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Author Topic: Vacuum Forming?  (Read 2423 times)
Deck Hand
United States United States

What do you mean, it's escaped AGAIN?

« on: January 22, 2012, 06:08:08 pm »

Hello! I did a quick search and I didn't see any tutorials on this already. Now, admittedly, the first project I wish to use/think about using this tactic for is more cyber than steam but I have a feeling vacuum-forming could be very useful for steampunk accessories as well.

The original intent however is to make a Rinzler helmet. Does anyone have any ideas on how expensive vacuum-forming such a thing may be? How to go about it? Is this the best approach or could something else be done?

My small little group is going to mix up some steam into our Tron cosplay however. I have made a white corset with EL wire ribbing, but that's a whole different topic.
United Kingdom United Kingdom

« Reply #1 on: January 22, 2012, 06:42:49 pm »

How expensive it is depends on whether you have access to a vacuum forming machine. If you can get access to the kit then the process itself is pretty quick and cheap. The bulk of the effort goes into making the former.

Vacuum forming does have some limitations, in particular it's not good with undercuts and doesn't take surface detail or sharp corners and edges very well and the nature of the materials used means that it's not always easy to fabricate something from several pieces. 

I would suggest looking at moulding it in fibreglass, this is probably the most flexible method for making one-off and small batch shell mouldings. It takes detail well and it's possibly to make pretty much any shape that you can think of as long as you can sculpt it in the first place, it's also relatively easy to join sections together pretty much seamlessly to make more complex fabrications. You can also build up the thickness in specific areas to allow for mechanical fasteners (screws, bolts, hinges etc).

Fibreglass can also be self coloured by adding pigment to the resin (including realistic metallics) and also tales paint well.


A man of eighty has outlived probably three new schools of painting, two of architecture and poetry and a hundred in dress.
Lord Byron
Dr cornelius quack
Rogue Ætherlord
United Kingdom United Kingdom

Arrant Carney. Phmebian Cultural Attache.

« Reply #2 on: January 22, 2012, 07:51:06 pm »

I had to look up what a Rinzler was. (Thought it was a brand of 'roll your own' cigarette papers.)

The helmet looks to be a relatively simple dome shape with no fiddly detailing or awkward indents or undercuts.

As a vac form, you would be best to do it as two pieces and split it either top-bottom or left-right so as to avoid the problems of a shape that as wider in the middle than at the edges. (A re-entrant shape can be vac formed, but needs special, multi part formers that can be dismantled to clear the finished item.

My suggestion for a limited number of copies would be to use the expanded metal mesh that sculptors use to make a skeleton or frame to build clay models on.

Using this as a core, you can shape the curvature of the helmet directly as the finished piece and coat it in a suitable resin/glasscloth mix.

All of the usual methods for adding strengthening ribs on the inside can be used once you have a layer of composite inside and out.

Once you have made one that looks OK, then you can always take a mould from that to make more.

Such are the feeble bases on which many a public character rests.

Today, I am two, separate Gorillas.
Deck Hand
United States United States

What do you mean, it's escaped AGAIN?

« Reply #3 on: January 22, 2012, 07:59:28 pm »

Oh, I'm sorry. Maybe I should add a picture to the OP. I should have described it better >.<

We only really need the one for a costume, so making multiples, while could be interesting to try and sell, isn't a necessity. I've never worked with fiberglass before but it could be interesting to try. We've found a few tutorials online on how to make your own machine to form and I think my boyfriend was trying to figure out just how hard it would be.

Maybe if all goes well, I'll make a tutorial? If it goes terribly however, I'll just take some pictures to laugh at.
Ned Devine has Awoken
Deck Hand
United States United States

« Reply #4 on: March 12, 2012, 12:10:29 am »

Plastic sheet can be bought on-line from US Plastics, ABS is easy to use. You can make your "form" or Plug from anything that will stand up to a bit of heat and will not collapse, usually mounting it to a plywood base. A decent shop vac will work if you get a good seal. You will need to make a wooden frame to hold the blank sheet. The heating can be done in your kitchen oven..350 F will work. These are just generalities. I make and use Vac form molds for a living, If you post photos of the end item , I can give you more precise instruction.

Cheers....... Ned...

A man who never made a mistake is well overdue for one !
Likewise a man who stops listening...learns nothing....
Uncle Arthur
Zeppelin Captain
United States United States

« Reply #5 on: March 12, 2012, 12:34:26 am »

This may be of some help.

If at first you don't succeed , CHEAT!
Zeppelin Admiral
United Kingdom United Kingdom

« Reply #6 on: March 12, 2012, 01:27:27 am »

Looks useful:

We are the BEC,
And this we must confess,
Whatever is worth doing,
We'll do it to excess!
Mr. Excidio
Deck Hand
Sweden Sweden

« Reply #7 on: March 13, 2012, 07:49:08 pm »

Here are some links to get you going on the vacuum-a-tron thingy...

Perhaps you can use plexiglas?
Snr. Officer
United States United States

Solutions do not need Problems

« Reply #8 on: April 16, 2012, 08:16:21 am »

Search for

Vacuum forming has many challenges.  2 liter bottles can supply some cheap material to learn/experiment with. 

Star Wars fans who make stormtrooper costumes have made many tutorials on the subject.

I'd use fiberglass or paper machie.

Whatever happens we have got
The Maxim gun and they have not;
Technology is no substitute for Valor
Both are true.
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