So we've arrived at the most important part - how do you actually make an enamel pin?
STEP 1: FIND A MANUFACTURER
There are lots of places to get pins made, so you'll have to search the Googles for the one that rocks your world. For my pin I'm going to use Awesome Merchandise because I have some experience with them for my other pins and merch. No this is not a sponsored blog post, and yes I do recommend you research the manufacturer that works best for you. Things to consider when choosing yours are shipping fees, time to manufacture, cost, and minimum order quantities, as well as any "shop local" or environmental concerns you may personally value.
STEP 2: READ THE SPECS
Once you've found the manufacturer you want to use it is EXTREMELY important that you read the specifications they give you for the file you're going to send them. For Awesome Merch, the specs for the soft enamel pin with paper backing that I'm ordering are like this:
Backer Dimensions: Finished Size: 5cm x 8cm
The starting point and most important aspect of a printing job is your design. Making sure that your artwork file is sent across to us correctly is crucial...
Colour Format: CMYK
File Format: PSD, AI, PDF, JPEG, TIFF, EPS
File Resolution: 300dpi
A few tips to get awesome results...
- Create your artwork with the resolution at 300dpi - the larger and clearer your file is, the better the end result. Please note, we don’t accept 72dpi files as they are not usually adequate to create a quality job.
- Each colour has to be separated by a line of raised metal, the minimum line thickness is 0.2mm, the minimum colour area is 0.3mm
- If you're using text, please set your font to at least 5pt.
- Clearly indicate which areas of your design you would like filling by using the correct colour values along side your artwork - we recommend Pantone Solid Coated guide.
Note that "Backer Dimensions" refers to the paper backing the pin comes on. The rest of the specs refer to the files for both the paper backing image and the pin itself.
STEP 3: KNOW THE THINGS YOU'LL NEED
To make a pin you're going to need to make nice with technology. I use Photoshop to make my pins because it's the digital program that I hate the least while using, but you can use any software that results in a file format that your manufacturer accepts. You're also going to need to pretend that the pen tool is something you enjoy working with and know how to use. If you're anything like me that's going to require some doing, so if you don't know how to use the pen tool well I suggest looking up tutorials for free on Youtube, or a subscription based place like Skillshare if you're already a member. Yes this is a pain, but it's necessary to make those sweet sweet pins. And pro tip of the day here: once you start making the pin with the pen tool save your file compulsively - you really don't want to lose your progress and have to start over.
STEP 4: KNOW WHAT YOU'RE MAKING
Doodling with the pen tool is no one's idea of a good time, so I really recommend that you draw your pin old school on paper and scan it in, or digitally with a tablet before you start making the pin. You can then trace over your design with the pen tool and save yourself some time fiddling. For my snail pin I was using an old drawing from a sketchbook, so I scanned that in and pen tooled over it. I suggest that you try to keep your drawing/pin idea simple, especially if you're new to the pen tool, because details are hard and pins are pretty small anyway, so use detail wisely. The snail below is the drawing I was referring to for this pin, but I'm only using it as reference for the overall shape of things. It's WAY more detailed than it needs to be, because I didn't draw it with the intention of making it a pin originally.
STEP 5: CREATE THE FILE TO MEET THE SPECS
For my specs I created a file that was 12cmx12cm which is larger than the pin will end up being but close enough. I made sure that my file was set to 300dpi and the the color mode was set to CMYK for printing. Note that I'm making a soft enamel pin here, not a hard one, and the difference is that soft pins have raised metal lines and the paint/color is poured into the depressed areas of the metal like water filling a pool. So the last thing I did was set the width of the line on my pen tool to 0.6pt, keeping in mind the conversion rate between the 0.2mm minimum line thickness the manufacturer requires and the thickness I wanted my lines to be at the end. I also have to keep in mind while making my design that the minimum thickness required for any area of color is 0.3mm and can't be any smaller. This is basically 1.5 times my minimum line width so I just use that as a guide and eyeball it. I'll show you the layers of pen tool shapes that make up my snail pin in case that helps you visualize what you're going to do.
STEP 6: YOU'VE MADE THE DESIGN, NOW WHAT?
So you set up you file, you traced over your drawing with the pen tool, and now it looks like a pin. The next step in an ideal world would be to whip out your Pantone Solid Coated Guidebook, visually compare the colors to what you see on the screen, jot them down on your pin file as notes for the printer, and call it a day. But because Pantone guides are expensive and I don't have one, what I do here is look up a free PDF of it online and compare that way. THIS IS NOT IDEAL, and the reason is because CMYK colors for printed materials and RGB colors for digital viewing display differently and don't always match the way your eye thinks they will. As an example of what this can lead to I will show you the file I sent for my shark pin, and the result I got back after it was printed.
One is pastel and the other is a shark flavored candy corn. Much sighing occured. Alternately I used the same method to match colors for my Orca pin and it turned out swimmingly, as you can see on the before and after for that pin below.
So until I can get my grubby paws on a Pantone Guidebook I'm going to do my best to visually match things on the computer, and I'm going to ask Awesome Merchandise to send me a proof of the pin (fancy printer words for getting an example of the pin) before making the entire order of them so I can see how it looks and make changes before I end up with 100 messed up looking snails.
STEP 7: SEND IT TO THE MANUFACTURER
The last thing you'll do is send the file to the manufacturer, taking care to make everything as clear as possible for them and meeting all the criteria they gave you in the specs. With Awesome Merchandise I make sure to check my email frequently because if they have any questions or issues that come up with my file they'll reach out to me and I'll have to correct it before the printing can continue. So that about covers it from start to finish on how to make a pin and I really hope it helps if you're new to it and want to get started building your own pin empire. If you haven't seen the first part of this post which covers how I made the paper backing for this pin you can find it here.