Tips for making pins

Enamel Pins 101: Making the Actual Art!

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Let’s Design Some Pins!

Right off the bat, I want to say this - if you’re totally clueless when it comes to graphics software, if you have no idea what a “vector” is, or if “Adobe” brings to mind Southwestern houses… that’s totally okay. In this post, I’m going to run you through a few different ways you can create your art that we can absolutely, totally work from - the best method is whatever one is most comfortable for YOU.  We can handle just about anything, so if you aren’t sure, send it over to us.

 Most of the pins we make start out as raster images - as long as they’re large and crisp, they work great! This little fella is by  Kory Bing .

Most of the pins we make start out as raster images - as long as they’re large and crisp, they work great! This little fella is by Kory Bing.

Back to Basics: Drawing By Hand

Yep, believe it or not, we can totally work from a hand-drawn picture! Admittedly, this method gives you a little less control over the final output than some of the others, but it can also be a great way to maintain a hand-done feel in the final pin, which can add a ton of charm. In order to work from a hand drawing, we need a clear, black and white outline only. It’s fine to send a colored version as well (that will help us add color) but in order to create the vector file that we need, we need a good-quality scan or photograph of black ink on white paper, with crisp, not-sketchy lines. Tracing over your existing art onto a new sheet of paper with a nice black pen is usually the easiest thing to do. Once we’ve created the vector, we can easily color in the spaces, like a coloring book.  Once you have traced your artwork in solid lines, you can either get it scanned at a copy shop or try to take a really well lit photograph to send us. We understand that not everyone is familiar with design software, so if you work in a traditional format and are capable of sending us a clean black and white version of your art, we will make it work.

Raster Programs: Photoshop, Procreate, etc

If you’re already comfortable in a raster-based graphics program like Photoshop or one of the many drawing apps out there, we can use that! We can easily make vectors from those images. Like with hand-drawing, the outlines need to be crisp and not sketchy - and also like hand-drawing, it can be helpful to send an outline without any color. Any sort of “brushy” or watercolor effects won’t translate, so stick to solid blocks of color surrounded by solid outlines.  Please remove any effects like a drop shadow, gradients, etc before sending.

A raster file is something that has a set amount of information.  If you design it small and it needs to be made larger, it will stretch the pixels and blur the details.  It’s always best to design larger than you will need and this applies to any product you want to create. It’s easy to make something smaller, but it can be challenging to make it larger without detail loss.  If you want a 1.5” pin, try designing at around 6”.

Placing your photoshop file into Illustrator and saving it as a .ai file, does not make it a vector, but, we can help you with that.

Remember: the outline will be the metal, so consider your metal color as you work! You may not want to use charcoal as a fill color if you’re using black nickel metal, for example, and you won’t get the same contrast with nickel (silver) as you will with black.

 The evolution of a pin design! From a rough sketch, to a pin-ready raster, to vector format and our template… to a finished pin that glows in the dark! This design is by  Sour Demonz.

The evolution of a pin design! From a rough sketch, to a pin-ready raster, to vector format and our template… to a finished pin that glows in the dark! This design is by Sour Demonz.



Vector Programs: Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Draw, InkScape or Corel Draw

If you’re already experienced with vector graphics programs, that’s awesome. By all means, send ‘em on over! A few things that make the process a little easier:

  • Keep your vectors as clean and simple as possible

  • Make sure to outline your fonts! Otherwise they may not come through.  The easy way to do this is to select the text and in Ai, go to Type > Create Outlines.  What this does is change a font into set artwork instead. If we do not have your font, it will try to auto replace it in the software.  

  • Please unlock all your layers, and delete any layers/content that isn’t necessary.

  • Avoid using clipping masks.

  • Expand everything!

  • If you feel comfortable using pantones, please either assign them in your file or put a list on the artboard for us.  To find the pantone books in Ai, select the swatches panel and click on the bottom left icon that looks like a stack of books.  In the drop down, select “color books” and pick Pantone+ Solid Coated. This is the only book we can choose colors from.

  • It’s easiest to save your vector as a PDF file to send over if you are using software other than Adobe Illustrator.  

 This design was drawn in Adobe Draw with an Apple Pencil. Adobe Draw allows you to export images as vectors.

This design was drawn in Adobe Draw with an Apple Pencil. Adobe Draw allows you to export images as vectors.

 …and here’s the finished pin, in two color variants! Pin by  Wild Hunt.

…and here’s the finished pin, in two color variants! Pin by Wild Hunt.

