When you start a brand, the dream of getting into stores is often at the top of the list of goals and jumping into wholesale too early can cause more problems than it’s worth. Below are some tips and questions to ask yourself to determine if you are ready. There’s a big difference between a random wholesale account and making a push with your brand into retail.
Are you selling enough online consistently where you can afford taking a reduced price on inventory?
Wholesale pricing most often is 50% off of your retail price. If you are selling a pin for $10 online, a store may only want to pay $5. You can move more product, quickly, which in turn can help fuel larger runs that reduce your cost and increase your margins. But, can you afford to do it and still make enough money doing so? Building direct sales through your online store or at events is key to establish first because if your store is supporting healthy margins through direct sales to customers, it's much easier to take a smaller amount in trade for a higher volume.
Are you capable of re-printing a design easily when you need to?
As you’ve probably learned, regardless of how much you try to attempt guessing the perfect inventory levels for product, it doesn't always work out perfectly. You should be at a point financially with the brand to be able to easily send a reprint order over to be made without it breaking the bank. You need to be able to handle ordering quickly if a design gets low or sold out to fulfill the orders.
Do you have a solid group of proven designs to offer wholesale that have shown that they continue to sell well over time?
The best approach to wholesale when you start is to have a selected group of best sellers to offer. These should be the designs that tend to outsell all of the others. Whatever designs you choose, you are committing to keeping those in stock for a while. In the clothing industry, it often goes by season, but if apparel accessories are what you sell, a store won't be happy to not be able to restock an item that is selling well for them. When I was selling shirts, I'd have around 30 designs I committed to keeping in stock for the season, but allowed any store to buy from my current inventory of new products or items not listed in my catalog.
Are you in a position to be able to handle net 30?
Net 30 means they have 30 days to make payment from when they receive the order. Any new accounts, I require they give a credit card, but once a customer gets into the re-order status, they will be wanting net 30. If that creates a huge strain on your business cash flow, you may not be ready, because trust me, they will ask for it. I’d say that 90% of my stores are on net 30. Plus side of net 30 is that they usually send a check and you don’t lose 3+% on the transaction. If you do wholesale on a random one here, one there basis, you can probably get away with credit cards for payment. You shouldn’t be charging their card until their order ships. This isn’t your way to get funding to produce the order. They will not be happy if you charge their card and the order ships 3 weeks later. Not a good move.
Do you have the time to handle each account?
Stores can take a good amount of time to maintain. As the number of stores goes up, so does your time devoted to them. If you sell to small boutiques, get ready for fun times getting paid. When I used to sell to a bunch of boutiques, some paid quickly and others were like getting blood from a stone for $250. I would heavily suggest having a credit card on file for them. And, don’t expect that card to always run successfully. I’ve had declined cards more than I can keep count of because of cards running out of state often and you need to make the call and get it sorted out. In my experience, small shops are not the greatest about on time payments and need to be reminded.
The dirty C word - Consignment
If you really want an account and are small, there’s a chance they will offer you consignment. Usually you can negotiate a higher draw since they aren’t putting any money out and you may be able to get 60% of retail instead of 50%. In my experience, consignment rarely works in a way that is worth it. You are not only putting stock that could be used better into a store that may sit unsold, but you are relying on their bookkeeping skills. You need to babysit a consignment account monthly. The very few times I have done consignment when I was a new brand, the only way it worked was by establishing terms and a trial period. For example, you can give the store 30-60 days to have the product on consignment and after that set time, you meet and evaluate if the store will purchase the products instead of consignment. If after 30 days, the store can’t decide, you need to pull your product if it isn’t selling through. If it was selling through, they’d want to buy it to make better margins. My feeling on shops that offer consignment or request it is that their stores will have a more scattered look as they will allow just about anything in to fill the space. This also means they most likely are not making a ton of money if they have to get free product and equates to headaches when it comes time to getting paid. 99% of the time, I would avoid consignment and 100% of the time I would avoid it if it’s not a local shop you can drive to to keep on top of.
What's the upside?
