Rapid Prototyping 3D Printing: Differences, Advantages & More

Is 3D printing used for rapid prototyping? What is the use of 3D printer for rapid prototyping? What is rapid prototyping 3D printing?

If you are looking for answers to any of the questions above, then you are on the right page. I understand that 3D printing and rapid prototyping are often associated with each other.

However, many confuse the pair and use them interchangeably when they aren’t necessarily the same.

In this article, we will discuss the rapid prototyping process, 3D printing, and additive manufacturing to clear your mind about the confusion between the three. We will also answer some of your questions related to the matter. So, without further ado, let’s get started!


What Is Rapid Prototyping Process?

What is rapid prototyping (RP) and what are its benefits? Which type of model is created in rapid prototype? In this section, I will explain rapid prototyping and why it is beneficial.

A prototype is an early sample, model or release of a product built to test a concept or process. You will often hear it in various contexts, including semantics, design, electronics, and software programming.

Designers and engineers use prototypes to evaluate a new design for product development and to enhance precision by system analysts and users.

Rapid prototyping refers to a group of techniques used to quickly fabricate a scale model of a physical part or assembly using three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) data.

It usually uses 3D printing or additive manufacturing (AM) technology to construct the part or assembly.

Is 3D Printing Rapid Prototyping? Yes.

Rapid prototyping refers to the cycle of quickly iterating to reach a final design. The term “cycle” is used because it involves a few steps to bring one’s idea to delivery.

In its simplest terms, it involves three steps — prototype, refine and iterate, and review.

Each stage of successive prototype gets the cycle one step closer to completion, and refine and iteration move you closer to an acceptable conclusion.

Rapid prototyping uses a few technologies, including CAD design software, to manufacture processes and create a series of 3D printed prototypes.

What Are The Advantages Of RP?

Rapid prototyping is beneficial because it is a cost-effective way to prototype products. It is an automated process that requires less staff, less time, and less cost.

Also, it is extremely precise because it uses computer-aided design (CAD) that reduces material wastage and does not require special tools for prototyping each new product.

Here is a list of advantages of rapid prototyping.

• Requires less staff
• Reduce material wastage
• Reduced development time
• Ability for functionality testing
• Eliminates risk during production
• Cut down overall product development cost

3D Printing vs. Rapid Prototyping vs. Additive Manufacturing

To avoid confusion, let’s differentiate the three.

3D printing is used for product development and tactile prototyping. It uses various technologies, including Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), Multi Jet Fusion (MJF) and more.

RP is synonymous with 3D printing but encompasses several different technologies like CNC machining, RTV molding, and urethane casting.

Although it uses the word “rapid,” speed can be subjective. However, compared to traditional prototyping, it is better in terms of speed, efficiency, and accuracy.

AM is the advanced application of 3D printing for production.

Regardless of which term you use, it’s important to note that there are subtle differences that you need to take note of when you talk about the three.

Why Is 3D Printing Used For Rapid Prototyping?

Rapid prototyping uses additive manufacturing to create models faster than the normal process. It can be completed using 3D printing or additive manufacturing technology.

3D printing is a good tool for prototyping because it offers tons of benefits like faster turn-around time, lower cost, and easier procedure.

It is also useful for prototyping, jewelry design, architecture, engineering mechanical parts, architectural models, props, functional consumer products, and more.

What is prototyping in printing? Rapid prototyping is also known as 3D prototyping, but it not only limited to 3D printing.

Traditional prototyping techniques like injection molding requires weeks or months for each iteration. But 3D printing significantly improves the speed and cuts the cost.

What Is Rapid Prototyping Examples?

Creating prototypes with rapid prototyping applications is very easy.

Here are some of the rapid prototyping examples that will surely be helpful for beginners in UI/UX design.

1. 3D Printing

One of the most common and frequently used examples of rapid prototyping is 3D printing.

The additive manufacturing technology or 3D printing allows you to produce a quick 3D model using a print variant, which saves you a lot of time, energy, and cost.

Some equate rapid prototyping with 3D printing. However, there are other variants of rapid prototyping, including sketch, a video, flyer or other forms of visualization of products and services. You will read more below.

2. Paper Prototyping

It is flexible and accessible. You can use pen and paper for it and draw anything from a mobile app to a website. But it has a main drawback; you cannot save and reuse the work.

3. Rapid Prototyping for Mobile App (Kitchen Stories)

It is an interactive prototype of a mobile app, and millions of users love it. Kitchen Stories enables users to find delicious recipes with beautiful pictures. In addition, it offers many free recipes and how-to videos.

4. Rapid Prototyping for Website (Sketch)

It is a high-fidelity prototyping example for a website. The great thing about it is that it allows you to open your original files in Mockplus software and create a website for yourself.

Is Rapid Prototyping The Same As 3D Printing?

Again, rapid prototyping and 3D printing are often used interchangeably. And 3D printing is often used interchangeably with additive manufacturing.

So in this section, we will also answer a similar question — Is additive manufacturing and rapid prototyping the same?

Rapid prototyping and additive manufacturing are closely related but not the same, according to Wei Zhou from Nanyang Technological University.

