Thermoforming Materials: A Comprehensive Guide


What are thermoforming materials?

Thermoforming, a widely used process for molding plastics, offers the flexibility to utilize various materials tailored to the specific needs of each project. This guide delves into six key materials used in thermoforming: Polycarbonate, Kydex, High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE), Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS), Acrylic, and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). For each, we will explore an overview of the material, pros, cons, applications, and technical details.

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Polycarbonate Thermoforming

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Polycarbonate is a clear, strong and tough material known for its superior strength and high-temperature resistance. It’s a versatile plastic used in a broad range of applications for its exceptional clarity and aesthetic appeal.

Pros: Superior strength, high toughness, excellent temperature resistance, clear aesthetics.

Cons: Prone to scratches, lower chemical resistance.

Applications: Bullet-resistant windows, safety guards, eyewear, electronics.

Polycarbonate Technical Details:

  • Heat Deflection Temp at 264 psi: 270°F (132°C)
  • Rockwell Hardness: R118
  • Tensile Strength: 8,000-9,500 psi
  • Specific Gravity: Varies based on the specific type, generally between 1.2 and 1.22


Kydex Thermoforming

Kydex is a line of thermoplastic acrylic-polyvinyl chloride materials known for their durability and customization possibilities. This material is highly resistant to impact and abrasion, ensuring long-term performance.

Pros: High resistance against impact and abrasion, durability, customization.

Cons: Less rigidity compared to other materials.

Applications: Firearm holsters, electronic equipment housings, aircraft interiors.

Kydex Technical Details:

  • Heat Deflection Temp at 264 psi: 173°F (78°C)
  • Rockwell Hardness: R105
  • Tensile Strength: 6,100 psi
  • Specific Gravity: 1.34

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE Thermoforming)

HDPE, or High-Density Polyethylene, is a versatile and eco-friendly plastic that offers an impressive strength-to-density ratio. It’s used in everything from milk jugs to fuel tanks due to its exceptional durability and chemical resistance.

Pros: High strength-to-density ratio, impact and chemical resistance, environmentally friendly.

Cons: Can warp under high heat.

Applications: Outdoor equipment, cutting boards, storage containers.

Technical Details:

  • Heat Deflection Temp at 66 psi: 125°F (51°C)
  • Rockwell Hardness: R62
  • Tensile Strength: 4,600 psi
  • Specific Gravity: 0.95


Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS Thermoforming)

Acrylic, also known as plexiglass, is a transparent plastic characterized by its optical clarity and light transmission. It is an excellent choice for applications where aesthetics matter.

Pros: Excellent optical clarity and light transmission, resistance to weathering and UV light.

Cons: Prone to scratching, less impact resistant.

Applications: Signage, aquariums, display cases.

Acrylic Technical Details:

  • Heat Deflection Temp at 264 psi: 195°F (90.5°C)
  • Rockwell Hardness: M95
  • Tensile Strength: 10,500 psi
  • Specific Gravity: 1.18

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

PVC is a cost-effective and highly versatile plastic used in a broad range of applications. Known for its excellent flame resistance and mechanical properties, PVC is the material of choice for many applications.

Pros: Versatility, good flame resistance, excellent mechanical and insulation properties.

Cons: Can release toxic fumes when burned or melted.

Applications: Piping systems, electrical cable insulation, signs, healthcare products.

Technical Details:

  • Heat Deflection Temp at 264 psi: 150°F (65.5°C)
  • Rockwell Hardness: R116
  • Tensile Strength: 7,500 psi
  • Specific Gravity: 1.35

Thermoforming Material Comparison Table

Material Heat Deflection Temp at 264 psi (°F/°C) Rockwell Hardness Tensile Strength (psi) Specific Gravity
Polycarbonate 270/132 R118 8,000-9,500 N/A
Kydex 173/78 R105 6,100 1.34
HDPE 125/51 R62 4,600 0.95
ABS 190/88 R105 7,600 1.05
Acrylic 195/90.5 M95 10,500 1.18
PVC 150/65.5 R116 7,500 1.35

We hope this guide helps you understand the vast range of materials available for thermoforming and their unique characteristics. At CWThomas, we’re committed to providing the best material for your specific application.