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Have you ever wondered what lies below the shiny and colorful exterior of your enamel pins? Why is it that some pins feel lighter or heavier than others? What are lapel pins made from exactly? I’ve asked myself these questions long ago when I first dipped my toes into the world of custom pins and after years of designing, making and selling said pins, I’d love to share with you what I’ve learned.
The base materials of custom lapel pins are made up of metals or metal alloys (a mixture of different metals and minerals). There are 4 popular metal types in the lapel pin manufacturing industry and they are copper, brass, a zinc alloy and iron. Let’s find out why each metal is used and the pros and cons of them as well.
You might have heard of air conditioning units being pillaged for their copper tubing over the last few years. So why the risk of being caught stealing over some pieces of metal? Well, copper is a valuable commodity in many industries due to its conductivity properties and thusly can be easily sold to scrap metal companies for a hefty profit. How do pins come into play? Pins used to be made from copper decades ago because it is the most superior metal type when factoring in quality and cost back in the 1990s. The finished custom pin product is an exceptional piece due to the ability of copper to provide a smooth, non-pitted surface which meant a high quality metal plating over the copper base. Copper is also a fairly weighty metal and gives a nice feel when holding a pin made from it. As times changed, especially the information technology industry, copper costs rose in the 2000s and made it not very economical for use in custom lapel pins. If you can afford the costs and want the best metal pin, pair up a copper metal base with hard enamel paints for what many consider the ultimate lapel pin.
This copper and zinc alloy has been known to humans since pre-history and is still popular to this day in terms of the color and the material itself being versatile due to its malleability and conductivity. For us in the pin realm, brass was the answer to the rising copper costs. Yes, brass is partly made of copper but reducing the copper content in custom enamel pins made it more affordable. This “soft” alloy meant a decent base material to work with. The pitting isn’t as apparent as cheaper metals so when it comes to plating the pin, the finish is rather smooth. The weight is less due to the zinc being a less dense material which means the pins feel lighter but it is likely imperceptible to most. One of the issues manufacturers have this with the brass material is the difficulty plating it with a gold tone compared to pure copper. Regardless of any of the cons I mentioned, brass is an excellent choice for all custom pins and is the type of metal you’ll find it most any custom cloisonne pin made today.
What makes a pin beautiful? Perhaps it is the coloring? Obviously its the design, right? Or perhaps shape comes into play? As pins have become mainstream, as a way to express your personality instead of the everyday fare of business-like lapel pins, they grew more and more elaborate. Shape is one of the components of that growth. To achieve a custom lapel pin shape, it requires a mold. We could stamp a special shape pin with a die, yes, but the time it would take to finish the edges, which involves cleaning up the burrs and polishing, would make the pins much too expensive for most. Thus manufacturers have resorted to molds for any pins not in general shapes like circles and squares. The mold requires a liquified metal to be poured into itself. Zinc was the perfect choice for this due to its low melting point and its affordable cost. So if your pin is in a special shape, Zinc would be the only material it can be made from. The finish product will be hard to discern from a brass pin but it is much lighter than the two previously discussed materials.
This incredibly strong metal, iron, is the second most abundant metal on earth and that is reflected in the cost structure of anything made of iron. It’s just affordable and it’s no different when it comes to custom pins made of iron. Due to its strength, iron pins aren’t about it being cheaper they exist out of necessity. The finish iron enamel pin presents more pitting than any other type of custom enamel pin. The plating process isn’t forgiving here and the iron pins benefit greatly from powder or paint coatings instead due to the ability to fill in pits. An iron pin’s strength lends itself well to larger size pins such as baseball trading pins which many are easily over 4″ in size. The structural integrity is important when pins (or anything really) scales to larger sizes but are thin in thickness.
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