The Definitive Guide to Making Custom Lapel Pins

Lapel PinsIf you’re in the market for a custom lapel pin and don’t know where to start, this guide would be perfect for you. Having been in the custom promotional product industry my entire life, I would love to share with you the tips and tricks to make your pin as amazing as it can be and along with that I’ll glean some insider information on terminology, manufacturing and designing of lapel pins.

Designing your Custom Lapel Pin

  1. Your Design Ideas: Any custom lapel pin starts with an idea. It’s easy to think of a design but it can be rather difficult to convey that design idea to another person. Not to mention the medium in which you do it, be it by text or over the phone. Some tips from our customers would be roughly sketching the design you have in mind and taking a picture of it with your phone and emailing us the picture. But let’s say you are quite artistic and maybe even handy with computer graphics, well here are file formats that we accept for artwork: AI, EPS, PDF, PNG, JPG, GIF, PPTX, DOCX, XLSX and BMP.
  2. Sending Us Your Design: When you have your design’s written description, photograph or artwork file ready to submit, head on over to and fill out our free quote form. You can also email us directly at Once we have your submission, expect a response with a free price quote and free proof (mockup) within about a business day’s time.
  3. Creating Your Custom Lapel Pin Proof (Mockup): We have a talented group of graphic designers that use Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop to create a computer graphic that represents your pin design. When constructing a pin design, we have to consider a couple of things:
  • Minimum fillable area: At around half a point in size is our minimum requirement for enamel painted areas.
  • Minimum metal separation: All the colors of a pin along with any detailing made with the metal of the pin needs to be half a point in thickness.
  • Minimum font size: There isn’t a firm rule on how small text can be on a pin because each font is different with varying heights, widths and thicknesses. A rough standard of 5 pts in size gets you pretty close to manufacturable though.
  • Overall lapel pin size: The size of the pin, measured by the pins greatest measurement in height or width (not diagonal) is determined firstly by your requested size and then working in the above minimum requirements. 
  • Colors: All of the colors of an enamel pin would be made from mixtures defined by the Pantone Matching System’s Solid Coated colors.
  • Metal platings: We have a variety of metal platings for our pins. The base material of your pin is typically either brass or zinc. That base metal is then electroplated or coated with one of these colors: 
    • Polished Gold
    • Polished Silver
    • Polished Copper
    • Polished Black Nickel
    • Black Metal
    • Antiqued Gold
    • Antiqued Silver
    • Antiqued Copper
    • Dual Plating (when your pin has two different metal platings)
  • Pin Thickness: The standard thickness of a pin is 1.2mm but that thickness is ultimately determined by your requested thickness and the size of the pin. The larger the pin then, at times, the greater the thickness.
  • Pin Attachment/Post: The on rear of the pin would be the method of attachment be it for your clothing or otherwise. We have a variety of options here as well. They would be:
    • Butterfly/Military Clutch
    • Rubber Clutch (black or gold metal)
    • Deluxe Clutch
    • Jewelry Clutch
    • Magnetic Backing (a 2 piece magnet attachment)
  • Pin Options and Add Ons: To spruce up your pin design, we have a few options for your consideration:
    • Glitter Colors
    • Silk Screen Colors
    • Translucent Colors
    • Blinkers
    • Danglers
    • Sliders
    • Simulated Gemstones
    • Cut Outs/Special Shapes
    • 3D Molding