Wholesaling can be a great way to grow your business, but you need to be ready to do it in a way that doesn’t hinder your growth by spreading you too thin. I went from 3 to 100+ stores in 9 months and the growth was amazing, but also pushed me pretty far and pushed my credit card bills initially because I was pre-funding the production runs, knowing I'd get paid in 30-45 days. Growth and expansion cost money and the more coming in, the more that goes out in larger numbers with production, so you should evaluate where you are at financially and if you can handle the timeline of purchasing goods to produce and possible net 30 payment. For a few years, our total sales were split about 50/50 between online direct sales and wholesale. Having our products in stores also led to bumps directly to people in those areas. They'd pick up a shirt and check us out on our site. There is also the general marketing side of having more exposure for the brand. More people will see your name and it can help that organic growth as a brand for recognition.
Here's 15 quick tips for new entrepreneurs...according to Greg
Don't fake it until you make it. Create it until you make it. Set goals and work towards them and keep creating. Not all ideas need to become a physical product but keep pushing yourself.
Work harder than everyone else.
We all have failures. Use it as a learning opportunity, let it go, and move forward.
In the beginning, you will be pulling double duty working and starting your business in the hours after normal work is done. It's how most of us started.
Don’t overextend your budget on your first run of products. Things always change from what your first idea was and you want to be able to have money to make new things.
- If it sells out, you can always make more.
Work with people who can help you complete your project successfully. I'm all for DIY, but when your money is on the line and you are new, hiring experts helps you get it made right. You can print your own shirts at home, but in reality, it's smarter to hire a print shop. There are people who help produce products for a living. Use them.
Getting feedback and constructive criticism is always encouraged, but the final decisions needs to be made based off of what you think is the right path and what aligns with your vision. Everyone has an opinion, especially on social media, but often, the loudest voices aren't the ones buying anything.
- Pursue a business that will keep you inspired and is true to you. Honesty in what you do is recognized.
Be willing to say no to opportunities that are too big for where you are realistically. Going broke producing something you can’t afford to make is a bad idea. Get their contact info and follow up when the time is right.
- If you are trying to chase a fad, you’re already too late.
Take the time to find your original voice and perspective. Ask yourself why you want to do this and what you bring new to the table. We all have some unique angle or idea and the best brands are the ones creating their own path.
- Stay humble and share your knowledge with others.
Every market is oversaturated. The people in it for the wrong reasons weed themselves out quickly, so don’t concern yourself too much unless your competition is hungrier than you are.
- If you ever think there’s nothing to do, you are either thinking too small or avoiding the hard work.
Looking for a cute packaging solution or a fun accent for scrapbooking and paper crafts? Washi at your service!
Washi tape is a light-weight masking tape originally popularized in Japan. It gained popularity with book crafters, but truly has a million uses, from gift wrapping to sewing (mark straight lines without leaving residue!) to even helping one of our employees cut perfectly straight bangs.
Our washi tape comes in 10m long rolls, and in several widths- 10mm, 15mm, 20mm, 30mm, and 32mm (download the design templates here!) You can even get a customized label applied to the roll for extra presentation pizazz!
With many products, different designs have to be priced separately even if they're ordered at the same time. Not so with washi! As long as they're all the same width, you can split an order into multiple designs, making it a very cost-effective product.
Washi tape with silver foil! Foiling can be used alongside CMYK printing.
We also offer foiled washi! Foiling is a method of applying a thin metallic layer to create a design. The set-up requirements and timeframe are a little different for foiled tape, since the process is a bit different.
Washi Design Tips & Guidelines:
You can find templates for the different sizes of tape here!
CMYK (not foil)
1. Artwork ideally needs to be in vector (AI, for example) format or Photoshop/PSD. A super high quality png/tiff/jpg/pdf is okay too!
2. If using a raster file format (PSD, jpg, tiff etc), please design the artwork at 400dpi when it is at the finished size. (If it's vector, no need to worry about resolution since it's infinitely scalable!)
3. The repeat length for CMYK washi is 350mm. Make sure to pay attention to the ends of your artwork, since that's where the print will start over again.
4. The art needs a 1.5mm bleed on top and on bottom. For example, if you want 20mm washi tape, design it at 23mm. Our templates have bleed lines marked out, so that's the easiest way to go (just be sure to put your art on a separate layer than the lines!)
