How to Manufacture Your Own Designer Toy or Start a New Small Business




Introduction: How to Manufacture Your Own Designer Toy or Start a New Small Business

About: I Make Stuff

      I want to start with full disclosure. I am a trained and practicing industrial designer. I have spent the last 15 years deeply immersed in both traditional and cutting edge visualization and prototyping tools. This particular project was possible because of all that i have learned and the tools i have access to through professional relationships. However, because of this amazing time we are living in most of these tools are becoming easier and easier to get access to.

     This is my first Instructable, I am primarily interested in sharing my process because i had a lot of fun with it and also want to encourage more making. A second less intrinsic reason for posting is to enter the "make it real challenge". Although i have access to some amazing tools my personal projects are always limited by the boundaries of my professional relationship. Having unmitigated access to certain technologies would give me complete freedom to pursue projects of unparalleled absurdity.

   So, in a step by step personal diary format i present to you the Ice Scream Man or The Birth of Brutherford Industries.

Step 1: Content

I have a long history of goofing off and generating images, models and sometimes even products with the express purpose of making people laugh.  In august of 2011 i worked up a digital doodle and shared it on my blog which i thought maybe 8 people even knew about.

The model started with some basic volume created in Solidworks, I prefer to start most of my digital modeling in a program like Solidworks because as far as 3-d modeling goes it is my native language and really helps me understand the scale i'm working in.

Once i have a basic form and proportion i am happy with i'll transition to another more freeform type modeling program.
In this case that program is actually called Sensable Freeform. This program is operated by a haptic sculpting device that  allows you to "feel" your model and provides for a much more sculptural manipulation of your digital file.
You'll see the progression from step 1 which was a fairly controlled geometry through step 5 where i was pushing and pulling the model in to a more organic shape.

Initially i was only interested in a rendering and not an actual physical output, but once i decided to bring the product in to the real world the model made one more trip back in to Solidworks for some engineering details since i wanted to make the base and cone in two parts that had to fit together well.

Step 2: Share

After creating the file i shared it on my blog and Facebook, which i though would only reach my friends.
As it turns out my blog had a further reach than i thought and it was imensly inspiring to get possitive feedback from strangers.
Shortly after this  I joined Instagram and shared some images there and again the support from strangers Inspired me to push on.

Step 3: Prototype

I was able to use an Objet Eden 350v to bring my 3-d files in to the real world.
The process is similar to an inkjet printer in that the machine uses liquid cartridges of resin to feed moving print heads.
After each pass of the print head the resin is cured with UV light and the print plane moves down away from the print head just a tiny bit. 

The object is born in a gelatinous snot of support material that is removed in a power wash cabinet, it's like a dental water pic with the water pressure of a fire hose. After that the models take a swim in a bath of sodium hydroxide (drain cleaner)  to further remove support material, then back to the power washer for a final rinse.

Once dry , i hit them with a little krylon primer and a quick topcoat, high gloss for the ice cream and matte for the cone.

Step 4: Learn and Refine

Turns out all that stuff i said at the beginning of this instructable about understanding scale doesn't mean anything if you're not actually starting with a reasonable point of reference.

Since i didn't know i was actually going to be producing this piece when i started the original 3-d file i was just kind of winging it on scale. I dropped a ruler in my oen palm and took a guess at the size of an ice cream cone in reference, i know i have hands like a gorilla so i even made some conservative adjustments to try to be safe.

I guess i wasn't conservative enough because the prototype looked awesome but was 30% larger than a real cone.

I got my giant hand on a real ice cream cone and rescaled my model and then reprinted it.

This time i knew the printed part was going to be a master for a mold so i took a lot more care in finishing it.
Many slow coats of primer to fill the small texture that is inherent to the printing process, then a lot high grit sanding to smooth it out.  This was followed by a few coats of high gloss on the ice cream to insure my mold would cast with a gloss surface and matte on the cone to get a nice contrast in material finish as well as color.

The image of the blue ice cream and grey cone is the master after all of the prep.

Step 5: Get All Fired Up and Go Way Overboard

At this point I've got a master, I'm thinking about making a single silicone mold and casting some solid resin pieces but all the sudden things start blowing up on instagram and twitter and I'm getting hundreds of email asking where the ice scream man is available.

I start looking in to different ways to produce the Ice scream man in larger numbers. I could easily just source the project in china and be done with it. In fact that would likely have been cheaper and easier than where i ended up.

Instead i started scouring the internet for small manufacturing equipment, it wasn't long before i found a vintage rotocasting machine. it was a model that was widely produced in the 60's and 70's and sold to vocational schools as a training device. but is actually perfect for the scale of these types of collector toys. The story was that it was purchased by the school and never turned on...score!!! When the machine arrived it appeared that the story was true, the machine was clean and the heating elements looked like they'd never been hot unfortunately the entire unit was smashed in transit.