Manufacturing Your Lapel Pins

  1. Creating your Lapel Pin’s Die/Mold: Utilizing a 3D program or a CAD, a die or mold is created with a CNC machine. Dies are utilized for basic shaped pins and molds are required when pins are more complex in shape.
  2. Stamping Your Lapel Pins: If a die is created for your order then it is placed into a stamping machine which presses your design repeatedly into a long roll of brass metal. When the lapel pins are stamped, there is usually some excess material in the form of flanges or burrs on the edges of the lapel pins. They would need to be trimmed or sanded off before they move onto the plating process.
  3. Plating Your Lapel Pins: Our custom lapel pin platings are done by an electroplating process unless your pins are black metal which is more of a coating than a plating. To prepare your lapel pins for the dip into the electroplating bath, we must first affix the pin post to the rear of the pins and then attach the pins to a hangar. The first plating for most any lapel pins is a plating of nickel metal which serves as a silver finish. So if your pins are to be silver, they stop here but for a gold or copper plating, another dip is required. Color coated pins are essentially spray painted with the requested color with black being the most common coated color.
  4. Coloring Your Lapel Pins: Should your custom lapel pins require coloring, there are a couple of options. The first two are our most common types of pins, the Soft Enamel and Hard Enamel styles. The last option is the Silk Screen process that uses a similar method of coloring to that of t-shirt designs. Silk Screening requires no metal border separations unlike the other two but the coloring is not as durable. Our enamel pins are colored by hand by the use of small color dispensers that are likened to syringes. After the paint enamels are placed onto the pins, baking is required to set them. Hard enamel pins would be baked for longer periods due to the amount of enamel being used.
  5. Finishing/Polishing: We polish your pins at various stages during manufacturing. When a pin is molded there is more likely a need to polish them due to any burs of where the 2 molds meet. It is important to make sure pin surfaces are polished smooth before electroplating to ensure the finish of the metal plating. After hard enamel pins are colored, we would polish the face of those types of pins.
  6. Packaging Your Lapel Pins: Our pins are standardly packaged in individual plastic bags. Upgrades to the packaging are available for additional costs. The individual packaging options would be acrylic boxes, velvet boxes and velvet bags.
  7. Shipping Your Lapel Pin Order: Our custom lapel pin orders are shipping via DHL, FedEx or UPS to destinations with physical addresses. Should you require an order shipped to an FPO/APO address, such as with military orders, an additional cost would be incurred. Additional costs are also assessed to orders shipped to addresses outside the United States of America.

Tips and Tricks:

  1. Maximizing Your Design Space: When ordering a pin, we would measure and quote your order based off the height or width of the lapel pin, whichever measurement is greater. So that means if you order a 1” pin and it is 1” wide but only .25” tall, it still would be considered a 1” pin. You could have the same price for that order if the pin was 1” tall instead of .25”. 
  2. Rush Orders: We can accommodate custom lapel pin rush orders depending, of course, on your deadline, how complex the design is, how many pins you would be ordering, the style of pin and the destination for the order. It is best to minimize or eliminate colors of the pin if the deadline for your order is very close.Expediting Your Design: When time is of the essence, not only would you want the manufacturing of your pins to be as quick as possible but all other elements like shipping and of course designing it. To make the mocking up of your pin quicker, supplying us with vector illustrations like EPS or AI files (perhaps PDFs) would go far in making the lives of our artists simpler and thus churning out your design faster. The complexity of your design will always affect the proofing process of the order regardless of the vectorization of that design so if your design is relatively basic, that of course makes the proofing much faster.
  3. Colors and Metal Platings: Most colors go well with most metal platings but there are some exceptions. Black Metal Nickel, a popular finish on cloisonne hard enamel lapel pins and sometimes referred to as “gunmetal,” can cause some problems when it appears next to colors like gray or black. Black painted coatings are, at times, troublesome when bordering navy blue. Though white contrasts very nicely against black in most situations, when applied to a lapel pin the white might look grey as it is ever so slightly translucent. 

Custom Lapel Pin Terminology:

Backstamp: A stamp on the back of your lapel pin can be customized with your information for an extra cost such as your company name or website URL or your phone number. By default, typically the backstamp will have your pin manufacturer’s name and information or otherwise nothing at all.

Bobble Heads: Not necessarily needing to be a “head” as this can refer to any smaller pin attached to another pin by way of a small coil spring.

Cloisonne: A style of custom lapel pin with colored glass-like enamels separated with metal borders. This type of pin is quite rare and most Cloisonne pins are in actuality Hard Enamel.

Clutches: These things keep your pin attached to your clothing, etc. Affixed on the pin post, clutches come in a variety of shapes and uses. The most popular clutches are the butterfly clutch which finds use in many military applications or the rubber/plastic clutches which are perfect when young ones may be interacting with the pin. Other fancier types are jewelry and deluxe clutches which are great when the overall presentation of the pin needs to be high and extravagant. Some of the rarer but available options are magnetic clutches, screw backs and safety pin like attachments.

Cut Outs: Any “hole” located within the pin. Be careful when designing cut outs into your pin design as they come at a cost. I’ve seen cut outs priced at $.10 per cut out, per pin.

