Finding a Manufacturer and Producing Your Pins [VIDEO]

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Today we are going to be talking about finding a manufacturer and producing your enamel pins. I'm going to talk about the cost that goes into it and working with a middle woman or middle man as well as working factory direct. Exciting stuff today!

How much do enamel pins cost?

The first thing to talk about is what adds to the cost of your pin. You have the MOQ, or minimum order quantity, which is generally 100 for most manufacturers. Some of them will let you do 100 with different color variants, which is something to think about. You can vary the metal finishes or you can vary the enamel colors. This is great if you want some variety in your designs but don’t want to order too much. That way you can have different versions of the same pin to add more inventory your shop and encourage customers to buy multiple colors.

Other things that affect the price are:

  • How many colors you use. The standard number of colors that manufacturers will allow is five. Generally anything over five colors ends up costing a bit extra.

  • Cutouts and the shape of the mold. That's something I talked about in a previous video and blog post so be sure to check those out. If you have a lot of cutouts, or an intricate design, that adds to the cost of making the mold.

  • Back imprints. If you want to get your logo, like you should, on the back, it does cost extra but it's totally worth it. You want people to know where they got the pin, so I always think it's worth it to have a back imprint.

  • Extra fancy clutches. I prefer the standard rubber, but sometimes manufacturers have fancy colors and shapes, which can be fun from a branding perspective. Some artists actually get custom shapes made, which is really cool but can also be super expensive with a crazy high MOQ. That’s an option when you're feeling a more advanced, but just know that those are kind of things that add to the price of pin manufacturing.

Working with a middlewoman or middleman

So let's talk about working with a middle woman, or middle man. My favorite, which I will tell you, is the The Pin Department. She's a dear friend of mine, love her, love her husband, they are amazing human beings. And without her help, I would not have the business that I have now. She is incredible. If you mention me, I do get a credit in her shop. But, you don't have to mention me. I would recommend her all day, every day to anyone. She's great!

Now, working with a middle woman or middle man does cost more per pin because you are paying for their time and their expertise. They're the ones that are going back and forth with the factories. They're the ones that are staying up late, talking on China time. They're the ones that are helping you set up your files and do all of the communication. Sometimes they even offer backing card design and packaging services too, which is crazy. All of these things add to the cost, but you can also think about how much time that's going to save you.

I also work factory direct now, too, but if I have something that I know I need quickly or a project that's a bit out of my wheelhouse, I definitely still go to The Pin Department and get her help.

But, get all your ducks in a row before you talk to a middle woman or middle man, the same as you would with a manufacturer. So know what you want, having the artwork, look back at my video about setting up your files correctly, all that preparation will help them tremendously in the process.

Working with manufacturers directly

Okay, so finding a factory to work with directly can be difficult, daunting and very overwhelming when you see how many there are out there. But go on Alibaba and just check out what’s there. You might be able to get samples from the factories, which is really helpful. Try out a couple of different places with the same pin design just to compare. I found my favorite on Alibaba and I’ve been using them for years.

When it comes to sharing manufacturers, a lot of pin makers are a little hesitant to do that just because we've seen the industry grow so much. For example, the factory that I use used to have a two week turnaround time, but in the last couple of years it's grown to a four week turnaround time. And I have seen the quality go down for some factories. That's all just because of how much business they're getting. I'm really glad that there are so many pin makers out there because I truly believe a rising tide raises all ships. So, even though turnarounds can get longer, I think everyone can do well and I really believe there's room for everyone.

But, when you're thinking about asking someone about their manufacturer, just kind of think about whether or not you know this person on a personal level. Would you go hang out with them? Would you share your own manufacturer information with them? It can really personal because a lot of people have gone through a lot of work to find their manufacturers. And a lot of blood, sweat and tears and possibly lost money. I think respecting that and respecting someone else's work and time before asking them.

I've asked friends before who they've used with no expectation that they tell me at all. It would not hurt my feelings if they didn’t feel comfortable sharing that. And that's totally fine, I completely get it. So if someone doesn't write back to your inquiry, please don't let it hurt your feelings. Just move on and try to find something on your own. Alibaba is definitely the best place to look. I actually do share my personal favorite factories in my course, Enamel Pins: 101, so check out this link if you want to learn more.


So, it’s really trial and error. Try not to get overwhelmed. Take a couple of hours, scroll through Alibaba because that’s really the best place to look for pin manufacturers in China. If any stand out to you, look for positive reviews. Google the address to see if the physical address looks similar to their profile photos. Google their name to see if they have a presence on any other marketplaces and cross-reference that info, too. If you see any red flags, I’d stay away.

I will say the one thing that drew me to my personal factory is that they are very into protecting intellectual property. As someone who has had pin designs stolen, it’s very important to me to know that my factory will not let anyone else use my molds except for me.

And again, if you’re just starting out, I really, really do recommend working with a middle person just because they can help you wade the waters and really see if it's something you want to do and help guide you through the whole process.

manufacturer communication

So you've picked who you want to make your pins and you send them the awesome template that I gave you in a past video and blog post. After that, they will send you their own version of an illustrator mockup. Each manufacturer does this a little bit differently. I have one that uses a big spreadsheet of information that breaks down all the prices of each element that goes into the pin, which I kind of love. Others will just send you the piece of artwork with the pantone colors and any other extra details that you might have. You want to look at these carefully to be sure everything is correct to your design. Make sure things didn't get squirrelly, make sure they didn't flip any colors, anything like that. Pay attention! Don't feel about going back and saying actually I'd like to do it this way. Then they'll send a new mock and then you can go back and forth for a little bit. But do it until it's perfect. Do it until you feel good about it.

Once you’re happy with the mock, then you approve it with them and pay. Most manufacturers use PayPal, which is my favorite way to pay for pins. Then you just have to wait. Right now, the standard wait time to expect is about a month. Some manufacturers have a faster turnaround, though, so if you see people that offer 12 day turnaround, do it. It's awesome. But I generally tend to wait about four weeks.. It depends on how complicated your design is, how many you order, things like that.

Some manufacturers will send a photo of sample pin for approval, or even send you a physical sample to review before going in to full production. If that’s something you want to do then ask your factory if it’s possible and if there’s an extra costs associated with it. In the beginning, I liked having photos of the sample pin to approve, but I’ve been with my manufacturers so long that I’m confident in their quality now and don’t bother with it anymore to save time.

Then you’re pins come in the mail and you do a happy dance!