Thermoformed Plastics Solutions Blog

Benefits of Commonly Used Thermoforming Materials for Your Next Project

Posted by Jeffrey Geiman on May 16, 2014 5:30:06 PM

If you are interested in learning more about the most advantageous material for your next project, we can help. For years we have been a partner with companies in need of quality, thermoformed components. From design to development, building, assembly, and delivery McClarin Plastics focuses on providing only the highest level of quality, with the right material matched to the needs of our customers.

In the case of thermoforming, there are a number of factors to consider. Here are some of the common materials utilized in this process and the factors that go into determining when they are the best fit for a project:


Acrylic sheeting is flexible and completely transparent. It also exhibits great impact strength, which allows it to be used in the place of glass. It is lighter in weight, half that of glass, and nearly 100% weather resistant. Its transparency, gloss and shape are nearly unaffected by exposure to weather or highly corrosive atmospheres. This material can withstand exposure to UV light and fluorescent lamps without darkening or deteriorating.

Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene (ABS)

ABS is one of the most widely used products in thermoplastics. It has high stiffness and impact strength. This combined with excellent hardness; make it a perfect material for a variety of applications. Along with its physical characteristics, it also has great chemical and moisture resistance. It is easily machined and comes in a variety of pre-formulated products for a variety of jobs. However, it is highly sensitive to UV radiation and must be properly protected for extended exposure.

High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE)

HDPE is a plastic made from petroleum. HDPE is a very commonly recycled plastic, making it very good for consumer and disposable goods. It is resistant to a variety of solvents and is used for many applications, including liquid containers, chemical containment, pre-formed sheds, plastic tables and chairs.


Polystyrene is a clear plastic, easily molded, with strong chemical resistance and high dielectric strength, and is quite inexpensive. However, it cracks easily and has very low impact strength. It is used for disposable cups, temporary decorative and electrical applications. 

High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS)

HIPS is a stronger and more scratch resistant product than polystyrene. It is also very inexpensive and easily processed. HIPS is used for higher quality goods, or products that demand greater durability, such as household appliances, hard cases, calculators and computer housings.

Glycolized Polyethylene Terephthalate (PETG)

PETG is very lightweight and can be semi-rigid to rigid, varying with its thickness. It works well as a gas and moisture barrier. It is also a good base for a barrier to alcohol and solvents. It is naturally colorless and transparent to light.

Polycarbonates (PC)

Polycarbonates are polymers created from oil and hydrocarbons. They are easily worked and formed with high precision forming, and are widely used in the modern chemical industry. They have very high impact strength with high clarity and acts as excellent thermal insulators with a very high heat distortion limit. They have become common in house wares, laboratories and industry.

Once a base plastic is selected, its recipe can be enhanced to maximize specific characteristics. One recipe might add additional amounts of rubber to a standard ABS in order to increase its impact strength characteristics. However, the higher impact strength would come at the cost of some of the material hardness and susceptibility to scratching. 

Determining the Proper Material for the Job

All of the previously mentioned plastics have been thermoformed for many years. Each has their own base characteristics, and each will respond differently to alterations of its chemical recipe. When it is time to select a plastic to use for a job, and what alterations might benefit the raw material, it is critical to determine the beneficial characteristics for the application. 

What strength is required for the part to do its job, what kind of environment will the part be used within, what happens to the part at its end of life (is it a consumable, recyclable, or a durable good?), and what kinds of stresses will the part endure? 

After determining the critical characteristics, a standard base material can be selected upon which these critical characteristics can be enhanced. The recipe is then altered to maximize these characteristics or enhance multiply desired properties. However, it is always important to remember that an enhancement to one characteristic usually degrades another characteristic. 

To learn more about the entire material selection process for a thermoformed part, click the button below and download our free eBook entitled: The Importance of Material Selection When Using the Thermoforming Process

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Topics: thermoforming, material selection