Metal Forming

Example of Metal Forming Part

Our metal forming process takes etched blanks and bends them into whatever intricate 3D shape your requirement dictates.

Advantages of Fotofab's metal forming process are:

  • Speed: Parts can be formed in as little as 1 day
  • Precision: Tolerances as tight as +/-.001” (.025mm) can be held
  • Cost: Tooling cost is minimal
  • Flexibility: Our multi-station tooling allows geometry not achievable with progressive dies
  • Reliability: All parts are made to Fotofab’s exacting quality standards

Rapid Prototype Capabilities

Fotofab’s system of metal forming utilizes simple tooling which can be built quickly and inexpensively. Rather than making costly progressive dies, tooling is broken up into multiple stations, with each stage performing an individual operation such as a single bend. Not only is this a less expensive method, but stations can be made in parallel, saving time. Fotofab most often uses kick presses which are ideal for this low cost tooling and can be setup very quickly.

Even when built quickly, the results are very precise and repeatable. Unlike the methods used by many prototype shops, the Fotofab method does not rely on the manual work of skilled operators, but rather, robust tooling. This ensures the same result every time, and is ideal for rapid prototype parts.

Fotofab can work with material thicknesses from .001” to .065” (.025mm to 1.65mm). Just like Fotofab’s chemical etching process, the standard lead time is 1 week, with expedited lead time in as little as 1 day, even with new tooling.

Hydraulic Presses

In addition to the kick press operation, Fotofab also has several hydraulic presses. These are ideal for parts which require additional force for bending, such as thicker metals or parts that require drawing or coining.

These presses can also be used for what Fotofab calls a One-Shot Tool. Unlike stage tooling which requires a separate operation for each bend, a 1-shot tool performs all operations in a single strike. These tools cost more than stage tooling, but can pay for themselves n a lower part cost with adequate volume. The break even quantity will vary based on the geometry of the part.

Hand Forming

For the quickest and least expensive option, Fotofab recommends hand forming. Hand forming is ideal for parts at least .008” thick (0.2mm) with 90° bends, and does not require tooling. To facilitate this, Fotofab etches a channel into the blank during which serves as the inside of the bend and ensures an easy and accurate bend.

Drawn Cans

Fotofab produces drawn cans in rapid prototype and production quantities. A drawn can is a seamless, 5-sided box with rounded corners, made by stretching or “drawing” the middle of a rectangular blank. They can be made from .material 010“ to .040” thick with a draw radius of 2.5x thickness. with or without a lip along the bottom. They can be very inexpensive and are also ideal for hermetic applications.


Fotofab’s standard tolerances for formed parts are +/- .005” (0.0127mm) and +/- 1° on all formed dimensions and some tolerances may be as tight as +/-.001” using more specialized tooling.


A typical minimum bend radius is equal to the metal thickness and radii as small as .002” (0.05mm) can be achieved if the geometry allows. Hand formed parts will have a 0 inside radius.