5. To be sure that the important parts of your design don't get cut off, we recommend keeping them all at least 1.5mm away from the cut line/3mm away from the outer bleed line. These lines are also marked in our template. No bleed of any sort is needed at the narrow edges of the tape, since the design will repeat.
Foil Washi Tape
1. The resolution, file types and bleed size are the same as for CMYK washi, but the repeat length is 250mm instead of 350mm.
2. Parts of the design that will be foiled need to be at least .15mm thick and need .3mm of breathing room between lines/foiled areas. When designing, try adding a 0.3mm stroke to the outside of your artwork that matches the background tone to give the foil enough space to print cleanly.
3. Please clearly mark which part of the design gets foil and what color foil you'd like (we have lots of options! Regular gold and silver have the fastest turn-around times.)
Who doesn't love stickers!? Whether you're using them to spice up your packaging, as a free add-in to delight your customers, or selling them as products in their own right, stickers are an inexpensive way to snazz up your business!
At Alchemy we offer stickers in several styles - glossy and matte vinyl, clear, and hologram! Glossy vinyl is the most common, and the best for outdoor use. You can even make bumper stickers!
It's hard to beat hologram for sheer pizazz, though!
We can also do kiss-cut sticker sheets- great for scrapbooking and other stationery needs!
Setting up art for stickers is super easy- we can use just about any high-resolution raster or vector file. So come on, let's get stickin'! Only have a jpeg or png file? Send it on over.
All stickers come with UV protection and you can choose an EZ peel backing which is where the back paper has been scored to peel away easier.
If you need stickers on a roll, we can do that too! Roll stickers have a higher minimum of 1000, but get in touch with us for pricing. If you need them for packaging, roll stickers can be the easiest option for use.
After nearly 20 years running businesses, the one thing I have seen over and over again is people pricing their products too low. When I was a young adult and thinking about starting a business, my dad told me that in order to make any money, you couldn't sell for less than 3x-4x your production cost at retail. If you sold too low, you'd be setting yourself up for troubled times.
Why? I have a very simplified example to help illustrate it.
Let's say your product cost you $5 to make. If you sell that item for $10, all you really accomplished was to pay for the one you made and pay for one to replace the one you sold. This creates a scenario where you are constantly chasing making any money. Add in investing in some new items before all or at least half of the last product run is done and you can't pull any profits out of the business.
If you are making products for fun, if you make 100 and sell 100, you have some money in your pocket, but it's not a good model for really making money to support your endeavor.
When it comes to wholesaling your merchandise, stores typically will pay what's often referred to as "keystone". They want to pay you 1/2 of it's retail price. In the above scenario, if you sold your product for $10 and a store wanted to buy them from you, they'd ask $5 (or less depending on volume). You simply have no room to do anything.
Using this same $5 item to produce, if it was priced at $15, you'd make $10 on direct sales and could sell for $7.50 wholesale. In wholesale scenarios, you will always make less than a direct sale, but it can be used to help you get your order quantities up that reduce your cost across the board and increase profits from your direct sales.
In a better situation, you'd be priced at $20 retail, allowing $10 wholesale, but I am using the 3x minimum to illustrate a point on the lowest you should be selling for.
Selling the $5 product at $15 breaks down into $5 to make it, $5 to replace it and $5 left over as money not already assigned to something. This of course can go into new product development, or into your pocket as profit. If selling for $20, that leaves $10 per sale in your pocket.
At Alchemy Merch, we produce products below wholesale and on a whole different pricing model than a retail company will use. This is why you can buy 200 gold 2 color hard enamel for $440 and sell them for $10-12 each to bring in $2000-$2400 on that initial investment and they provide really great margins.
There of course are plenty of pricing models you can use and some people will price at a premium and some will approach it from a discounters perspective, but if you are trying to make money from creating merchandise, you can't price too low or else you will keep running in circles forever.
If you have interest in reading more about profit models, there are two books I'd highly suggest.
The Art of Profitability by Adrian Slywotzky - In this book, they use a mentor/mentee style to discuss and show 20+ examples of how companies price differently and it's a very interesting read to see all of the different ways people come about creating pricing tiers and their approaches.
Profit First by by Mike Michalowicz - They take the "small plates" approach by having you break out your costs and income into various accounts that in turn show you better what you really have to work with and how to make better decisions and pull out profits. This is a great one for people that are transitioning into full time with their business or getting close to it.
