How to Make an Invention Prototype Cheaply

by Tara

Since I started writing this blog I have learned a lot about the importance of creating rough prototypes even if it’s just to prove to yourself that your concept works. Your prototype doesn’t have to be a work of art, just functional. I have collected together a series of articles, videos and prototyping materials that I hope you will find useful.

Hand Mouldable Plastic

Shapelock or Polymorph is a plastic which melts when put in boiling water and then can be moulded by hand into different shapes or moulded onto things.


Sugru is a material which you can mould in your hands like plasticine. It dries after a day to a Waterproof material, that has a bit of give like silicone or rubber

Clay such as Sculpey or Fimo

Sculpey or fimo can be used to make prototypes themselves or be used to create moulds to cast other materials.

Making Your own Prototype Moulds

Amazing mould putty or sculpey mould maker are puttys which can be hand moulded around things (such as a clay model) and then left to cure to create a mould that you can then use to fill with different materials.

TAP plastics have a range of videos which show you how to make your own moulds so you can create prototypes in a variety of materials.

Inventables – To Source Materials for your Prototype

Inventables has a great range of materials which can be used in prototypes or just used to spur ideas

Make your own Vacuum Forming Machine

I am not sure if I would dare try this one, but instructables has directions for how to create a home made vacuum forming machine a finished one is shown in the video below.

Ponoko Online Fabrication for Prototypes

Ponoko is an online site where you can get your designs made on demand (ie. One at a time)

Shapeways 3D Printing

Shapeways offer 3d printing via their website

Parts for Making Game Prototypes

Rolco Games is a place to buy dice, spinners and counters for your game prototype.

Materials from the Local Hardware Store

plumbing pipe prototypeI have found the local hardware store extremely useful, and recently build a rough outdoor toy prototype out of plumbing pipe and some plastic funnels amongst other things. I created a rough drawing of my toy and then took that to the hardware store to try and find suitable parts. In the podcast interview I did with Peter Wachtel a toy inventor and designer he talks about finding most of the things he needs in the hardware store and that anyone who has done model shop (woodwork, metalshop etc) at school should be able to put basic prototypes together.

Take Apart Other Products

When I interviewed Inventor Roger brown and Toy inventor Tony Ellis, they both suggest that prototypes can be made by taking apart or adapting existing similar products.

Using Universities or Fabrication Labs to Help Create your Prototypes

When I interviewed Inventor Lyndsey Young, The Queen of Easy Green she talked about how she had help with prototyping and IP research by a local university. Check if your local college or university could help you at all. There are also fabrication labs in many countries where you can go in and use their equipment (for a charge) to create your prototype)

Create a Video of your Prototype

When I interviewed Mary Ellroy Toy a inventor and agent, she said toy companies like to see videos of your invention. Create a rough prototype and then even if it doesn’t work make it look like kids are playing with your toy or game.

Making Paper and Card Models

Inventor Stephen Key is a big advisor of using paper and card to create your prototype mock ups.

Kenny the inventor, an Inventor on Youtube also uses paper and card for his prototypes

Imants Caklais from Paperlandmarks also uses paper and card for invention prototypes. Imant’s is a regular on Quirky and Genius Crowds

Make Miniature Prototypes to Test if your Idea Works

Mark Sanders who did an inventor interview about his Strida Bike invention started off with small prototypes to get an idea if the design would work

Articles about Prototyping

Creating an Invention Prototype – Start up Nation

A guide to prototyping yourself – Ayers Concepts

If you have any suggestions for other ways to make cheap prototypes yourself please let me know in the comments below

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexander Knox January 24, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I found your site while looking for casting.
Lots of good stuff but not quite what I need.
I have a design, lets say I invented the game knucklebones and need to make the bones for the game. I can’t get enough actual astragalus bones from sheep so I need to make a prototype in order to make a casting for a mold.
So I need a material I can roughly shape into a astragalus bone, then cut, trim, file or sandpaper it into the final shape and smoothness.
Can you advise what material I should use for this.


Tara February 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm

Hi Alexander, if you read through the post you will see some links that should give you some ideas. You will also see things like sculpy clay that might work for you.


Andy from Workshopshed July 9, 2014 at 2:19 pm

Tara, a great list of ideas and suggestions, thanks


Tara July 9, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Thanks Andy


Autumn January 1, 2015 at 8:43 pm


I need to create something that brakes down like a suitcase….or a dolly. Can you give me any insight as to where to start on figuring out how to build something like that?


Tara January 1, 2015 at 9:16 pm

Hi Autumn I am sorry I don’t know you will need to do some research on that and maybe look what products are out there that do a similar thing that you could take apart.


kevin moriarty February 18, 2015 at 3:46 am

@ Autumn

There may be a local inventors club nearby where you can get some good advice from fellow inventors.

I run the chandler inventors club which meets every Friday at techshop, is free, and has many experienced inventors.

My biz model is: idea>market analysis>prototype>propagation


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