How to make enamel pins - From design to selecting a manufacturer

Posted by Alan Swenson on

Making your own enamel pins can seem like an impossible task but it's really not that difficult. We feel like it is important for anyone that wants to have their own enamel pins manufactured to be able to and expand the Enamel Pin Community.  In this article I will detail our step by step process from taking an idea in your head to having the enamel pin in your hand. 

Step 1 - Come up with a design

For some people this is the easiest task, for others, like us, it can sometimes be difficult to just choose one.  We do not use copy written characters or phrases and try not to do anything that has been done a million times. This may be your business path but we sell a lot on Amazon and using copy written material is a good way to get your account shut down.  And please, please do not copy another pin artist's design.  That is blatant plagiarism and cannot be tolerated is this tight knit community.  

Step 2 - Translate the design in your head to digital

Now that you have your design in mind, you need to make it tangible. We use an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil with the app "Graphic - illustration and design".  Normally we find a reference image, place it in the background and make it fairly transparent and the trace the elements we want to make the pin, change some elements to make it make sense as a pin and maybe add other elements to create something that exactly matches the design in our heads.  After the rough sketch we go back and clean up all the lines to make sure they all look exactly as intended and that there are no gaps where there should not be.  From there, we import to Adobe Illustrator.  We like to use the live paint tool for selecting colors.  Here is the part where is gets a little tricky.  Your manufacturer is going to want you to use Pantone Colors.  You will need some Pantone Formula Guide (costs $134 right now).  The reason you can't just pick colors from your computer screen is that you will end up with colors that don't look exactly like you computer.  Pantone will be the same as the swatch no matter who you send it to and no matter what their computer screen looks like.  When you have picked your Pantone colors and colored in your design in Adobe Illustrator its time to make a color key in you Illustrator file.  You just need to make a few boxes with the colors you have selected and then label them with text saying which Pantone colors they represent so there will be absolutely no confusion when they are being produced at the factory.  I will include a sample PDF so you know exactly what I am talking about at the end.

Step 3 - Find a supplier and Negotiate

There are a few American Suppliers out there but we love our Chinese Manufacturer.  It is half the price or less to have your pins produced over seas and believe it or not you don't have to deal with a language barrier and we pay through PayPal so the transactions are protected.  When you are ready to make a purchase contact a few manufacturers through Alibaba (or just use ours) and tell them exactly what you want, size, metal, colors, packaging, quantity, backing, if you want a logo on the back and ask them for their best pricing.  Our manufacturer has a very low defective rate which is one reason we like them.  Out of 100 hard enamel pins we normally have about 1-4 defects, on soft enamel pins its a little higher but just expect that a few will not be perfect.  If you order 100 they normally send a few extra too to make up for any defects.  Some people sell them as seconds for half price but we just give them as gifts to friends and they don't mind the tiny defects.  The more you get at once the more you can save on shipping (which is a decent percentage of your total cost). Also, once a mold is made for your pin you can reorder more later without having to pay for a new mold next time.  We don't order less than 300 at a time, generally 100 each of 3 different designs.  There will also be a small percent added to your order if you choose to use PayPal like us.  We recommend PayPal though as it is much easier than using wire transfers, and even with the fee it's cheaper than any other money transfer fees.  Manufactures do not take credit cards, so keep that in mind.  Unless you are ordering like 20,000 pins you will just be air shipping.  I find DHL is a little quicker (few days) but also a few bucks more than FedEx, but I have never had a problem with either shipper and the manufacturer will set up all this.  It's just like ordering anything online, you give them your address and they ship it to you.  Orders take about 3 weeks from the day you approve the art and make a payment, so make sure you order with enough time.  You wouldn't want to order Halloween pins in mid-October and receive them in November.  

Good Luck on your pin making endeavors.  We are here for you if you have any questions and we would love to help you out.


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