It's hard to beat a classic! From a scout's sash to a biker's jean jacket, patches are a great way to put your art, design or brand out into the world! We offer traditional embroidered patches as well as chenille (think, the fuzzy letter on a letterman jacket), woven, and even photo-printed options. All of our patches have an iron-activated adhesive backing, making it simple to apply the patch to fabric.
Embroidered patches with twill background fabric and merrowed edges.
Traditional embroidered patches can have a twill or felt background with your design rendered in embroidered thread, or the background can be covered in embroidery as well (a good option for designs where there's no clear "background" color.") They are dimensional, highly tactile, and absolutely classic. If the patch is a simple shape like a circle or rectangle, they can do a merrowed edge- a nice effect where the edge stitching wraps all the way around the patch- traditionally, almost all patches were made in simple shapes like these. These days, for more complex shapes, they can use the "hot cut" method, though we can still put stitching around the edge to mimic a merrowed-edge look. For best results, embroidered patches should have bold areas of solid colors (no gradients, shadows, or textures.)
A close-up of the detail on a 100% embroidered patch.
A hot-cut embroidered patch with felt background. Felt isn't used often, but for the right design it can give a great unique look.
Woven patches are created with a different manufacturing method, where the design is woven right into the fabric instead of embroidered on top. This results in a flat surface, which can hold smaller details than embroidery. Woven patches can still have an embroidered merrowed edge, if they are a simple shape. Woven patches also need areas of solid color without gradients or shadows, but those areas can be finer and smaller than with embroidery.
A woven patch with merrowed edge
A woven patch with hot-cut edge and metallic gold thread. Detail like this would be tough to achieve cleanly in an embroidered patch.
Photo Transfer Patches:
With embroidered and woven patches, we have to have distinct blocks of color - no gradients, shadows, etc. But with a photo transfer patch, they can literally print just about any image directly onto the fabric! A great option if your art simply won't work with the more traditional methods.
A factory photo of a photo transfer patch (in this case, a painting rather than photo.) Just about anything can be printed onto a patch with this method!
Chenille patches are similar to embroidered patches, but with one significant difference- they're fuzzy! With chenille, it can be easy for detail to get lost in the fluff, so we recommend very bold shapes for the best results.
Fuzzy chenille sheep! The next best thing to the petting farm.
Whether you use them to decorate a purse or backpack or actually use them to wrangle those darn car keys, keychains are a fun and affordable product to make! We offer enamel key chains as well as several styles of acrylic (including a new favorite- holographic!)
Enamel keychains are designed in the same manner as pins, but with an attachment loop for keyring hardware instead of a backing post. Hardware is included and comes in several styles, in both silver and gold. To check out the full pricing breakdown as well as hardware options, mosey on over to our enamel keychain FAQs here!
Acrylic Charm Keychains
These have been a real hit! Acrylic charms consist of either one later of acrylic board with an epoxy-covered image on top, or two layers of board with the image sandwiched in between. The image can be opaque or translucent, and the acrylic can have one of several holographic sparkle effects. We can even do glitter epoxy on the single-board ones! The hardware comes in several varieties, including the ever-popular heart and star shaped rings. Learn more about acrylic charms here!
Iridescent Acrylic Keychains
Our newest offering, these keychains are laser-cut plastic with a layer of iridescent film that is absolutely gorgeous! They come in pink-toned or blue-toned. An optional epoxy top-coat can help keep the hologram from getting scratched with daily use (and we can even add glitter to it, if one layer of sparkle isn't enough!) You can find the iridescent charms here!
From the people who brought you enamel pins and acrylic keychains comes our latest concoction: acrylic pins! (It was obvious, right?)
Acrylic pins are a great option for art that may not be enamel-pin-friendly (gradients, small details, etc) or just for anyone looking for something new and unique to add to their offerings!
Like the charms, acrylic pins consist of either one layer of acrylic board with an epoxy-covered image on top, or two layers of board with the image sandwiched in between.
An example of translucent printing.
The image can be opaque or translucent, and the acrylic can have one of several holographic sparkle effects, or a top layer of glitter epoxy! The background itself can be clear or white.
The back of the pins features a safety-pin style clasp, which is more secure on this style of pin than the posts we use for enamel.