I was able to rebuild it, maybe later I'll do a whole instructable on rebuilding a vintage rotational molder.
For now, someone smarter than I has already created one for building a roto molder from scratch.
thanks Psedoreid

Step 6: Make Some Decisions and Make Some Molds

At first i had planned to use PVC for my Ice Scream Man  like any good designer toy maker, I made a high temperature test mold and learned pretty quickly that i was going to end up spending more money on energy costs keeping the oven hot than i was on anything else and the cycle times of this little operation would be incredibly prohibitive.

I did some research and ultimately landed back where most DIY toy makers do, Urethane resin.
turns out if you process it in a standard silicone mold under rotation with a little bit of heat you get really good results.

The simplified version of  building a silicone mold:

-spend a lot of time prepping your master as discusse din step 4 of this project
-define the parting line on your master with a clay wall
-1 important thing to note about a rotational casting mold is that it does not need vents or a gate as you will simply load material when the mold is open.
-build walls around your master
-mix up and degas your silicone and pour it over your piece
-remove the walls flip the mold and remove the clay wall being careful not to disturb the portion of the master now encased in silicone.
-coat all surfaces of new silicone with mold release
-build new walls
-mix, degas, pour second side

BOOM!!! Mold Done

The mold making process is standard and  should be documented in it's own instructable
Oh look... it already is  thanks bofthem


At this point it's a whole lot of wash, rinse repeat.

I premix my color in to the resin 1 gallon at a time for consistency, then just measure part A and part B mix, pour, close the molds, load them in the machine and turn it on.

I figured out the minimum time the resin would take to gel in the molds, then the total time it took to stabilize and built enough mold cavities so i could cycle the molds out of the machine and in to a staging area as soon as the resin gelled. This cost a little more in upfront mold investment but maximized my production time.

Once the resin is set and ready to come out of the mold the product is mostly done, there is small amount of flash where the mold opens that is cleaned up with a high grit sanding disc.

the parts are cleaned up with some alcohol and the cones are bonded to the base with cyanoacrylate (super glue).

the base is stamped with our logo...maybe someone already has an instructable on making stamps?
thanks jovolomo

the edition is signed , numbered and... oh crap... we need packaging.

Step 8: Packaging Solutions

I really wanted the product to have a nice solid quality package but i didn't want the package to end up costing more than the piece itself. It was also important to me to try to source everything in the project domestically, so far my manufacturing equipment and raw materials were domestic product, i just thought it would be nice if the packaging were as well.

One major advantage i had was, my amazing  wife, Tamara Petrosino. She is a fantastic illustrator who gets my strange humor. She whipped out a kick ass graphic for the package in no time.

We played around with sourcing custom printed and die-cut materials and ultimately found a stock box  that fit the product perfectly and then we were able to source a simple slip on sleeve from another local supplier.

Step 9: Now You've Got a Business

At some point during this process i realized it might be a good idea to treat the whole project as a real business since up to this point it had become a giant hole where i liked to throw all my money.

speak to an account and a lawyer , form an llc, s-corp or whatever else they advise

file federal and state tax paper work

if you are doing business on the web and are not a web designer and programmer (as i am not)
hire someone who is

if you're not going with an off the shelf shopping cart and payment processor (as i did not)
do your research and understand what you are getting in to

decide which payments you will accept and apply for merchant accounts with each

Decide on your shipper LEARN EVERYTHING THERE IS TO KNOW ABOUT THEM, they will be hugely important to your operation.

When all that is in order SPAM THE HELL out of anyone who has ever shown even the slightest bit of interest in what your doing.


HAHAHAHAHAH yeah right.... I haven't gotten to that point, i'll follow up here when i do.

Step 11: Where We Stand 8 Months Since the Inception of the Ice Scream Man

We're not swimming in gold coins Scrooge Mcduck style but we have shipped to 30+ states, Canada, France, England, Sweeden, Italy, New Zealand and  Switzerland. We also now have retail partners in New York, Chicago, Sacramento Paris, London and Rome.

To be clear, i've said "we" quite a bit through this description, we are Brutherford Industries, Brutherford Industries is Ryan Rutherford, Tamara Petrosino, a couple cats and countless friends and family members who've assisted in everything from production to packing and shipping and sharing everything we've done all over the internet.

We had a lot of fun getting here and we plan to have a lot more fun as we keep on rolling and make more stuff.

Brutherford Industries

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    Question 1 year ago

    For a prototype, for example a gear wheel, I guess 3D printing is not very accurate. That applies to small items as well. What would be your suggestion to change a 3D model to a prototype, based on 1 off small items? I am sure people in far east are ready to accept big quantities but not sure if they can spend time going through all the details to make a prototype.

    I am designing a sophisticated toy car which has a few mechanism. My background is in Mechanical Engineering, however, I lack the knowledge when it comes in making parts from plastics. I am using Fusion 360. Thanks.


