Here at Vaquform we like to believe that we have a firm understanding of who we make the machine for. For instance, we know that Vaquform would become a valuable asset to cosplayers who may want to create props or costume pieces that might take forever using more tried and tested methods such as 3D Printing or Foamsmithing. That is just one of the many markets we cater to.
What came to us as a surprise however is that Vaquform has become a hot commodity within the chocolate making community to the point that it has become one of our biggest and most profitable markets. We’ve received quite a number of messages, photos and videos from chocolatiers showcasing how they have used Vaquform to create beautiful, one-of-a-kind pieces or tell us how it has become a godsend to their business. Even now the community continues to grow and we’re all blown away at how Vaquform has slowly integrated itself to the chocolate making business.
Professional Chocolatiers have many tools in their arsenal to produce their products. Some may have labs decked out with top-of-the-line appliances, a dedicated team to help them with their process or access to the best ingredients. You might want to jump right in and create over-the-top ambitious pieces. Since this is the ultimate beginners guide however, let’s begin with the basics and assume you might have limited or no immediate access to what the pros do. Like the expression goes, you’ll need to learn how to walk before you can run. This won’t be a problem because once we get the basics down and you’re more comfortable and familiar with how the machine works, you’ll realize that there is an endless amount of potential with your Vaquform!
For now, we’ll start things off with a simple one-part mold. Simply pour the chocolate in, let it set, and pop it right out.
Here’s how to do it.
First thing you will need to have is your forming tool or buck. This is what you will use to create the vaquformed copy on your plastic sheet. Makers will often create forming tools using different fabrication techniques such as 3D printing, CNC milling or sculpting. These are topics for another article but as a beginner’s guide, we will be using more accessible methods.
For this guide, we’ll use something that is readily available almost anywhere or you may have some in your homes now…
The great thing about them is they come in so many shapes and sizes that you are bound to find what you’re looking for. For this guide, we’ll be using fruit shaped magnets. Another advantage of using refrigerator magnets is since they’re already magnetic, they’ll stick to Vaquform’s plate mesh so you don’t have to worry about the pieces moving around during cycles. They also have no deep areas and undercuts which are two of the most important factors to take in when preparing a tool for forming.
Now we can move on and prepare the machine for forming.
Once you have your Vaquform assembled, plugged in and turned on, load your plastic sheet onto the frame. For chocolate molds, we recommend using clear PETG sheets which you can also purchase on our website vaquform.com. These are food grade and very easy to work with. Sheets come in 0.25, 0.50, 0.75 and 1mm thicknesses all pre cut to fit the machine. Once you have your plastic sheet loaded onto the frame, adjust the settings on the LCD menu. Vaquform has several pre-programmed material settings including Polystyrene, ABS and of course PETG. When the material selection is highlighted, use the left or right buttons to navigate to the PETG setting. You’ll see that the target temperature setting is at 150C. From our experience, you may want to bring the temperature down to around 130C to prevent overheating and overstretching the plastic sheet which causes webbing and distortion.
You can try this initial setup then you can try and experiment with your own setting.
K (Material Thickness): 1.00*
V (Vacuum Tuning): 0*
*The K and V settings you may leave as is. We will have a more detailed article discussing these in the future.
Once the temperature is set, press the center button until the orange button on the right starts to blink. This is the time to raise the sheet frame towards the heaters and place your forming tools in the forming area. Make sure to evenly space them out so you get a proper pull. When you are happy with the placement of your forming tools, go ahead and press the orange button. This will begin the heating cycle.
If this is the first time you will be using the machine or it has been a while since the last use, it may take longer for the heaters to heat up. It will generally take around 5-6 minutes before it hits the target forming temperature. Occasionally, the LCD may give you a SLOW HEATING prompt. This is normal during the first heat cycle. The machine will then give you a prompt to continue the heating cycle. You will see YES and NO at the bottom of the screen. Press either the left or right button below the corresponding choice. If this happens again, simply repeat this process. The initial heat cycle is also a reason why you want to lower the target temperature of PETG. The longer the heating will take, the more time the plastic is exposed. Watch out for how much the plastic droops down from the frame because it will affect the quality of the pull as I mentioned before, causing webbing or distorting the plastic. To avoid this outright, you may opt to preheat the machine before actually forming anything. You may do this by simply running a heat cycle without a plastic sheet.
You may monitor the current temperature of the plastic on the LCD screen. The IR sensor, which is located on the left side of the lower unit, reads the material temperature in real time and once the target temperature is reached, the machine will automatically switch on the vacuum. Bring down the plastic sheet. Make sure that you pull the handlebar down all the way. You will know it’s down when you feel the linkages on the side lock and straighten. If done correctly you will see the plastic begin to wrap tightly around your forming tools.
Congratulations! You now have your first Vaquformed chocolate mold!
Repeat the process to your heart’s content.
You have your molds, but you realize you want more of one shape or an entire tray with only that shape. Let’s say we want more grapes but the set of magnets that were used for this guide only contained two grape shapes. You’re free to use those two pieces but it may seem like a waste to use one whole sheet with only two small pieces. The best thing to do is to duplicate these shapes. To achieve this, makers would often use 3D printing to create multiple copies of a tool. Here at Vaquform we developed a technique of making copies of a tool using epoxy resins. Still being a beginner’s guide, we’ll keep the materials we use more accessible. A simple and less expensive solution to making more copies of a tool is using Plaster of Paris. It’s a guarantee that you will be able to find this is any craft or hobby stores in your area.
Prepare the plaster according to the package instructions. When the plaster is ready, pour it into the vaquform molds. Depending on how many you need, this may take a bit of time because of the prep work and the curing time but eventually, you’ll have as much as you need. You may have to clean the casts to get rid of the excess plaster on the sides or sand the bottom if they did not cure flat.
Repeat the same process of loading your plastic sheets, adjusting the material settings and placing the tools on the forming area. Note that there are no more magnets for your tools so they may shift positions from time to time during forming cycles or slight movements. You can use a bit of tape to keep them in place to prevent this.
Now that you have your molds, it’s time to make some chocolate!
After forming your molds, you may want to cut them to more manageable sizes. Clean the molds with soap and water to remove any plaster residue that may have stuck to it.
Prepare and temper your chocolate. There are many ways to do this such as using a double broiler, the microwave or the table method. Choose whichever you’re comfortable doing. your chocolate is tempered and ready, you can now use your molds to make your chocolate creations with! Pralines, Bonbons, or whatever your idea you have going!
YOUR FIRST STEPS
Now you have your foot in the door of unlocking the potential of Vaquform in the chocolate making business! What makes it even more exciting is that there are literally endless possibilities on what you can do with Vaquform. What we’ve shown you here is only the tip of the iceberg; the most basic of applications with the most basic of tools. Imagine what you can achieve when your business begins to grow, when you begin to incorporate more advanced methods or when you begin to experiment on your own with your machine? From a flat one-part mold, you may figure out how to create more complicated, multiple part molds for 3D pieces and we tell you it literally does not end there.
As much as possible we encourage our users to try out new ideas that maybe we haven’t come up yet. That is one of our goals as a company: to eventually create experts of vaquforming in different fields and industries where one day people will be approaching you to get advice about using the machine for their needs.
In the end, we truly want Vaquform to be for everyone.