Enamel pins are having a moment. Also known as lapel pins, enamel pins are tiny, metallic accessories that, when well designed, become individual statement pieces.
Although lapel pins have long been associated with professional organizations and politics (you’ve probably seen the ubiquitous flag pin on a candidate once or twice), they certainly aren’t restricted to the lapel. Attach them to backpacks, jean jackets, or lanyards. Use them to promote a charity, a musical group, or your own small business. Enamel pins offer a petite yet strong form of self-expression that won’t go unnoticed.
If you’ve got an idea for a pin design, then you probably have a few questions before you get started. We’ve got your back and want to help you make your idea a success.
SPEAK THE LANGUAGE
Before we jump into design, there are a few terms you’ll have to know. Consider this Pin Production 101. We’re glad you could make it!
WHAT IS ENAMEL ?
Enamel is an opaque finish that is applied to metal, glass, or pottery to achieve a glossy, protected seal. To create enamel, pin makers begin with powdered glass. This powder is melted and applied to pins to achieve a stained-glass effect. The melted powder then solidifies, and protects the pin’s details and colors from damage and wear. There are two types of enamel: hard and soft.
Hard enamel: Hard enamel pins are popular for professional organizations, sororities, and fraternities. They are painted by hand and polished to remove any rough edges, so it’s no surprise that they’re more costly and require more time to create. At first, the lines in each design are slightly raised to separate one color from another. Then pins are sealed with a protective glossy layer and baked at high heat to produce a smooth surface, free of indentations. In hard enamel pins, the paint is level with the metal. To create hard enamel pins, factories will make a custom mold that they will fill with dye material. The pin is typically plated with nickel, bronze, or gold.
Soft enamel: Soft enamel pins are popular collectibles, accessories, and business marketing tools. Because the manufacturing process for soft enamel pins is less detailed than that of hard enamel pins, production cost is lower. To create soft enamel pins, ink fills the inside of engraved, or debossed, metal. Then, the colors air-dry and cling to the metal surface. A soft enamel pin will have texture and detail, as the surface will not be coated with the additional layer than clings to hard enamel. In soft enamel pins, the paint meets the metal, but the paint and metal layers are uneven.
Back stamps: An additional mold can be made for the backside of the pin to create an optional back stamp. This back stamp can be embossed or debossed. Embossed stamps are raised, and debossed stamps are engraved. Names, dates, and slogans are common back stamps. This adds a special touch – something only the wearer will see.
Plating colors: The pin’s plating is the back surface that supports the colors, lines, and overall design of a pin. In other words, the plating is your canvas. Platings are available in many metallic shades, the most common of which are gold, silver, bronze, and copper. But don’t worry about cost just yet—these are only the finished affects. Plating colors are only metallic coatings, so you won’t be paying for pure gold, we promise!
Pantone Colors: Enamel options are often limited to Pantone colors. But shades will appear differently on your computer screen than in your final product. You can check a Pantone color guide to get a better idea of how the actual colors will appear.
Vector images: “Vector” refers to a type of digital file. Vector art is composed of an extensive number of lines and curves. Most manufacturers recommend submitting pin designs that are created and saved as vector images.
Raster images: “Raster” refers to a second type of digital file. Raster art is composed of pixels. Most manufacturers do not recommend submitting pin designs that are created and saved as raster images, although many can still create a pin with this type of file.
START FROM SCRATCH
Now it’s time to design. Begin with a black and white sketch. Think big and draw big. Then downsize. For your first pins ever, follow the “less is more” rule. Aim for clean lines and few colors to get a feel for the complete pin-making path from initial idea to final product.
Revise your sketch. Ask yourself these questions:
- Is the design well balanced?
- Do the number of lines work with the desired final size?
- Are there too many ideas in one pin?
- Will the content look cramped?
- How many colors will I need?
- Do any lines overlap?
