If you are hoping to get a patent grant, building your first prototype will help increase your chances. While it is not necessary to submit a prototype, it shows that a certain level of thought has gone into your idea and will help your idea stand out. Here are some tips on how to manufacture a working prototype to end product, helping you achieve a patent:
Start with a concept sketch, whether done digitally or by hand, to get an idea of what you would like your prototype to look like; it is usually best to do these by hand until you have a more solid idea of the prototype, then it is worth paying for a digital drawing to be done to really help you conceptualize the idea. It is always a good idea to keep a pad or notebook with all of your sketches to not only include when you submit your patent to show the evolution of your idea, but to also help you should you need to go to court to defend ownership.
While a digital drawing of your idea is always great in helping you visualize, a virtual prototype can take that just a step further. A 3D will allow you to get a true feel of your prototype, allowing you to rotate it to see all angles. Animation of your virtual prototype can help you see it in action, which may help with the tweaking process before you move any further. There are many professionals that can help with developing a virtual prototype.
The next step after your visual prototype, assuming you are not making any tweaks or adjustments to it, would be to build a physical prototype. You may require help from either a designer, engineer or even a specialized, professional prototype designer if you are unable to build it yourself. It can often take building multiple prototypes to hammer out all of the fine details to perfect it prior to seeking a patent. As this process can take time and may require several built prototypes, it is always a good idea to use cheaper materials when you start out. If you have a limited budget when it comes to this step, you can always post an advertisement at an engineering/industrial institution to see if there are any students that would be willing to assist at a much lower cost than a qualified professional.
Finally, once your built prototype is perfected and working, you are ready to submit your patent. It is always recommended that you seek out a manufacturer that would be able to make your product; look for a few so you can compare costs and determine the best materials to be used. That way, once your patent is granted, you can move right into the next stage of production.