Plastic Thermoforming


Polycarbonate thermoforming, Acrylic thermoforming

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Plastic Thermoforming

Thermoforming is a widely used process for shaping polycarbonate sheets in various industries. It is commonly used in the manufacture of products such as dome skylights, motorcycle windshields, helmets, and more. Excelite polycarbonate sheets are designed for thermoforming on standard equipment, offering flexibility in shaping methods and applications.

There are several methods of thermoforming polycarbonate sheets, including drape forming, heat forming, and vacuum forming. Among these, vacuum forming and drape forming are the most frequently used because of their efficiency and flexibility.

When compared to acrylic sheets, polycarbonate sheets require more careful control during the thermoforming process because of their unique properties. It’s essential to dry polycarbonate sheets before thermoforming because of their water absorption rate of 0.3%. Failing to adequately dry the sheets can cause bubbling during the process.

One important consideration during thermoforming is the hard coating on polycarbonate sheets. While heating makes the polycarbonate sheet flexible, the hard coating is not similarly flexible and may crack under heat. If thermoforming is required for your project, consult with the Excelite team for a special hard coating designed to withstand this process.

All of Custom Plastic Forming Services In China

Why Thermoforming For Plastic Sheets?

Thermoforming is a popular manufacturing process for shaping polycarbonate sheets.

What Plastics Are Best For Thermoforming?

Several types of plastic raw materials are suitable for thermoforming, each offering unique properties and advantages for different applications. Some of the best plastics for thermoforming include:

  1. Acrylic (PMMA): Acrylic is known for its optical clarity, impact resistance , making it ideal for applications requiring high transparency, such as signage, displays, and lighting fixtures.
  2. Polycarbonate (PC): Polycarbonate is high impact-resistant material commonly used in automotive, aerospace, and electronic applications due to its strength and heat resistance.
  3. Polyethylene Terephthalate (PET): PET is a lightweight and durable plastic with excellent chemical resistance, making it suitable for food packaging, trays, and containers.

And also ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene), High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS), Polypropylene (PP), Polypropylene, PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride), HDPE (High-Density Polyethylene)…

When selecting a plastic for thermoforming, it is essential to consider factors such as the desired properties of the final part, the application requirements, cost considerations, and compatibility with the thermoforming process.

lighting fixtures
Thermoforming Polycarbonate

Types of Thermoforming Machines

  • Vacuum Forming Machines: These machines use a vacuum to draw the heated sheet into the mold. They are excellent for creating complex shapes and can be used for a wide range of parts.
  • Pressure Forming Machines: These machines use air pressure to force the heated sheet into the mold. They offer higher detail and precision than vacuum forming machines.
  • Drape Forming Machines: These machines use gravity to drape the heated sheet over the mold. They are excellent for creating large parts or parts with simple shapes.

Advantages Of Thermoforming Polycarbonate

  • Versatility: Thermoforming can be used to create a wide range of shapes and designs, making it suitable for a variety of applications.
  • Cost-effective for large parts: Thermoforming is a cost-effective choice for creating large parts, as it doesn’t require expensive tooling.
  • Quick process: Thermoforming is a relatively quick process, especially for simple shapes.
  • High-quality finishes: Thermoforming can produce parts with high-quality finishes, reducing the need for additional finishing processes.
acrylic thermoforming
PC thermoforming

Disadvantages of Thermoforming Polycarbonate

  • Limited to certain shapes: While thermoforming is versatile, it can’t be used to create complex or intricate shapes.
  • Temperature Sensitivity: Polycarbonate has a high thermal sensitivity, which means that proper heating and cooling parameters must be carefully controlled during thermoforming to achieve consistent results and prevent material degradation.

  • Warping and Distortion: Polycarbonate has a relatively high coefficient of thermal expansion, which can result in warping or distortion of the formed parts, especially if not properly controlled during heating, forming, and cooling stages of thermoforming.

  • Brittleness: Polycarbonate is easy to scratch and crack under certain conditions. During the thermoforming process, the material may become stressed, leading to potential brittleness in the formed parts.

Thermoforming Process for Polycarbonate and Acrylic

The thermoforming process involves heating the polycarbonate sheet until it becomes pliable.

The sheet is then placed over a mold, and a vacuum is used to draw the sheet into the mold, forming it into the desired shape.

The sheet is then cooled to harden it in its new shape. It’s important to control the heating and cooling process carefully to prevent stress fractures or deformations.

Polycarbonate igloo

What Types of Thermoforming Services?

Thermoforming services encompass a range of processes and capabilities that cater to the diverse needs of industries requiring custom plastic components. Some of the common types of thermoforming services offered by manufacturing companies include

vacuum forming
  • Vacuum Forming: A popular thermoforming technique that involves heating a thermoplastic sheet until it becomes pliable and then using vacuum pressure to form the material over a mold. It is suitable for creating large, shallow parts with simple geometries. It supports quick start-ups and efficient prototyping.
  • Pressure Forming: Using both vacuum pressure and air pressure to shape the heated thermoplastic sheet over a mold. This process allows for the production of parts with more intricate details, sharper corners, and deeper draws. It creates sharp, crisp lines and textured surfaces, formed-in undercuts. Zero degree draft on sidewalls is possible.
  • Twin-Sheet Forming: Thermoforming two separate sheets of plastic simultaneously and then bonding them together to create a double-walled structure. Twin sheet parts are strong and lightweight, and can consist of dissimilar materials..
  • Heavy Gauge Thermoforming: Is specialized for forming thick sheets to produce large and structurally robust components.
  • Thin Gauge Thermoforming: Forming thin sheets of plastic (less than 1.5mm) to create lightweight, flexible, and cost-effective parts used in various applications such as packaging, consumer goods, and electronic enclosures.

