Vac-Forming And Gaming

Reflexively, I like this. I want to get one and find some clever gaming use for it. Unfortunately, having seen many vac-formed bits of terrain over the years, I can’t say I’ve ever been really impressed. OK, on occasion, and not without their uses, but never top flight.The detail just isn’t there.

What am I talking about? This:

It’s on Kickstarter at the moment, and it’s doing reasonably well. Seems like a sound version. I’m not sure how the price compares to anything comparable as I haven’t looked, and I’m not trying to sell you one either. It’s really just the catalyst for a thought:

What practical gaming use could I put it to?

What do you think? So far, all the ideas I’ve had sound great initially, then I quickly spot the flaws.

Terrain and models all need more detail than this process can offer, unless you need a bunch of planets for a space game. Asteroids, maybe. But these aren’t exactly hard to do anyway. You could do very simple buildings for a futuristic city. Again, maybe. Still not really convinced.

Pieces for a board game mock-up? Perhaps. But these days people are looking for quality sculpts rather than Mousetrap. Can’t see much mileage there either.

You could use it to make box inserts for packaging. Yeah, you could, but I’m not really expecting to need to do that. Certainly not often enough to warrant this amount of toy soldier money going on a vac-form machine.

I may well think of something wonderful as soon as I’ve clicked the button to publish. Didn’t get much sleep last night so I’m not at my most shiny today. Maybe it will come to me after lunch.

But can you help me out here? What do you think about gaming uses for vac-forming? What would you use it for if it sat on your desk?

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41 Responses to Vac-Forming And Gaming

  1. mattadlard says:

    Suppose could be used to make resin mold masters for building bits like doors and windows etc.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I don’t think you’d get enough detail.

      • mattadlard says:

        Would make a good option for that #Oldhammer style scenery from the old WH40K Rogue Trader book.

        Have seen vac forming used for some scenery, if one remembers rightly it was used for a Warlord openday conventions and showed in one of the gaming magazines. I think mountain side or rocks.

  2. Simon Rippin says:

    From what I saw in the kick starter blurb, it looks like rocks hills and domes and geodesic domes are the only practical uses for gaming. We used to be able to get models that used vac forming, Gerry Anderson stuff but it was the resin and metal details that made the kits. The vac forming just allowed cheaper large forms than injection moulding allowed. What I haven’t seen is how much detail you can get on the inside surface. But apart from realistic garden ponds I can’t think of a gaming application.mid wait for 3D printers to drop in price.

  3. Chris says:

    I had one when I was a kid:
    A lot cheaper! Honestly, the vacuforming wasn’t used much… we used it mainly to make Creepy Crawlies. You could use the KS version to mass produce small hills and such, but yeah, not much else. It’s not that hard to carve styrofoam and you want some variation in your battlefield. You don’t want every hill to be the same. I’d rather spend a lot less money on a decent hotwire carving toolset.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I wonder if health and safety would allow you to have anything as dangerous these days. I mean, you might hurt yourself by vac-forming your head, or something. Remember, nanny knows best…

  4. J mcleish says:

    I did some detailed thinking about what angles etc I could get away with in order to vacuum form a set of interlocking corridors. I think it was possible, but it would only give you the main shape, you would then dress it up with grated floors, pipes hatches and so on. It would make repeatable parts (key for corridors) but still require a lot of extra work for detailed gaming.

    Still may do that eventually but have a 3D printer now so low on the priorities.

  5. Nick says:

    When I was at school (about 25 years ago) our class made fuse testers using the school workshop’s vac former. We had free reign to make any shaped former we liked out of MDF so we made ones reminiscent of 40k tanks with the hope of using the plastic shells as the basis for scratch-builds. It wasn’t very effective. I recall it being funny trying to explain to the teacher why we had chosen the odd looking shapes that we had, without admitting the truth.

  6. Simon Wood says:

    You can make chocolate.
    All other arguments are invalid.