Acrylic pins are great for art that might include small details, gradients, shadows, textures, or other elements that don't work well in enamel pins. We can use vector or raster files! For the best results, we recommend working at a nice large file size with a high resolution- aim for 300dpi and twice the size of the pin. Most file types are ok including png(best if you need clear areas), jpeg, psd, vector ai or pdf, etc. All art will be converted to cmyk for printing.
Check them out in the store.
If you'd like to keep an area as clear plastic, just leave it clear in your artwork. If you'd like to use a translucent color, please make sure it is on it's own layer, or if sending a vector file, please let us know which color you'd like to be translucent
Looking for a lightweight keychain option, or perhaps something that works well with non-enamel-friendly art? We gotcha!
These acrylic charm keychains have been a real hit! Acrylic charms consist of either one layer of acrylic board with an epoxy-covered image on top (or on bottom, if you prefer the acrylic layer over the front and epoxy on back), or two layers of board with the image sandwiched in between. The image itself can be one-sided or two sided.
The most common method is double board and two sided printing.
Board = A piece of plastic.
An example of translucent printing. This is actually an acrylic pin, which is another cool thing we can do with this manufacturing process!
The image can be opaque or translucent, and the acrylic can have one of several holographic sparkle effects. We can even do glitter epoxy on the single-board ones!
A double-sided print, single-board pin with glitter epoxy on the front and shard-holo acrylic on the back! The rainbow-gradient image accentuates the iridescent sparkle.
The hardware comes in several varieties, including the ever-popular heart and star shaped rings.
A double-sided, double-board charm with holo acrylic and a star keyring!
Most people opt for a clear background, but you can do white as well!
Acrylic charms are great for art that might include small details, gradients, shadows, textures, or other elements that don't work well in enamel pins. We can use vector or raster files! For the best results, we recommend working at a nice large file size with a high resolution- aim for 300dpi and twice the size of the finished keychain. Most file types are ok including png(best if you need clear areas), jpeg, psd, vector ai or pdf, etc. All art will be converted to cmyk for printing.
Want to take a closer look? Grab one of our acrylic charm sample packs!
If you'd like to keep an area as clear plastic, just leave it clear in your artwork. If you'd like to use a translucent color, please make sure it is on it's own layer, or if sending a vector file, please let us know which color you'd like to be translucent.
Yeah Baby, Give Me That Sparkly Stuff!
One of our most popular add-ons (for obvious reasons, because it’s awesome) is GLITTER!
Glitter can be added onto hard or soft enamel pins, and comes in a variety of solid colors as well as a translucent, iridescent “rainbow” shade that works well on most enamel colors. But there are a few things to keep in mind, when planning your sparkly masterpiece:
- Glitter colors are custom mixed, to work well with whatever Pantone color you’re using. There are actually only about 14 colors (plus the iridescent “rainbow” mix) which are mixed by hand to approximate the color of the enamel you’re using. This means that, between batches, your glitter might look a little different since it’s being mixed on a different day and possibly by a different person. It also requires you to have some flex on the final tone. If you want Pantone 285 C with blue glitter in it, it will not exactly match 285 C anymore, but it will be as close as possible.
- Expect glitter to add a few days to the production time, especially if there are multiple colors. All that mixing takes some time.
- If you’ve got a reference photo of what you want your glitter to look like, send it along! The factory will do their best to match it.
- Pure black and pure white glitter will pretty much disappear completely when used in hard enamel (and it’s subtle in soft enamel too). To solve this problem, we can add some silver or iridescent rainbow glitter to the mix.
- Glitter is messy! In soft enamel pins, the finished product may shed a few flakes. It’s not a big deal, but can be avoided by using hard enamel or adding an epoxy top coat. It also means that a stray flake of glitter in the wrong color may end up somewhere it doesn’t belong, especially in a pin with multiple glitter colors. That’s just the nature of the sparkly beast. If you have used glitter at some point in your life, you know what I mean- it has a mind of its own! If a stray flake is on soft enamel, you can normally pick it off really easily.
A layer of epoxy on top of a soft enamel pin can keep any glitter from shedding, and also looks awesome!
