Invention Prototyping & 3D Printing

Great ideas tend to live in the brainstorming phase until they’re given tangible form. You pull the inspiration from your experience, intuition, and then you slowly craft it into shape in your mind. You visualize it in three dimensions as you ponder how to best create a functional design. The next logical step in the process is to physically draft a model or preliminary version of your invention, i.e., build an invention prototype.

From 1790-1880, the U.S. Patent Office (USPTO) required a 12″ x 12″ model in miniature be submitted along with all patent applications because, at that time, inventors often weren’t technically competent enough to write an effective description or draw up detailed plans. Although the U.S. Congress abolished the need for the models in 1870, the USPTO retained the requirement for another ten years. Product prototype development is no longer required for the patent process, but it is still an invaluable tool for the inventor.

According to a 2006 workshop by the Lemelson Center, prototypes act as a historical record of the development and progress of the technology while documenting the invention process. For an inventor, the value of an invention prototype is much more:


It clarifies your vision of the invention and allows you to test materials. By the time you build a 'preliminary' prototype, you have fleshed it out in computer-aided drawings or CAD, where your idea was rendered in virtual 3D. Your first model brings the idea to life in tangible three dimensions.

A prototype highlights any flaws that need to be addressed. It allows you to adjust design and to make as many iterations as needed until you are satisfied with your working model. By addressing flaws quickly, you are also able to stay ahead of any competitors.

A model provides an important visual. Not everyone can visualize a finished product from plans or a drawing; a 3-dimensional working prototype is better than a description. It benefits your patent attorney, business partners, engineers, potential investors and helps you with future plans for packaging and marketing.

With the advent of 3D printers, product prototype development became much simpler, faster, and cost-effective. It was initially referred to as rapid prototyping as this was conceived to be the most valuable and immediate application for the printer. Since its inset, however, 3D printing has evolved into multiple roles with multiple materials including bio-based resins and metals. Although the original plastic resins are still the most cost effective to use, developments are underway to add graphite, graphene, carbon-fiber, glass, Kevlar, and fiberglass to 3D technology.

If you need help with making a prototype for your invention or the patent process, please contact us. Our teams of product design specialists, 3D artists, graphic designers, industrial designers, and engineers are waiting to assist you in the design and development of a new product idea.