How do I create a product prototype?

Every Friday, we answer a common question about fulfillment, shipping, or business. This week’s question comes from a reply to one of our weekly emails. Today we will answer the following question: “how do I create a product prototype?”

Create the Best Prototype You Can Alone

For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that this is not a product that you can properly make without another company’s assistance. Even still, though, you need some physical manifestation of your product in order to understand what you need to make.

We recommend that no matter what product you are trying to manufacture, try to make the best possible prototype you can on your own. Even a rough or non-functional prototype can be used as a visual aid to describe to manufacturers what you are trying to make.

For example, if you want to make a board game, start with posterboard and pieces borrowed from other games. If you want to make a ceramic knick-knack, then make a 3-D model or whittle it out of wood.

Find a Similar Product

Once you have a sense of what your product will look like, try to find similar ones. Buy them, if need be. You want to analyze similar products and try to understand how they are made.

If you’re not sure how a product is being made, you can try looking for “making of” or “X being manufactured” videos on YouTube. You might also have some luck looking for how to blogs or even searching for patents.

Even if you are unable to tell how specific products are made, finding similar ones will allow you to describe what you want to a manufacturer. They may be able to reverse engineer a product that already exists.

Shop for Materials

Once you have similar products around, you can start searching on websites like Alibaba to figure out what kind of materials can be used in manufacturing. This will differ greatly depending on the nature of the product you are manufacturing, but the basic principle is useful in most cases.

For example, if you know you need transparent plastic, you can figure out a more specific name using this method. The screenshot below shows you what happens when you look for “transparent plastic” on Alibaba. You have options ranging from food-grade R-PET plastic to cast acrylic to polycarbonate…the list goes on.

Request a Quote

Finally, as we outlined in last week’s post, you can find a manufacturer and request a quote. Many manufacturers require you to meet a minimum order quantity in order to do business. Even if this is the case, though, many will work with you when you ask for prototypes.

Final Thoughts

Creating prototypes is not as mysterious as it sounds. You start by making the roughest model you can, then you search for similar products, and you figure out what the precise material names are. Once you have all this information, you can an informed conversation with manufacturers. Then they’ll take your information and bring it to life as a real, physical product prototype!

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