What you should know before making enamel pins

Written by Paul Murray | September 30th 2020

Filed under Pin Business

So you've got a great idea for a pin design you want to produce. Maybe you've even got the artwork ready and are now just looking for a producer.

Whether you're looking to buy a large run to sell, or a small run just for you and your friends, here's some things you should be aware of before you order.

It's almost certain your pins will be made in China

It's estimated that 95% of all the worlds enamel pins are made in China.

Why are most pins made in China? Many countries have banned the machinery used to create enamel pins because of it's potential to also be used to create counterfeit coins.

Some pin factories operate in countries such as India and parts of South America, but you'll more than likely be sourcing a Chinese manufacturer. Be prepared for some minor issues with language barriers.

Make sure to state explicitly what you want your pins to be. Be sure to give specific details to the factory, and double check their quotes and estomates against what you asked for. Things to state, include:

  • Dimensions of the pins
  • Finish type (hard enamel vs soft enamel)
  • Plating type (such as gold, silver, black nickel, etc)
  • Order quantity
  • Number of stems on the back (I prefer two to prevent pins spinning)

There are many Western companies you can go to in order to get your pins produced but they are merely brokers speaking to the factory on your behalf, they do not produce the pins themselves. That's not to say that you shouldn't use these companies. I've used them in the past and the quality of the pins has been excellent.

They do have good relationships with the factories though and will do their best to ensure you get the best quality pins (and resolve any issues you may have with them). But you should be aware that you're paying a premium for their services on top of the production cost of your designs.

The price per pin from a broker was almost double what I paid when I go direct to a supplier. This is a huge factor in profit margins, and results in a much higher upfront production cost.

However, if you're just looking to produce a single batch of pins that you'll never want to restock, using a broker may be a less daunting option than transferring money directly to a factory in China.

There's a minimum cost to produce pins

For the first batch of a pin design, you'll have to pay to produce a mould. This mould is used as a template to stamp out the actual pins, and typically costs anywhere between £50 to £80 depending on the size and complexity of your design.

Producing just a single pin still requires making that mould first. This is why most manufacturers have minimum order quantities, and those that don't charge the same price to produce 1 pin as they do to produce 50.

A mould for an enamel pin being made. Source: Info GS-JJ

The good news is the factory will keep this mould for you and any future runs of an existing pin design won't require you to pay that mould fee again.

So although the cost of getting a design made up may seem high (especially when you order multiple designs at once) if it's a popular pin that sells well, you'll be able to get all future batches made up at a much cheaper cost.

Beware of 'no mold fee' factories.

Some factories advertise "no mould fee" or "free mould" as a sales strategy. However, when you compare their costs to the costs of another factory that does charge a mould fee, you'll see the prices work out roughly the same.

This is because they're hiding the production cost of the mould within your order. The mould is not free, it's included in the price.

When you want to reorder pins, the price they quote you for a restock will be the same as the price for getting the first batch made. Simply put they're charging you for the mould every time you order.

This means you're basically paying more for your pins in the long term than you would if you'd just paid separately for a mould upfront.

If you're wanting to keep restocking a pin design, using a supplier that charges a one-off fee for a mould will save you money in the long term.

You should diversify your producers

As the saying goes, don't put all your eggs in one basket. Try not to rely on a single factory for all your pin designs. Instead have a few manufacturers you work with and only let them produce two or three designs at most.

This way you protect yourself from events out of your control. If one factory closes down or their quality starts to slip and you can no longer rely on them, you can just get the few designs they produce for you made elsewhere.

You'll have to source a new supplier and have the moulds remade with them instead, but it's considerably cheaper to reproduce two designs at once than it is 10, or 50, or however many designs you sell.

I once missed out on a lot of sales because the factory that produced the pin I wanted to restock wasn't responding to my emails. By the time they replied and production was underway, that pin had been sold out for far too long!

Now I work with multiple pin manufacturers at once and I'm constantly trying new factories when I have new designs to produce. If one factory turns out to be unreliable I just cut my losses on the mould and just get that design made elsewhere.

Not all of the pins will be perfect

A sad reality of designing and selling pins is that there's a chance not all your pins will arrive perfectly as intended. It's not uncommon to find a few pins with wobbly stems, incorrectly placed colours, or even areas missing colour completely.

Here's a couple of my Legacy of Kain pins that didn't turn out as expected. This one has inconsistent thickness on the linework…

An enamel pin of a face with inconsistent sizing on the played lines

…and this one has a whole section missing colour (obviously, I'm not offering this one for sale).

A pin with an area missing coloured enamel

Errors may be inherent to the design or artwork, for example using linework that's too fine or not allowing enough space for the coloured enamel to sit. Or they could simply be a production error.

Enamel pins are hand-finished and some are hand-coloured so the chance of human error is always there.

Thankfully any none-perfect pins can still be sold at a reduced rate as 'seconds'. This is a good way to liquidate the stock that you won't or can't charge full price for. It's also not uncommon to receive a few extra pins than the amount you actually ordered, which also helps to offset the few that have defects.

However, if you order a batch of pins and receive more than just a handful or 'seconds' then it's probably worth looking for a new manufacturer.

Chinese public holidays can affect production times

pexels-kaichieh-chan-2771807 Photo by Kai-Chieh Chan from Pexels

China celebrates several public holidays and festivals throughout the calendar year. Either side of these holidays factories tend to be much busier than usual, as do delivery services and couriers.

This can lead to delays with your orders ranging from just a few days to a few weeks.

The run-up to Chinese New Year is a particularly busy time and it's not uncommon for factories to have a backlog of orders to work through once they return.

This is especially important if you want to produce pins as a business since you need to be aware of the times of year that production will be slow and order around those times.

The major Chinese public holidays to be aware of are listed below:

  • The Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) – 7 days off
  • The Dragon Boat Festival – 3 days off
  • The Qingming Festival (aka Tomb Sweeping Day) – 3 days off
  • Labor Day (May Day) – 5 days off
  • The Mid-Autumn Festival – 3 days off
  • National Day (Golden Week) – 7 days off

If you need pins producing by a certain date, be sure to order in plenty of time to account for potential delays.

Expect to pay import tax when your pins arrive

Finally, don't forget to check and account for any import taxes you might incur by bringing pins into your country.

Whether or not you need to pay tax usually depends on the cost of the shipment you're receiving. Most countries waive import fees below a certain value.

Once I've taken delivery of a shipment of awesome pins, typically within a few days I receive a bill in the post from the courier company telling me I have to pay a UK customs charge, aka import tax.

For me at least, this fee is usually relatively small.

One recent shipment cost me about £17 in import tax. Not a huge cost in the long-run, it equates to pennies per pin when you consider the order size, but it's still an additional cost you need to budget for and factor into the cost of getting your pins produced.

Latest pins