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!