Surat, Gujarat
6 hours ago

My Pin Making Journey: Part Two - Design

Posted by Alesia Gitter on

If you recall, I emailed some manufacturers suggested by Pin Lord. I had done enough research to know I wanted to make a 1.5 inch hard enamel pin. It was at the email and quote stage I got a lot of pushback on my design.

Design Selection

I should rewind to how I selected my design. Back in 2016, around the time Pokemon Go was being released, I had some fusions go viral. It was because of this and my awareness surrounding art theft that I opted to go with one of the more popular designs from that series. I wanted something I knew would sell since I was new to pins and something that, if it were stolen, I wouldn't lose sleep over.

One of my most popular fusions to date.
If you're concerned about how well your design will sell, start with stickers or magnets. They have a much lower barrier to entry. I had previously made magnets of this design around the time my art went viral and sold those. If you don't know who to use for stickers, I do plan to cover that later. There are so many options!

Fixing Lineart 

Some of you may recognize this design, others not so much. My design is pretty cute, if I do say so myself. At this point, I knew screenprinting was more expensive and was highly likely to get scratched off over time (this isn't completely true btw). I also knew I needed to fix my design in order to make it work properly for a pin. In order to make this design work without screenprinting, I had two options - outline each color or just remove shadows and highlights from the design. Since doing anything the easy way isn't my jam, I went with outlining everything. I should note, my designs are rather simple to begin with. If your design doesn't start out with any lines like this, you will need to create a basic outline to color in.

You are probably wondering why the outline is needed. Enamel paint is filled in color by color and the lines separate the colors from bleeding into one another. Screenprinting is common and why you'll see designs without lines separating them.

So now that I had fixed my design, I had to figure out what people were submitting to manufacturers. People would post images of pins with crazy backgrounds, fancy logos and littered with colors and size information. I had no idea what most of it meant. I would click each one, looking at the colors and the text being shared. Some had Pantones listed while others just showed the size of the pin. I decided that I liked being able to see everything all on one screen and designed my mockup with that in mind.

A mockup, for those unfamiliar, is where you make the design and show how it should look when it is completed. I am terrible at mockups, so mine are all flat.

Note: For the Photoshop wizards out there, you can find magical pin mock styles. I have had no success with making them look like they are hard enamel, so I just don't bother anymore. They tend to work quite well for soft enamel, so if you have the patience and are willing to follow a few tutorials, you will have great success with it. If I recall, there are also soft enamel generators but I can't remember how well they worked. You can always try them out, just make sure you don't download a virus in the process.

When I made my design, I did it in Photoshop. Depending on your manufacturer and who they have on hand, you may need to have a vector image. A vector image is an infinitely scalable design file. It allows you to resize the image without losing quality. It's actually quite handy to learn to vector, but it does take practice. Luckily, there are plenty of tutorials on Youtube if you are interested. If your manufacturer doesn't vector, you can look for one that does or pay someone to do it for you. I design a lot of my images at 500 DPI in Photoshop or Procreate and use the trace feature in Illustrator. I haven't had any issues with it since DPI is high, but your experience may vary. 

On a PC or Mac, you can use Adobe Illustrator, Affinity Designer, Corel Draw, and Inkscape. There are probably others, but these are the ones I am familiar with. Adobe requires a subscription unless you are lucky enough to have the CS suite from a long time ago. Affinity Designer seems to be the Adobe Illustrator replacement for most of us these days. Corel Draw has been in a Humble Bundle a few times, so check for deals first. Inkscape is free. 

If you are using an iPad, get Vectornator or Adobe Capture. One of my talented friends, Kei, gave me some pointers to share about Adobe Capture. Make sure you have a nice black and white option for your lines, then bring your design into Adobe Capture. You want to convert it into shapes where it will show you an easy to edit binary conversion. From there you erase stray items, smooth it out and save it. You can export it as SVG. Make sure you save it to a folder and then you can import it to a vector app like Affinity Design, etc. You will need an Adobe ID, but you can get one free for registering with Adobe. Some places may not take SVG files, but you can easily convert them if needed.


