Introduction: Design and Manufacture Your Own Enamel Lapel Pin

Picture of Design and Manufacture Your Own Enamel Lapel Pin

This is a Work in Progress but I hope others can learn from my leg work or share their own experiences and it will be updated when the whole process is completed.

I am a pin fanatic and have been collecting pins from an young age. Anytime I was on a trip, or a place with a little gift shop I had to see if there were pins available. With a huge collection of my own I've always wanted to turn my artwork into pins.

With the internet and companies realizing that there are a lot of independent artists who would love to use their services its easier than every to create your own enamel lapel pins through manufacturers.

If you've looked into this process before I'm sure the language barrier with Chinese Manufacturers might have been a deterrent. And the the price from US-based companies had you rethinking your order.

My biggest problem with this whole process was other creators not wanting to share any information. This frustrates me as a maker who works in MakerSpaces where the sharing of information, tips, and tricks are key to the community. This is why I am sharing my experience so that others might be able to learn from my mistakes, choices and successes.

- The Kickstarter campaign that this who instructbles centers around is now over. If you would like to see what I did it can still be viewed here: 5sizes2small Pins: Inked Tattoo Machine Enamel Art Pin (Kickstarter)

- If you are looking for the actual enamel pin to buy follow through to my Etsy shop: Inked Tattoo Machine Enamel Pin

- Shout Out to the JoCo MakerSpace in Kansas where I go! Check out their Instructables.

Step 1: Concept

Picture of Concept

As with any item that you are thinking of selling you will need to create a design.

Here is a list of things to have in mind when sitting down to sketch ideas.

  • Your Passions and fandoms
  • Collections
  • Places you like Mashups (combining of two things that have a similar idea but are not the same).
  • Puns and wordplay
  • Color Theory

The list could go on but that should help get your ideas flowing. Always think of things you would look for in an item if you were the customer. It’s harsh but if you wouldn't buy it, probably no one else would either!

For my first design, I chose to celebrate my love for tattooing and went with an American Classic design and a banner reading “Inked” (I have wanted to be a tattoo artist for many years now am self learning how to use tattoo machines and practicing on fake skin I have not found an apprenticeship yet). This design would work both for pin collectors and people who have tattoos - two cross sections of collectors I can relate to!

Step 2: Pitfalls in Design

Picture of Pitfalls in Design

After choosing my design I went to work and sketched out my idea. While I liked it, this first design was not that great for an enamel pin: I circled problem areas on the design I should have been thinking of.

Here’s a rundown of things to keep in mind while sketching:

  1. Your linework will translate to raised metal - keep that in mind when sketching. Incorporate the color of the metal you choose to the color scheme for the pin itself. You can see that clearly in the second picture, where I used gold markers to visualize the manufactured design. Up until that point, I kept thinking in reverse of what I should have been doing!
  2. Don't have too much detail - The crisscross pattern on the handle of the tattoo machine is a good example: it would make for a very messy pin and doesn’t bring anything special.
  3. Avoid complex outer shapes and gaps - I was not thinking about cuts in the design that would make the process more difficult for the manufacturer: designs with very complex edges or holes on the inside of the pin mean extra charges for die cutting. You can easily avoid these fees if your design is clean and simple from the beginning. Know when to make the difference between an important feature of your design and something that does not enhance your concept - it will save you money!
  4. Consider the weight of the final pin - Is it very long and could easily spin when being worn? Then you may need to have two pin posts on the back to help anchor the pin. Don't just assume people will display your pin and not wear it.

Deciding on what size of a pin you want to make is very important at this stage because it will help you decide how simplistic or detailed your design should be. The most commonly used sizes are between 1-1.5 inches at their tallest. Another very small size you could is small around half an inch - these often called Pin Board Fillers: these are pins that people use to fill in gaps on the displays of their pin collection.

You do not have to make your image that you give the manufacturer the size you have chosen: because it is a vector, you will just tell them the size you want a quote for and they will do the rest. Vectors are the best for this kind of work because they can be quickly resized without losing any quality.

A very helpful "How It's Made" video showing the process of making enamel pins helped me greatly, YouTube - How It's Made - Lapel Pin.

Step 3: Creating Your File

Picture of Creating Your File

If you understand how to create and edit vectors in programs like Adobe Illustrator, Corel Draw, or Inkscape (Free Program) you might know a lot of this already.

