Vacuum Forming

posted Jul 24, 2011, 4:43 PM by Paul Wasson   [ updated Jul 31, 2011, 7:36 PM ]

While we're waiting for the glue to dry on the Making a Doom Set walk-through, I thought I would share some Vacuum Forming experiments.

I wanted to make some armor inspired by the Micronaut Space Glider figure, but for an 8" Mego figure and thought vacuum forming might be a good way to do it.

I bought a DIY vacuum forming kit from Phlatboyz called the Phlatformer.  The kit went together pretty well.  I had a little trouble as the directions only came on a DVD, and I couldn't read the DVD on my notebook computer, so I had to keep running back and forth from my garage to my television.  When I got to the end, I also found 4 screws were missing.  After a quick trip to the hardware store, I had it done.  It works by using an electric skillet to heat up a 12"x12" sheet of plastic (on the left in the picture above) and a shop-vac connected to the bed (on the right in the picture above).

You put your original, or "plug", on the left side.  Here I have some Micronaut domes and a vending maching "egg".  When the plastic is hot enough, then you lift the hinge up and over and down onto the vacuum bed.  At the same time, you step on a foot-peddle that engage a shop-vac that is connected to the bed.  You can see in the picture, the bed contains holes and grooves.  The holes are where the air get sucked out, pulling the plastic down.  The groove and there so that the "plug" doesn't block the hole and the vacuum pressure can be maintained.  There is also weather-stripping around the outside to make a good seal with the plastic to aid the vacuum pressure.

Here I removed the originals and put the plastic back down so you can see the results.  This was using clear, thin, PETG plastic which is similar to the plastic used to make soda bottles.

Getting back to the armor.  I used the laser cutter to cut out a bunch of panels for the armor out of thin, white acrylic plastic.  I wasn't quite sure what size to make them, so I tried a few different scales.

I then used modeling clay to put the panels onto a 1/9 scale torso.  I used the largest panels I cut, but they were still a bit too small.  I'll have to try again with bigger panels, but I still wanted to go through the exercise to learn the process.  This picture was actually after I pulled the original out of the plastic and the panels had shifted around a bit.

Here is what the "pull" looked like.  I was pretty happy with the results, but see some room for improvement on my next attempt.  I think the "waffle" pattern of the plastic looks pretty cool.  I used thin white styrene this time.

Here is the same piece trimmed and placed on a figure.  The armor is obviously too small as it should come out to his arms, but I'm very pleased with the process and look forward to trying it again.

Read more about my vacuum forming experiments in part deux.