What Is Heavy Gauge Thermoforming?

Many businesses rely on the strength, rigidity, and reliability of heavy gauge thermoforming for their plastic parts. There is a lot of confusion surrounding this technology and how it relates to thin gauge thermoforming.

Our thermoforming experts will explain exactly what heavy gauge thermoforming is, and how it can benefit your manufacturing operation.


What Is Heavy Gauge Thermoforming?

Heavy gauge thermoforming is also called thick gauge thermoforming. It’s a manufacturing process that makes durable, sturdy, and protective enclosures around products.

This technique is used on medical equipment, computers, airplanes, and even aerospace. If you look at a plastic medical cart, you’ll see an example of heavy gauge thermoforming. All the plastic that goes into the assembly was probably manufactured using this method.

It is typically reserved for low to mid-volume mass-produced parts. The technology offers low-cost molds, high precision, and fast turnaround times.

Thermoforming just refers to the process of fabricating the part. The actual part can be made from a range of different plastics, allowing you to customize the final properties.

To thermoform plastic, it has to be heated then put into a mold where vacuum or pressure is used to shape the part. It gets cooled, removed from the mold, then trimmed to make the final part.

Differences Between Heavy and Thin Gauge Plastic Thermoforming

On the other hand, there’s a technique called thin gauge plastic thermoforming. The process is very similar, but it creates lower-strength parts like the plastic containers for holding strawberries in the supermarket. Here are some of the key differences:

Overall Thickness

The biggest difference is the thickness of the material. While you can still find heavy gauge thermoformed plastic of thinner sizes, it also ranges into much thicker pieces.

In general, thin gauge plastic is anything less than 1/8 of an inch. Heavy gauge plastic can go up to 1 inch.

Material Used

Since the process is a little different, you’re able to use different materials. Thin gauge materials are plastics like PETG, Styrene, Polypropylene, PET, and Clear PVC. Heavy gauge thermoforming uses ABS, variations of Polypropylene, Polycarbonate, HDPE, TPO, HIPS, and PVC.

While there is some overlap, thick gauge thermoformed pieces tend to use stronger materials.

Annual Volume

Thin gauge thermoforming allows for more units to be made each year. Thick gauge parts take longer to make and the strain on the molding is more serious, resulting in a lower annual volume.

In general, a thick gauge thermoforming mold can make less than 10,000 units a year while a thin gauge thermoform can make much more than 10,000 annually.

If your operation requires high-volume production, you can create multiple thick gauge thermoforming molds to speed up the process.

Strength and Durability

Since heavy gauge thermoforming opts for thicker material, the final product is stronger and more durable. This shouldn’t come as a huge surprise since it’s the leading reason why a manufacturer would choose heavy gauge over thin gauge.

Size of Parts

You’ll also notice that heavy gauge thermoformed parts can be a lot larger. This goes back to the added strength due to the thickness and material options.

It’s possible to make heavy gauge thermoformed parts up to 11’ by 7’, a feat not possible in thin gauge parts.

Of course, you need the right manufacturers to be able to accommodate such large parts. It takes a lot of expertise and floorspace to handle large pieces like this.


Heavy gauge thermoforming is the preferred manufacturing method for businesses around the world because of its high precision, repeatability, low cost, high strength, and fast turnaround times. If you want a partner that can meet your needs, match your demands, and give you the best possible results, choose Plastics Design & Manufacturing. At PDM, we can assist you with the design and development of your product from concept to prototype and into production. Reach out to us today to get started.