Are you curious about how to make a prototype of your invention? A prototype is a working preview of your idea, and it's the first step when inventing a product. There are three kinds of prototypes:

  • A conceptual prototype shows what your product will look like.
  • A functional prototype shows how your product will work.
  • A production prototype shows how your product will be manufactured and what materials it will need.

Making a Prototype on a Budget

Cheap and easy-to-work-with materials can help a prototype become a product more quickly and easily. These may include:

  • Paper, cardboard, and foam board
  • Construction kits
  • Wood
  • Repurposed hardware
  • Plastic
  • Art supplies
  • Casting and molding kits
  • Lego Mindstorms
  • Analog circuits

How to Quickly Make a Prototype

These days, with 3D printing and open-source software, a 24-hour prototype turnaround is totally possible. This is true for physical products as well as apps and software.

The prototype process will go quicker if your plans and sketches are simple. Start with a set of 25 features and functions you want in your product, then whittle it down to five. This will help you focus on the best possible options.

Perfectionism slows down production. Don't overthink it. You will never be readier than you are now. Get your product out there for investors to see as soon as possible.

3D printing is the best way to start because it makes prototyping much easier. You can design, customize, and print products immediately. You can go back to modify the design and reprint it as often as you need to.

A suite of software solutions is the 3D printer of the app and website developer world.

Resources for Making a Prototype

POP (Prototyping on Paper) is an app that allows you to draw a low-fidelity (lower quality, less realistic) wireframe, or blueprint, of your app on paper, scan it in, and build your app from it.

InVison is an app that lets you create higher quality (hi-fidelity), more realistic prototypes of your app that can really get the attention of investors.

Mobile UI (User Interface) kits can also make a design process much shorter and the final prototypes much better. They can be found for free on sites like Dribble and Freebiesbug.

Skala Preview is a program that lets you easily rework designs and see them as they would look on a user's phone.

It's okay to start with something basic and handmade.

The Purpose of a Prototype

A presentation prototype allows you to work with the product and find flaws that often aren't visible until it's physically present. It also allows you to test the durability, performance, and viability of the materials. For example, you may want to use metal until you realize that plastic would be cheaper and lighter and work just as well.

A prototype also makes it easier to explain your product to attorneys, packaging and marketing experts, engineers, and partners. Investors and other professionals will take you more seriously if you have a prototype, especially compared to those who come in with just a basic idea.

Help With Making a Prototype

There are lots of people who can help you develop your prototype, from professional prototype designers and engineers to handymen and design students.

Also look for new and emerging technologies that can make the process quicker and easier. For example, rapid prototyping, which uses a technology called stereolithography, can make plastic prototypes from computer drawings with a tooling machine.

How to Make a Prototype

Draw a clean, solid depiction of your invention. Date and keep the drafts and beginning sketches, but make sure your final draft is clear and informative.

Create a non-working prototype with foam or other cheap material. This will help you estimate the size and shape of the final product better than the drawing.

Begin planning how to turn the non-working model into a working one. Consider the size, purpose, effectiveness, materials, and electronic components (if any).

Before discussing your product with vendors and manufacturers, have them sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). You might consider asking a lawyer about writing a proper NDA.

Go through your product in detail. Tell the vendor exactly what it looks like, how it works, who would use it, etc. so they can give an accurate quote and understand what you expect.

You may be able to receive funding for manufacturing with an accurate and detailed depiction and a thorough business plan. Use computer-assisted design (CAD) software to accurately design your product.

If you need help with making a prototype for your invention, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.