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How To Build Prototypes That Bring Ideas To Life

by | Jan 18, 2024 | 0 comments


In this article, I’ll guide you on how to build prototypes and provide insights into the various types – those nifty models that prove your concept to companies for licensing. I find immense joy in crafting prototypes; it’s like watching my ideas spring to life. 

So, let’s explore the diverse methods available and find the one that fits your unique skill set. This journey is about discovering how to build prototypes that make your concepts tangible and licensable.

Exploring Different Types of Prototypes

Following are the various types of prototypes that can bring your ideas to life.

1. Looks-Like Prototype

Ever heard of a looks-like prototype? Its job is simple – to look good. Surprisingly, it doesn’t even have to work. You can create it using materials like paper clay, silicone molding, or vacuum forming. Imagine a paper wallet – that’s a perfect example.

2. Works-Like Prototype

Now, works-like prototypes might not win any beauty contests, but they are champions at proving a point. They might look a bit rough, but they show proof of concept. Picture a timeline from a working prototype on the far right to the polished production product on the left. It’s like a visual story of progress.

3. Production Ready Prototype

The production-ready prototype is like a blueprint in 3D. It’s built to spec, often with the help of CAD drawings, demonstrating precisely how your product will be manufactured. There are various ways to create these prototypes – you can learn to do it yourself or get assistance from experts. You can even represent your prototype through a 3D computer-generated rendering.

How to Build Prototypes: Exploring Different Methods

Reflecting on my journey, I’ve always loved building things. From model airplanes to ships, I was constantly creating. Sculpting, too, became second nature to me. Building prototypes was always a breeze. But I understand it can be challenging for some folks.

Now, let’s explore some ways you can bring your ideas to life through prototypes. It’s not about complexity; it’s about turning your imagination into something tangible.

1. Paper

Let me walk you through one of my favorite ways to bring ideas to life – using paper. It’s a fantastic, budget-friendly method that’s close to my heart. I adore building prototypes with paper. Why? Well, for starters, it’s incredibly easy. Take plush animals, for instance. I’d shape them with paper and scotch tape, creating a basic form. Then, I’d cut them up to make patterns.

The beauty of paper is that it’s a stepping stone. Once I had my patterns, I’d lay them out on fabric and sew them up, turning simple paper creations into adorable plush toys. It’s like magic.

But it’s not just about toys. I also crafted paper prototypes for my spin labels. Creating the pattern on paper allowed me to print a copy from a color-copy machine. Trust me; they looked real. It’s a cost-effective way to bring your ideas into the physical realm.

Remember the paper spin label? Well, those prototypes turned into actual production labels on containers. The transition from paper to reality was fascinating.

Now, here’s a neat trick. After finishing a prototype with white paper, I’d sometimes place colored paper over it. It gave the prototype a more professional look. Plus, when I took a picture from the right angle, it almost seemed like the prototype was made of plastic. Talk about the magic of perception.

Take, for instance, the first paper prototype of a rotating canteen. It started as a humble paper plate creation. But guess what? It made its way from paper to plastic, becoming a production sample that sold in Disney stores and theme parks worldwide.

2. Clay

Clay is a go-to for many inventors when it comes to building prototypes. The beauty is, there are loads of clay types and colors available for sculpting. Sculpey, in particular, stands out as one of the most popular choices. It’s like a magical material, turning your ideas into tangible shapes and forms.

3. Frankenstein/Cannibalizing

Let’s talk about a fun and popular method: Frankenstein/cannibalizing. It’s like bringing two buddies together to create something entirely new. The cool part? When you blend two existing products, the result looks as real as it gets.

For instance, imagine a bubble marker for the bathtub. I took a regular glue stick, added some liquid bubbles magic, and there you go – a whole new prototype. It’s like giving life to your ideas by mixing and matching what’s already out there.