The best pins communicate one central idea or message. If you’ve got too much going on in one image, then try to separate the pins into two separate ideas. Consider designing a collection or small set of pins that align with a similar theme rather than one single pin powerhouse.
Remember that pins are small. So try to limit your colors to fewer than 8 shades. If you’re super new to the game, then aim for fewer than six.
Lastly, double-check your lines. Avoid overlapping lines. Overlapping lines interrupt the flow of ink when a machine colors your pin.
Do these design steps have you worried rather than excited? If your creative juices aren’t flowing, don’t stress. You can hire a freelance designer to help bring your pin ideas to reality. And the pin community is ever growing. Seriously, it’s packed with passionate people like you who are eager to share their design dreams with the world. You can connect with other pin designers online to collaborate on a project.
Now that you have your handmade design, scan your final sketch and save it on your computer. Then open the image in the editing software of your choice. You can use Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop for professional control over your design.
Once you open your sketch in your editing program of choice, then you can manipulate the image to meet your design goals. Be sure to work with a vector file if possible. Correct messy lines, refine shape, and add color. If your design involves text, then you can choose from many fonts online at My Fonts. Or, of course, digitize your own script by perfecting the edges.
SAVE IT FOR LATER
Digital vector files should normally be saved in as PDF or an Adobe Illustrator file. If you were unable to create a vector file, then a raster file saved as a .TIF or PDF is usually all right, too. You’ll want to check with your manufacturer in advance to learn what they prefer. Then send your digital file off to a manufacturer along with a completed order form.
Deliveries normally take between 4 and 6 weeks but totally depend on the manufacturer.
BACK IT UP
Now, it’s time to consider the pin backings. There are many styles to choose from when it comes to fastening your pin in place.
The most common pin backing is the Butterfly clutch. This is often available in gold or chrome color, which is easy to match to your backing if you choose to. It’s also the most cost-effective option if you’d like to get the most for your money. It’s also easy to secure in place and remove: just pinch the two wing-like half-circles to open and close the clutch.
A simpler backing is the Rubber cap. Sometimes, this backing is made of plastic. But more often than not, it’s available is various colors in rubber. This easy backing slips onto the post and secures the pin.
Magnets fix your pin in place in an instant. With a strong enough magnet to latch through any surface—from a wool cap to a jean jacket or leather vest—you can count on this backing to secure your pin with a sophisticated clasp.
Safety pins offer a self-explanatory answer to your pin-backing questions. Because it’s permanently fixed to the pin, it’s impossible to lose. The safety pin is often plated to match whichever finish you chose for your backing. However, safety pins are the more fragile option, as the thin wire is prone to loosening or bending over time.
Pin keepers involve a screw hat is set inside a small metal barrel. Because these backings need to be secured with an allen wrench, pin keepers are ideal for pins that you want to fix to one surface rather than transfer from one surface to another.
ORDERING YOUR PINS
Submit your design to the manufacturer. Communication is key. No one likes a surprise on delivery day. Clarify all specifications with your manufacturer ahead of time. Here’s your conversation checklist:
Ink colors: Many manufacturers only use Pantone colors. While this may sound limiting, the Pantone color wheel is extensive. However, Pantone colors appear differently on a computer screen than they do in print and in final products. Request a color guide so that you can select the code for your desired tone. You can also buy a Pantone fan deck or chip book to think through the colors at home.
Plating colors: Do you have a desired plating color? Is it important to you that the plating matches the backing? These are questions you should consider before submitting your order form.
Cut lines: Is your pin an especially irregular or organic shape? Sometimes, space between lines can be tricky. If the negative space between two parts of your pin is too narrow, it may be difficult for the manufacturer to cut between the lines. Talk about possible design alterations if necessary.
Extras: Is there a detail you’re dreaming about? Ask your manufacturer about options not listed on their site or company profile. Is glitter possible? Or can you make additional cutouts from the inner part of the pin? Is it possible to add a texture to one of the surfaces? You never know what possibilities will arise until you ask.
