Great Lakes Ortho Ministar – Product Review

Stop “Sucking Down” and get Super-duper Thermo-formed Results

The “suck-down” machine has been a mainstay in the labs of dental offices for many years.  And, they typically get used a lot.  We use thermo-formed materials in our practice in a variety of ways:


  • Bleaching trays
  • Home fluoride trays
  • Custom impression trays
  • Stents for provisional restorations
  • Athletic guards
  • Occlusal guards
  • Base-plates for removable pros records
  • Orthodontic retainers

Traditional vacuum-formers are relatively inexpensive (about $400 – $500).  They work… fairly well.  And, “if it ain’t broke, why fix it?”  Right?  Dentists generally don’t like to change how they do things, especially if it might require a higher initial investment.  There are a few disadvantages to the traditional “suck down” machine:

  • Slow
  • Noisy
  • Marginal accuracy (by comparison)
  • Must trim models extensively

Great Lakes Orthodontics Ministar pressure forming machine.

A couple of years ago, I decide to “splurge” on something better.  When I started doing Six Month Smiles, I wanted a faster and better way to make clear retainers.  I got Great Lakes Orthodontics Ministar machine.  It’s the smaller version of the production lab Biostar.  It cost me about $2,000 if I recall correctly.  Yes, that’s a lot more than a $400 suck-down machine.  But, yes… it’s THAT much better.  It really is!

The advantages of the Ministar:

  • Fast!
  • Superb accuracy, providing excellent fit
  • No need to trim models extensively
  • Easy to do multiple (laminated) layers (for athletic guards)
  • Very quiet!
  • Built like a brick $%!#house – will last your entire career and then some

As you’ll see in my video (at bottom of this blog post), there’s a tremendous difference in the heating times between a suck-down and Ministar machine.  The suck-down machine took about 3-1/2 minutes to heat the material enough to use.  You have to guess when the sheet of material has “drooped” enough to place on the model.

The Ministar’s infra-red heating element takes 1 second… ONE second… to reach working temperature.  It heats very evenly.  Depending on the type and thickness of material being used, it takes another 30 – 90 seconds to get it ready to press onto the model.  All of Great Lakes Ortho materials have the recommended heating times printed on the box.

With the suck-down, it’s up to you to see the material drooping and then pick the right time to drop it on the model.  The Ministar uses precise heating times for each material.  There’s no guesswork with the built-in timer.

Using air pressure from your practice’s main compressor, the Ministar PUSHES the heated material over and around the model.  A suck-down machine depends on suction to adapt the material to the model by PULLING.  Of course, suction cannot pass through the stone model, so the material cannot adapt as closely.  If there are any overhangs or undercuts, the vacuum machine has trouble adapting it to the model.  One trick is to really trim the model down, and it does help with the suck-down.

If you turn the model over after using a suck-down machine, you’ll often see gaps between the material and the model.  The top arrow points to the edge of the model.  The bottom arrow points to the edge of the thermo-formed material.

When you’re using pressure over the top of the model, none of that is an issue.  You will be very impressed at the extreme adaptation of pressure-formed materials.  This is evident when you try to remove the formed material from the model.  And, it will be obvious when you see how it fits the patient’s teeth.  The difference is remarkable.  You will even see better bleaching results because the bleach tray SEALS around the teeth.

This is the same model demonstrating excellent material adaptation to the model, all the way to the base. There is no gap.

One of the pesky and persistent issues I’ve had with suck-down machines is getting folds in the material extending from the base up towards the teeth.  (See photos below.)  This can be avoided to some degree with extensive trimming of the models before using the suck-down machine.  However it’s not a problem at all with pressure-forming machines like the Ministar.

An example of folding of the thermoformed material. In this case it was fairly minor. Oftentimes, it extends up to the gingival margin or even onto the tooth. That can be a problem.  Here you can also see the bubbles that often form as the material is heated for prolonged times with the heating element of the suck-down machine.

I don’t believe a traditional suck-down machine has enough accuracy for clear orthodontic retainers.  The retainers I make with the Ministar fit very precisely, and I don’t have to worry about orthodontic relapse.

Excellent adaptation with the Ministar. No folds. No bubbles.


Another view of how well the material is adapted to the model with the Ministar.

A view of the inside of the material adapted by the Ministar after removal from the model.

A closer view of the inside of the material adapted by the Ministar.

I just looked up the Ministar at the Great Lakes Ortho website.  I see they’ve upgraded it to include a bar scanner – to scan the box of the material you’re using and set the heating time.  Very cool.  The listed price is $2,410.  But, they often have sales and specials, sometimes including a package of materials.  It still qualifies as a relatively small investment with a substantial and nearly immediate ROI – a big plus for any Dental Warrior.  Great Lakes Ortho offers a tremendous array of thermo-forming materials for various techniques.  Call them up and ask for a deal!  You will not regret getting this outstanding piece of lab equipment.  Tell them the Dental Warrior sent you!  🙂

Here’s the video:

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23 Responses to Great Lakes Ortho Ministar – Product Review

  1. Bob Marcus says:

    Nicely done, Mike. I want one now!

