What is Thermoforming?

We see signs everywhere, every day. Have you ever wondered how they’re made? One process commonly used by sign companies is thermoforming. 

Thermoforming is a manufacturing process where a plastic sheet is heated to a pliable forming temperature, formed to a specific shape in a mold, and trimmed to create a usable product. The sheet, or “film” when referring to thinner gauges and certain material types, is heated in an oven to a high enough temperature that permits it to be stretched into or onto a mold and cooled to a finished shape. Its simplified version is vacuum forming.

Depending on the end user’s requirements, different types of gauges (sheet thickness) are used in this process: thin-gauge or heavy-gauge. To make the sign, heat, and pressure compress sheet plastic into a prepared mold, creating a sign with raised characters and other decorative elements. Molds for standard signs can be used many times, such as when signs are required for a business with multiple locations.  

There are different types of thermoforming methods. While vacuum forming is the most common technique, there are three main types of thermoforming. The chosen method is determined by the shape, size, and material used for product development. Thermoforming manufacturers determine which method is best for each client’s needs. 

  • Vacuum-Forming Method: Vacuum forming is a fairly simple type of thermoforming because this method only uses one mold at a time. The part is formed by using a vacuum to heat and stretch plastic over a mold. This method is typically employed for shallow plastic parts that require cavities. Vacuum-formed plastics are a viable alternative to fabricated sheet metals, fiberglass, and injection-molded materials. 
  • Pressure-Forming Method: With this method, pressure is applied to the backside of the mold as plastic sheets are pressed and heated to achieve the desired shape. The pressure-forming method enables corners to have smaller radii, which gives parts a sharper appearance. This technique is ideal for tight tolerances and produces consistently molded features. 
  • Acrylic: This transparent and impact-resistant material is a sturdy alternative to glass, which is why it is used to produce windshields, signs, aquariums, and TV screens. 

At Federal Heath, our in-house thermoforming capabilities are centrally located in the United States out of our Jacksonville, Texas, manufacturing facility. With 150,000 square feet of manufacturing space, state-of-the-art equipment, and highly skilled tradespeople we are equipped to handle any size project. with quality that brands have come to trust since 1901.

This video shows the process in action as we create some Phillips 66 sign faces. Other companies that we use the thermoforming process for include – Shell, Lidl, Burger King, and Sonic, to name a few.