When you are working on your design, you need to remember that there is a front and a back. As dumb as that sounds, people often forget that you can put your name, company name, etc on the back of a pin. A backstamp isn't required, but I recommend you include one with your name, product name or company name. You want people to remember where the pin came from. You may also choose to include "Made In China" if you want to make it look more professional. I don't, but some artists do. Pins without a backstamp are cheaper than those that include it. 

I went with a raised backstamp of my signature and laser engraved numbers from 1 to 50. Your backstamp can also be colorful. In fact, the entire back of your pin could be a design on its own. I don't know that I would recommend it, but I have seen some gorgeous backstamps in full color with numbers, artist and company names before. If you have the money and talent to do it, I say go for it. It's not necessary and just increases the price per pin.

If you want laser serial numbering, make sure to include an example of how you want it. When I ask for it, I list it like this:

Laser Serial: 1/50, 2/50,... 50/50

Two number matched pins for a customer.

This lets the manufacturer know that I want each pin in that set numbered from 1-50 in chronological order. From experience, if you do number your pins don't let people select the number they want. People will be really picky about number matching sets. Usually, makers will sell numbered sets together in limited quantities. It's when you get to individual numbers that people go crazy. You also run the risk of having B grade numbered pins. I had this happen with my fusion pins and it made me feel bad when sets didn't have two matching A grades. I had to have people select different numbers. People can be really attached to certain numbers and argue about it, so it's not worth the headache. Luckily this was just a tester design, but I did learn a lot from numbering it. 

Pin Backs

Designing your backstamp also comes with keeping your pin backs in mind. If you add nothing and don't specify, you'll likely end up with a single pin back in the middle of the back of your pin. Yeah, it costs less, but your customer's pin will now spin in circles. You want to make sure your pin backs are placed well enough to make the pin stable. You don't want it to fall forward or tilt to the side.

When I first made my design, I didn't add anything about pin backs. I knew I needed to have two, and it was mentioned in my emails, but I never added them into my design to show where I wanted them placed. The placement below was decided by the person who handled my quote.

 This was a design proof from Rich Gifts in June 2019.

You'll want to think about how a pin will sit on a bag, purse, jacket, etc before deciding where you want the pin backs placed. If you aren't sure, you can ask other pin makers or talk to the manufacturer. Technically, they should know the best placements, but when you're learning about the process you won't really know who is a good source of information. That comes with time, so your best bet is to mess with it yourself. Check the pins you purchased and look at their backs. Look at other pins online as well. See what common placements are based on the weight and size of the pin.

You will also get to select what color or type of backing you want. I always go with rubbing backings because you can get them in all kinds of colors. For the fusion pins, I went with black. If you want a specific color, you should ask what colors they carry.

My manufacturer usually selects colors that match my design without me asking. Sometimes I have to pick if they can't decide on their own.

You can also order your design with locking backs or butterfly clasps instead. They may increase the price, so make sure to ask if that is what you're after. I actually think having locking backs come with all your pins is a great idea, it just increases the time needed to remove them if you're putting your pins on backing cards. That's entirely why I don't include locking backs with mine.

Picking A Size

Looking back at this design is a little painful. I had no idea what I was doing at the time. I would have made it larger than 1.5 inches. 1.75 inches would have worked a little better, for example. While they still turned out cute, I could have executed it better. I got lucky and it wasn't because of anything I did myself. Common sizes people make pins in (inches): 0.5, 1, 1.5, 1.75, 2, 2.5 and 3. There are pins that are significantly larger but you're on your own for figuring that out haha.

Note: Your manufacturer will send your proofs in mm usually, so don't be shocked. Just know your size in advance. They will understand if you ask for pins in inches.

PRINT YOUR DESIGN OUT. I don't remember who gave me this advice but it's very important. If you already make stickers of your designs in several sizes, you will have a better idea of what things look like already. Put the sizes you're considering all on a page and print them out to scale. Circle small areas that should be reexamined/adjusted. You can see below my print out with two other designs I made trying to decide on a good size for a pin I was working on.

I didn't print out my first design but I did for each design after the first. It made size selection much easier. In the image below, you can see the 1.5 inch fusion pin next to the 2 inch and 2.5 inch print outs and the 2.5 inch moon romp pin.

