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What Materials are Used for Prototyping (and Why)?

Category: Blog, Prototyping

Picking the right material is a major step in the prototyping process. Hundreds of different types of materials are used for prototyping, but only one of them will truly be the best choice for your product. 

At Pacific Research Laboratories, we make this decision easy. We offer an extensive list of advanced prototyping materials that bring your prototypes to life. Our team of experienced engineers has a deep understanding of prototyping materials and will offer you valuable advice based on your unique product design—and yours alone. You won’t get better advice anywhere else. 

Materials used for prototyping

The Materials We Use for Prototyping 

As an industry leader, we’ve worked with many different materials used for prototyping over the decades. Through this experience, we’ve discovered 10 types of materials that offer our clients the greatest flexibility and value for the cost: 

Urethane Resins 

A thermosetting polymer that is typically poured into a mold to make prototypes. 

Silicones

A silica and oxygen compound that comes in many forms, including resins and solid or liquid rubbers. 

Glass Fibers

Very fine fibers of glass that can be adhered to a model or other materials to provide insulation or reinforcement. 

Carbon Fibers

Very fine fibers of carbon that can be woven together into a fabric or added to other materials to provide reinforcement. 

Thermoplastics

A type of plastic that can be melted down and molded or 3D printed into certain shapes. 

Metals

Aluminum, steel, titanium, copper, and magnesium are all popular prototyping options. 

Wood

Bamboo, oak, pine, and mahogany are all popular prototyping options. 

Mass Cast Epoxy 

A thermosetting polymer that is poured into a cast and left to harden.

High-Temperature Epoxy Laminate 

A thin type of epoxy material that can be bonded to virtually any other prototyping material.

Gelcoat or Urethane Foam

A foam made from epoxy or urethane. We can either make prototypes by pouring a two-part liquid form that then expands into a mold or by cutting solid form into certain shapes. 

The Pros and Cons of Each Material 

We’ll help you decide exactly which materials to use for prototyping, but if you’d like to see what your options are, we’ve created a basic list of pros and cons for each of them: 

Material Pros Cons
Urethane Resins 
  • Versatile (can be elastic or very stiff and hard)
  • Very durable for abrasion and flexibility
  • Impressionable, so may leave a rough finish
Silicones
  • Range from very soft and flexible to stiff and hard
  • Temperature-resistant
  • Waterproof
  • Easily decorated/colored
  • Virtually no creep
  • No shrinkage during molding
  • Very soft (<5A) elastomers tend to be tacky
  • Has high CLTE
Composite structures
  • Non-metallic
  • Good dimensional stability
  • Can be glass or carbon-reinforced – with carbon structure can be as strong as steel
  • Tooling costs can be low
  • Carbon fiber is more expensive than glass
  • Failure can be catastrophic
  • Typical parts only have one good surface except with more expensive tooling
Thermoplastics
  • Can be remolded multiple times
  • Recyclable 
  • Durable 
  • Wide variety of properties
  • Fast molding times for low cost
  • Automated processes well established
  • Melts under high heat
  • High tooling costs
Metals
  • Well-finished 
  • Strong 
  • Precise 
  • Can be labor-intensive
  • Typically done in subtractive manufacturing processes which can be high in waste
Wood
  • Cost-effective 
  • Flexible (can use softwoods or hardwoods)
  • Easy to refine
  • Can be labor-intensive
  • Not as dimensionally stable as other materials
Mass Cast Epoxy 
  • Very hard and durable
  • Water-resistant
  • Can be molded into nearly any shape
  • Can shrink during curing
  • Difficult to make changes 
  • Limited by thickness constraints
High-Temperature Epoxy Laminate 
  • Very temperature-resistant 
  • Strong 
  • Lightweight
  • Difficult to make changes 

We’ll Find the Perfect Material for Your Project 

Prototyping on the shop floorAs an employee-owned company with experienced engineers, Pacific Research Laboratories has full control over the prototyping process. We hand-select only the highest-quality materials based on our years of experience building prototypes for the world’s most demanding industries. With this experience under our belts, we know which materials perform well under pressure and which just fall flat. 

Let us guide you through this process. We’ll work closely with you to understand what you hope to achieve with your prototypes. Even if you have no experience building prototypes, molds, or models, we’ll consider every minute detail and deliver the results you want. We don’t settle for prototypes that are just “good enough.” We craft top-notch working models that lead to high quality, marketable products. 

Ready to Build Your Prototype? Get in Touch

Our team of engineers is here to answer any questions you have about materials used for prototyping. Get in touch with us on our website or call us directly at (206) 408-7603.