What I use:

  • A scanner (a good digital camera could also work if you digitally ink the sketch on the computer).
  • Wacom Intuos 4 digital tablet
  • Manga Studio 5 (also known as Clip Studio Paint) for digital inking and hand drawn vectors.
  • Adobe Illustrator CS5.1
  • Inkscape
  • Pantone Color Guide
  1. After scanning and importing the original sketch in Manga Studio, I create smooth lines with little to no wobbling using my digital pen. It also can draw in vectors which can be interesting.
  2. Once you have a clean outline, you can take it to Illustrator (Corel Draw also does this) and make a Live Trace of the lines. This will create a vector trace of your line work for editing and resizing. Live tracing is not perfect - it will simplify too much in some areas and not enough in others. You will need to go in and remove extra points, then smooth and sharpen some areas of your design. (This is where a knowledge of how vectors work will be very handy.)

If you want to live trace a traditionally inked sketch, that works as well - but there will be a lot more cleanup to do. Live traced, traditionally inked lines are a lot more jagged. If you do not like digital inking or have no way to do it you can also make a straight vector version of your design: I've included an example in one of the photos. There you would use a vector program - in this case I used Illustrator to recreate the design with vector lines. I find this method gives the design a rather boring look: just like I find a sketch more interesting than the finished design, I find hand drawn lines make a pin pop more, but that is just personal preference. I may change my mind as I start getting my designs manufactured!

If you are using fonts you must make a an outline of them because your manufacturer probably won't have that font.

The last image is my final design: it is the most simple and does not require a die cut fee because of a complex shape.

The goal is to create a clean .ai, .eps. or .svg file that your manufacturer can easily use to create a mock up and accurate price quote.

You will need to use Pantone + Coated colors: you can get these in programs like the Adobe suite but I have no found them in Inkscape. If you don't know your Pantone colors just use basic colors like black, white, etc.

If you do not have to color match but just need general color codes try using the Pantone Finder.

You might also try going to your local library, you would be surprised how many have the Pantone color guide that you can use for free. But if you need it I would check eBay or amazon for a used copy if you need to do some real color matching for the exact colors you need. Often the more colors on the pin the more it will cost so think of using the color of the metal as a color for the design!

Step 4: Choosing Your Finish

Picture of Choosing Your Finish

Manufacturers will have many metal types you can choose from as well as several types of finish you want the pin to have:

  • Hard Enamel - this means you will have a smooth surface going from the metal outlines across the colored enamel. These are the best looking designs and most professional. It becomes flat and smooth from the layering of the enamel and a hard buff at the end.
  • Soft Enamel - this will leave the metal outlines raised above the enamel that fills the the colored areas. This is a cheaper and some prefer this look. Another option you could ask your manufacturer for is an epoxy cover over the soft enamel: that will make it smooth but also raised above the entire design. This is a design that many older vintage pins have.
  • Sandblasted and 3D - these designs do not lay any enamel into the design but still maintain recessed areas where it would normally sit. This is an option for very clean and solid designs that do no depend on the colors to set it off. They often can be found as 3D as well, meaning they are not just one level of metal but actually sculpted.
  • Printed - this design has an epoxy layer on top to seal a printed image inside. This is a less used option by most independent creators but it’s perfect for images far too complex to be turned into an enamel pin.

There are other additional options some manufacturers offer at an extra cost:

  • Screen Printing - this is done on top of a hard enamel pin that has a smooth surface.
  • Numbering - perfect when you are doing a limited run of a design. If you are creating a limited edition design your customers are trusting that you will not be making more of this exact design and exact coloring. The value of these types of limited runs often make the pin worth more in the future especially if your designs become highly sought after. Be good to your audience and do not recreate this exact design if you make a limited edition run.
  • Back Stamp - this is a great chance to put your logo on the back of your pin so that anyone can find you in the future. It is worth the investment and manufacturers often won't charge you again even on other designs for the back stamp because the mold is on file.

There is also the choice of the back clasp that goes over the pin. Most manufacturers will offer you a metal butterfly clasp or a rubber clasp for free. There is another option of a locking pin back which is far more secure but has an upcharge per pin. You may want to buy these in bulk direct from a supplier and replace those that the manufacturer will put on. You might also upcharge your customers for that backing clasp - often an extra 50 cents is what I have found on many pin seller sites.

(The provided pictures are close up pictures of pin in my collection and are no way sponsored by the creators they are used as examples only.)

Step 5: Choosing a Manufacturer

Creating an enamel pin is not something most people have the ability to do in the United States: there are very few manufacturers that create pins from start to finish in the country, This makes pins an import product that is often manufactured in China.
Many US-based companies actually help create your file and place the order with a Chinese manufacturer. Many capable artists and general computer users can create their final designs and usable vector files without the help of one of these companies. These companies tout they will turn your artwork into a pin design for free - which is not completely accurate: they often upcharge your order by as much as $300 above the Chinese manufacturers prices.

I don’t think creators that have no problem making their artwork into a usable file need these companies, except for placing the order: this is actually the first issue I had when researching companies to have my first pin design manufactured.