Rapid prototyping, as the name suggests, is about producing prototypes rapidly. 3D printing or additive manufacturing means manufacturing products by gradually adding materials. 3D printing is one of the popular rapid prototyping processes.

However, one should note that additive manufacturing is NOT 3D printing. Any manufacturing process which leads to an increase in weight is called additive manufacturing, and those, in contrast, is called subtractive manufacturing.

Welding, adhesive bonding and thermal spray coating all lead to an increase in weight and are called additive manufacturing processes but not 3D printing.

When additive manufacturing is carried out using a printing head technology, either powder bed selective laser melting or FDM, then it’s called 3D printing.

Note that 3D printing is additive manufacturing, but it is incorrect to say the other way around.

What Is The Difference Between 3D Printing And Rapid Prototyping?

3D printing and rapid prototyping are often confused as the same thing, but they are actually not.

3D printing is a method of additive manufacturing, while rapid prototyping is an application of this technology.

But 3D printing is a newer and more cost-effective method of additive manufacturing.

To make the comparison between the two clearer, we will compare them using the following factors.


3D printing is much cheaper than rapid prototyping due to machine depreciation, materials used, labor system, maintenance, and more factors. Rapid prototyping technology can cost twice as much.


3D printing is easier to do than rapid prototyping because the former uses CAD, which is much easier to learn than the parameters you need to adjust for rapid prototyping.

Also, once the CAD model is ready, you can just edit it for future iterations. Thus, creating prototypes is cheaper, faster, and easier.


What are the different materials used in rapid prototyping or additive manufacturing? Rapid prototyping allows you to use many choices for your materials, including liquid-based, powder-based, molten material and solid sheets.

3D printing also offers you a number of options because the technology has already expanded and more materials are now ready to be used including plastic (ABS filaments, PLA, PVA, PC), powder, metal, carbon fiber, graphite and graphene, resin 3d printing, and more.


When it comes to accuracy, rapid prototypes systems deliver accurate and better finishes because they utilize more advanced specific part-accuracy technology.

Also, 3D printers are limited to producing smaller parts depending on the size of the 3D printer available.

Why Is 3D Printing Better Than Prototyping?

3D printing is a method of additive manufacturing, while rapid prototyping is an application of the technology.

3D printing is better than traditional prototyping because it is more cost-effective and less complex.

Can 3D Printers Produce Prototypes?

Does 3D printer create 3D prototypes? Yes, they can help you create prototypes, and they could do it fast; that’s why they are among the most popular examples of rapid prototyping.

Many large corporations have been using 3D printing technology to prototype their products because it offers the following advantages over other rapid prototyping procedures.

Fast turnaround time

Initially, businesses didn’t have extensive in-house prototyping sources and would turn to third-party shops to create their prototypes.

However, the process takes long, and the usual turn-around time is at least a week. But with 3D printers, you can create prototypes in 24 hours or less.

Reduced costs

Aside from fast delivery, 3D printing reduce the overall cost of the prototyping process. The average product prototype costs at least $100, but with 3D printing technology, the same results can be achieved at a fraction of the cost.

A standard FDM 3D printer can deliver prototypes that are $1 cheaper or more.

Smoother workflows

3D printing enables you to deliver prototypes faster without any issues because using additive manufacturing in prototyping uses CAD files that can be uploaded directly into a 3D printer software. From there, a 3D printer will print the model into a tangible object.

The use of the CAD program to print parts enables you to save time and eliminates the extra work or programming of other machine tools. CAD software has become more user-friendly and intuitive. Even business owners without extensive drafting or design experience could use it.

Flexible materials

3D printing offers tons of materials for you to choose from for your prototypes, including ABS, PLA, PETG thermoplastic, nylon, copper, wood, glow in the dark, and more.

The best part about 3D printing’s flexibility is that you can test different materials for your prototypes or use certain filaments better suited for the specific part or product you are 3D printing.

Allows change and iterate rapidly

When doing prototypes, the product design rarely ends with the first one. Most products go through an extensive process of iterations before getting the final product.

3D printing is one of the best ways for businesses to speed up iterations because changes can easily be made by updated the CAD file, send it to the 3D printer and start 3D printing. You can create many iterations in such a very short time.

With this technology, testing, changing and refining a design that used to take weeks or months can be done in under a matter of days or even hours.

Wrap Up!

Rapid prototyping significantly reduces the design-to-product timeline from months to weeks or even days, cuts down cost by 2 to 10 times, and makes iterations quick and easy.

3D printing, an additive manufacturing technique, is one of the most popular rapid prototyping examples and several businesses have already invested in them.

Rapid prototyping is also known as 3D prototyping, but it’s not limited to 3D printing. It refers to a group of techniques used to fabricate a scale model quickly.

3D printers are popular examples for rapid prototyping because they deliver fast, are much cheaper, have simpler workflows, and allow you to use flexible materials.

Plus, when it comes to iterations, you only have to edit the CAD file, which makes the whole iteration process a breeze and a lot cheaper.

And within a few hours, your functional 3D printed prototypes are ready.

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