Most people think that making your own enamel pins requires you to be (or hire) a great designer or artists. It doesn’t. I’m not a designer, an artist or even that good at drawing, but I’ve been making and selling enamel pins for years, and so can you.
In this article, I will break down the three most important elements of the pin design process (if you want to know about the whole production process, check this out).
First, the essentials of enamel pin design, second, the factory requirements and how to prepare your design for production, and third, some tools that might help you along the way.
The essentials of enamel pin design.
If you’ve never designed an enamel pin before it’s important to understand the limitations (and benefits) of the medium in order to create artwork that will translate well into pin-form. In comparison to traditional designing on paper (or digitally), in which you can use any lines, colors, details or shading that you’d like, the enamel pin production process imposes the following limitations:
All colors are delimited by lines: Because all pins are made from metal molds, the epoxy paint used to fill-in the colors can only be applied to sections that are delimited by metal. Every black line in your artwork will be a metal line in the production process, so it’s important that all colors that you apply are delimited by lines in your design.
Thin and intricate lines do not translate well: Clocking in at around 1-2 inches in size and made out enamel (which doesn’t facilitate intricate work) pins are a small canvas to work on, so unless you’re a super experienced designer and producer that knows the intricacies of pin materials and production capabilities of a pin factory, overall, you should try to create designs that are simple, with bold lines, strong colors and no shading.
That is because the more detail and thinner lines you include in your design, the more likely the lines are to blend together in the production process (which will end up looking like a crappy pin) or the larger you’ll have to produce your pin, which will make it a lot more expensive and inconvient for the customer.
The design on the right has complex thin lines and shading. It will not translate well into a pin. The one on the left is the same design but simplified using strong bold lines that delimit all colors.
Pricing is based on pin size, not the number of colors or lines: When thinking about or preparing your pin design, it’s also important to take into account how factories will price your design. Overall, pricing is based on the size of the pin because it requires more material and work, NOT the number of colors or lines (which a lot of people assume dictates pricing). This means that if you want to start off with a small investment (and if you’re just starting, that’s a smart move), you should aim to create a pin design that is simple enough to comfortably fit into a 1-1.5 inch pin.
Having a larger pin will not only increase your costs but also limit your potential market since most people won’t be able to put a 2-3 inch pin on their lapel or jacket.
The requirements and tools to mock up an enamel pin design.
Okay, now that you know the limitations of the enamel pin medium, what will a factory require from you to produce a design? This one is simple. All they’ll need is a high-quality PDF of the design and the size you’d like it to be. That’s it :)
There are two main ways of preparing your design.
Hand draw your design and turn it into a PDF: If you don’t have experience with digital design software, or just prefer to draw something by hand, you can mockup your design on paper and scan it in order to make it into a PDF file. Although not ideal, most factories offer bare-bones design services and will transform your sketch PDF into production-ready artwork.
Heed with caution here, more likely than not it won't be high-quality artwork and that may have a negative impact on the final product.
Use digital design software: If you know your way around one of the many graphic design software options out there, this one will be a breeze for you. All you’ll need to do is generate the digital design and export it into a PDF.
Once a factory receives your PDF and the size that you’d like it to be, they’ll translate it into an enamel pin production mock-up that looks like this:
This is called a production "proof".
If you want to go the extra mile, you can include the exact Pantone colors that you’d like your factory to use. If you want to go this route, be warned, the production process changes certain colors and factories don't always have the widest range of colors available, so unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to allow the factory to guide you in terms of which colors will get your pin as close to the original design as possible.
Some tools that might help you along the way.
Like I mentioned previously, I’m not a designer or artist and I have no clue how to use photoshop, so to avoid the risks of only using pen and paper, I decided to make a small investment and buy myself an iPad pro + pencil and the Pixelmator app. This made it super easy for me to sketch my design ideas quickly and be able to produce pins more often (you can get “Apple store” versions refurbished on Amazon for less than half the price here and here).
I can only speak from experience, so that’s what I’d recommend if you want to take your pin design endeavors seriously and you lack design skills, but there is definitely a bunch of other tools in the market, like Photoshop, Sumo paint, etc, that can also facilitate your design adventures.
Whatever you choose, the principles of design will remain the same. And don't forget, work with your factory, be patient and build a friendly relationship with them.
They can and will be your biggest ally or a headache depending on how you view the relationship.
You're all set!
Thanks so much for reading this article. If you found it helpful, please share it with your friends! It'll help more people see it.
Also, if you're interested in building a better enamel pin business, you can check out these articles as well :)
Regarding online pin sales, start by first understanding how to grow your Instagram without buying followers. Then, you can tackle the following:
That should give you a good place to start, but if you need more help, always feel free to DM me on Instagram @pinlord. I'm testing out new pin factories all the time and I'm happy to share them :)