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We live and breathe custom pins here at Pincious.com. Not only are pins our passion but its been our livelihood our entire professional careers. It started with collecting pins from concerts and theme parks. We weren’t curious, at first, about how these tiny trinkets are made it was more that we thought they looked cute! As time went on we started to wonder how a pin was manufactured and we learned a thing or two about the process.
The production and manufacturing of a custom pin can be summed up in 10 steps. So here are how custom pins are made!
To begin the custom pin manufacturing process we need a design to work with. Our graphic designs use Adobe Illustrator to create the mock up that you see but we can’t exactly use that to create die used to stamp your custom pins out. So the first thing we need to do is create a CAD file from the Illustrator file. The conversion is simple, we just eliminate the colors on the Illustrator file and change all of the metal borders into a black color. This gives us a simple black and white color scheme that can easily be fed into CAD to create two level CNC plan.
One of the few processes of custom pin production not done by hand is the cutting of the die using a CNC machine. The black and white file we mentioned in Step 1 is fed into the CNC machine which interprets the black color as the areas to cut the deepest where the white areas are usually half a millimeter shallower in depth. Of course, since this is a die stamping process, the design is mirrored on the die itself. The die is made of steel due to its strength and low cost. You might read or hear from custom pin companies that the die is kept only for short period of time, part of the reason is over years the die can be compromised due to oxidation.
Sometimes the word “blanks” are thrown around when people speak of manufacturing custom pins but in actuality if we created individual blanks to stamp the die with it would increase production time with little to no benefit. So instead of blanks, that you might see in coin currency production for instance, we use long rolls of material such as brass or copper. We have different widths of rolls to reduce waste. To begin the stamping process, your custom pin’s die is placed into the stamping machine and we hand feed the ribbon of metal into machine. It might make sense to some that this feeding process could be automated but with metals being commodities we want to be as efficient as possible so by hand feeding the metal we can be sure we are using the most of the roll. Pins can be in many different shapes and with so many custom pin orders this allows us greater control. Unused metal is sent out for recycling.
After your custom pins are all stamped out we need to prepare them for plating. The faces of the pins are typically smooth enough for plating but unfortunately the edges of the pin are not. Before anything else is done, we trim any excess metal not separated from the pin after it was die struck. Using rotating brushes we quickly brush the sides or edges of your pins to smooth out any burrs or in the event your pins were not die struck but instead molded then more work on the edges are required to flatten them. We would be more aggressive in material removal in dealing with molded custom pins.
In preparation for electroplating, we must first attach your custom pins’ posts on their reverse. This process can be done by a custom-made spot welder just for the purpose of affixing pin posts. In very specific process and combinations of platings, base materials and coatings I’ve seen adhesives used in substitute of welds but it’s quite rare.
To protect your custom pins’ base material integrity and, of course, to enhance your design we must plate them. The bare metals are typically grey like most metals are and are dull in finish. Your pins are attached to metal hangars so they can be dipped into the chemical bath in which their metal will attract ions to change their color using an electric current. If your order of custom pins are designed to have gold, copper or brass metal we actually need to electroplate your pins twice. We would start with nickel (which takes place of “silver” metal platings so if your pins are silver then we can stop here) and then electroplate them again to achieve gold, copper or brass finishes. If your pins are to be made in “black metal” or in a custom color then we actually coat or essentially paint the bare metal.
After your pins are electroplated the coloring process begins. This is actually the most surprising step of production based off what our customers have said. Many assume there is some type of computer aided automation when it comes to the coloring of a pin because its hard to imagine any other way of painting hundreds to thousands of tiny pins with many different colors. The reality is the coloring of a custom pin is done entirely by hand. Your pins are arranged into trays or shape specific holders or racks in prepration for coloring. Using the Pantone Matching System as a guide, colors are mixed to match the colors of your pin design. Those enamel paints are then loaded into syringers and workers carefully fill the pins by hand. Each worker has a printout of your fully colored design as a guide to placement of colors.
When your pins are fully colored we must set and harden the enamels and that is done by baking them. Soft enamel pins have less enamel and aren’t required to bake as long as a cloisonne hard enamel pin.
If your pins are cloisonne hard enamel then the face of the pin is meant to be completely smooth so that means the metal areas are at the same level with the enamel areas. To achieve this we overfill the enamel areas of the pin and buff those areas down to the level of the metal.
Your pins are now complete and ready for packaging. Standard packaging would be placing your pins in individual poly-bags and then they are bagged in quantities of 50 or 100, depending on their size. Again, depending on size, we box 100 to 200 per carton. A carton can be shipped out if the entire order quantity fits into one carton and in the event of larger quantities we package cartons together in larger cardboard boxes.
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