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The Guide to Rapid Prototyping with Additive Manufacturing

Want to shorten product development cycles and accelerate time to market? Learn all about using 3D printing for rapid prototyping.

Rapid prototyping involves creating physical parts to verify designs and test a product's capabilities in an experimental approach. With additive manufacturing, rapid prototyping speeds up product development and accelerates time to market. The prototype is received quickly and cost-efficiently, helping validate designs and iterate as needed before production begins.

Key Takeaways

  • Rapid prototyping reduces development cycles

  • Prototypes can be used purely for modeling or be functional

  • A range of 3D printing technologies offer different advantages when rapid prototyping

  • Ideally, sourcing all types of prototypes should be quick and inexpensive

  • Rapid prototyping varies in cost, depending on the design, technology, and materials

Benefits of Rapid Prototyping

Rapid prototyping boasts a range of uses. Some of the applications, as defined by the German Association of Engineers, include the following:

Concept models are the first physical version of a product or concept. The model isn't functional or necessarily built to scale but represents the product's appearance. This previews what the final product will look and feel like.

Geometric prototypes represent the dimensions or form of the part. The material properties aren't relevant.

Functional prototypes are working parts designed to test specific mechanical characteristics of the finished part. The dimensions and appearance may differ from the final part.

Technical prototypes are close to being a finished part and are used for testing.

Regardless of the application, rapid prototyping offers several significant benefits.


Explore New Ideas

Rapid prototyping allows you to test new ideas – whether incremental improvements to existing designs or a radical reimagining of a proven part. That's because rapid prototyping is designed to be fast and affordable, so there are no long lead times or heavy investments.


Save Time and Iterate Quickly

The initial design doesn't need to be perfect. Rapid prototyping makes testing and iterating each design – even if it's just a tiny modification – viable. Once you test out the part, it's easy to make any changes and create a new prototype for further testing.

Gather Feedback

A fully functional or purely visual prototype makes gathering feedback from colleagues and potential users easy. Getting this feedback before the production phase can be invaluable.

Reduce Flaws

Extensively prototyping a new design can identify any potential flaws or shortcomings. This helps save time and money, as the product can be ready for production with any potential issues ironed out. 

Ready to begin rapid prototyping? Get some help with our guides to 3D printing with metals and 3D printing with polymers.

Additive Rapid Prototyping Technologies

The additive manufacturing technologies making rapid prototyping possible are varied, with different attributes, materials, and benefits.

Laser Powder Bed Fusion: This technology produces metal parts. It's capable of highly complex and accurate parts. No additional tooling is required, and it's a relatively affordable technology because unused metal powder can be recycled.

Multi Jet Fusion: This additive manufacturing technology for polymers is highly accurate and fast. It's an economical method for rapid prototyping, as it offers a very low cost per part.

Selective Laser Sintering: This is also an efficient technology for producing parts out of polymers. One advantage of this technology is the range of materials available, which offers options for rapid prototyping. Learn more about the differences between Multi Jet Fusion and Selective Laser Sintering.

Fused Deposition Modeling: FDM is an affordable, easy-to-use way to produce thermoplastic parts. It's a popular technology for both functional prototyping and prototyping for visual or geometric assessments.  

To learn more about each technology and material, go to the Tech & Material Advisor on the MakerVerse platform to find the exact combination you need for your prototype.

Parts made with Selective Laser Sintering (left) and Multi Jet Fusion (right)

How to Start with Rapid Prototyping

Whenever we interview industry leaders about how to get started, they all give us variations of the Nike slogan – "just do it."

Identify a use case (even a small one with a limited impact), do some online research to learn anything you're unsure of, and then make the prototype. Of course, it's a little more complicated than that. To make the part, you can either invest in your own 3D printers, use an on-demand printing service, or combine the two.

Investing in your machines is common with larger companies and has its benefits when scaling. However, this route requires capital expenditures and in-house expertise to use a printer to maximum efficiency. Another drawback is that many varied 3D printing technologies and materials exist, so gaining flexibility for many applications would require a considerable investment. Alternatively, you can use an on-demand manufacturing platform like MakerVerse.

Simply upload a design and get an instant quote based on the technology, materials, and post-processing method you need. Lead times are fast, and there's no upfront investment, so you can rapidly prototype without breaking the bank.  

How Much Does Rapid Prototyping Cost?


There's no standard cost for rapid prototyping. A small polymer part might set you back the price of your lunch. An enormous titanium component could be thousands of euros. However, prototyping with 3D printing is typically cheaper and faster than traditional manufacturing methods.      

"Complexity for free" is a common saying in additive manufacturing.

That means that you can design highly complex and intricate parts that aren't more expensive than simple, straightforward ones. Similarly, no additional tooling is required, further saving time and money. Additive manufacturing is unlike traditional methods, where complex designs lead to higher costs and longer lead times.

Complexity might be free with additive manufacturing, but every other decision affects the cost.

Material: There are a variety of polymers and metals offering different mechanical properties. Prices can vary depending on the material, so research to discover what material suits your project best.

Part Volume: You're not paying for complexity with 3D printing. You are, however, paying for volume. The more material a part requires, the more it will cost. Learn how to reduce the cost of metal 3D printing with this guide.

Post-processing Method: Some parts require a little extra attention after being printed, whether it's dyeing for visual reasons, heat treatment, or other options. Learn more about the post-processing options here.

Start Prototyping Today

Rapid prototyping gives you a competitive edge.

3D printing lets you quickly test new ideas and shorten design and development cycles. You'll be able to iterate and improve your parts while quickly validating your ideas. Make any adjustments and easily see the results. In short, rapid prototyping saves you a lot of time.

With the MakerVerse platform, you get the tool you need to make rapid prototyping possible. Choose from a variety of technologies, materials, and post-processing options for any prototype.


Get Started with Rapid Prototyping

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