I am still in the pre-production step at this point, but I do believe I have found a pin manufacturer I am willing to try. I do not want to give out bad information in case it turns out they are someone you should avoid, so I won't be posting my choice until I have received my pins.

With that being said!

If you do not need anyone to make or edit your files before production I would suggest trying to find a direct Chinese manufacturer so that you will not get the up charge that is applied from other pin makers.

For those creators who have a concept but don't have the time or knowledge of how to create these files than these companies are perfect for you. For the hours they might have to spend on bringing your idea to life it is probably worth the extra money. Just do not be fooled into thinking you aren't really paying for this service. They are counting on you not knowing how much a direct manufacturer would charge you.

Here is a small list I've gathered as I was get getting for my pin design. I cannot vouch for their quality, customers service, or any aspect of their ability to create your design: this is list is for reference only. If I ever have pins manufactured from these companies in the future, I will be sure to update my experience here. Keep in mind that many of these companies might be using the same manufacturer they just will not tell you who they use. Also some of these companies might be owned by the same US-based company as well they just slightly change their names.

Dream Maker Pins

China Lapel Center (Direct Chinese Manufacturer.)

Custom Lapel Pins

Custom Pins

HiLP - Huain Lapel Pin(Direct Chinese Manufacturer.)

King Lapel Pins (Direct Chinese Manufacturer.)

Monterey Company

Pin Crafters

Pin Game Strong

Pin Makers(This company says they will do 10% under a quote that is less than theirs. But I have had bad customer service with them and I've heard issues with quality control from other makers. I did not like my last interactions with them.)

Pin Mart

Siebel Craft Gift

The Studio

Alibaba - This is an often used Direct Chinese Manufacturer suggestion but you often need to have an official registered company. You will need to look into becoming an LLC.

Companies that I've been warned about:

Huain Promos - (Several color changes when giving proofs, they were not at all what they were given to work from.)

Step 6: Packaging

Picture of Packaging

Most indie pin designers have started to go the extra mile and create backer cards for each pin design and package both backing card and pin into a cellophane bag. When deciding on your packaging, think about where you plan to sell your pins or give them away:

  • if you are going to sell your pin at conventions, online, or other commercial outlets creating good packaging will go a long way for people to choose your design. They will feel they are getting better value for their money too. Also think of the future and if you plan to find whole sellers that would carry your pin line. If you have a hanging hole on the packaging it could very easily be put on display in a store.
  • for giveaways, events, and pins that will be given out in mass, or you want them to put the pin on immediately you should probably bypass the carding and bagging. Be sure to have a logo back stamp if you are hoping to use it as an advertisement.

When choosing a packaging for my pin design, I did some price comparison and found some cellophane bags on eBay for very cheap. They also have the sticky pull off strip so that you do not have to tape the back, giving it a very professional look. Sellers and items vary a lot online, so I won't post the seller I picked here but looking up words like cellophane hang bag will probably give you many options to choose from.

I was able to get 1,000 3.5" x 2.4" bags with a hanging hole on top for under $11. This pack of 1,000 was shipped from China and arrived very quickly.

Looking for backing cards printers, I decided to go with Got Print (they take care of the business cards I hand out everyday!) with very competitive prices. I bought 500 3" x 2" business cards with color printing on the front and back. Printing and shipping was under $35.

When creating your backer card decide whether you plan to use that same card for other designs in the future or if you want each card to be different for each design. I wanted mine to be specific for this design but also simple enough that if I ever needed to use the card in a pinch it probably wouldn't look odd.

You might also consider choking warnings - a lot of independent artists do not add a warning on their pins. It’s your choice, but if you are thinking of retail you may want to include it as a safety precaution.

Step 7: Copyrights

When creating designs, always be aware of copyright regulations. If you think you could get a cease and desist, you may want to rethink your design. Big companies will come after you to protect their intellectual property if they feel they need to - and as an independent creator, you will have a lot less money and ability to counter-sue.

But in most cases they do have the right to go after you for using copyrighted characters without permission. I will only say that it is entirely at your own risk - but that doesn't mean creators don't take that risk every day. This isn't just using big company ideas or characters either: other creators steal from each other all the time, this doesn't make it right either.

And of course, don't just use things you find from a random Google search thinking it won't matter. Make sure everything you’re using you made or is legal for you to use commercially. This goes for any fonts as well!

It's always best to use your own designs or something that under Creative Commons or in the public domain for commercial use. You will be able to use the design without even needing to alter it and make money from it. This also means someone else can too so don't think just cause you turned it into a pin you have gained rights to the image.

Step 8: Budget

Budgets are always the trickiest part of any project and pins are no exception! You’ll have several parts to consider.