Cut to Shape / Custom Shape: Custom lapel pins don’t need to be generic shapes. Most any shape of pin is possible but take care if making the pin with enough places for pin post placement and room for the design to show clearly as well.

Danglers: A small pin attached to another lapel pin by way of a jump loop or chain. 

Die Struck: A type of pin style devoid of color not to be misconstrued with the manufacturing process of the same name. Most pins are die struck except photo-etched pins or pins that require “molding”. 

Epoxy Finishes: A clear epoxy is placed onto pins for mainly one of two reasons. 1) an extra layer of protection is required. Some examples of that are glitter pins and offset printed pins. 2) personal preference. Some people like epoxy coatings just because they think it looks good. I’ve seen epoxy coatings be referred to as epoxy domes, clear coats, glazes, shellac and resin.  

Glitter: Available in combination with any PMS color, glitter is a popular option in trading pins of all sorts (from baseball/softball teams to theme-park pin traders).

Hard Enamel: The true name of most “cloisonne” lapel pins. The face of the pin is smooth due to the colored areas being filled with enamel to the “top” of the metal borders of the pin.

Laser Engraving: This engraving process is required for serializations or when unique wording (such as names) needs to be placed onto the pin. Common applications for numbering is for tracking purposes of collectible pins and names are sometimes engraved onto pins when given out for special awards.

Metal Separations/Borders: Enamel colors must be separated from each other and that is done by way of the metal of the custom pin surrounding all of the colored areas. These metal borders are formed in the die striking process. The die depresses certain parts of the pins (areas where color will ultimately be placed) and the untouched areas of metal become the borders.

Mold: A container that is hollowed with a design of your custom pin at the center. Liquid metal is poured into it to form the pin itself. Using a mold over a die is required when a custom pin is not generic in shape (i.e. square or circular).

Offset Printing: When your pin design requires a photograph or color shifts/gradients then this is the pin type you’ll be quote by your lapel pin company of choice. The print quality, I’ve found, isn’t that great and the overall pin quality is perceived as lower most of the time. The printing is done on a piece of paper and is it encased in an epoxy coating for the paper’s protection.

Photo Etched Pins: A style of pin where the recessed areas are created by etching the pin surface with a chemical based off a photo-negative image of your pin design. These pins are thinner than a typical enamel pin and many manufacturers place an epoxy coating over the face to protect the pin and add weight. The pins feel very light due their thinness. We currently do not make pins in this style.

Pin Posts: 8mm or 10mm pins are soldered to the back of your pin for attachment to your clothing, etc. The pin posts are sometimes cheaply affixed to a pin with adhesives instead of solders. Note, other types of attachments are available for a multitude of different applications.

Platings: We plate our pins in gold, silver, copper, black metal and black nickel. The base of a pin varies depending on the pin shape and can be brass, iron or zinc. The gold, silver and copper platings are available in polished or antiqued finishes.

PMS / Pantone Matching System: When you have your pin designed with a company, you’ll notice the colors of your lapel pin are associated with a PMS number from the Pantone Matching System’s Solid Coated colors. This color system is from Pantone, an industry leader when it comes to color/paint formulations.

Sequential Numbering: If your pins require a unique number for tracking or serialization purposes most any lapel pin company can accommodate that with this feature. It is accomplished with a laser engraver but having the numbers stamped in is an options likely with a greater cost.

Silk Screen: A painting process that allows for fine detail to be applied to the pin face. Some examples of design elements that call for this process is when a copyright or trademark symbol is required. Also, you can make an entire design in silk screen colors if you don’t want your lapel pin to have metal separations.

Soft Enamel Pins: A pin style that is defined by “raised” areas of metal with the painted areas being “recessed” into the pin face. Some people might refer to this style being textured on the face.

Spinners: A small pin is attached through a hole in another lapel pin. A stopper is added to the small pin’s pin post. Effectively the small pin can spin around the pin post and hole. Take care in designing your spinner because if the pin post is incorrectly located or the pin shape is not very symmetrical expect your spinner to be oddly positioned. 

Trading Pins: These are soft enamel pins with heavily sports themed designs, mainly baseball and softball in nature though we are seeing a rise of basketball and hockey related pins. 

Translucent Colors: As the name suggest, these colors are sort of see through. They can be made up of any Pantone Solid Coated color.

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