Prototype Development Guide - FAQs

Everything you need to know about prototyping in one place

If you are new to prototype development or not sure what prototyping really is and how it fits in the design process then this FAQ guide is for you. We've compiled a list of the most common questions we get asked about prototype development. If you have a question that is not included in this prototyping guide, contact us or fill out our Ask An Engineer form below.

What is a prototype?

example of a machined prototype

A prototype is an early stage model that allows you to test look, feel, function, and durability before heading to production. A prototype can be anything from a simple rapid prototyped 3D printed model to a complete machined “looks like–works like” model that allows you to de-risk your product. Most projects will have several iterations of prototypes as the product evolves through the development process.



Why is prototyping important?

prototype device testing

A prototype takes the ideas in your head and turns them into a physical object you can move and hold. Prototypes allow you to test and see if your design concept works and, if not, make any necessary changes before you put it in production. Most importantly, prototyping ensures that your product not only looks good and feels good in the consumer's hands, but it works!



Why are the different types of prototypes?

There are three main types of prototypes: alpha, beta, and final a.k.a. production.

different types of prototypesAlpha prototypes are your most basic type of prototype. They are usually non-functioning, inexpensive, and fast to produce. Most alpha prototypes are created using simple 3D printing methods to test out size and shape. Alpha prototypes can include simple breadboard models used to test proof of concept.

Beta prototypes can be machined or printed using refined additive manufacturing techniques. They are usually functional and are used to debug and troubleshoot design flaws. Beta prototypes can also be used to gain consumer feedback and investor funding.

Final or production prototypes are fully functional, painted, "looks like, works like" models. They resemble exactly what the customer will have in their hands as a finished product. These types of prototypes are usually the last step before heading to manufacturing.

What is an example of a prototype?

late stage prototypeThis is an example of a late stage prototype. It is the same general shape and size of the finished product. It can also perform any required functions. At this stage, it does not look appealing and does not have many ergonomic features incorporated into the design. Those aspects will come during the industrial design portion of product development, at a later stage in the product development process. This prototype is built to test function of the device and acts as a rough model before finalizing the design.


Are you ready to prototype?

What is rapid prototyping?

completed prototype

Rapid prototyping is the process of making three dimensional physical objects from a digital file, most often by laying down many layers of material in succession. This process is also known as additive manufacturing. See our guide to rapid prototyping for more information on the different types of rapid prototyping and to find out which one would be best for your project needs.



How do you make a product prototype?

foam prototype model

There are many ways to make a product prototype, including cobbling together items found in your own home. Homemade prototypes can only take you so far before you will need to call a professional product development firm to finalize your working prototype. Remember your final prototypes needs to both look nice and function properly. This is why prototype development is an important part of the prototyping process.

Professional prototypes are either machined or built using additive manufacturing techniques, such as 3D printing. Once all the individual parts are made, the prototype is assembled and then tested to see if it can withstand normal wear and tear, as well as perform the functions it was made to do.


Can I make my own prototype?

homemade breadboard prototypeYou can absolutely try and make your own prototype, and many people who come to us already have a prototype they have made themselves. However, just because you have a basic prototype, does not mean that you are ready for manufacturing. The outside design is one thing, but the functionality, tolerances, and manufacturability are all things that need to be developed before you can produce a finished product.  This is where an experienced product design and development firm is essential for getting your product to market.


How much does it cost to prototype a product?

multiple prototypes

Prototyping costs can vary greatly from a few hundred to thousands of dollars, depending on what method is used to create your prototype, as well as its complexity, materials selected, and the documentation required. For most projects you will also need several iterations of your prototype ranging from an early alpha stage prototype to a fully functional production prototype. The most basic of prototypes can be made from items found in your own home or local hardware store. However, if you want a prototype that gains attention and investor dollars, then you will need to invest in a professionally produced prototype made using various machining and rapid prototyping techniques.


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Our engineers are happy to answer any technical questions you may have regarding your prototype