Thermoforming Services vs. Injection Molding Services

Thermoforming and injection molding are ways to make plastic parts. Thermoforming makes larger parts and can combine small parts into one big piece. It is good for smaller production runs and creates nice-looking parts without paint.

Injection molding uses melted plastic pellets to make parts. It can create textured parts, but the tooling is more costly due to the need for complex molds. Injection molding is better for bigger production volumes.

Thermoforming controls dimensions on one side, while injection molding can control both sides and create parts with different thicknesses.

Injection Molding Services

Heavy Gauge Thermoforming

Excelite heavy-gauge thermoforming offers a reliable and versatile solution for creating durable enclosures for a range of equipment applications, such us medical devices, kayaks, electronic enclosures, outdoor equipments and various other applications.
Materials used in the heavy gauge thermoforming include acrylic(PMMA), ABS, HDPE, LDPE, PP, PVC, PETG, and polycarbonates.
A wide variety of material options exist to meet cosmetic needs (color, texture, glossy or finish) or functional requirements (anti-glare coating, flame retardant, impact strength, or abrasion resistant sheet, chemical resistance).

Types of Heavy Gauge Thermoforming Processes

  • Vacuum forming: Hot sheet formed over a mold with vacuum pulling the sheet tight, trim out the finished part with 5-axis CNC trimming equipment.
  • Pressure forming: Hot sheet drawn into a female mold with pressure on the non-mold side where you need a highly cosmetic look.
  • Twin sheet forming: Two sheets heated and formed simultaneously and pressed together. It looks similar to blow molding or rotational molding but are often less costly to form and are highly cosmetic.
  • Fabrication: Sheet bent or bonded into a new shape with minimal tooling cost. It common uses for machine guards, displays and enclosures.
plastics heavy gauge thermoforming
polycarbonate clear color sheet

Advantages of Heavy Gauge Thermoforming

  • Lower tooling cost compared to other processes
  • Lower minimum quantity runs than injection molding
  • Ideal for large plastic parts with great cosmetics at lower costs
  • Can produce parts up to 6 meter length, including custom designs and sizes
  • Heavy gauge thermoforming uses sheet up to 12.5mm thick polycarbonate sheet

The Differences Of Thin Gauge Thermoforming VS. Thick Gauge Thermoforming

Thin-Gauge Thick-Gauge
0.38mm thickness to 1.5mm thickness Greater than 1.5mm, upper to 12.5mm
Roll fed Flat sheet fed
Suitable for higher production volumes Suitable for higher production volumes
Rapid production times Slower production times
Less cost More expensive

Found Something Interesting?


The versatility and cost effectiveness of the plastic thermoforming process make it an ideal choice for a wide array of industry applications. Plastic thermoformed parts are commonly used to replace fabricated sheet metal components and also offer some unique advantages over parts constructed with FRP manufacturing processes. Whether your project is a new design or a process conversion from an existing one, thermoforming your components with Excelite can be an ideal solution for countless applications and industries.

thermoforming skylight

Thermoformed skylights are an eco-friendly solution for daylighting systems, allowing natural light to permeate indoor spaces while providing insulation.

Thermoforming polycarbonate

We also do thermoforming for construction vehicles’ machine guard, enclosures for kiosks, ATM, and POS applications and large equipment enclosures.

skate board

Skateboards crafted through drape thermoforming boast a perfect curve, strengthening them and more flexible.

racing boat thermoforming

Thermoforming manufacturing of racing boats used in A by providing lightweight, durable, and customizable components that contribute to improved performance, speed, and agility on the water.

Enclosures for medical device equipment

Thermoforming enclosures for medical device equipment create customized, compliant, and high-performance enclosures for a wide range of medical devices.

Railcar Component window

Thermoforming rail transportation parts for Brazil trim, paneling, window, seating, tray tables, luggage racks, and more.

Why Work With Us

With over 15 years of polycarbonate fabrication and machining experience, Excelite specializes in the fabrication of polycarbonate and acrylic sheet products, ensuring top-notch quality and precision. We are committed to providing the best manufacturing solutions tailored to your unique requirements. 

Whether you have a detailed drawing or just an idea, our team of professionals is ready to turn your vision into reality. Enjoy the benefits of our services, including:

In-house Design & Tooling

Exceptional Accuracy (+/- 0.005″ Tolerances)

Comprehensive OEM & ODM Services

ISO 9001:2008 Certification

Direct Manufacturer Advantage

We invite you to partner with us and experience a seamless, efficient, and quality-driven production process.


Get a Quote Today

Looking to transform your vision into a tangible product? 

At Excelite Plastics, we understand that every project is unique.


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