Custom prototyping refers to the process of turning a concept or idea for a product into a realistic visual in the form of a prototype that will serve as a physical example of what the product will look like if it goes into full production. The reason why it is called a custom prototype is due to the fact that the process of creating the sample is tailored to the specific product under consideration. Creation of the custom prototype is something that may be embarked upon by the originators of the concept, or it is something that will be outsourced to independent prototype manufacturers who specialize in the development of custom prototype. One of the determinants of whether the originators of the concept will work on the prototype themselves or whether they will contract the services of outside manufacturers is the complexity of the idea and the availability of the machinery needed to produce the prototype.
An illustration of the application of custom prototype can be seen in the case of a company that engages the services of a product developer to come up with a concept for a new desk lamp design. The product developer will work on the design until he or she has developed a new concept for desk lamps. In order to show the company what the desk lamp will look like after production, the designer will have to produce a sample of the product to demonstrate its full range of features and attributes. If the design is a simple one that the product designer can work on independently, he or she will develop the custom prototype personally by developing a mold for the outer casing of the lamp and affixing other electrical features and components.
At this stage, the mold that is used in the fabrication of the outer shell is known as the prototype mold. This type of mold is much cheaper to make and easier to amend than a production mold, which is used after all of the problems in the design have been ironed out and the product is ready to go into full production. On the other hand, a prototype manufacturer could be engaged to help in the making of the custom prototype, in which case the company will work with the designer to turn the concept into something that can serve as a representation of the final product.