Quantity: How many should you order? Pin pricing begins with the cost of the initial mold. After the first mold is made, each pin is created in a replica of that mold. So increasing your quantity means bringing down the average price of each pin. If your business is brand-new, then it’s smarter to start small, with an order of fewer than 300 pins. Once your pin sales are a success, then it’s easy to go back to your manufacturer and create more. Factor in shipping costs, and you’ll have a good idea of your total budget. The more pins you order, the lower your cost per pin will be. Then you can total your production costs and check out other pin designers’ prices to get a feel for an appropriate amount to charge your customer per pin.
PACK IT UP
You did it! You’ve just created your own original pins, from start to finish. But the creativity doesn’t end here. Express yourself in the way you present your pin to its new owner. As with any product, packaging can make or break a sale.
Charm your customers with creative, tasteful packaging that aligns with their selected pin’s style. A little effort will take your packaging from a thoughtless plastic bag to an artistic, professional delivery. Unsure of how to wrap up your precious pins? We’ve got a few ideas.
For individual orders, a business card is an easy solution. Attach the pin to your business card for a personal yet professional touch. This is the ideal packaging for storefronts and vendors’ tables because nothing’s hidden. The card works as a frame to showcase your art.
For bigger orders, package your pins in Chinese takeout boxes or in patterned, painted paper envelopes with extra material for padding.
Detailed pins are works of art, much like a piece of jewelry. For customers who are shopping for someone else, offer a gift-wrap option. Place the pin in a cloth sachet bag, and tuck the sachet into a small gift box, lined with colored paper.
For a light-hearted approach, put together a plastic goodie bag, stuffed with confetti and a handwritten note to thank your customer for their purchase. Set the pin inside, and tie it at the top with a ribbon.
HIT THE MARKET
Marketing your pin can feel scary. It’s a big wide web out there, and getting your pin to shine amongst so many products can feel intimidating.
Start with your audience. Who would like your pin? Does it appeal to a specific interest, like volleyball players or punk rock listeners? Or maybe it relates to a fan club, like Harry Potter or Beetle Juice. You can connect with niche communities online. Explore Tumblr and Reddit to discover new subcultures and individuals alike who would love your pins.
What’s most important is visibility. Once you’ve pinpointed your target market, then it’s time to spread the word.
Build a digital storefront: Websites such as Etsy and Storenvy cherish their small business owners and allow products to take off. While many users report a slow start, these sites allow the opportunity for direct selling. What matters most is how you promote and share your products.
Two highly visual, growing platforms can help you to market your pins for free:
Pinterest is a network that allows users to share their interests and discover new products and ideas through sharing and organizing “pins” on a digital bulletin board. When promoting your pins on Pinterest, post vertical or portrait-style images of your pins rather than horizontal or landscape photos. Vertical images take up more space on the screen and are more easily noticed on a Pinterest search page and feed. Use hashtags to increase your product’s visibility on the web.
Instagram is another ideal image-driven network for reaching potential customers through hashtags. A separate Instagram account for your small business is a good idea. You can link to your Instagram profile to your website or Facebook page, follow other pin designers, and connect with other creatives in the jewelry and art world.
Instagram also easily links with other social networks. Connect your account with your Facebook and Twitter accounts. Accumulate more customers by making it easy for new followers to find you. Master your social media communication. Since not everyone will sit down at the computer to send an e-mail, customers can effortlessly communicate with you through the comments section of photos.
If you collaborate with other artists and designers, then tag them in the images Pinterest and Instagram. It’s a fun way to give credit and say “thanks” to those you work with. You’ll be promoting their work at the same time.
Use the “like” system as a survey. Which images garner the most little red hearts or re-pins? See which products excite your followers the most, and then use this information to influence your future design decisions so that customers continue to come back for more.
Happy designing! If you’ve got a crazy cool idea, then we want to help you get started. Let’s bring your pin into the world and share it with customers who will love to express themselves with your art.
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