  2. Mike – a very timely review. I have been considering this very thing for the last few weeks and been mostly wondering if the BIG jump in price is worth it, but your review answered my questions/concerns thoroughly. Thank you – I’ll be calling Great Lakes about one this week!

  3. Madmike says:

    Damn it. Another 2k I have to spent because of you! But you always spend my money well.

  4. Hey Mike……took me a bit longer to actually make the purchase than I’d hoped due to some up-and-down months, but we finally pulled the trigger right before Thanksgiving, and yesterday we finally got the new Ministar set up in the lab. My ortho assistant (wonderful geek that she is!) was as excited as I was about my Periolase! 🙂 After just 1 try, WOW, what a difference! It was exaggerated even more since the old suck-down machine’s vacuum had been slowly dying over the last few weeks, but man oh man……..when you’re right, you’re right!

    Of course, I’m still waiting for you to see the light about some other, more expensive technology. LOL One day……… day!

  5. Pablo Gonzalez says:

    Hello, I’m a mexican dentist. I have some problems when I’m fabricating sport mouthguards. I always get a lot of bubbles. I’ve seen different machines to solve this as a drufomat scan machine. I wonder if the ministar can eliminate the bubbles when I laminate the second layer (clear). If this works let me know it to buy this machine. I’ll be in LA this december and I’d like to see working this machine befores I buy it. If this is possible? Thanks …

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hola Pablo! Me hace falta practicar mi Espanol. Vivi en Venezuela para 11 anos (mi infancia).

      To my knowledge, the Druformat is also a pressure-forming machine like the Ministar. But, I have no experience with the Druformat.

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  7. Dr. Kevin Daniel says:

    I purchased my Ministar a few months ago. Great Lakes Orthodontics is extremely helpful and knowledgeable. I am so glad I read your review on the Ministar. One of the best purchases I made to date. To answers Pablo’s question, the Drufomat heats the opposite side of the material that forms to the model. I have had nothing but headaches with my Drufomat and when you ask for help from the distributor, you get the run around. They try to sell you things you don’t need, and when I wanted to return my Drufomat after 40 days of purchase, I was told no refunds. The Ministar has been a costs savings to me instead of having to send out my appliances to my local lab, everything is done in house.

  8. Great review! Any advice for a dental office with no compressed air in the lab?

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Your equipment supplier should have a technician that could run a compressed air line to the lab. Or maybe rig a separate small compressor (from Sears) in the lab?

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  10. Rodrigo Garcia says:

    Hi guys, I was thinking about buying one of this things. But I don’t know the real difference between the Biostar and Ministar.
    The small version seems to be enough, but what about the big one? Does it have special features or does something worth the price??

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      Hi Rodrigo,

      Thanks for visiting my blog and leaving a comment. My understanding is that the Biostar is intended / designed for a production lab (heavy use). The Ministar is designed for dental offices (lighter use). I’ve been very happy with the Ministar, which is built like a tank. I’ve had mine for many years now and not a single problem.

      • Rodrigo Garcia says:

        Wich materials do you recommend for a starter kit? (And the thickness)
        There are too many kinds and very similar.
        Mostly I will be doing invisible retainers (very clear and transparent for some patients and more strong for others).
        And some kind of Essix aligners.
        Thanks a lot

        • The Dental Warrior says:

          For clear retainers, I use the Clear Splint Biocryl 1-mm. The folks at Great Lakes Orthodontics are very helpful and can provide guidance on materials for your preferred applications.

  11. Rodrigo Garcia says:

    Hey Dr DW!
    I’m having some trouble shooting with my ministar.
    There has been three times that I get a big fold on the thermoforming material when I make clear retainers with Invisacryl ultra.
    I’m doing everything by the book. Any idea?

  12. Tina says:

    Having some inconsistencies with some of our clear retainers. Finding that the material looks to be adapting beautifully to the model but when it’s placed in the patients mouth one,two, or a few teeth don’t seem to have adapted well( space between incisal edge of tooth and the actual retainer). This is definitely no bueno so we are hoping you have some tips/pointers for us. We’ve called Great Lakes a number of times and Daryl has given us some food for thought but I’d like to hear if anyone else has had the same issues and how they addressed those issues within their practice. We are getting a bit frustrated. HELP

    • The Dental Warrior says:

      So, while I’ve not had that issue… a couple of possibilities come to mind.

      First… maybe your impressions are, well… not quite “there.” So, the model may not be a good representation of the teeth. Something is getting distorted, perhaps? Look at the incisal edges of the model. Do they look right? Do they look like the teeth? Is the assistant taking the impressions? Are the incisal edges pushed through to the impression tray?

      Or… maybe you’re not heating the material long enough, and it’s not adapting well.

      My “problem” is that the retainers fit SO well, that they’re too tight (and not easy to seat and remove by the patient). So, sometimes, I block out some of the deep gingival embrasures to reduce the “over-retentiveness.”

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  14. Jill says:

    Does the all the material for this old ministar still exist? Hopefully the same size as the new ones.

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