How to make a prototype of your invention, on a budget

Choosing to make a prototype to best present your invention to potential investors, buyers or even just to help you improve the way it’s designed, is usually a smart move.

The benefits of creating an invention prototype are numerous, and really the only reason most people choose to skip this step is the cost involved or fear of the unknown work ahead.

This page is meant to help you make sense of the process of making a prototype. It doesn't have to be hard, and it doesn't have to be expensive. There are essentially three ways to look at making a prototype:

  1. Hiring a professional prototype maker, a company or product designer
  2. Making the prototype yourself, from scratch

Let’s look at each of these options and i will try and give you tips on how to go about it:

Hire a professional prototype maker

The market is full of product design companies, invention help agencies and individual professional product designers and prototype makers that offer their services to help you create a prototype.

While these companies will most probably offer a very professional result and help you not only design your product and possibly improve your original design idea, they come with a cost.

If you can afford hiring a professional product design professional and if this makes sense for your limited budget – than consider working with one.

This usually makes sense in occasions where your invention is fairly complicated or could benefit from the input of a professional designer and his expertise.

Some invention ideas, specifically highly technical ones, could really benefit from a dose of professional help.

If you believe future royalties and the potential from your invention are high and feasible, its often worth investing in professional services.

It’s always best to make a prototype once the product has already been patented or an application for a patent has been submitted.

If you find yourself doing so before that point, always make sure to get your contractor’s signature on a non disclosure agreement, which will keep the details of your invention confidential.

This advice should always be kept in mind, although when dealing with reputed professional companies whose bread and butter is creating invention prototypes, you should be relatively safe.

If you want the help of professional services and don’t think you can make a prototype on your own, but budget is limited and you don’t have much to spend, consider the following tactics:

  1. Create a look alike prototype, that looks the part, but doesn't have the functionality.This will allow you to skip the actual creation of a prototype and resort to a illustration or 3D computer model of how the product will look like.You could create a 3D drawing or a computer aided design (CAD) of your invention prototype. You can then clearly and cheaply show what your invention will look like, without the need to actually make a prototype of it.Consider hiring professional computer product designers on the cheap from websites such as Odesk.com or elance.com.Simply log into the websites, create an account, and explore the available contractors that specialise in 3D modelling and CAD (computer aided design).Look for someone with a good feedback score and browse their history of jobs done.When considering potential contractors look for people who have experience in creating prototype designs similar to yours. You can offer a fixed budget and allow contractors to bid on your job, or otherwise contact contractors based on their profile for a job paid based on the hours worked .Either way, this method will probably allow you to work within your limited budget and get the design you need for less than what well known companies are offering.A good tip is to factor reiterations into your contract with any designer, so that you can make changes and improvements as you see the product in 3D.
  2. Hire a student studying product design and similar disciplines:Look for universities and colleges around your area that teach these subjects and consider offering your invention prototyping job either as a project for school or as a job, in return for payment. a student will be willing to take a lower fee, but you will still get the help of a professional on your prototype.I have recently met a young inventor who managed to pitch his invention idea to a professor at a design college, and convinced him to create an educational project around his invention idea – The professor asked students to come up with the best design for the inventors product idea.He ended up getting several design ideas and choosing the best one, with the winning student being promised recognition and future payment once the invention sold.His invention was already patent protected at that point - always make sure you ideas are protected and try to limit the opportunities of others to copy or steal your idea.
  3. If your invention idea is relatively simple to prototype, but you don’t want to try and make a prototype yourself, consider finding local tradesman who would agree to fashion your product, creating a prototype from wood, foam, plastic and the likes.A carpenter who is qualified and able to work with wood, might prove the perfect person for a quick easy job of fashioning a look alike prototype of a new product, for much less than a company that specialises in making prototypes would charge.

Make a prototype yourself

    If budget is really tight, or you feel you can do a decent enough job yourself – consider going at it alone.

    This would be especially beneficial if your invention is relatively clear and easy to understand and doesn’t require intricate, sophisticated prototyping.

    Consider crafting a prototype from readily available materials – recycled cartons, foam, craft materials etc.

    you could also use speciality materials such as Shapelock – this material allows you to rapidly create mechanical prototypes by yourself.

    The plastic like material melts in hot water and allows you to shape, reshape and reuse it to make the exact look you desire.

    Once it has cooled down to room temperature it becomes hard to touch and strong to handle.

    At around 25$ per pot its extremely affordable.

    For the more adventurous prototype makers consider the makerbot .

    This extremely cool company has developed a machine that prints 3 dimensional products.

    This 3D printer, which costs around 1300$, allows you to create any 3-d computer design as an actual product.

    You can either create your own 3D design using a free 3D modelling software such as these ones: Google SketchUp
    Blender
    Or hire a designer to design your prototype (again, you can look for freelance contractors on elance, or odesk. )

    The bottom line is that there are many ways available to you, to help you make a prototype and you too can create your own, on a budget.

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