Before 3D Printers, There Was Mattel's VAC-U-FORM

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Recently I was looking up the types of models that kids used to make when model and hobby stores existed, and came across an advertisement for a curious looking contraption called the VAC-U-FORM.

I'd never heard of it before, but basically it was a toy (albeit one that had to be used with caution) that kids (and adults) could use to make...other toys. Whoa. Knock me over with a feather; this thing looked like it was a blast!

The VAC-U-FORM was manufactured by Mattel (you can tell it's Mattel; it's swell) in the early '60s and used the industrial process known as vacuum forming to make plastic molds on a small scale. The machine came with several plastic sheets in a variety of colors. The user would insert a sheet of plastic in a metal holder which got heated over a metal plate. When the plastic got soft and malleable, the holder was swung to the other side where a mold of a desired object was waiting for it. The user would press a handle on the side of the toy that created the vacuum and pressed the plastic over the mold. The shaped plastic would solidify and cool and voila -- you've got yourself a plastic toy, or a part that would be used to create one.

The VAC-U-FORM came with several molds, but additional ones could be purchased separately, and any solid object that could withstand the high temperature and hot plastic could realistically be used as a mold.

Of course, a toy like this would be considered dangerous today, as there were exposed hot surfaces that a child or grown-up could burn themselves on. While Mattel discontinued the product at some point, another company called ToyMax produced its own version, called the VAC-U-FORMER, in the 1990s. Their version was a little safer as it replaced the hot plate with a light bulb, similar to what's found in an Easy Bake Oven.

Both products appear to be readily available on eBay, with prices ranging from $30 for just the machine itself to $100 for an unused complete kit. Wikipedia says many are still in use today, particularly by hobbyists that use the product to make parts for their own crafts.

All I know is...if this had been still on shelves when I was a kid, I definitely would have asked for one! (I also like that a product like this was marketed to both girls and boys.) It looks really awesome; worth the risk of a few burned fingers...


  1. Verry interesting! Pam, you just gave me a flashback to another one of these "hot" toys they'd never sell to kids today, Mattel's "Creepy Crawlie Thing Maker"--you poured some kind of goop into various bug & monster molds on a hot plate, in the 3rd grade I wanted one in the worst way & my mom absolutely refused--and sure enough, a week or so after Christmas my neighbor (and classmate) Hope invited me over--TO SEE HERS! A girl--a GIRL with a creepy-crawlie thing maker! I gotta see if one of those are on Youtube too :) Thanks & Merry Christmas Go Retro!

    1. Thanks, Doug! The Thing Maker was indeed pretty similar to this toy and recently was included in a video I posted to the GR Facebook page listing the most dangerous toys of the '60s (because of the chemicals used and the fumes they gave off.) I saw in the comments on YouTube that the VAC-U-FORM gave off fumes, too, as the plastic melted. Sorry to hear you never got a creepy crawler thing maker of your own, but that's cool that your female neighbor got one...and I hope she let you make a few bugs with it. Merry Christmas to you as well, Doug!

    2. Doug, I had one of those Creep Crawler makers when I was a lad. It was a blast! My brother and I played with it for hours. I can't remember what happened to it. Also nobody got hurt. Ahh the memories!!

  2. PS. I was a little off on the name, but here's the commercial for it :)


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