Enamel pins have exploded in the fashion world and entrepreneurs can take advantage of this business opportunity.
These tiny metal pins are highly customizable and can feature any design, including offbeat illustrations, branded logos, and anything else you can dream up. Enamel pins act as an extension of people’s personalities and give them the chance to customize and accessorize jean jackets, backpacks, hats, and more.
From graphic designers to apparel masterminds to major retailers like Urban Outfitters, creatives and pin makers worldwide have started building successful online businesses by transforming their unique designs and ideas into enamel lapel pins.
This comprehensive guide covers how to make and sell enamel pins, from design to manufacturing and marketing. It’s time to create your own online accessory powerhouse.
Why make enamel pins?
Many people have bought an enamel pin at some point in their lives. They are an easy to use fashion accessory that look good wherever you put them. Enamel pins are considered small pieces of art and are sold and marketed as such. Most enamel pins cost somewhere between $8 and $12 but can also sell for much more. Despite the low price point, they can have incredibly healthy margins when designed and produced correctly.
Souvenir pins have been around for decades. Go into any rest stop or gift store and you’ll likely find an assortment of different lapel pins.
Today, people wear pins to express themselves and to promote the things they like. They can place pins anywhere: backpages, hats, shirts, pants. Enamel pins have become a sort of fashion statement, with celebrities like Taylor Swift wearing them on the cover of Entertainment Weekly.
Illustrators and artists love the enamel pin industry for a few reasons:
- Pins are a good complement to selling clothes and stickers
- The profit margins on enamel pins are high
- They are easy to make and ship
- There’s no limit on creativity
Types of enamel pins
- Soft enamel
- Hard enamel
- 3D mold
- Offset epoxy pins
- Die struck
Soft enamel is the most popular choice for creating enamel pins and a favorite for beginners. It generally has more color options, with richer and more vibrant colors available. Using enamel paint you can customize this type of enamel pins to your heart’s content.
Using soft enamel also lets you get more texture detail into your design, including borders and edges you can actually feel. However, soft enamel pins are also much less durable than hard enamel pins and they can be scratched easily. From a pin production perspective, they can be easy to make but have durability drawbacks.
To create a soft enamel pin, one layer of paint is applied on recessed areas of the pin’s surface. The slightly higher metal between these recessed areas give the pin a rigid finish. These enamel pins are often cheaper to produce.
Hard enamel is much more durable and rugged than soft enamel but can be more expensive and generally has more restrictions when it comes to coloring. Hard enamel pins can appear subdued and less vivid than soft enamel pins.
Additionally, hard enamel pins use a clear coat of resin on top which creates a textureless, smooth surface. Hard enamel is a good choice if your pins will need to withstand the elements and if long-term durability is important to you. For example, if you’re targeting customers who want to hang their enamel pin on their outdoor back back for example, this type of pin might be a great option.
3D mold pins, or die-cast pins, are a type of pin made with metal. They are made when molten metal is poured under high pressure into a mold of your design. 3D mold pins typically have a more elegant, classic look and are made from either zinc or pewter.
You’ll want to use die cast pins when you have an intricate design that requires cutouts or a pin that isn’t a perfect shape. Think designs for animals, toys, planes, or symbols.
Offset epoxy pins
An epoxy pin has a clear plastic coating that is applied to soft enamel or offset-printed-style lapel pins. It adds shine and protects your designs from damage. Epoxy coating can protect silk screen paint or offset printed designs from fading or scratching over time.
Die struck pins are made from pressing metals, like iron, gold, or copper, against a steel mold to create your pin. Striking the metal creates a recessed area where you can add color options, like cloisonné. Some makers also sandblast the recessed area to create a two-tone metal look.
How to make enamel pins to sell
- Find a unique niche
- Create your custom enamel pins
- Manufacture your pins
- Sell your pins on marketplaces
1. Find a unique niche
Want to know the secret to creating a great product? Find an audience first.
If you can narrow down a unique niche for your enamel pins, the rest of the process will be much easier. Understanding your audience also means understanding how to design a great product and sell it to that audience.
Often times, the best foundation for a successful small business idea is a passion project. When you find a niche that you’re passionate about first, creating and selling enamel pins online won’t feel like work. It’ll still take time and effort, but you’ll enjoy every part of the process if it’s something you truly care about.
When it comes to niches, there are two basic ways to find an audience: choose a niche that you care about or find a niche that you either already understand or can easily learn to understand. All it takes is a bit of market research to find a passionate, engaged audience that will be perfect for your brand.
Spend some time browsing your favorite enamel pin websites or social media profiles. Have a look on Pinterest for some inspiration. Take note of what you like and what you think could be improved. Be sure to look for inspiration outside of the enamel pin niche as well. You can always borrow inspiration from other industries to help further grow your enamel pin business.
