Photo of plans built Vacuum forming machine.


    Proto-Form -- Construction Plans


    Reduced Price ... now sold as download and/or CD

       Downloads require Adobe Acrobat Reader 9 or newer


Buy Me Proto-Form plans -  download only ... $65.00 

Buy Me Proto-Form plans- CD and download ... $75.00 + S&H


"Fast Heat" oven kits available now

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What can it do ?

"Vacuum Forming" or "Thermoforming" is a simple process where you take a flat plastic sheet, and heat it until it's soft. Then you stretch it over a mold or pattern, and suck it down tightly with vacuum. The plastic cools quickly and retains that shape. Vacuum forming is ideal whenever you need a "shell" type plastic part with uniform wall thickness. You can form over wood, plaster and many other materials. (See sample parts below)

How Does it Work?

Lets go through the process, (refer to the drawing above).  Clip a plastic sheet into the carrier frame and raise the lift handle until it locks. This raises the plastic to the overhead oven where it will heat until it gets soft. Place your mold or pattern anywhere on the perforated forming surface below, (also called the Platen). When the plastic has the correct amount of sag or droop, its ready to form. Lower the handle to bring the soft plastic down and stretch it over your mold. When the handle is all the way down, open the dump valve to release the stored vacuum and suck the plastic down tightly. The plastic cools quickly and the part can be removed. Load another sheet and do it again. The typical cycle time ranges from 1 to 5 minutes depending on plastic thickness. Form up to 1/4 inch thick sheets!

Illustration of Proto-Form Machine

Finally an affordable solution for the thousands of small businesses that need vacuum formed parts. Model Makers, Inventors, Design Studios, Theaters, Specials Effects companies, etc.... The Proto-Form machine is perfect for prototype parts and packaging, display models, signs and even volume production of high quality parts. Your machine will have identical performance to units costing $10,000+

Now the alternative to those high priced machines is to build your own. The concept is very simple and the parts and materials don't cost much. In addition to our comprehensive construction plans, we offer oven kits and vacuum pumps to make your project go smoothly.

Free Bonus: All plans now include these two free Supplements:
• Tips on enlarging your machine
• Two stage vacuum systems

More Details and Frequently Ask Questions


Proto-Form Specifications and Features

  Small Medium Large
Plastic Sheet size 24 x 24 in. 24 x 36 in. 24 x 48 in.
Platen Size (usable area) 21 x 21 in. 21 x 33 in. 21 x 45 in.
Depth of draw 12 in.+ 12 in.+ 12 in.+
Max. plastic thickness 1/4 in. 1/4 in. 1/4 in.
Max Vacuum ( IN.HG. ) 25 - 29 25 - 29 25 - 29
Avg. Cost to build $1100 $1300 $1800


High output infrared design uses tubular type elements, these are the industry  standard because of their low cost and reliability. The oven is optimized to compensate  for heat loss around the edges. 8 to 16 Individual elements lined up in a row, each  one attaches directly to a stainless steel bus bar to minimize electrical connections.   Oven packages are available that include the heating elements, pre-drilled bus bars,  8 gauge high temperature wires, set screw terminals and mounting collars.

Heat controls and Zones

The oven can be split into zones (center and outer), and can be adjusted with simple oven controls available from any appliance repair store.

Vacuum System

Plans show how to properly size the pumps, tanks and valves for each machine. Suggested combinations are given for budget or performance systems tailored to each size machine. Includes sources for low cost pumps and tanks. (See our "Bargains" page for deals on vacuum pumps)

Clamp Frame

Simple, rugged manual lift system is hard to beat, its smooth fast and provides plenty of leverage. Simply raise the handle to heat the plastic and lower it when ready to form. Plans show cost effective way to hold plastic sheet with spring clips as well as quick release toggle clamps.


Unique design uses an all metal air tight sandwich construction over a wood base.The ultra low internal volume means fast response, and zero leakage makes this a high performance machine. The platen is easily removable. Make as many different sizes as you need.

Rugged Construction

The chassis is welded square steel tubing and the exterior panels are made from wood. No gaskets or seals to replace and no real wear parts means low maintenance. This machine is rugged, yet attractive enough for any design studio.

What's in the plans?

Here's what you get with the plans. Take a good look at this picture!

Now only available on CD, the Photo shows what it looks like when printed out. You can take the disc to Kinko's and print the full set, or view it on your computer and print only what you need? The blue binder shown in the photo contains the 100 page illustrated assembly manual.

Again, you get all of this on a CD. The photo just shows the large volume of information if you print it all out.

  Complete specifications are given for all parts as well as part numbers from two large mail order companies. Save a lot of time, just call in your order and have your parts in a few days. Easy to read construction manual includes illustrations to make every step easy to understand.

An important chapter on planning clearly explains the options available to help you make the right choices, and discusses the skills and tools needed for building. If you will be hiring someone else to build all or part of your machine there is special information to help you find qualified sources.

10 chapters cover all details of construction. Helpful "Tips" throughout the manual, are filled with practical information on building, using and customizing each area. Options are offered wherever possible to let you make substitutions. Clear explanations, photo's and diagrams will guide you through it. Not only will you learn how.., but you will also learn why it works. Finally the section on operation will have you up and running fast with useful tips on troubleshooting common problems.

Here's what you get on disc..

  • 106 page illustrated assembly manual with wiring diagrams.
  • Separate parts lists, wood and steel cut lists and pump and tank sources.
  • 3 full size cut-away drawings of an assembled machine
  • 27 fully dimensioned assembly and parts drawings.
  • 4 photo pages with 36 color pictures.


Sample Parts

Sample Parts made on Proto-form 2 x 4 machine

These Parts were made on a 2 x 4 ft Proto-Form machine.

  • The top part is a full size car fender made from 3/16 thick ABS.
  • The part on the left shows the crisp definition possible even with 1/4 inch thick plastic (Styrene)
  • The black part is .090 Styrene and shows some of the possible shapes you can vacuum form


Heating Element Kits

New  "Fast Heat" oven kits available now,... save 30%

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These heating element kits are custom made and optimized for the Proto-Form machine. They have the correct watt density and infra-red wavelength as well as built in supplemental perimeter heating. you do not need temperature controls with these kits because they are "tuned" to work well with plastics. There are many other types of elements that can be designed into this machine, but none of them will do a better job, and all of them will cost more. There are simply no "Off the Shelf" elements you can buy that will work as well as these oven kits.

These oven kits really work well!.. Please don't try to re-invent this critical component.