Glitter adds $25 per color, per 100 pins, which means adding a shot of glitter to your design is pretty affordable… but it can add up fast if you want a lot of colors. Consider subscribing to a “less is more” policy with glitter. Maybe, for example, your unicorn pin could have a single-colored glittery body, instead of 7 glittery rainbow colors in his mane and tail? (Then again- you do you, you fabulous creature!). Because glitter is priced from the labor of mixing/extra time they take, even if you do only 50, it is billed the same as 100. In the case of the 7 glitter rainbow sparkly unicorn, on 100 pins, it would add $175! We can go full bling if you want and don’t mind the additional cost. Glitter is added to each color one at a time, so it takes a decent amount of additional labor to add multiple colors - as well as curing time between colors.
One solution we now offer is to use the rainbow iridescent glitter for all of your colors (or all the colors you want sparkly, anyway!) To do that, it only costs $50 to sparkle up as much of your pin as you please. Rainbow looks especially fantastic on pale colors as well as cooler tones like blues and greens.
Translucent rainbow glitter is used in every color on this pin
- Want that “starry night” look? We’ve found that doing 50% pure black glitter and 50% rainbow iridescent glitter looks amazing on a black background. We can also do other 50/50 mixes of two colors, so hit us with your twinkly brainstorms!
Lowering the density of rainbow glitter in black enamel can make a gorgeous starry effect! The exact results will depend on the human mixing glitter that day, but it's always beautiful, especially in hard enamel.
Hard or Soft?
One of the questions we get most often here at Alchemy is “What is the difference between soft and hard enamel?” The short and most obvious answer is that soft enamel pins have raised outlines, and hard enamel pins do not. With hard enamel, everything is smooth and shiny and flush. Here are a few examples:
Meanwhile, as you can see in these soft enamel pins below, the enamel sits lower than the outlines, making the pin very textured and dimensional.
With hard enamel pins, the whole thing is sanded down flat, so that the enamel and metal are flush. You can read more about the differing manufacturing process here.
Which One is Better for My Pin?
Largely, hard vs soft enamel is a matter of preference, but here are a few things to consider when deciding what’s right for your design:
- Hard enamel can tend to look a little more “high-end”. Soft enamel is traditionally more popular in the music/artsy/punk/diy type scenes, but hard enamel has rapidly caught up and is very popular with a lot of modern illustrators and pin artists.
- Soft enamel is faster and cheaper than hard enamel. Because hard enamel has to go through more steps than soft, the labor time is higher. Soft enamel can be rushed a little bit when necessary, but hard enamel really has to take its time. If you need your pins ASAP, soft is a better bet.
- Because soft enamel is plated before enamel is added, it has more metal plating options than hard enamel does. That means with soft enamel, you can have pure black or white metal, any Pantone color you like, antiqued metals, or even rainbow anodized metal. Hard enamel is limited to the standards - gold, silver nickel, brass, copper, rose gold, and black nickel (which is a shiny dark charcoal color.) We can also do a matte gold or nickel if you don’t want the metal to be shiny.
- Soft enamel is a little bit better at holding narrow detail, especially in the metal outline. Because hard enamel is sanded down, metal lines can tend to widen a little bit from the pressure applied to the surface.
What About Epoxy?
Epoxy is a type of clear resin that can be put on top of a soft enamel pin to give it a smooth surface, sort of a “faux hard enamel” vibe. We don’t charge to add epoxy to your order, and it can be a good option if you want that smooth look but also want a metal that can’t be done in hard enamel (it’s also nice for keeping glitter in check, as soft enamel glitter can sometimes shed a little.) It’s definitely a different look- sort of a glassy bubble effect- but very cool in it’s own way. Many vintage pins were done this way, so it can give your pin an automatic retro vibe.
What’s the Deal with Printed Pins?
We’ll talk about printed pins in detail in another post, but basically, printing allows us to add details that are too complex for the usual metal/enamel method. Normally, we start with a flat piece of metal that is cut to shape, and then your design is printed on top of it using either a full-color CMYK method (think, the way a magazine is printed) or spot-printed (more of a silkscreened look), depending on your art. Occasionally, if a pin design has just a few too-small details, we can print those details on top of a regular enamel pin (almost always hard enamel, since they need a smooth surface to print on, and it blends in better anyway since printing is flat.)
