How to Make a Prototype: A Step-by-Step Guide 2024

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How to Make a Prototype: A Step-by-Step Guide 2024


How to Make a Prototype: A Step-by-Step Guide 2024

When building hardware products, there’s a natural pattern and some specific steps to follow. Prototyping is a vital part of inventing and designing, and you’re going to need it before you get to the production of your final version. Although complicated and necessary, it is also a fun process. So, if you are creating a hardware product and need to learn how to make a prototype, you’ve come to the right place. This article will teach you all about the advantages of prototyping and give you a step-by-step plan on how to make your first prototype.

What is a product prototype?

Before learning how to make a prototype, let us teach you what it is. To put it simply, a prototype is an early model of your product. Whether you are creating something brand new or improving an existing one, you’re going to need it.

The purpose of a prototype is to have a tangible product with the actual features developed during design. It brings your solutions from theory to practice.  First, you’ll be testing the hypothesis of whether your product can actually be made, and second, it’ll be essential for improvement. Finally, you can learn from it, see how it performs, and perfect it until you get to your final version. 

What are the advantages of having a prototype?

How to make a prototype

You’re almost convinced to learn how to make a prototype but need a little more? Prototyping is one of the main steps in creating a product, and it’s not a coincidence. There’s a reason that it has become a standard and even a mandatory process. It has proved itself to be effective and efficient. If you’re still debating whether to make one or not, here are some advantages to help you decide.

– It allows you to test and improve your invention

Having your prototype example in your hand will help you really see its flaws and find the best solutions to them. Then, you will be able to put it to use and see if it lives up to your vision. Little by little, you’ll perfect it and reach your final version. 

– It motivates you to keep going

After thorough planning and designing, having your idea in your hands will remind you why you started it all in the first place. Reaching that milestone will excite you and motivate you to aspire for your final version and starting production.

– You’ll have something to show

Whether you’re looking for investment or getting a patent, having a prototype will give you a big boost and credibility. You’ll be able to showcase your product and prove its usefulness. In addition, it’ll be easier to sell your idea when you have something to show.

– It helps you understand the user experience

Getting feedback on a real product is easier than on an intangible idea. You’ll be able to learn about what your users really think about the physical features, as well as its usability and possible improvements.

Related. The Best Startup Funding Options. Which One to Choose

Essentials of creating a prototype 

Now, for the main lesson we want you to take away from this article, here’s a guide we’ve created on how to get a prototype made. Before getting to the actual step-by-step tutorial, here’s what you will need throughout the process.

Hire an intellectual property lawyer

If you are serious about creating a killer product, you will need to protect it and make sure you’re the sole manufacturer. That’s why you’ll need a patent, and an intellectual property lawyer to make sure you get it.

Sign non-disclosure agreements with your collaborators

Anyone involved in the design, sketching, or prototyping processes should be legally responsible for not leaking any sensitive information. This information can cause you financial damages, and you have to make sure you will be fairly compensated.

Find the most cost-effective way of manufacturing a prototype

Depending on how complicated your invention is, there are a couple of ways on how to get a prototype made. You can create it yourself, collaborate with prototyping companies, or outsource the prototype manufacturing process to speed up the process and cut initial costs. We will discuss the costs of prototyping further on in this article.

Step-by-step guide on how to make a prototype

Once you’ve taken the necessary steps to protect your invention, you can start creating your 3-dimensional prototype. From market research to manufacturing, here are the X steps we recommend you follow.

Dissect the market for inspiration and flaws

First things first, you’ll need to see what’s out there in your market: who are your competitors, what are the advantages of their products, how can you make a better version, etc. Look for what your competitors do. If you like something, incorporate it into your version. If you find something you hate, be sure to stay away from it. 

A great way of learning from your competitors is buying their product and picking it apart to see how they make it – what solutions do they use?

Make sure to get feedback from actual customers. Conduct surveys, analyze your results and in the end, create what your users dream about.

Create an initial sketch

The physical attribute of your product is one of the main selling points it will have. Be sure to create the perfect balance between aesthetically pleasing and functional. Always remember to gather feedback, listen to multiple perspectives, and modify accordingly. Here’s where putting your ideas down on paper will come in handy. It doesn’t take much effort and gives a good idea of what you want to create.

Make a digital sketch

Once you have your initial prototype on paper, it’s time to turn it into a virtual sketch. There are many tools you can use to make 2D and 3D renders of your hardware product. One of the most famous ones is AutoCAD. Further down the road, you can use other tools to create an even better model.

If you are not skilled in such programs or don’t bode well with technology, you can always get the help of a graphic designer. Another option is to work with prototype manufacturing companies, and you can skip learning about the specifics of how to make a prototype.  

Build it!

Once you figure out what you want, you can choose from many ways of how to get a prototype made. Here are a couple of prototype manufacturing options:

Build it yourself. If you are skilled, and building it yourself is not impossible, you can do it yourself. A 3D printer just might do the trick. You’ll get to learn all about the manufacturing process, and maybe even come up with better solutions. Plus, you’ll get to save your funds for the future.

Hire an engineer or a professional prototype designer. The pros know what they’re doing. They do it for a living and have more efficient ways of bring in your idea to life. It’s a little more costly than building it yourself, but you will probably get some amazing improvement suggestions along the way.

Advertise at an industrial design university. Students are always looking for projects to feature in their portfolio and some extra money in their student accounts, and they will require a smaller budget than a pro. This option is the most efficient one when you’re building an initial prototype. Future models may be built with more expensive materials, so it’s better to catch your flaws earlier on.

Rebuild it, and find the perfect one

Your initial prototype is obviously not going to be the final one. That’s why it’s a prototype! Don’t expect to build it and have it work perfectly (unless you’re that lucky). Be prepared to go through trial and error. Here are some questions you can ask yourself when testing a prototype:

  • What are 3 things you like about it?
  • What are 3 things you want to change?
  • Would you use it yourself?
  • Is this your best choice in the market?
  • Would you recommend it to friends and family?

These questions will help you organize and manage your solutions. At the end, you’ll have a product that you’re proud of and that your customers will love.

Costs of Prototyping

Prototyping is not an easy process. Including all the material and labor costs, it’s an expensive and time-consuming phase. It’s especially costly since you won’t be making it in bulk. So, each individual prototype will have a much higher cost than your future cost per unit. 

Different types of products require different costs in the prototyping stage. While learning about how to make a prototype, you should also learn about the costs that come with it. For example, here are some prototyping costs for soft goods to keep in mind:

  • Initial concept and mechanical design (up to $1000)
  • Technical drawings and specifications (up to $2000)
  • Around 3 rounds of prototypes (up to $1000/round)
  • Production tooling (up to $5000)

For design products that require electronics or smart solutions, your prototyping costs can reach up to $35,000. Prototyping of technology products are even more expensive, ranging anywhere from $25,000 to $60,000.

Final thoughts

Learning how to make a prototype is crucial for any inventor. It’s an amazing way of making sure you send the right product to the market. Despite being a lengthy process, it’s worth it. Start with market research, find the gap, fill it with your solution, and your product will thrive. Follow the steps mentioned above, always listen to feedback, and trust the pros. Good luck!

Angel Poghosyan

Angel is a content, marketing, and strategy professional with over 6 years of experience working with startups and businesses across a range of industries. Her expertise lies in social media, tech, etc., and she has developed a deep understanding of these sectors through her work with a variety of clients.


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