What is Vacuum Forming for Retail Displays

04 March 2021

Vacuum forming is also known as thermo forming and is a common method for processing plastic materials to create a wide range of plastic products including packaging, car components, food storage such as yoghurt pots and also retail point of sale displays.

There are so many ways that vacuum forming can be used that it’s pretty much everywhere. In fact, look around you, you’ll probably find something that has been vacuum formed in the room you’re currently sitting in.

How does Vacuum Forming work?

In short, a sheet of plastic is heated up and draped over a mould to create its shape.

The mould is called ‘tool’ or ‘pattern’. These are made bespoke to each vacuum formed product, so will be technically evaluated to determine the load bearing required, space for install/display and most importantly shape.

The process is really quite adaptable, so you can have fun with shapes and product positions. There are a few ground rules when it comes to angles, but your manufacturer will advise of these during the design stage of creating a vacuum formed product.

During production, a sheet of extruded plastic is positioned above the tool and heated up until its soft. The hydraulic vacuum forming machine then drapes the sheet material down across the tool using suction the suction of a vacuum. To make the plastic rigid once again, the plastic forming is then quickly cooled, making it ready to trim.

The result is a robust long-life display that can be used on shelf, on counter or as part of a larger display. 

Can you test Vacuum Forming before full production?

Answered very simply, yes. Prototype tooling may begin as a wooden or resin pattern, dependant on design, and budget. Production tooling is made from resin or aluminium, dependent on the lifespan required.  Subtle air holes (vent holes) are incorporated to allow for the forming process to occur.

What materials can be used?

The most common material used in point-of-sale vacuum forming is ‘High Impact Polystyrene’ also known as ‘HIPS’. 

Though there are other thermoplastics that can be used such as:

  • Polyester Copolymer PETG
  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene ABS
  • Polycarbonate PC
  • Polypropylene PP
  • Polyethylene (sheet and foamed sheet) PE
  • Polyvinyl Chloride PVC
  • Acrylic PMMA

The beauty of Vacuum Forming for Retail Displays

The ability to create bespoke products and their long-lasting quality makes vacuum forming an ideal and extremely popular method to create retail displays.

From the supermarket shelf through to the cosmetics counter, vacuum formed displays enable each display product to have its own display spot, in the form of a pot, channel or cut out.

Vacuum formed retail displays are often created with the display product in mind, so they can be uniquely designed to fit the product perfectly, creating a secure fit and keeping the display neat, tidy and organised.

Getting creative with colour

Vacuum formed products can be produced in a wide range of different colours, making them great for branded products and statement promotions.

Adding a brand or promotional message

Branding can be added to the tray either before or after the forming process. For example, subtle background imagery could be printed to the flat sheet before vacuum forming.  This can be really visually effective.

Branding or display graphics are typically added to vacuum formed products after the process has been completed and the plastic has been cooled and trimmed.

The benefits of Vacuum Forming

Vacuum forming comes with a number of positives, especially when it comes to creating retail displays…

The development stage is fast and the production time reasonably short – Ideal for retail displays needed quickly.

Very economical – The low tooling cost which can produce many hundreds repeat items.

Huge range of material options – allowing for creative freedom and close brand matching.

Trimmed waste can be recycled – Products can be labelled with end-of-life instructions according to retailer’s process.

Ready to speak to a Retail Design Specialist?

We’d be happy to help! Our retail design specialists are ready to help you create a vacuum formed display that delivers to your objectives and remains within budget.

Want to see what we can do? Take a look at our portfolio

Please contact our sales team on 01530 839777 or email info@threepd.co.uk

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