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 Alchemy we’ve made over 1.5 million pins, so we’ve got our unique process down. Over the next few posts, 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.
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!)
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.
A tray of raw molded metal. In the corner, you can see a set that has already had rose gold plating applied.
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. For very complex designs, rather than stamping, they melt down a zinc-based metal and pour it into the mold. 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.
With soft enamel pins, the metal is then plated with your color of choice (like 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 fit enamel into spaces down to about 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.
A set of syringes used to color enamel pins. Notice the itty bitty tips!
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 the process steps are different. Hard enamel cost more because of this additional labor time.
A completed tray of pins, waiting for the enamels to cure.
Think: Tiny Coloring Book
The main take-aways from this process, as far as art preparation is concerned, are these:
- 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.
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.
A few different ways to do a simple logo pin
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- email@example.com.)
Next time, we’ll be diving a little deeper into art preparation and talking about our favorite software for creating pin art!
How Many Pins Should I Order?
We get asked this question a lot, and it really comes down to your budget and current ability to sell products. If you are new to making pins or producing products, it probably won’t make sense to get 500 of a pin, or even 200. But if you have been selling items for a while and sell at a lot of events, 200 or 500 can be a great way to reduce your pin per cost and raise your profits. We have pricing listed at the factory breaks on the site, but you are not locked into those tiers only- you can also order 150, 275, 350, etc. (We’ll let you know if you’re super close to a price break!)
For most people starting out, 100 is the sweet spot and a great balance of cost and profits.
You can order 50 pins if you’d like, but generally it does not make a lot of financial sense to do unless you really only need 50 for an event or are unsure that there will be demand for a product and want to test the waters. We set our minimum order quantity (MOQ) at 50, because while the factory will technically make less an 50 of a design, they’d charge as if you ordered 50, so there’s no reason to do that. They need to price based off of labor time and making 25 and 50 takes virtually the same amount of labor.
The way I (Greg) always approach it is to look at the break even point and balance that with my own selling experience. The median price people sell pins for is $10, so it makes the math really easy to figure out. How many pins do I need to sell to break even? You can price your pins at whatever you like, but $10 is easy to calculate.
Here is an example of a simple 2 color black dye pin, to give you an example. Pricing listed on our site includes US shipping and there are never any surprise fees, making it easy to do these calculations.
50 qty: $195 (sell 20 to break even/ 30 additional for profits - $305 profit after selling out)
100 qty: $235 (sell 24 to break even/ 76 additional for profits - $765 profit after selling out)
As you can see, you only need to sell 4 more pins to break even on 100 as on 50, and will have more pins leftover to sell just for profit. This makes 100qty a great starting point.
200 qty: $340 (sell 34 to break even/ 166 additional for profits - $1660 profit after selling out)
500 qty: $575 (sell 58 to break even/ 442 additional for profits - $4425 profit after selling out)
1000 qty: $790 (sell 79 to break even/ 921 additional for profits - $9210 profit after selling out)
We often get asked what it could cost to order 50 now and re-order 50 more later, so I will show the pricing of 50 2x vs 100 upfront using this same kind of design.
50 first time = $195
50 second time = $145 ($50 off because the mold has already been made)
Total investment = $340
100 first time = $235
So if you can spring the extra $40 upfront, you could ultimately save $105.
While you do save some money on a reprint, the cost to ship 50 pins from China vs 100 is about the same, so you are basically paying for two shipments instead of one. In fact, that’s where a large part of the volume discount comes from- shipping things all together is much cheaper than shipping them in smaller batches.
Although this pricing breakdown is based off of a 2 color soft enamel pin with black dye plating, the principle holds for any style of pin. In short: it makes sense to get as many as you think you can sell! And of course, if you only need 50 pins, that’s completely okay! We just can’t help telling everyone about a good bulk bargain <wink>
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, just send it over to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. As long as you can send us some kind of clean file, we can make a vector for you for free! (With one caveat- if your art requires a lot of work to get it to a point where we can make a vector, we may need to charge for art time so our staff artists can re-create the art in a pin-friendly format. Don’t worry, that’s definitely something we’ll discuss with you first!)
Most of the pins we make start as raster images, like this beauty from Kory Bing. As long as the file is large and crisp, rasters work great!