What Doesn’t Work So Well:

  • Pencil sketches, most paintings, anything with a ton of colors and shading or indistinct, sketchy lines

  • Photographs

  • Gradients, textures, and other digital effects

If your art is heavy on those things and you really want to keep it that way, there is still an option- printed pins! We’ll talk about those in another post, but for now suffice to say: don’t despair, there is a way!

As long as you can send us some kind of clean file, we can make a vector for you and we do not charge to do so.  The only times we charge art fees are if your artwork needs a lot of work to get it to be clean enough to make a vector for you and that is simply billing for the art time it would take us to essentially recreate your artwork from scratch.


Enamel Pins 101: An Introduction to Making Pins

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I Want to Make Some Pins!.... Now What?

So you’ve decided to enter the wonderful world of enamel pins! Or maybe you’ve been a collector for a while, and are looking to check out the other side of the fence. Perhaps you’re looking for a great way to promote your business, brand or create a unique wedding favor. Whatever your motivation, enamel pins are an awesome way to make affordable, wearable art.  They have great margins and an easy break even point, making them a low risk and high profit item to sell.

At PGS we’ve made over 1.5 million pins, so we’ve got our unique process down. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be guiding you step-by-step through everything you need to consider when it comes to making the best pins possible. We’re committed to making sure the end product is something that you’re going to be proud of (that’s why we make you email us your art before paying - we won’t take your money unless we’re sure we can make you a great product.)

In this first installment, we’re going to take you through the very basics of enamel pin manufacture. Understanding the process is super helpful when you’re creating - or altering - your art (plus, it’s amazing how they are made!)

 Some of the many awesome pins we’ve helped to make!

Some of the many awesome pins we’ve helped to make!

When a Mold and a Syringe Love Each Other Very Much…

Traditional enamel pins consist of two main parts. The metal framework, and the enamel fill. Think of the metal as a very complicated swimming pool, with metal walls and differently shaped “pools” for each colored area of the pin.

When the factory gets the art, the first thing they do is create a mold, which they then use to stamp and cut the metal pieces. If necessary, areas that are delicate or narrow are filed by hand. Posts are welded on the back.

 Some of the tools used in hand-filing the pins.

Some of the tools used in hand-filing the pins.

With soft enamel pins, the metal is then plated with your color of choice (gold, silver, copper, black, or any color of the rainbow.) With hard enamel, the plating happens after the coloring step. (We’ll talk more about the differences between the two in a later post.)

Now the “swimming pool” is ready to be filled with liquid enamel! Until recently, all of this was done by hand with tiny syringes. That’s right- each and every teeny, tiny spot in each and every pin! Lately, more and more soft enamel pins are able to be colored by machine, which makes the process quite a bit faster. They can get pretty small with how much we can fit color into (0.3mm/0.01”).  Hard enamel pins are still colored by hand though, which is one reason they can’t really be rushed. Coloring can take several days, since each color needs to cure and harden before the next one is added.

 Soft enamel rainbow metal pins waiting for their enamel.

Soft enamel rainbow metal pins waiting for their enamel.

At this point, soft enamel pins are pretty much done! They get packaged up and sent on their way. Hard enamel still has several steps though - first, they are sanded down to create a flat, smooth, shiny surface where the metal is flush with the enamel. This step is the main difference between hard and soft enamel pins. Then the metal is plated and the whole thing is polished.  The materials used in soft and hard enamel are the same, but they process steps are different. Hard enamel cost more because of this additional labor time.



Think: Tiny Coloring Book

The main take-aways from this process, as far as art preparation is concerned, are these:

  1. Any area of color MUST have an outline of metal. The swimming pool must have walls, or the liquid enamel would spill out and mix together. So when designing your art, think “coloring book” - each color has its own designated, outlined space.

  2. Be aware of sizing. The smallest space that the factory can fit enamel into is .3mm - which is quite tiny, about the width of sewing thread. Sometimes when designing something at a larger scale than it will be produced, it’s easy to forget how small pins really are. Printing your design out at home in the size you want your pins to be is a great way to get perspective on your level of detail, and see if it feels like anything is just too darn small. If there’s absolutely no chance you could color something in, even with a well-sharpened pencil, there’s probably no way they’ll be able to get that syringe of enamel in there.  If you print out your design at home, try holding it at arm’s length and if a detail is hard to make out, it might be too small.

 Several options for a simple design. All enamel must be surrounded by metal in one way or another.

Several options for a simple design. All enamel must be surrounded by metal in one way or another.

If you’re designing from scratch, it will be helpful to keep those things in mind going in, but converting existing art is usually totally do-able too (and definitely a process we can help you with! Don’t hesitate to send us an email- orders@pingamestrong.com.)  

Next time, we’ll be diving a little deeper into art preparation and talking about our favorite software for creating pin art!