May 2017

Which Process Is Right For Your Prototype?

We know what you’re thinking. How can you answer that question without bombarding me with numbers, stats, and algorithms?

You’re right. Choosing the right process for your next prototyping or model making project is an important but complex decision. We’ve broken it down into the key considerations you have and the potential benefits of each process.

The First Step

Analyse the fidelity you require. This refers to the level of completeness and detail you want to achieve and will also have a huge impact on the time and costs incurred.

Low fidelity – low cost, no splendid finishes, some layering may be evident, but quick to deliver.

Medium fidelity – slightly more detailed, still not fully finished and slightly more costly, but will convey your amazing design to your client.

High fidelity – much closer to production intent, very detailed, more costly still and much more time consuming for our team to achieve, but worth the effort if you need to impress.

We’ll now take you through the core benefits of each major process:

Vacuum Casting

This process should be considered if you require a high-fidelity prototype as the performance characteristics and quality achieved through vacuum casting are comparable to the final part for either functional testing, exhibitions, marketing and in some cases as a low volume production method for a niche market. The accuracy and repeatability of vacuum castings is excellent, and there is also the ability to have both in-moulded textures and 2 shot materials plus a colour match to your requirements.

Click here to read more about the different materials available for this process.

Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)

This process can be used for fit and form testing, prototype parts and end-use products. So now it fits all levels of our fidelity test, you need to look a little further to know if it’s right for your project. The thermoplastics available make FDM a good choice for medical, aerospace, automotive, marine and defence prototypes and even for production line jigs and fixtures. It produces 3D printed parts that are unrivalled in thermal, mechanical and chemical strength.

Learn more about FDM at Ogle.

Stereolithography (SLA)

This is one of the most widely used AM processes for building prototypes and high-quality marketing models which are suitable for extensive handling. It is also the very best way to produce the masters for vacuum casting. This is an extremely accurate and repeatable process with a superior surface finish. Build times can vary depending on the size of the part,  it’s also quick, so if you need a simple unfinished part tomorrow, this could be the process for you, depending on geometry and part size. Read more about SLA at Ogle.

Laser Sintering (SLS)

Choose this process if you require a robust prototype with complex geometries. This is because the process is self-supporting and even allows for parts to be built within other parts. Parts are almost ready to use straight from the machine and are extremely durable. If more time is available then the parts can be tumbled and or surface coloured.  SLS can also be used in the development of parts with movable components and living hinges.

Download the materials datasheet for SLS Polyamide, SLS Fire Retardant or SLS Glass-filled fine polyamide.

Computer Numerically Controlled (CNC) Machining

To achieve high accuracy and detail, CNC is a great choice. Production-quality parts can be produced in real production materials, (subject to billet material availability).  And without the usual high costs associated with mass manufacturing processes. This process is also extremely successful in the right hands for ergonomic models for aerospace, automotive and medical industries. CNC is also ideal for larger parts that cannot fit into industrial 3D printers. We utilise seven CNC machines. Learn more about CNC machining.

Finishing your prototype



It may be beneficial to vibro-finish the part to remove the typical grainy surface without incurring expensive hand finishing, especially on high fidelity models, part geometry is crucial in deciding if this process is suitable, we will advise you.


There are a whole world of opportunities from straight paint right through to real metal plating, even including gold !!, if time and budget is not an issue.


 Again, there are many options, although this process really is more about the material properties than decorative finishing.

Additional processes

The Ogle team’s aim is to help you decide which process will give our finish and paint teams the best canvas for delivering your design. In the normal course of events, we will uncover your project aims, budget and complexity to determine which process will deliver the best result. We have flexibility and some tricks up our sleeves to ensure that even a process you may not have previously considered, can create what you need.

Should you require unfinished 3D printed parts Ogle offers fast quoting and fast delivery and guaranteed satisfaction.

Want to talk?

For more information about this article or to speak to one of our expert team, call us
on +44 (0) 1462 682 661 or email us at [email protected].