This paper highlights for the first time a full comprehension of the deformation procedure during the injection stretch blow moulding (ISBM) process of poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) containers, namely thin-walled rigid bottles. The processes required to form PET bottles are complicated and extensive; any development in understanding the nature of material deformation can potentially improve the bottle optimisation process. Removing the bottle mould and performing free-stretch-blow (FSB) experiments revealed insight into the bottle forming characteristics at various preform temperatures and blowing rates. Process outputs cavity pressure and stretch-rod force were recorded using at instrumented stretch-rod and preform surface strain mapping was determined using a combination of a unique patterning procedure and high speed stereoscopic digital image correlation. The unprecedented experimental analysis reveals that the deformation behaviour varies considerably with contrasting process input parameters. Investigation into the effect on deformation mode, strain rate and final bottle shape provide a basis for full understanding of the process optimisation and therefore how the process inputs may aid development of the preferred optimised container.