Things to consider when you're determining a size for your design:

- Do you have cut-outs? How many? Are they too small? 

Different manufacturers can work with different things, so when you get to that point you will need to ask each one you're getting quotes from if there are issues with your design. My fusion design was "too small" for some of the people but I managed to get it made. Looking back yeah, the cutout was so small and there was probably a high risk it could have had more issues, but I found someone who would do it.

- Tiny areas? 

Areas that are too tiny run the risk of not being filled at all or the enamel coming out during buffing (in hard enamel).

There are other more complex things to think about as well like dangly bits, parts that move/shake and even double pins that spin. As of this post, I haven't done any of that, so I can't offer any advice or insight into the process.

Picking Pantones

What are Pantones and why do they matter? Once upon a time, a company that calls themselves Pantone Inc invented a system of colors that they called the Pantone Matching System (PMS). You'll see people reference the colors frequently while preparing designs or when a design is ready to be sent to a manufacturer. For example, my character Buster the corgi has a body color PMS 7569 C. The C stands for "Coated" and U stands for "Uncoated" when you see them next to colors. Enamel pins use coated. This system has been widely adopted across manufacturing (print, toys, fabric, etc). Using this standardized system makes it easier to keep the colors of your products consistent. You can dig into it more yourself, but I will only be discussing the Pantone + Series Coated book that you use for pin-making.

If you plan to make pins for a long time, not just one or two, you're going to want to own a Pantone Coated book. They do go on sale, so keep an eye out for those. You can buy the books used as well (check Ebay, Amazon, etc), but check how old they are. Sometimes they can be really old and faded, making them pointless to own for the purpose of color accurate selection. Keep your Pantone book protected from the sun as it will degrade over time. Pantone recommends you replace your book yearly. Haha. No. Unless you're rolling in cash, you're unlikely to be able to afford to do that, especially if you're just starting out. I am keeping mine for awhile as I just purchased it in September 2019. The people who do buy new ones yearly are probably your best bet to snag a used one that is probably still in basically new condition. You can also contact local promotional merchandise providers or printers and see if they have one you can use.

I didn't use anything I suggested for my first pin. In fact, I didn't know what PMS even was outside of the female cycle. Someone was kind enough to tell me I could just snag my color codes directly from Photoshop. I literally used my dropper and checked the Pantone number they suggested for each one. It did work out well for the fusion pin, however it did not work well for my second pin, Buster's Moon Romp. I also didn't understand how glitter and enamel worked together.

Before I get too far into that, let's cover all your computer-based Pantone matching options. One of the sites I personally think is the best is Code Beautify. I use the Hex to Pantone converter so that it gives me the closest options in a certain range from the hex code. Another site that you can use is Ginifab. It lets you mouse over options, enter codes or even upload an image and let it guess. Software programs I know with Pantones are Adobe Photoshop/Illustrator, Affinity Designer and Corel Draw.

Note: Monitors aren't usually color accurate and need to be calibrated. Not all monitors can even be color accurate. For example, my ASUS monitors are apparently terrible for art. Go figure haha. You can buy color-accurate monitors, so it's not like they don't exist. What is recommended or available changes constantly so you'll need to do your research. Cellphones are terrible with color unless you have an iPhone. I am not an Apple fan at all, I say this as someone who reluctantly bought an iPad Pro in December 2019 just because the Wacom Cintiq was just too expensive, but their products are probably one of the most color-accurate options on the market. My Google Pixel 4 enjoys making my turquoise, blues, and greens the same color.


Most people select their plating prior to Pantone selection. Most manufacturers have one of these charts. You can start off with something simple for your first design and then play around once you understand the process.
Example of metal options from Rich Gifts.

In the end, I changed from silver plating to black nickel since it gave my pin more of a cartoon effect like my design. I also decided to remove the shine that was in the original design. This was my final design that I submitted to get quotes. It's a bit overkill and I no longer do this with my submissions.


Pick a design. Select an appropriate size. Add a backstamp & set your pin back locations. Select Pantones & Plating. Done! Yeah, it really is that easy.


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