Vacuum forming is a simplified version of thermoforming, where a sheet of plastic is heated to a forming temperature, stretched onto a single-surface mold, and forced against the mold by a vacuum. This process can be used to form plastic into permanent objects such as turnpike signs and protective covers. Normally draft angles are present in the design of the mold (a recommended minimum of 3°) to ease removal of the formed plastic part from the mold.
Relatively deep parts can be formed if the formable sheet is mechanically or pneumatically stretched prior to bringing it into contact with the mold surface and applying vacuum.
Suitable materials for use in vacuum forming are conventionally thermoplastics. The most common and easiest to use thermoplastic is high impact polystyrene sheeting (HIPS). This is molded around a wood, structural foam or cast or machined aluminium mold, and can form to almost any shape. This high impact material is hygienic and capable of retaining heat and its shape when warm water is applied and is commonly used to package taste and odor sensitive products. Vacuum forming machine is also appropriate for transparent materials such as acrylic, which are widely used in applications for aerospace such as passenger cabin window canopies for military fixed wing aircraft and compartments for rotary wing aircraft. Vacuum forming is often used in low-level technology classes for an easy way to mold.
Original tabletop vacuum forming machine manufacturers (OEMs) utilize heavy gauge vacuum formed components for production quantities in the range of 250–3000 units per year. Vacuum-formed components can be used in place of complex fabricated sheet metal, fiberglass, or plastic injection molding. Typical industry examples besides product packaging include: fascias for outdoor kiosks and automated teller machines, enclosures for medical imaging and diagnostic equipment, engine covers in a truck cab or for construction equipment, and railcar interior trim and seat components. Vacuum formers are also often used by hobbyists, for applications such as masks and remote control cars.