Plastic Injection Moulding - The difference between Soft and Hard Tooling

Plastic Injection Moulding – The difference between Soft and Hard Tooling

What is Mould Tooling?
Mould tooling is integral to the process of injection moulding in plastic. Plastic injection mould tooling, or tooling design, determines the quality of moulded parts and components. Different moulding processes require different types of tooling methods.

Understanding the advantages and disadvantages associated with each tooling method will help you to achieve the quality and functionality needed for your plastic injection moulded parts and in turn will keep your project on time and within budget. Our team of mould toolmakers has provided the information below to explain two tooling methods – soft vs hard tooling.

Soft tooling

Why choose soft tooling
Soft tools can be used in the early stage of a project to check there are no concerns with the design of your components once they have been moulded. This also provides an opportunity to ensure that the materials you have specified perform as you need them to.

As an example OGM has made soft tools for one of our medical device customers that needed to manufacture 50-100 parts so that they could check their design was suitable for taking into full production. To make the tools, we buy-in a pre-toughened steel that is then machined in-house.

Advantages of soft tooling:

  • Tool inserts can be finished using quicker machining processes such as drilling, milling and grinding
  • The lead-time of manufacture is shorter than a hard tool
  • Soft tooling is a cost-effective solution for prototyping and medium or low volume production
  • Complex mould geometries can be created much quicker with soft tooling
  • Soft tools can be more easily modified once the tool has been made

There are, however, some limitations to soft tools, they are not as durable as hard tools, will wear out more quickly and cannot achieve very high-quality finishes that can be accomplished when using hard tools.

Hard tooling

Hard tools are made from top grade steel that is machined, hardened and then finished off for use in high volume production of precision quality components.

Hard tools involve more processing, take longer to manufacture than soft tools. They can be drilled and milled like soft tools but require heating, quenching and tempering as part of the hardening process and then further specialist machining or finishing.

Advantages of hard tooling:

  • Hard tools are durable and can withstand very high-volume production runs
  • Due to the higher durability, hardened tools suit multi-cavity moulds for producing several of the same component on each cycle
  • Hard tools can produce very precise parts with higher quality finishes

Hard tools do however take longer to produce and because of the different processes involved and materials required they have a higher upfront cost than soft tools.


When deciding between soft and hard tooling we take into account the following considerations: –

  • Material
  • Design
  • Development time
  • Volume
  • Tool life
  • Finishing

Our mould toolmaking experts will recommend the most suitable option for your next plastic injection moulding project. Get in touch.

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