Varaform is a lightweight, rigid and remoldable thermoplastic that has been used for years in the medical and veterinary industry, as well as for theater, stage, screen and conservation efforts. It’s archival, non toxic and skin safe. It’s easy to use and activates at 70°C or 160°F.
Here are the basics of using Varaform, some points from the manufacturer's fact sheets, some from our own experience.
Insert Varaform vertically into 160° F (71° C) water. Keep the material under water until air bubbles stop rising. Varaform will soften in 30 seconds. Varaform should not be kept in the water longer than 30 minutes.
If you need to work in multiple layers, it’s easier to do so by bonding sheets together first. Line up the grid and spot heat, pinching to bond the layers together. You can then heat the combined sheets as one unit.
Once removed from water, let it drain so that it becomes cool to the touch and ready to apply. Allow to drain 10-15 seconds before applying.
Working on a protected surface (parchment paper or a silicone sheet to prevent sticking) heat the Varaform evenly with the heat gun. If working with a large shape over a form, it may be easiest to place the sheet over the mold and heat directly over top.
Important: Work with wet hands and wet tools! Varaform is sticky and will try to stick to everything. You can use saran wrap or aluminum foil as a barrier on molds, and water helps keep it from sticking to your tools and hands.
Once activated, you have roughly 3 minutes of working time before it starts to set. While active, Varaform can be folded, tucked, stretched or
notched to achieve maximum contouring. Mold as you use each piece, going slow and steady: don’t try to rush. If your Varaform cools too fast, or if you wish to remold a specific area, apply heat to the area with a heat gun until the material is pliable.
Setting time for Varaform depends upon the thickness, project size, and room air temperature. A 3-layer section will set in 3-5 minutes at an average room temperature. Rigidity will be achieved after 10 minutes. Maximum strength of a thick section is attained in 30 minutes.
The number of layers needed to create Varaform scenery, jewelry, face masks, costume interiors or puppet heads varies. Adequate strength can usually be
achieved with 1-2 layers. Areas requiring extra rigidity should be reinforced with splints and total 3-5 layers.
To remold any section of the Varaform material, soften the area by carefully applying heat with a 1000-watt portable hair dryer or heat gun. As soon as the material has softened, it is ready for remolding.
Soften the area to be repaired as you would for remolding, then apply a new piece of heated Varaform to the softened area and rub gently around the edges for the best bond. Rough spots may be smoothed by gently pressing after the material has been softened.
Single layers may be re-used 2-3 times without compromising the thermoplastic characteristics. If Varaform has been heated but not used, it can be cooled while flat and used again.
Epoxies that will stick to the Varaform fabric may be used to fill in perforations to give a smooth surface, if desired. Varaform will accept a variety of coatings and paints. Small pieces should be used for experimentation to insure that the projects desired outcome is achieved.
Keep your Varaform in a cool, dry location. Do not leave in your car or other areas prone to overheating. Temperatures above 125º F may soften the material. Varaform meets the requirements of the Flammable Fabrics Act.
Varaform may be cleaned by using a damp, not wet sponge.
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