How to make enamel pins | The basics

1. Types of enamel pins

1.1 Hard enamel

Hard enamel is easy to tell because the metal and the enamel are raised at the same level. They are the most durable and nicer quality/price. I always go for this type, yes, they are a little more expensive than soft enamel, but it’s worth it.

1.2 Soft enamel

Soft enamel is the cheapest version of a pin. You will be able to tell them apart because the metal is raised from the enamel. I personally do not like them, the lines usually are way too thin and it just doesn’t look that appealing. Although if the design is nice and the colours are well-chosen they can look beautiful, like this one in the photo of @m_atelier. They can handle a more detailed design but that’s pretty much all.

1.3 Cloisonné

Until recently I didn’t even know they existed, to be honest. It turns out that they are the premium version of hard enamel. They are perfect for making jewellery, so if you prefer earrings instead of pins, this would be the best option. But they are more expensive, obviously. So for normal pins, it is not worth the extra cost.

2. Extras & addons

2.1 Cut-outs

It’s not exactly an extra, but they make pins more expensive to produce, so we will include them here. A cut-out is an area inside a pin where there’s no metal, just a hole. If the area is really small the manufactured won’t do it, since leaving the metal non raised nor painted usually makes the trick.

As you can see in the image below, the handle would have a cut-out. It is the only time I have made one and I do not know what the minimum diameter required is. But if you think that your design has a very small hole, ask the manufacturer. He will know how to guide you better than anyone.

2.2 Screen printing/stencil

It is perfect for adding details such as cheeks, words, shadows, etc. You can make them big or small, it doesn’t matter, but if they are going to be very big, maybe it’s better to do it with enamel instead. Normally, it has an extra cost for each colour you want to make, even if the detail is very small. You can see it on the image below, the little pink blush.

2.3 Back imprint

It is the engraving of the logo/name on the back of the pin. It has an extra cost but if you want to make this as professional as possible, having your brand on the back product really helps. In the reference photo, you will find pins from Lisomorphe, Wuxanos, Coco Glez and myself.

2.4 Glitter

It also requires an extra cost. I’ve never done it so I can’t speak to much about it, but many artist recommend that if you make them soft enamel, ask also for an epoxy layer on top, because the glitter does tend to fall off easily.

You can see it on Katnipp’s bee wings.

2.5 Clutch

There are different types, the most common one the Butterfly clutch and the rubber one. I always opt for rubber ones, since they work very well and you can choose them in many colours. The butterfly clutch can cause the post to bend, so ask the manufacturer which one is gonna use it, usually, they can change it with no extra cost.

There are also Locking clutches, these I only use them to make sure that the pins of my backpack do not fall, so I buy them separately, but there are people who offer them in their store too.

You can check them out here!

2.6 Metal finish

Silver, gold, black, copper… there’es a ton out there! And it’s up to you to choose which one works better with your design. Find all of them here.

3. How to order a pin

3.1 The design

If you are designing your first pin, go for a simple design, less is more. My first one was the Shiba dog you have seen before, it doesn’t mean it was easy, but less time consuming for sure! So I could spend more time researching manufacturers.

One important thing to have in mind is that the colours have to be separated by raised metal, so they don’t mix up. So it has to be a line between them. You can make screenprinting afterwards, but it’s going to be expensive.

Normally, the number of colours that enter the base price will be 4-5 (depends on the manufacturer), the more colours the more expensive.

3.2 Manufacturers

You can start with an intermediary like The Pin Department because this way you save yourself headaches and they will surely be perfect. But have in mind that the price per unit triples.

In my case, I went to Alibaba and searched directly for hard enamel pins manufacturers, discarded the ones way too cheap and chose those that fit my budget. Also, I look for manufacturers that accept minimum orders of no more than 50 units. I don’t suggest to order more than 50 if you have never tried the manufacturer. Even less, if there are lots of extras, to make sure the quality is the one expected, before expending too much.

3.3 Specs

When writing to a manufacturer to request a quote, you will have to attach your design along with the specifications you want. The design may be in low quality, it is just a reference for now. The details that you will have to give them are the following (they are the ones I used for the pin below).

  • Type: hard enamel pin
  • Finish: gold
  • Colors: 2 (Pantone)
  • Attachment: 1 black rubber clutch
  • Size: 1 inch
  • Thickness:1.2mm (it’s the standard one)
  • Quantity: 50 uds
  • Screen printing: no
  • Back imprint: no
  • Turn around time? (time it takes the manufacturer to make and ship the pins)

(In case you want a cut-out or glitter you will have to specify it too.)
I usually make a base email with all that information and send it to the different manufacturers that I have found.

In the return mail, some of them will break down the prices by quantity. Don’t be scared of the shipping, it’s pretty expensive. But think that 50-100 pins at least weigh 1kg and you will most likely make them in China. If you send emails to different manufacturers you will see that almost all will have similar shipments.

In the return mail at least the following information should appear:

  • Price by unit
  • Shipping
  • Price of the mold (they will only charge you the first time you make that model, and save it for later reproductions)
  • Cost of the extras you have ordered
  • Final cost
  • Turn around time

When you decide which one to work with, you will have to send them the final design, which all the colours with its code in Pantone Solid Coated. If you don’t know how to choose them you can use this tool or ask the manufacturer.

For the payment, never use Aliexpress, ask them to do it through Paypal, it’s safer. Once you have done the payment, they will start the production. You can ask them for photos before the shipment, in case there’s anything wrong, they can fix it then. (Ex. the colours are wrong or they forgot some screen printing…)

4. What if my pins are defective?

First of all be aware that this is a manual process and therefore it will not be perfect. It is very strange to find a perfect or collector pin in a small order. So do not be overwhelmed if you see the following signs:

  • Slight scratches on metal or enamel
  • Small specks of dust or colour inside the enamel in almost imperceptible places.
  • Bubbles in the enamel that are barely noticeable
  • Irregularities on the metal back

If these imperfections are only seen when we look at a specific angle of light or are not in important places on our pin (on the face for example) we can consider them good.

If, on the other hand, they are visible at first sight or have deeper scratches, lack of enamel, chipping or depigmentation of the metal, we can say they are a bad badge and belong to the: Seconds or Grade B. At least you will find 15% of these, but if you get 20% or more, talk to your manufacturer to find a solution.

Keep in mind that the more extras they have, the more chances they will be defective. That’s why it’s nice to start with a simple design on your first one.

In general, they are usually classified as follows:

  • Collector: the perfect ones
  • Grade A (standard): those that are good with naked eye
  • Grade B: small visible imperfections
  • Seconds: big imperfections

Grade B and seconds are sold cheaper, although the discount you apply will depend on you.

I think that all!! I never thought it could take that long, but it’s a complex process for beginners. I hope this helped you, and keep in mind that all this is only based on my experience, surely other people will be able to tell you more things!

See you in the next one!