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. If you don’t have access to a scanner, even a clear cell phone picture will do! (Or you may be able to use one at your local copy shop or library.) We understand that not everyone is familiar with design software, and that’s okay- as long as you can send us clear outlines, we can make it work!
This handsome guy by artist Braden Duncan started out as a traditional paper drawing, inspired by one of his paintings.
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, that’s perfect! 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.
Each raster file contains a set number of pixels, which means that while it’s easy to make your work smaller, making it larger means you will lose quality - it will stretch the pixels and blur the details. It’s always best to design larger than you will need (good advice for any product you create!) If you want a 1.5” pin, try designing at around 6” and 300dpi (dots per inch- this refers to the resolution of the piece, and is a setting you can change in your design program).
Placing your Photoshop file or jpg into Illustrator and saving it as a .ai file will not make it a vector, it’s just a raster file sitting inside a vector file. But that’s okay, we can make the vector on our end!
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 sketch, to a digital format and our template… to a finished pin! This design is by our own Tessa aka Starcandy.co
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, usually with a simple default font.
- 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 (sometimes top) left icon that looks like a stack of books. In the drop down, select “color books” and pick Pantone+ Solid Coated. We can also use colors from the Pastels & Neons book, though neons will not be truly fluorescent.
- If you’re using vector software other than Adobe Illustrator, it’s easiest to save your vector as a PDF, EPS or SVG file.
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.
What Doesn’t Work So Well:
- Pencil sketches, most paintings, anything with a ton of colors and shading or indistinct, sketchy lines
- 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!
Feelin’ like your pins could use a little pizzazz? Want to really set your design off from the pack? Then let us introduce you to:
Starting with the forever fan favorite: Glitter!
Glitter comes in 14 standard colors, but can also be mixed to coordinate with whatever Pantone shades you are using. Pure black and pure white are usually best mixed with some rainbow or silver glitter or they’re very subtle (and pretty much disappear entirely in hard enamel.) When used in soft enamel, there will be a gritty texture to the ink, but if used in hard or soft with epoxy, you will not see that texture.
Not feeling so sparkly? Maybe indulge your nocturnal side with Glow-in-the-Dark!
Glow in the dark is done by sprinkling a powder over the inks before being fully cured, and can be used in soft or hard enamel pins. White glow powder glows green, and has barely any effect on the color it’s added to, so it can be added to just about any shade. If using glow in soft enamel, it will give the ink a bit of a gritty texture. In hard enamel or in soft with epoxy, you can't see the texture.
Glow in the Dark Gallery
If you use glow in multiple shades within a pin, you will notice the underlying ink tone playing a role in how it glows.
Blue glow powder, on the other hand, will add a blue tone to whatever it’s mixed into so it’s best used with white (for a pale blue result) or some shade of blue (it will intensify the color.) It’s a little trickier to work with, but it GLOWS BLUE!
Looking for something a little rarer? Maybe one of our three dark horses- metallic, pearl enamel or translucents!
Metallic ink currently comes in gold and silver. It’s not high-shine like metal, but it has a subtle shimmery twinkle to it that is just right when full-on glitter would be too much. Pearl ink is only in white and is best used in hard enamel or soft with epoxy. The extra sheen and light reflection really helps it pop.
Itching to lower your opacity? Try Translucent Inks
If you are looking for translucent inks, we have 6-8 set base tones to choose from in hard or soft enamel. Although any color can be mixed for a translucent, it can be a hard ink style to have consistency with, so we advise choosing from the stock colors. Medium to dark tones work best for translucent inks. If the color is too light and has a lot of white in the mix, it can look milky and pretty gross, so we do not suggest using light tones. It also works best if you are using a lighter toned metal such as gold or nickel because we are lowering the opacity of the ink and the darker the background tone, the darker the ink will become. A really fancy trick is to do multi-level molds and have the ink go over flat and recessed areas. You can get multiple tones from one ink.
Looking for something a bit more “mood ring”? Color change enamel might be just the stuff! Currently available in red/yellow and yellow/green.
All of these novelty enamels are surprisingly affordable, adding just $25 per 100 pins (per color) but offering a significant je-ne-sais-quoi to your finished product. Give ‘em a whirl!