So you've probably read the listings for my enamel pins and saw "Standard grade" & "Bag grade". What does that really even mean? Why is it there? Should I even care? Don't worry - we've all been there. When I first started researching how to turn my designs into pins, I had no idea what pin grading was. Pin grading refers to when pins are being quality checked using a predetermined grading scale. They are inspected one by one and sorted into categories to be sold at full or discounted prices. The grading scale tells customers the severity and/or the number of defects they can expect their pin to have. After browsing a few sites, I came to the realization that there isn't a standard system for grading pins and not all artists even grade their pins. To top it all off, people don't even use the same grading categories to describe the pin quality. The most common grading scale is Standard & Seconds followed by S, A, B, C, & D grades.
Note: S can mean Collector grade or Standard grade depending on the shop, so make sure to read their pin grading page or notes to determine their quality.
While I explained grades, I didn't explain why pins are even graded at all. Nearly all enamel pins are handmade, so there is a high chance for imperfection. No two pins are alike.
Buster's Moon Romp pins being hand-filled, color by color.
Flaw rates, or the percentage of pins with an obvious flaw or major imperfection out of the total quantity, vary from 2% to 50%. Anything below 10% is considered great. The variance depends on the manufacturer, the complexity of the process being used to make the pin, and the type of pin that is being produced. As with any handmade item, there is always going to be a degree of error. Maybe a color was placed into the wrong spot. Perhaps something was left unfilled entirely or came loose during the polishing process. Either way, it's impossible for all pins to be flawless, and thus the pin grading system was born.
Buster's Moon Romp Rainbow Galaxy variant (finished).
So now that you know a little more about pin grading and flaw rates, let's jump into what I do when it comes down to my pins.
How I grade my pins
So after reading this, you may be asking "how do I know what to expect if no one grades their pins the same way?" Don't worry, most stores have a page much like this that explains their grading process. I use three terms to describe the grade of my pins: Standard, Bag & Mod. My early supporters will remember that I used to have Standard grade and Kid grade listings. I eventually changed Kid grade to Bag grade so that it was less confusing. Each enamel page on my site also has a sidebar with information explaining the grades.
What does Standard grade mean?
My Standard grade is pretty comparable to A grades or S grades in other stores. While there are Collector grades, I choose to list those as Standard grades. It's too hard to determine what someone expects from a Collector grade pin and I would prefer not to upset someone that may have different expectations than my own. The hardest part, for me anyway, was determining what my expectations were going to be for each grade. This is the list I use to determine what falls into the Standard grade category. That means these are the "at worst" allowances for the category.
- tiny air bubbles trapped in the enamel
- minor enamel underfill
- minor metal plating imperfections or scratches
- small nicks on the enamel or metal plating
- imperfections around the sides or back of the pin
Two beautiful Standard grade pins (soft enamel left, hard enamel right).
Sometimes I grade a little too hard and some Standard pins get pushed into Bag grade territory. This is a general guideline for myself and for customers to set their expectations by, so it isn't perfect. I still have to grade them one by one, eyeing each pin for problems at every angle in a variety of lighting. Either way, it prevents me from being too lenient and anything I'm unsure about can just be thrown into Bag grade.
What does Bag grade mean?
These are pins with flaws that are more obvious. Other makers tend to refer to these pins as Seconds or B grades. While some people display their pins, many wear them. Bag grade pins are mostly intended to be worn on jackets, bags, and hats. They are cheaper in price than the Standard grade pins as well. This makes it a little more affordable to those who can't justify dinging up what is an otherwise perfect pin. The Bag grade guidelines I follow are:
- small areas of missing enamel
- moderately scratched or nicked enamel or metal
- small gouges in the enamel or metal
- multiple imperfections
- incorrect glitter
- missing plating or flaking plating
An average Bag grade pin.
In the example above, the pin's metal is flawed both in line quality and thickness (from overpolishing) and there is a really obvious yellow spot on the inner rear foot. While it can pass for a Standard grade based simply on my guidelines, I'd throw this into the Bag grade pile because it does have multiple imperfections even if the customer can't point them out. Missing enamel will often land a pin into Mod grade territory if it's super obvious. For Bag grades, I also include a disclaimer:
Bag grade pins should be used with locking backs. These are intended to be worn on bags and backpacks, so it is important that they don't fall off. Since they aren't perfect, these are the best option for people who enjoy showing off their pins without spending as much.
My stock of locking backs varies significantly, so instead of always including them, I just make the suggestion that people should use them. I even had my daughter test how well they hold up on a child's backpack. I have to admit, we're now 5 or 6 months into this test and none have broken or fallen off. She's rather rough, so color me impressed. Either way, it's your choice how you choose to display or wear your pins. I still recommend locking backs for heavy use.
What does Mod grade mean?
Ahh, the dreaded Mod grade pins. These are the pins no artist wants to have. For many, these are anywhere from C to D grade pins. Maybe even F if they just skip some letters. Anything that can't be classified as a Bag grade or a Standard grade falls into Mod grade category. For me, it means these are pins that need to be remade.
The enamel disappeared entirely!
Fortunately, I rarely have any of these. When I do, modders are thrilled to get their hands on them to strip and recolor however they want. These do not get listed on my website at all. If you're after a mod grade pin, you'll want to get in touch with me to see if any are available. I do sell these pins at cost, which is why they sell quickly.
Artists use pin grading as a way to quality check their products to ensure that people who are picky can get the best of the best while those who may not care can save a little money. Grades vary from artist to artist, if they even grade their pins at all, so be sure to read their grading guides to fully understand what quality to expect.
I hope that I was able to clarify and questions or concerns you may have had in understanding the pin grading process. Thank you for reading!