Common Plastics Used in Thermoforming

Thermoforming involves heating up large sheets of thermoplastics and shaping them around a custom tool to get a necessary shape. For custom plastic products and components, choosing the right plastic materials is essential to getting the best results for our customers.  At API, we specialize in plastic thermoforming, and we have an in-depth knowledge of the materials we use so we can help our customers which plastics will work best.

Understanding Thermoplastics

Plastics can be divided into two unique groups: thermosets and thermoplastics.

  • Thermosets: Heat changes the chemical bond, so, upon reaching the cured state, they can't be melted and reshaped.
  • Thermoplastics: Soften when heated and can be melted into a fluid, but because no chemical changes occur, they can be molded and recycled without changing the properties of the plastic itself.

All of the plastics we use for both injection molding and thermoforming are thermoplastics. However, some thermoplastics work better for thermoforming because when they are heated, they are pliable and easy to form and shape. Other thermoplastics are ideal for injection molding because they can be melted and molded into the needed design.

Best Plastics for Thermoforming

We use high-quality thermoplastics for every project, and the materials we use most often for thermoforming include:

 High Impact Polystyrene (HIPS)

High impact polystyrene, or HIPS, is the most common plastics used in thermoforming for several reasons.  HIPS is a low cost material that has a high melting point and, because rubber additives are mixed in, it is very pliable, meaning it's easy to shape and form. Once this smooth, glasslike plastic is shaped and cooled, it's durable to impact.

HIPS is used in all kinds of products, including:

Acrylonitrile Styrene Butadiene (ABS)

Made of acrylonitrile, styrene, and butadiene, ABS is a very rigid, sturdy plastic that can tolerate impacts, chemical exposure, and UV exposure. Plus, it's also surprisingly elastic and flexible. These features, combined with its low cost and ease of fabrication, combine to make it a commonly used thermoplastic.

Aside from food packaging and medical implants, ABS is used for nearly every industry we serve. Examples of where you've seen it include:

  • Automobile parts and components, including trunk tubs, dashboards, and consoles.
  • Bathtubs and shower stalls
  • Luggage
  • Computer keyboard keys
  • 3D models and product prototypes

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)

Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, is another plastic that has qualities necessary for successful thermoforming. It is a lower-cost material that is highly versatile, depending on any additives used in it. PVC can be very thin and highly flexible to make shower curtains and plastic wrap and it can also be used to make durable, rigid pipes. While it's pure state is a white, opaque, brittle material, plasticizers and pthalates can make it much softer, while blending it with cotton can create canvas material.

PVC is used in all types of products, including:

  • Pipes used in sewage and water treatment
  • Telecommunication materials, including wires and cables
  • Shower curtains
  • Medical tubing and IV bags
  • Rain coats, ponchos, and rain boots
  • Wall coverings
  • Housing materials, including window frames, siding, and fences


Acrylic is a transparent, flexible, impact resistant material that can be thermoformed easily. It softens at high temperatures, but it doesn't reach a liquid state until around 320 degrees, making it a great option for heat shaping. Because it makes a great alternative to glass, acrylic, or "plexiglass," is used to make:

  • Windshields and windows in outdoor equipment and underwater windows
  • Furniture
  • Aquariums
  • Motorcycle and bicycle helmets
  • Signs and sign holders
  • Displays and shelving at businesses
  • Television screens

Contact Us for Thermoplastic Manufacturing

For high-quality, durable plastic products and components, reach out to Advanced Plastiform, Inc. Our experienced team is with you from the beginning of design, through prototyping, and manufacturing to ensure you're getting a highly accurate product that is true to the design.

By combining the best materials and innovative equipment and technology with our knowledge and experience, we’re a leading plastics manufacturer, serving businesses across North Carolina, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, and Virginia.

Contact Advanced Plastiform, Inc.

Let Us Know How We Can Help!

Advanced Plastiform Facility

Contact the Leaders in Thermoforming

We're here to discuss your custom plastic manufacturing needs.
Please call us at  919-404-2080 or email us now.