Get an instant quote
Get in touch Listen to our podcast
What is the difference between 3D printing and rapid prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping: Definition, Techniques, Benefits, Applications

Rapid prototyping
and full-scale production
ISO accredited
& QC checks
All in-house
Used in over
50 countries
FREE Instant

What is the definition of rapid prototyping?

Rapid Prototyping (RP) refers to a group of techniques used to make to-scale three-dimensional models of physical parts or assembly. Experts utilize 3D computer-aided design (CAD) software to demonstrate elemental behaviors, tolerances, and compatibility.

The main goal of rapid prototyping is to facilitate a faster product development process, test physical models before introduction, production or distribution, gain effective insights and user feedback early, and accelerate time to market. Some requires machining, while other are often built using additive manufacturing technologies.


What is the difference between 3D printing and rapid prototyping?


Rapid prototyping vs additive manufacturing

3D printing and rapid prototyping should not be used interchangeably. Rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing (AM) are two different things. Simply put, AM is a process used to create three-dimensional objects quickly by depositing material layer-by-layer to form the final shape. On the other hand, RP refers to a group of technologies used to rapidly create physical models – the most popular form being additive. 


Apart from AM, other common RP techniques include:

  • Subtractive – this typically refers to CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machining whereby a block of material is carved to produce the desired shape using milling, grinding or turning.
  • Formative – this typically refers to rapid injection moulding or urethane casting. It involves heating, moulding or casting material like polymers into a mould to achieve the desired shape.


How much does rapid prototyping cost?

The cost of rapid prototyping can vary significantly depending on choice of technology, quantity, material and several other factors. To give you a rough idea, a simple RP model can easily cost anywhere from $50 to $500, while larger metal parts might escalate from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per iteration.

Learn how much you can expect each RP process to cost:



What are the benefits of rapid prototyping?

Rapid prototyping offers numerous advantages including reduced development costs and a faster product development cycle. In this section, we will cover the top five advantages and reasons to use rapid prototyping.


Effective validation of design fit, form, and function

Rapid prototyping allows designers and engineers to quickly create physical models of their designs, enabling them to test and validate various aspects such as size, shape, and functionality.


Fast and effective communication of design ideas

Creating a physical almost-working or mock-up model can make it easier to convey design concepts to stakeholders and end-users who may not have expertise in technical drawings or CAD models, facilitating better understanding and collaboration.


Fewer production design flaws and better end-products

By quickly iterating through multiple prototypes, designers can identify and address potential flaws or issues early in the development process, leading to better products and reduced rework during production.


Avoid costly mistakes early on

Identifying design flaws or issues in the early stages of development through rapid prototyping helps prevent costly mistakes later in the production process, and help saves money in the long run.


Accelerate time to market

Rapid prototyping speeds up the product development cycle by allowing designers to quickly create, test, and refine prototypes. Overall, it helps in bringing products to market faster, giving companies a competitive edge.


View more Reasons To Use Rapid Prototyping For Your Project.


Most popular rapid prototyping techniques

1. Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM)

FDM 3D printing is the most widely used 3D printing technology at the consumer level. It is good for basic proof-of-concept models and quick and low-cost prototypes. This process uses spools of thermoplastic filament to produce first-round models for inspection or demonstration. 


2. Selective Laser Sintering (SLS)

SLS 3D printing has long been a popular choice among engineers for quick prototypes and form, fit and function testing. The technique uses a powder bed to build layers and heat to sinter the material, offering multiple advantages.


3. Stereolithography (SLA)

SLA 3D printing, sometimes called VAT Photopolymerization, is a quick and cost-effective technique favoured for proof-of-concept models and cosmetic prototypes. This process uses a computer-controlled ultraviolet (UV) light enabling it to produce parts to high accuracy.


4. Selective Laser Melting (SLM)

Selective layer melting (SLM) is a high-strength powder bed fusion manufacturing process that is known for fabricating complex prototypes in aluminium, titanium and superalloys. It is used for demanding applications in the aerospace, automotive and medical industries. 


5. Rapid Injection Moulding

Rapid injection moulding is done using aluminium and soft steel moulds. It is a prototyping process used to make production-quality parts. Although it is much more costly and time consuming when compared to other RP techniques, it is superior when it is essential to prototype in the production-intent material.


Prototyping mistakes to avoid

To help you get the most out of your work, here are the most common mistakes in rapid prototyping and how to avoid them:


Unclear Objectives: Misusing RP by constantly revising prototypes without a clear understanding of design goals can lead to: (1) increased costs unnecessarily; (2) delayed development and product launch; (3) increased waste.

Ignoring Technical Constraints: Rapid prototyping is iterative by nature, but rushing through iterations without thoroughly testing and refining each prototype can lead to missed opportunities for improvement. Take the time to iterate thoughtfully, addressing feedback and making incremental improvements with each iteration.

Outsource or In-House: Consider if you need the help of rapid prototyping companies or if you will build the model on your own. Doing it in-house, means you can build it relatively quickly without incurring shipping time or cost. But this also means you’ll need to purchase equipment and invest in training. Even then, techniques and material options may be limited.


Start your next rapid prototyping project

Looking to produce rapid prototypes for your next project? Contact the HLH team to leverage decades of vast 3D printing, CNC machining, vacuum casting and rapid injection moulding  expertise with all part production consolidated under one roof. Simply submit your CAD designs and project details to our site contact form, and our team will get back to you with a quote within 24 hours.

Home Banner

Put your parts in production today

Get an instant quote