Pins

Most independent artist pins sell between $6-20 per pin + shipping. Things like packaging and if it is a limited run go into how much artists will charge for each design.

- When going through companies that still outsource the production of the pins to China you will find them charge between $1.25-$4 per pin not including shipping or any other extras like back stamps, lots enamel colors, and other add-ons. But that price does break down to cover their time for creating your artwork and any help you needed, as well as the mold costs (does not include back stamp), and many offer free shipping but NOT all so pay attention when figuring out your price per pin from each company.

- When working with direct Chinese manufactures they will often charge $.50-$1.00 per pin + a mold fee which can cost between $50-65 depending on if you are having a back stamp too. There is also the shipping cost which is is often Express Freight from China and can cost approx $60-110 but it will get to you fast. When breaking down these costs I found that I was saving at least $200 with going direct to a Chinese manufacturer.

The amount of pins you order will also greatly change the price you will expect to pay per pin. Of course buying more at once you will save more money in the long run, but that is a lot of stock to hold onto if you do not have per-orders or a crowdfunding campaign to fulfill. You might also want to test the market with a certain design to see if it could work before making say 500 pins. When getting my quotes I was looking at an order of 200-300 pins and got quotes for both.

Once you have chosen your manufacturer or company it will be in your best interest to stick with them because the next time you order that same exact design you will not have to pay for the mold fee again that includes the back stamp fee (check with your manufacturer though.) Always complain if the quality is not up to your standards as well, you may get a whole 2nd run of the same pin for free if it's that bad or a discount in the future. If they offer you nothing you may one to start looking for a new manufacturer but you will have to pay mold fees all over again.

Shipping

Always ship in at least a bubble mailer envelope when you are mailing pins. It's the least you can do and mailers are very cheap. If you can and want to go the extra mile think of shipping the pins against a rigid piece of cardboard, this will help keep the backer card from bending and will protect the pin in shipping. Any extra bubble wrap is never going to hurt and your customers will thank you for it. It's far less money to wrap a second or third layer of bubble wrap around a pin than to have to ship a new pin because the post got bent.

Shipping prices for small mailers with say one pin inside often ship between $2.60-$3.50 using the US Postal Service within the US this will include tracking in most cases. For shipping outside of the US it will cost between $5-13 with no tracking. You will probably not want to ship with tracking because it is extremely expensive. It can cost between $30-70 for a very small mailer to have tracking. You would do better having to ship a second pin in most cases than ship with that kind of tracking. But if your pin is really worth a lot of money or it was a large order of pins then it is probably worth it just be sure to charge your customer accordingly. You can purchase shipping by using Paypal or get them an accurate quote on shipping very easy just you this link: http://www.paypal.com/shipnow

I was able to buy 500 size #000 4" x 8" bubble mailers for $25 on eBay. This was far cheaper than what I was finding on Amazon or websites that sell shipping supplies. That comes to about $.05 cents per mailer. This is an easy expense that you can figure into the price you decide to sell each pin for or what you plan to charge customers for shipping.

Step 9: Production Time

As I am still in the pre-production step of this I cannot accurately give a timeline yet on how long to honestly expect.

I will update this when I have more information.

Step 10: Funding

There are several ways to fund an order of pins, these are the most popular.

  • Pre-Orders - Using many different outlets on social media and shops like Etsy and Storenvy you can find listings for pre-orders. Often it will take upwards of 30 pin pre-orders to be able to then place an order or they will give a timeline that whatever sells before a certain date they will then place the order anyways.
  • Crowdfunding - This is another way to use sites like Kickstarter and Indiegogo to find your audience if you've never made pins before. This is the option I picked to use, at the time of publishing it is currently at 50% and looks like it will go through. I picked Kickstarter because there are many enamel pins posted monthly there. I wanted to use it as an introduction to the community. I do not plan to use it to fund every design in the future though.
  • Pay with your own money - If you have the means buying your order outright is completely an option.

Beware there is a group of pin creators you might find that feel pre-orders and crowdfunding have no place in pin creation. I've heard them say that if you can't throw down $200-500 for your design then you shouldn't even produce it. Don't let anyone make you feel bad with how you decide to bring your passion to life. When you are starting you need to find your audience and that's nothing to apologize for.

How do I keep making more pins?

Often creators use the profits from their first design to roll in to the next and so on. It might take several designs before you are making actual profit from your designs. Keeping profits rolling is a great way to keep new designs coming quickly.

Comments

sensoryhouse (author)2017-10-09

Awesome! Thanks for sharing.

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Bio: am a freelance illustrator currently looking for an apprenticeship to become a professional tattoo artist. With over 20 years of experience taking commissions from clients ... More »
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