In 2015, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office processed 629,647 patent applications. On average, approximately 55 percent of applications submitted receive patents. One way to improve your odds of getting a patent grant is to build your first prototype. While submitting a prototype is not strictly required by the U.S. Patent Office for submitting your application, it does serve to demonstrate that your idea has been thought through in sufficient detail to merit consideration.

Here are four steps to get your first prototype built so you can turn your idea into a patented, profitable product.

1. Create a Concept Sketch

The first step toward turning your idea into reality is getting it down on paper. Draw your idea to help you visualize your prototype in greater detail. While it is possible to use a digital drawing program for this step, it may be more efficient to start on paper first. For one thing, in the early stages of creating your prototype, you’ll have a lot of ideas running through your mind and competing with each other. You’ll save time by drawing these rapidly on paper instead of investing time perfecting a digital drawing.

Keep a sketch notebook to provide documentation that can be used when submitting your patent. It also may come in handy if you ever need to defend your ownership of your intellectual property. Sketches drawn by hand can carry more weight in court than electronically generated drawings, says intellectual property adviser CreateIP.

2. Develop a Virtual Prototype

At some point it’s going to be invaluable to create a digital sketch of your idea. A standard digital design tool used by engineers and other professionals is AutoCAD, which enables them to make both 2-D and 3-D renderings.

A 3-D rendering lets you rotate and animate your virtual sketch, so you can visualize it from all angles. Tools such as NVIDIA Iray, CATIA Live Rendering and Quadro can further enable you to transform your 3-D drawing into a photorealistic prototype, helping you see approximately how a physical version of your design will look. If you’re not skilled with computer drawing and rendering tools, professional graphic designers or prototype designers can assist you with this step.

3. Build a Physical Prototype

Once you have a virtual prototype, you’re ready to build a physical prototype. If you have the skill, you can build one yourself. If you need help, there are several types of resources you can tap to get this step done. One way is going to a professional prototype designer. An alternative is getting a designer or engineer to build your prototype. If you’re cash-strapped, you might seek out a handyman or advertise at an industrial design college.

Once your first prototype is built, you may find flaws that need to be corrected before you seek a patent. You may need to build several prototypes to get a good one done. Typically, early working prototypes are built of less expensive materials than later versions to save money while fixing design flaws. As you improve your design, you can eventually make a prototype that replicates your actual product as it will be sold to consumers.

4. Locate a Manufacturer

Once you have a working prototype, you’re technically ready to apply for a patent; however, you might want to take the additional step of locating a manufacturer that can produce your product at a profitable price. If your idea is going to be profitable, you need to be able to build it at a cost that is low enough that you can cover expenses without cutting too far into your revenue.

Manufacturers that offer free samples and 3-D printing can help you cut costs both in testing and production phases. For instance, manufacturerApple Rubber provides customized o-ring samples to help you test your prototype and determine how to produce it at a cost-efficient price. Go to multiple suppliers and manufacturers to get estimates, so you can determine the most cost-efficient materials and methods for putting your prototype into production.