    Reply 1 year ago

    There are very accurate 3d printers and services you can use to access them, you can also output to a cnc machine.
    There are a plenty of prototyping firms that will take a 1-off project and they can build exactly what you design or you can work with them to resolve engineering details at additional cost. Check out some of the below companies, they offer access to prototyping processes at various levels from DIY to complete engineering and manufacturing solutions.

    Empire Group USA


    Reply 1 year ago

    That helps a lot, thanks!

    Some are in Europe and one in the UK, which makes it easier for me as I am in the UK. The smallest gear has 10 teeth 0.5 Module, and I have read comments online it is not very preferable via 3D printing. However, as you say, it is possible to achieve small parts, then surely will give it a go by contacting them.

    Thanks once again.


    1 year ago

    Thanks for the great and detailed intractable. But we all know who the masterminds are behind this. The cats!


    4 years ago

    how would one go about sourcing a project to china?


    Reply 4 years ago

    you can start by looking on for a supplier that manufactures products similar to what your looking for and reach out to them.


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Great instructable! Did you have any issues with bubbles or other imperfections just using the rotator/heat? I've been researching producing character figurines and I was thinking I'd need vacuum/pressure to produce quality results at home.


    Reply 6 years ago on Introduction

    it all depends on your design and materials.

    Rotocasting wouldn't be the right choice for an action figure.

    I did have to adjust the speed of rotation to avoid bubbles in the bottom edge.

    I run a vacuum on my silicone before pouring it and I run pressure on my solid pieces.

    Rotocasting works well for large volumes with broad smooth surfaces.

    It does not work well if you have a lot of deep surface detail.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is amazing!!! I have some ideas I've been trying to figure out how to pursue and this tutorial filled in all the gaps for me. Thankyou for taking the time to put this together! I did have a question about your choice of coloring the resin and whatnot. Would it be a horrible headache had you decided to paint each one to emphasize the details a little more? If so what would the process be? I have a product that I could use this production process with; only they will probably require more complex colorations then just mixing the colors in the resin. Also where do you get your materials? I've been using Smooth-on for resin and mold rubber but I know there are probably cheaper options out there... Thanks Again!


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    yes painting is a all depends on how much work you want to do.

    I have done a few pieces that had painted details or were fully painted in solid color. I made paint masks and tried to make the process as simple as possible. I personally am not interested in designs that would require me to do a lot of paint work.

    i use a lot of smooth-on resin and silicone as do most others working in these mediums. they are a fantastic company with knowledgeable and friendly employees.

    all the materials in this instructable were from smooth on.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Well thanks again. Ill probably try to mitigate my painting labor as much as possible as well. You've been a huge help and best of luck to you!


    7 years ago on Introduction

    I bought one of your small "Ice Scream Man" figures at DesignerCon last weekend. Thanks for autographing him for me and taking the time to talk. Keep up the awesome work!


    7 years ago

    I have a serious idea for a toy and would like to consult with you is that possible


    Reply 7 years ago if possible

    Great Article and very well written. We are also engaged in creating some cool Toy designs and would look forward in the tips provide in the article. We develop Cool Designs for toys and feel free to check out our website.


    We have years of experience in prototyping and product design! Let us know your project detail and we can work out together


    7 years ago

    I appreciate your article. I'm interested in creating a model/prototype of a baby product. Although I invented/developed it I'd like to collaborate with someone more knowledgable regarding materials safety and engineering. I'm unsure how to proceed. Would you be interested in such an endeavor?


    Reply 7 years ago

    You can email me at if you want to discuss a project.

    i have been in product development for 14 years.
    I spent 10 years working in the pet industry where there is a huge overlap with infant toys in materials and manufacturing. Many of my factories produce both pet toys and baby toys.

    I am currently making my living as a design/manufacturing consultant.


    7 years ago on Step 11

    Super information, and congratulations on bringing your ideas and vision to fruition. I'll have to say I am somewhat old school and wondering are these pieces practical and have playful use or are they just decorative? We were all kids once and we love hands on creativity, and just wondering if I was missing something. Thanks for the step by step accomplishments, and good luck with your next project. If you have suggestions or advise about grass roots start up and any design classes that you might have taken, that would be appreciated. Have you ever created any wooden toys??


    8 years ago on Introduction

    cool! Since I am not remotely talented/skilled in anything engineer-esque, I will say you did a great job explaining this project to right-brained folks like me. That is no small feat!
    My interest in "making a resin figurine/model" is quite recent. Searching online for some quirky, yet respectful, Christmas ornaments featuring U.S. Presidents, all I could find were ones with the picture, scene/quote on them. My vision in my head was quite different. I realize that there is not a hot demand for these items; well, in certain history buff circles, (haven't exhausted my search) but for this history teacher, I thought Really? no easy google search! Thank you for explaining the process and how incredibly awesome it must be to see that ice cream man come "alive" ! Any suggestions my way would be appreciated. My goal is not to start a company but who knows? stranger things happen everyday!!