Using your own niche communities
If you’re already an active member of a niche community, creating a business that caters to their values is a straightforward process. Remember: a niche can be any community with a specific, definable set of interests.
A niche can be any community with a specific, definable set of interests.
Not sure which niches you belong to? Take a look at your interests and think about the communities that surround them. Do you have any hobbies? What are your favorite TV shows, movies, or books? What are the things you’re crazy about?
Discovering new niche communities
Targeting your own community can be a rewarding strategy, but sometimes it’s better to find new niche audiences with fresh opportunities instead.
There are a few different methods to seeking out active niches:
- Reddit. Using tools like Reddit List, you can discover the most active communities on Reddit. Reddit is a meeting place and message board for some of the world’s largest subcultures, which makes researching and validating niche audiences simple.
- KWFinder. Another way to evaluate demand and interest is by using KWFinder to find out how often people are googling terms related to your target niche.
- Google Trends. You can also use Google Trends for a more generic overview of global search volume. While Google Trends isn’t as in depth as the other two options, it quickly can help you determine the viability of a niche.
- Pinterest. Because Pinterest is an incredibly visual platform, this is a great place to start. Take note of the best boards and influencers who post frequently about enamel pins or craft jewelry.
Determining whether a niche community is a good fit
Once you’ve done some research and found a set of niche communities that could work for your business, it’s time to determine whether they’re good fits for creating a successful, sustainable product.
Here’s a simple framework for evaluating a niche’s potential:
- Is it a unique niche? Your niche should have defining traits that set it apart from larger, more mainstream audiences. A set of unique traits will make your niche easier to target. Lots of different folks like enamel pins! Get clear on who you want to target.
- Is it a sustainable niche? If you’re planning on building a successful business, your target audience should be more than a flash-in-the-pan fad. You’ll want to find a niche that has the potential to stick around for a long time. If there are already businesses serving your chosen niche, changes are good it’s a sustainable business model.
- Is it an active niche? Without an active community, marketing to a niche can be a major challenge. If your niche has lots of engaged members, it will be much easier to build an audience that will rally behind your business.
- Is it a scalable niche? While you might start out targeting a single, small subset of the population with your products, if you’re successful, you’ll want to expand. If you think targeting your niche won’t limit your business’ potential in the future, it’s a good fit.
- Are there influencers in your niche? If your niche has major players who are popular social media influencers, marketing to your audience will be considerably easier. Are there certain members with large followings on Instagram (#pingame) or Pinterest? Even just a few big influencers can go a long way.
2. Create your custom enamel pins
After you’ve determined who you’re going to be selling your enamel pins to, you’ll need to figure out what those pins will actually look like.
Even if you don’t have any design skills, creating enamel pins is totally possible. There are a wide variety of options out there to connect you with talented artists or turn your original designs into physical products.
Let’s take a look at the different resources and tools you can use to design stunning enamel pins, regardless of your skill level.
Design your own pins
For creating mockups of your lapel pins, using Adobe Illustrator or Photoshop is probably your best bet. If you don’t have access to Photoshop, here are some free alternatives you can use to create your own original designs:
Work with a pin designer
Maybe you aren’t confident in your design skills or you don’t have the time to create your own designs. Whatever the reason, there are lots of great options out there for outsourcing the entire design process to talented designers from around the world.
You can work with a company like Your Stuff Made that specializes in pin design and manufacturing.
The brand is artist-run and owned, so you know you’ll get high-quality, custom pin designs at an affordable price. It also manufactures pins out of its own ethically sourced and certified factory in China. You’ll pay between $130-180 for a minimum order of 100 pins between a size range of 1-2 inch pins.
There are also great marketplaces for hiring graphic designers and purchasing design resources:
Note: If you’re purchasing design resources, make sure they have a commercial license so you can use them for your products.
When it comes to enamel pins, there are a few guidelines your final designs will need to follow:
- Your designs will need to only use solid colors, usually from the Pantone color matching system, which means your enamel colors can’t include gradients or transparent colors.
- Due to the size of enamel pins, you should avoid using small text or fine details in your designs.
- Normally, your manufacturer will only need a JPG, PNG, or vector file of your design, but be sure to ask them for details like sizing and bleed area to make sure you’re following their specific guidelines.
3. Manufacture your pins
Once you’ve come up with your designs, you’ll need to track down a manufacturer who can take your ideas and transform them into enamel pins.
Even if you’re an experienced entrepreneur, researching and contacting manufacturers, suppliers, and distributors can seem a little intimidating. However, the manufacturing process is fairly straightforward if you know what you’re looking for ahead of time.
In this section, we’ll explore the step-by-step process for researching and evaluating manufacturers, as well as things to keep in mind once you’re ready to get your enamel pins made.
