Some prototypes have to be made out of the same material that will be used when manufacturing the final product.  The reason why choosing the same material matters, depends on whether it determines the functionality of the model.  Other prototypes, in accord to the proposed use, can simply be manufactured with different, less expensive resources.  It would be a wonderful thing if we could predict how the part production will work, just by viewing a computer rendering of it.

If you have made a prototype before, you know that sometimes the only way you will be able to tell how the product performs is by having a mock-up built.  In many occasions you may need to discard a prototype and try it a different way by adding, removing or repositioning.  It is in this type of situation, where as choosing the right prototyping material would save you from wasting expensive or hard to come by material.

Now when I say you can chose an inexpensive material I am not necessarily talking about cardboard and masking tape. And I say necessarily, because although cardboard seems like an extreme unconventional material to use, it can prove to be useful when a shape is all you need to see.  The material that I am referring to is both low cost and readily available.

The first image below is a prototype made of MDF which is easy to machine and very sturdy to facilitate any test use.  Because the surface of MDF is so smooth, it sucks down to the CNC router with ease making it our favorite material to use for a CNC prototype.  This flat surface also makes it a breeze to review applications such as: an in-lay of letters, and interlocking wood construction, or grooves.  The level of stiffness in this material makes it suitable for large skeletal frame constructions as well.

Huge letters CNC Routed for a large company sign made out of MDF
Large frame structure was CNC Routed to serve as a skeleton that supports an overlay for an unusual curve construction

Plywood is also a great option, if it is possible to be used, as well as melamine.  Composite and engineered materials of different kinds can be used to explore an invention.  If metal prototyping is what you seek depending on how strong or light it needs to be, your cost choices will vary.  The same goes for plastic with the added caution that some plastics may melt during machining, with the friction of the tool if the right technique is not used.


If you know how to make a computer drawing that is ready to be machined, that will save you from incurring the cost of hiring an engineer or a draftsman.  If your overall budget doesn’t allow for that, you may look for a student that could do it at a low cost.  This would only work if the student has the knowledge and experience to give you a ready to run, CNC machining drawing, and this could be difficult to find.  Of course we may be able to help you in the development of your project at an additional cost.

If you are ready to launch a prototype and you would like Precision Fablab to estimate the cost give us a call or send us an email.  We will work with you!