4. Fabric

Working with fabric is a breeze. It’s super easy. Whether you’re crafting a pattern for a brand-new idea or tweaking an existing product, fabric is your ally. And guess what? Your local fabric store is a treasure trove of possibilities.

Need a hand? No worries. Find a seamstress, and you’re good to go. They can turn your fabric into a prototype masterpiece. It’s that simple.

Why do I love fabric? Well, it was my go-to material for creating the first prototype of the Food Flight. Imagine cannibalizing existing products to cook up something entirely new. And then, there was the fabric blue ice prototype – a cool creation.

Guess what? That fabric prototype didn’t just stay a prototype. It became a production sample, a blue ice sensation. Fabric, my friend, is a fabulous choice for turning your ideas into reality. Give it a try.

5. 3D Printing

3D printing is a bit like magic for your ideas. This process, also known as additive manufacturing, brings a digital 3D model to life. Picture this: layer by layer, materials like plastic, liquid, or powder grains are fused together under precise control.

Now, why is it so cool? Well, according to the Entrepreneur’s Handbook, it’s one of the best ways to turn your ideas into tangible prototypes. There are different types of 3D printers for various sizes and materials. Here’s the deal – once someone programs the 3D printer, you’re good to go. And hey, if programming isn’t your thing, no worries. There are shops where you can hire folks to do it for you.

6. Silicone Molding

Have you ever heard of silicone molding? It’s a cool way to turn rubbery silicone into exactly what you want. It’s like magic for shaping things. Super simple and forgiving, even if you make tiny mistakes. Here’s the trick: you begin with a master part, wrap it up with molding stuff, and boom – you get a negative that can give life to many identical parts. It’s like creating a mold that keeps on giving.

Source: JS Molds Emblem Silicon Mold

7. Vacuum Forming

Now, let’s chat about vacuum forming. Imagine softening a plastic sheet by giving it a gentle hit, and then laying it over a mold. Here comes the cool part – we apply a vacuum, which sucks the sheet snugly onto the mold. It’s like magic.

Think of vacuum forming as the easy version of thermoforming. In thermoforming, you heat a plastic sheet, stretch it over a mold, and use a vacuum to press it against the mold. Vacuum forming simplifies this, making it a breeze to turn a flat sheet of plastic into a three-dimensional wonder. Plastic takes shape effortlessly.

8. Virtual Prototype

Now, let’s talk about virtual prototypes. These are like digital dreams coming to life. Using 3D computer-generated renderings, you can beautifully showcase how your concept works. But remember, it’s like a sneak peek, not the full movie. This representation is fantastic for showing off your idea, but it’s not concrete proof.

9. Photoshopped Prototypes

Now, onto a cool trick – Photoshopped prototypes. It’s like a visual mixtape, taking two photo images and blending them into your looks-like prototype.

10. Illustrations

Sometimes, you know what’s all you need? Just an illustration. It’s like a magic sketch that, believe it or not, can be the starting point for something big – a production prototype. And guess what? That prototype can then turn into the real deal, real production. It’s like drawing your way into making things happen.

11. CAD Drawings

Let’s talk CAD drawings. Our coach at inventRight, Keanu, worked his magic, licensing over 10 knife designs. Imagine, just with CAD drawings, he turned ideas into real, tangible products.

Check out the CAD drawing – it’s like the blueprint of a production knife. Keanu didn’t stop there; he even got CHATGPT involved. That’s the power of bringing technology into the creative mix.

But it’s not just our coach; Don Wilder, one of our members, sent in his CHATGPT prototype. He didn’t stop at one example; he went on to create another. What’s cool is that he built a sell sheet with a 3-D model. 

See, there are so many ways to bring your product ideas to life – CAD is just one powerful tool in the toolbox.


  • Stephen Key

    Stephen Key is an award-winning inventor, renowned intellectual property strategist, lifelong entrepreneur, author, speaker, and columnist.
    Stephen has over 20 patents in his name and the d...

    View all posts Intellectual property strategy, product licensing, and entrepreneurship.