Enamel Pin Design Best Practices

Enamel Pin Design Best Practices

Your unique designs deserve to grace the jackets, hats, and bags of pin collectors worldwide! So now what? It is time to plan your attack. From concept to production-ready art to final delivery, let’s discuss the best practices behind the creation of enamel pins.


What kind of pin do you want to make? Humorous, adorable, creepy, elegant? The possibilities are endless. Keep a sketchbook of ideas. Check out what is already circulating on Etsy and Instagram. The pin community is friendly and loves to share.

Once you’ve nailed down the subject matter, it is time to flesh out a few ideas with a series of thumbnails. Conceptualizing is the most exhilarating stage.

A few parameters to keep in mind while sketching are size, color, and detail level. Pins are small, so designs with clean lines and limited color palettes work best. Construct crisp silhouettes. But otherwise, go nuts.

Now that you have devised some fresh ideas, pare down your favorite concept to something production worthy. There are several factors to consider before building the finish.


Familiarize yourself with the Pantone Solid Coated library. Even if you do not have a copy of the Pantone swatch book, you may access the color book library within Adobe Illustrator. Keep in mind that your monitor may cause colors to vary in appearance compared to the actual swatches. Finished pins will match the Pantone Solid Coated book, not your screen.

How many colors do you want? More importantly, how many colors do you need? Two to four colors are plenty for pins. Limited color palettes look sophisticated and save you money. Often pins with more than four colors will incur an additional charge for each extra color.


How large (or small) is your pin? Are you designing a cute little button of a pin? Or is this nearly a brooch? Larger pins will allow for more detail. Smaller pins are more cost-effective for the artist. You’ll be balancing between your illustration dreams and your budget regarding the size.


Your illustration’s linework will become the pin’s metal base. There are many options for pin finishes. Will your piece look best in nickel or polished gold? Matte gold, rainbow, or black dye? Test out a few finishes in a color comp before you work up your final illustration file.


Emblazon the back of the pin with your name or business. Don’t let your wearable art fans forget who created their favorite piece! You might also want to add glitter, cut out details, or have your pin glow in the dark. Collectors love glitter and glow in the dark pins!


Is your ideal pin going to be produced in soft enamel or hard enamel? There are benefits (and drawbacks) to both. Hard enamel pins are die-struck, overfilled with color, then polished to create a smooth, shiny surface. The metal and the enamel will be level with one another. Hard enamel pins will take a bit more time to produce, so factor that into your turnaround time. Hard enamel won’t allow for as much detail as soft enamel, but your pin will be resilient and classy.

Soft Enamel Pins have raised metal outlines filled with enamel in the pockets. You will be able to see and physically feel the difference between the enamel and metal heights. This option is more affordable because the finish does not require the heating and polishing stage. As such, soft enamel pins are less durable than hard enamel pins. The colors will be rich and vibrant, though. Soft enamel is ideal for pins with rich detail and varied line weight.


Take a look at your options across a variety of companies. Find out what the minimum order requirement will be (it is often one hundred pieces). While you’ll save money ordering directly from a factory, I prefer to work with an organization like The Pin Department. Should you have any doubts about your design’s viability, an expert team will be there to help you perfect your design before production. Quality assurance and late-night communication with overseas factories won’t be your responsibility. You’ll have an expert guide to hold your hand through the daunting part of this process. Finished pins may cost you around $1.00 to $5.00 each, depending on quantity, finish, size and distributor. However, if your budget requires that you work directly with the manufacturer, do lots of research before choosing one.

Whoever you chose, the team who will bring your pins to life will be working hard. Why not deliver a slick file that will be a pleasure for them to mockup? If you don’t supply your pin art in a production-ready format, you’ll likely be subject to an art fee. You’re a respectable artist, so let’s do this the right way from the start.


Vector art is the best medium for building production-ready pins. Sure, you could send in any old raster file, but eventually, an artist will have to convert your file to vector art. Your order may be subject to a fee for this conversion. But this is your art! Your pin’s design will tighten up and improve at this stage, so don’t miss out on being the mastermind behind the refinement process.

It is easy to drag your original sketch or thumbnail into Adobe Illustrator, set it to 50% opacity or lower, lock that layer, and label it. You will delete this layer before delivery. Create a new layer, select the pen tool, and start plotting points based on your sketch. Don’t lean on image trace. Image trace is not as intelligent as you are, and its best guess will need to be corrected.

Any strokes or lines you employ will need to be expanded to keep your illustration’s integrity intact. Expanding your strokes will turn them into scalable shapes. To do this, select all, then go to Object > Expand > Stroke. Perfect, now your pin build will be gorgeous at any size. Eventually, use Pathfinder to merge everything into one solid shape. This step will make coloring your final piece a breeze.

The most efficient way to add color to your pin design is to use the Live Paint Tool. Adjust your outlines to a solid shape without overlapping lines. Set up your swatches library to display the Pantone Solid Coated set. Select all of the art, click the Live Paint tool, hover over the image, and click each pocket with the designated color.

Delineate details that are intended to be your metal borders, versus which sections will be enamel filling. Distinguish the metal outlines by choosing a similar color to the metal plating of your choice if you wish (yellow for gold, gray for nickel, etc.).

Keep more than one file (work in progress files (WIPs) and a final file for delivery). This way, you will be able to edit one of the WIP files quickly should you be requested to make improvements before production. A common request is to simplify your design to accommodate the materials. The delivery ready art should set up at the final size when possible. Lastly, export your files as AI or EPS.

Congratulations, you’ve created a collectible, wearable piece of artwork from scratch. Now it is time to order those pins!

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