sure all the traped air can ascape and that the heated material gets sucked firmly into place.

Step 6: Turn on the Machine

In this step we will explain you how to use the vacuüm former itself.

These steps will be explained by the photo's

  1. Begin by reading the instructions and safety measures. (photo 1)
  2. At the back, you can trun on the air valve and main power switch. (photo 2 & 3)
  3. Now turn the two knobs with 'stuurstroom' and 'vacuumpomp', this will activate the machine and prepares the machine for the vacuüm proces. (photo 4)

Step 7: Install Your Model

  1. Bring the tabel up by pushing the 'UP' button (photo 1), you can control the air pressure with the turning knob.
    This way, the table will raise and lower faster or slower. (photo 2)
  2. Place you model over the hole on the tabel en tape it down so no air can escape. (photo 3 - 5)
  3. Lower the bed again and put the sheet of material you want to heat on top and clamp it down. (photo 6)
  4. Now you can turn on the heating system and pull the heating elements over the material. (photo 7 - 9)

Step 8: Not to Long, Not to Short...

The exact time you will need to heat the material is actually a proces of trial and error.
It depends on the tickness of the materiaal and on the temperature of the hetaing elements.

BUT I can give you these tips.

  1. At a certain point, the material will begin to deform.
  2. If you wait a bit longer, the material will flatten out and begin to hang a little bit.
  3. At this point you can use the button 'voorblazen' or 'blow' so that the machine stretches the material a bit.
  4. After you've done this the material will start to flatten out and will start to hang again

If you have a lot of detail in your piece, it is better to heat the material a bit longer. This way, the materiaal will get softer and will be easier to fill all the detailed bits.

Step 9: FORM IT!

When you hit the sweet spot of your material, the only thing you have to do is bring the table up,
and pull the big leaver wich will suck the air out of the model.

Step 10: Remove and Clean

Now remove your model from the table, and remove the shell.
In the beginning we made the model a bit larger than what we neede so now we can cut of the excess material.

We did this by clamping a dremel into a vise at a certain hight and cutting it of throughout the hole length.

Step 11: That's It!

I hope you can use the tips and tricks in your prototypes.