  7. Amera Plastic Mouldings is vac-formed stuff, right? Haven’t tried any myself, but the pictures I’ve seen look ok.

    That aside, the marketing video for the KS makes me feel a bit sick, given the number of times they say you’ll finally be able to Make Things at home!!! Like we haven’t been Making Things forever.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      I’ve had some of Amera’s stuff in the past, and it’s OK. It’s a starting point to work on top of, and I may buy more of it in the future to do just that with. However, I just think that if I spent the money on this KS I’d want something more than that.

  8. Daniel Owen says:

    have used a lot of Vac Forming in college/uni, in my opinion, yeah maybe it could be used, but not for anything with details

    maybe building sides that have a few ridges on, maybe to form hills and that kind of thing, but if you are looking for things like window frames, door handles, wooden planks etc, then you will have to look somewhere else as the details would be lost in the process due to the thickness of the material

    maybe it could be used to form the base shapes of things, and then the details added manually later, but other than that, personally i cant see any other uses

    you’ve also got to watch out for things like sharp edges and corners etc, things like that will typically cause the plastic to split on those edges. Also you need to think a lot about how to remove the vac formed plastic from what you’ve moulded, as it can be quite difficult sometimes

    thats just my experience/opinion anyway

  9. Wow, yeah seems like the there’s a lot of money being dropped on that for making some very cheap simple objects.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      My thoughts exactly. Look like a nice toy to have in a workshop, but the amount of use it would get just doesn’t seem to warrant the cost. Unless you already have one of everything else.

      I was wondering if anyone else had a great gaming idea that I’d missed. Seems not. Oh well.

  10. The concrete plant pot example they show, made me think of the wet-sand-in-a-bucket technique which I first learned about from the RT rulebook. Surface finish wouldn’t be quite the same, but OTOH you don’t need a $350 machine to make your mould.

  11. GW sold vac-formed terrain for a bit and I’ve seen plastic model kits. Casting from it would have better details than using the form itself. However you could use it to make parts for terrain, shapes which you later detail. For example, you find the perfect pill bottle for the row of acid tanks but you need 5 and have 1. You can make multiple copies of it.

  12. Pete S/ SP says:

    I think Early War Miniatures tench systems are the best use of vac forming for gaming that I’ve seen. It has the best compromises in terms of price and quality to cover a decent sized table with a trench system.



    • Quirkworthy says:

      “Trenches” that stick about the ground level (largely I think a 40K misnomer) always look wrong to me. Far better is simply cutting into a foam board to have them actually underground 🙂

  13. David Drage says:

    As a professional model maker I would say that vacuum-formers are great tools. However, for hobby users they do take a lot of clean up and it can be difficult to get a good edge on forms. The detail issue can be overcome by pulling the plastic into a negative form, however that makes the job of making the original form exponentially harder…

    • J mcleish says:

      That was what I always thought about the Amera products. The inside of the form has great detail, the ‘play’ side, not so much…

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Thanks David. A good point I’d forgotten about. “Exponentially harder” isn’t a great advert for the process though 😛

  14. bsrlee says:

    This unit has a major problem that is hinted about in several previous posts – it only uses a regular vacuum cleaner to evacuate the air. From my reading about hi-end prop making you need a two stage evacuation system – initially a low pressure, high volume system that has a large hose (not the piddly thing in the video) such as a vacuum cleaner that can be quickly switched to a high pressure system while the plastic is still soft. Mostly the high pressure system uses a large tank that is evacuated by a smaller vacuum pump ($$$) running pretty much continuously with a two way valve to connect to the vacformer. So you open the ‘suck’ valve on the vacformer to the low pressure system and wait for the plastic to form down most of the way then flip the two way valve to the high pressure system to finish the forming with all the fine detail.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      Thanks bsrlee. It seems to be a hobby product rather than a more robust industrial one. I’d be interested to see the difference you can get with a 2-stage vac-former rather than the one stage shown here. Certainly all the examples shown in the video are very simple and undetailed shapes.

  15. toko says:

    Not gaming stuff, but Lee Bontecou did awesome stuff with vac forming:

    Of course a lot of it was done in separate pieces which required assembly afterwards. Still pretty cool.

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