Factors that influence pricing
As a rule of thumb, it’s important to try to keep your costs low when ordering pins. Here’s a look at the factors that increase the final price of your order:
- The number of colors used in your design;
- The complexity of your design;
- The pin size;
- The quantity of your order.
In terms of order quantity, the main cost for manufacturers is building the initial mold for your product. Once they’ve built the mold to cast your pin, the cost to add more pins to your order is not as impactful on your bottom line as the cost of creating the mold. Just something to keep in mind when you’re considering how large of an order you should make.
Finding a manufacturer for your enamel pins
There are many companies in North America, Europe, and Asia that offer enamel pin manufacturing. A quick Google search for enamel pin manufacturers can turn up lots of different results. Here’s a quick look at a few options:
Alternatively, you can use Alibaba to track down a reliable manufacturer overseas.
Connecting with overseas manufacturers is an intimidating process. If this is your first time dealing with manufacturers, you probably have no idea where to start—but that’s totally fine.
Manufacturing specifications for enamel pins
For enamel pins, there are a few details you should keep in mind when reaching out to a manufacturer.
Most enamel lapel pin manufacturers will allow you to customize the materials you use for your pins, beyond hard or soft enamel. You’ll be able to choose the color and texture of your enamel pins’ base before dyes are added, so make sure you ask to see all the options available. You should also ask about the options available for the needle on the back of your pin, including whether the clasp for the needle is steel, rubber, or some other material.
Additionally, find out if your chosen manufacturers will also let you customize the way your pins are shipped. Enamel pins usually arrive in small plastic bags, but some manufacturers will allow you to add a custom backing card to each bag for a unique, professional touch. If backing cards are available, make sure you’re given the exact design specifications for them, including color limitations and bleed area.
Validating your idea
Any trustworthy manufacturer will send you a proof or sample pin for you to inspect before ordering a full run of product. Be sure to thoroughly examine this sample to make sure that the product lives up to your vision.
After finalizing your product design, the next step is to validate demand. Order the smallest run possible first and see how it does. Once you’re positive there’s a substantial demand for your product, then you can think about scaling up and increasing the size of your orders.
Tips for selling enamel pins online
Now that you know your market, the pins you’ll sell, and your supply chain, it’s time to figure out how and where to sell your enamel pins.
Marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy are good places to list your pins, but you’ll want to open an online store for your own brand. An online store acts as your digital home, where you can connect with shoppers and sell your products.
For example, PINTRILL, a leading enamel pin seller, features hundreds of pins on its ecommerce website.
PINTRILL gives new life to work by artists that have passed like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring. It also expanded its product line to include keychains, pin backs, and hats. You can create your own DIY custom pins right on the website.
Because PINTRILL doesn’t list on third-party marketplaces, it doesn’t pay commission and can keep all the profits.
When it comes to marketing your own enamel pin business, there are some recommended channels you’ll want to try:
- Search engine marketing (SEO). SEO helps you reach people who are looking for specific enamel pins or designs. The buying intent behind these searches means you’ll get relevant traffic to your product pages, which can result in more sales. You can do this organically through on-site optimization or by promoting through Google Ads.
- Instagram marketing. Instagram is a highly visual platform, perfect for creators to show off their products. You can publish a mix of Stories, posts, or Reels to promote your products and connect with followers. The more they enjoy your content, the more likely they are to buy.
- Facebook advertising. Say you want to target a specific group with your pins. Facebook ads can help you market to people who fit that profile.
- Influencer marketing. Partner up with micro-celebrities, YouTubers, Instagrammers, and TikTokers to use their influencer and promote your pins. Influencers help you get in front of the right people.
Last bit: make sure to take good product photos of your pins. Shoppers will want to see the details, and you took the time to design them, so might as well show ’em off.
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Building a DIY enamel pin business
Building an enamel pin business can be both rewarding and profitable when done right.
Even if you feel like there is some competition in your niche, do it. Like any competitive market, if you focus on making incredible products and getting them in front of the right audience, you’ll turn a profit.
Illustration by Pete Ryan
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Making enamel pins FAQ
How much does it cost to make enamel pins?
The cost of making enamel pins depends on many factors, like colors, materials, and type of enamel pin. However, you can expect to pay between $130 and $220 for 100 units, even cheaper if you buy from overseas.
How do I make custom pins?
- Find your niche
- Design your own pins
- Find a manufacturer
- Sell your custom pins online
What are enamel pins made of?
Enamel pins are made of many different materials. You can make enamel pins from metals like copper, pewter, zinc, gold, and brass.
Why are enamel pins so expensive?
Enamel pins can be expensive because you have to make a mold to produce them. Whether you make one or one thousand pins, the mold costs the same. The mold is also the most expensive part of creating custom pins.