Get Instant Quote
Get Instant Quote
Home > Resources > Blog > Guide to Rapid Tooling

Guide to Rapid Tooling

Release time: February 24, 2024

What is Rapid Tooling?


Rapid tooling (RT) and rapid prototyping (RP) is any method or technology that enables one to produce a tool or product quickly. The term rapid tooling refers to RT-driven tooling. A prototype is a 3-D model suitable for use in the preliminary testing and evaluation of a mold, die or product.


Rapid tooling empowers engineers to use the actual production-grade materials to evaluate how the parts will perform in real-world applications and produce limited volumes of products for beta and validation testing.


Rapid Tooling

Rapid Tooling vs Rapid Prototyping


For those acquainted with rapid prototyping, distinguishing between rapid prototyping and rapid tooling may be a pertinent query.


Rapid prototyping involves a set of techniques employed to swiftly construct a scale model of a physical part or assembly utilizing three-dimensional computer-aided design (CAD) data. Typically, additive fabrication techniques are utilized for constructing these parts or assemblies, differentiating it from traditional subtractive methods. As a result, the term has become closely associated with additive manufacturing and 3D printing.


In contrast, rapid tooling utilizes additive manufacturing or machining processes not to create the final parts directly, but to produce tooling such as molds, dies, or patterns. These tools are subsequently employed in traditional manufacturing processes to generate the ultimate parts. This approach serves as a link between (rapid) prototyping and production, facilitating the manufacture of end-use parts.


Soft Tooling vs. Hard Tooling


The terms soft tooling and hard tooling frequently arise in the context of rapid tooling.


Soft tooling generally pertains to the use of silicone molds and the urethane casting process. Similar to rapid tooling, soft tooling is primarily applied in prototyping, bridge tooling, and low-volume production. Patterns for urethane casting are often produced through 3D printing.


On the other hand, hard tooling is synonymous with metal tooling, commonly in the realm of injection molding. Although hard tooling can be produced using rapid tooling methods, typically with materials like aluminum, it is durable and capable of handling substantial production volumes. However, it incurs significantly higher costs compared to soft tooling or most rapid tooling methods, making it better suited for mass production scenarios.


Applications of Rapid Tooling

Rapid tooling can be used to support a variety of traditional manufacturing processes to produce plastics, silicone or rubber parts, composites, and even metal parts.


Plastic parts fabrication:


Injection Molding



Overmolding and insert molding

Compression molding


Silicone or rubber parts fabrication:


Injection molding


Compression molding

Overmolding and insert molding


Composite parts fabrication:



Compression molding



Metal parts fabrication:



Sheet metal forming


How To Manufacture Rapid Tooling


Two prevalent methods for manufacturing rapid tooling are 3D printing and machining. Let's delve into a comparison of these two processes to determine the optimal solution based on factors such as application requirements, the manufacturing process involved, production volume, and other relevant considerations.


3D Printing


Among the various techniques, 3D printing stands out as the swiftest and most cost-effective approach for producing rapid tooling across diverse applications. As illustrated in earlier instances, both direct and indirect rapid tooling methods utilize 3D printing in distinct ways to fabricate functional tools like molds, patterns, and dies for a range of traditional manufacturing processes.


Within the realm of 3D printing processes, SLA (Stereolithography) 3D printers emerge as the most versatile solution for tooling. SLA-printed parts exhibit precision, water-tightness, and a smooth surface finish, making them ideal for molds. Additionally, SLA technology excels in replicating intricate details, a crucial feature for the creation of complex molds and patterns.




Machining stands as one of the prevalent methods for crafting traditional tooling and hard tooling, and it can also be applied in the production of rapid tooling. Unlike the utilization of robust metals like steel or nickel alloys, rapid tooling typically involves machining from materials such as tooling board, wood, plastic, or aluminum.


In contrast to 3D printed tooling, machining soft materials can prove more efficient for large-format tooling and uncomplicated shapes. However, as the design complexity increases, the process becomes progressively labor-intensive and costly. Aluminum, known for its durability, is commonly chosen for low to mid-volume production, particularly in injection molding applications.


Machining tools come with higher costs, necessitate skilled operators, and involve a more intricate workflow for in-house production compared to 3D printers. This is especially noticeable for single-piece components like successive prototype iterations of rapid tooling. Consequently, many companies opt to outsource machining to service providers, though this often results in extended lead times, eroding the rapid aspect of rapid tooling.


How Rapid Tooling With 3D Printing Works


The seamless incorporation of rapid tooling into diverse traditional manufacturing processes involves a series of steps, which can vary based on the specific manufacturing requirements. Generally, the workflow encompasses the following stages:


1. Design


Initiate the process by designing your mold, pattern, die, or master tool using CAD software.


2. 3D Print


Select the appropriate material for the intended application. Formlabs offers an extensive materials library compatible with Formlabs SLA 3D printers, facilitating the 3D printing of a diverse range of rapid tooling.


3. Manufacturing


In the case of direct rapid tooling methods, employ the 3D printed rapid tool directly in your machine to execute the production process. For indirect rapid tooling, generate molds or tools based on the master pattern and incorporate these final tools into your manufacturing workflow.


4. Post-Process


Conduct any essential post-processing procedures to achieve the desired quality finish comparable to that of an end-use part.

 Rapid Tooling