Enamel Pins - my tips and tricks :)
So many of you have asked about the process of making enamel pins so I decided to write this post to hopefully help you along your journey!
Of course the first thing you should have in mind when creating your own pin, is the design. When thinking of a design for a pin, there are two aspects to look out for -- the actual technical elements of the pin itself, and the image that you want to make. Let's first talk about the technicals!
There are two main types of enamel pin; soft enamel and hard enamel. Hard enamel pins are also sometimes referred to as "cloisonné". Soft enamel usually have a raised metal border and the enamel is indented inwards. Hard enamel pins go through an extra buffing process to allow the metal and enamel to be level. Personally, I prefer only producing hard enamel pins, but both types has its own pros and cons and its up to you to decide which one you would like to go with!
Hard Enamel vs. Soft Enamel
Hard enamel pins are my preference because to me it looks higher quality. It is more expensive to produce, so factories usually do not make bootlegs in hard enamel making it easier for others to differentiate real from fake. However, the extra buffing process does make it a little more difficult to control line weight. Sometimes, your lines will be thicker or thinner than you originally intended because they are flattening down the metal.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether or not you want screen-printing. Usually, enamel colours are always separated with a metal line. But, if you want a colour to be shown not separated, you can use screen-print to print a design on top of a pin. You can only do this on hard enamel pins.
However, there is an alternative. For soft enamel pins, you can add an epoxy coating over the top. This actually allows the soft enamel pin to look really cool in my opinion! It levels it out so it kind of feels like a hard enamel pin. You can screen-print on top of the epoxy to create a 3D effect! I've never tried this before, but I have a pin using this effect, and it looks really nice.
Hard Enamel - looks "higher quality", easier to differentiate as non-bootleg, can add screen-print
Soft Enamel - cheaper, the design can be more accurately portrayed
There are many metal types and usually, your factory can give you more detailed options. The alloy will usually vary with the manufacturer and its best to discuss with your manufacturer with what to use. However, appearance-wise you can incorporate the plating to match your design. Usually, you can choose from gold, silver, rose-gold, black, rainbow (only soft enamel). Actually there are so many more options such as .. do you want shiny metal? matte metal? Its best to ask your manufacturer for all their options and to find examples of each one!
Pin size is important to think about! When giving dimensions, usually you are always measuring the longest side of the pin. The bigger the pin is, the more expensive it will be. Small pins are really cute but can not hold as much detail. Make sure to add multiple posts to larger pins so they do not spin around when being worn.
For clasps, the three main types are butterfly, rubber, and locking. I usually always opt for rubber backings. Rubber backings are what most people prefer and you can choose different shapes and colours too! However, butterfly clasps are usually cheaper and locking clasps are good for preventing pins from falling off.
Designing the Actual Pin
Ok, now that we got the technicals out of the way, its time to design the actual pin! Of course, you already have an image in mind right? I guess there are many ways to do this but these are the steps and software I usually take/use when designing a pin.
First, make a sketch. I usually do this with the app Procreate on my Ipad. When making a pin sketch, I try to make the design as simple as possible, and with as few colours as possible. The more colours, the pricier. The more complex, the more chance producing B/C/D grades. After making a rough sketch. I will use the monoline brush on Procreate to make the final lineart. I like monoline because it allows all the lines to have the same exact line weight. For pins, I usually want all the lines to have the same line weight because line weight isn't very controllable during the manufacturing process. I've made the mistake of using differing line weights and strokes in a design and it turned out really badly and not at all how I wanted it to look. You don't need to use Procreate for this step, you can use anything or even paper and pencil.
When submitting your artwork to a manufacturer they will always want a vector image. I never learned how to vectorize images until recently so let me tell you the cheat method I use! Even now, after I've learned how to use Adobe Illustrator, I still use this cheat method haha. On the Ipad, I use the app Adobe Draw. This is actually a free app and it automatically converts your lines to vector format! You can import the Adobe Draw file to Adobe Illustrator and save it as an .AI file. I usually just submit that to my manufacturer. If you do not have Adobe Illustrator, there are many free vectoring programs that you can find online through Google!
Additionally, I make another image which shows the colours I want to use. Most enamel pin manufacturers will use Pantone Solid Coated colours and I highly advise purchasing a Pantone book. If you just search for the colours online, chances are that the colours will not be exact due to different colour calibrations on screens. If you really do not want to purchase the book, Adobe Photoshop as a function (Colour Libraries) where you can convert the colour shown on the computer to a Pantone colour. (However, this is not as accurate as using the Pantone book!!!)
When you order pins, make sure to order more than you think you need. There is always a defect rate, and sometimes the defect rate can be quite high. Ordering more is always better than ordering less. Most of the cost comes from shipping anyways, so its a financial advantage to order more too!
Having a backstamp is super important! Make sure to always include a backstamp with your pins. It may be pricier but it is very important. I missed out on this in my first batch of pins and I regret it. This is usually your name or logo that is indented or raised metal on the back of your pins. This ensures that bootlegs can be distinguished from your genuine products.
Sourcing a Manufacturer
This is the most asked question! You probably wonder why no one ever wants to reveal their manufacturers. This is because pin creators spent a lot of time and effort finding and building a relationship with their manufacturer. Every manufacturer has their own pros and cons, and its important to find one that will work well with you!
It is true that it is almost impossible to find a pin manufacturing company that is located outside of China. If a factory claims it is not in China, it is most likely a middleman company that acts as a partner with a factory in china. In my opinion, it is not great to use these middlemen company because they charge you more, you get less options, and you do not get to build a direct relationship with your manufacturer. Although, they do provide perks as they may provide better quality control, and have already sourced a reputable manufacturer so you don't have to.
When looking for a pin manufacturer, I suggest starting by searching on Alibaba. If you search 'custom enamel pin', you will find loads and loads of manufacturers. What I did was message a loooooot of them and ask for samples of their previous work and quotes. I have tried to work with many many many manufacturers and that is the only way to find whats right for you. Different companies are good at different things so what works for others may not work well with you. You can also get companies to make samples of your design for you so you can see whether or not you are satisfied with their quality. There is also the Pin Manufacturer Review page on Facebook where many creators share their experience with certain manufacturers so you can go there to do research as well!
Backing cards can be really fun to design if you incorporate it with your pin design! For me, I use Vistaprint and print it as a square business card on premium matte paper. It's quite cheap and works well! Originally, I did create different backing cards to go with each pin design. However, after realizing that there were so many leftovers and possible wastes, I now just make generic backing cards to go with all my pins.
A Summary... Because Too Much Text!
I like to use hard enamel and rubber backings for my pins
Try to make the design as simple as possible, with the line weights being even if possible
I use the app Adobe Draw (free app) on my Ipad to cheat vector, it vectorizes all of your lines automatically!
Go on Alibaba to source manufacturers, ask them for samples. You can also check out Pin Manufacturer Review on Facebook
Make sure to use a backstamp!
Order more pins than you think you need
I use Vistaprint square business cards with premium matte paper for my backings.
If you are debating whether or not you should try making your own pin, you should just do it! If you are able to spare the money, it is a fun experience! Even if nothing comes out of it, it is a great way to learn. You will experience designing, sourcing, and marketing all along the way. The only way to do something, is to just do it!