The difference between rapid prototyping and 3D printing

February 22 12:42 2023

Rapid Prototyping and 3D printing are often mistaken for being the same thing, however, there are some important differences.  

Rapid Prototyping 

Rapid prototyping is the process of quickly building a 3D object to visually, and functionally, evaluate a design.  There are several popular methods to choose from to rapidly prototype an object including vacuum casting, CNC machining and 3D printing to name a few. There are two categories within rapid prototyping:

1.Low-fidelity prototypes: this is when the prototype has noticeable differentiations to the proposed final product. 

2.High-fidelity prototypes: this is when the prototype matches the proposed final product.


Rapid prototyping processes are largely used by product designers and engineers. This is because it enables them to physically view how their product will appear or work in the early stages of design.  

Having a physical model is also beneficial for clients who are working with designers, as it allows them to comprehend each aspect of the product in context. As a result, clients are generally able to provide designers with more accurate feedback because they can see and touch it. This gives room for alterations and improvements to be made in the early stages. 

3D Printing 

3D printing is a type of additive manufacturing process. Additive manufacturing describes the technology that is used to build 3D objects. As its name implies, it involves adding material layer-upon-layer to create an object.  

By contrast, traditional manufacturing processes are subtractive – such as carving, milling, and machining. In additive manufacturing, computer-aided-design (CAD) directs data to hardware that can physically add material in layers to form precise geometries. 3D printing is one of several types of additive manufacturing processes.  


It is becoming more prominent for 3D printing to be used in manufacturing as an additive process. There are a growing number of companies employing this on a large scale. You might be wondering – why use 3D printers for this? Well, 3D printers offer the opportunity to create complex parts that would otherwise be too difficult or expensive to manufacture using traditional dies, moulds, milling, or machining. With intricate features and complex part geometries becoming feasible to manufacture, really the sky is the limit for 3D printing.  

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