Lapel pins are small, simple accessories that can give a suit jacket or any other piece of clothing a more suave and polished look. Beyond being clothing ornaments, however, many lapel pins are also valuable collectibles, with some cherished pieces even commanding prices of several hundred or even thousands dollars. This is on top of lapel pins often serving as badges that people can use to show their affiliation or support for organizations or causes they care about.
Small they may be, lapel pins are highly customizable and can feature almost any kind of design. Using a combination of traditional and modern techniques, we can replicate exact colors in both hard enamel and soft enamel pins and even produce highly intricate designs using silk-screen printing techniques.
Here are the most basic steps used to make various kinds of lapel pins.
Creating the Design
This is the first step in creating any kind of lapel pin, which can be done either manually or digitally. Since lapel pins have a limited surface area, the design shouldn’t include too many details, as these would most likely get lost in the molding or stamping process. Also, unless you opt for a printed lapel pin, you should avoid using transparent colors or gradients on your design.
Applying the Design
For pins that are created with molds or casts, the design is first struck onto a sheet of metal, usually magnesium. This is called the master and serves as the negative of the design—think of a roll of camera film that used to produce printouts of photographs. Several other master copies are made depending on the number of pins that need to produced.
To make the rubber mold, the exact outlines of these master copies are then cut onto a rubber disc, and then each of the metal pieces are placed into the cavities created. Another rubber disc is placed on top of the first rubber disc before it goes into a vulcanizer for curing. This process embeds the details of the master copies onto the rubber, thereby creating the mold.
Curing usually takes an hour. After this process, the 2 sides of the rubber discs molds are temporarily separated so that grooves can be cut on their surfaces. These grooves will direct the flow of molten metal into the mold once it has been prepared for the pin production process. If the pins are going to use a clutch attachment—for instance, a butterfly- or military-style clutch—then half-inch-long brass tacks or posts with pointed tips will be also inserted into the mold before the molten metal is introduced. This will allow the tacks to fuse properly to the body of the lapel pins.
During the molding or casting process, molten metal will be poured into the spin casting machine where the rubber molds have been placed. After about a minute of spinning on an average of 400 rpm, the mold is removed from the casting machine and the metal is allowed to dry for about 5 minutes. Each pin is then removed from the mold and then washed using water, detergent, and abrasive stones to remove excess dirt and smoothen rough edges. Washing the pins also ensures a smoother surface for the plating and painting processes that would follow.
Unlike molded pins, die-struck pins don’t require a mold. Rather, the design is created on a metal block called a die. Then, depending on the level of detail on the design, the die is struck twice, thrice, or even more times onto a metal sheet that range from 1 to 2 millimeters in thickness. Gold, silver, copper, nickel, or any alloy of these four metals are the most common materials used for die-struck pins.
The die-struck portions of the metal sheets where the designs have been stamped will then be cut to form each individual lapel pin.
Making printed pins are simpler than making molded or die-struck pins. Upon determining the final design of the pin, it is simply printed onto a white background, usually made of paper or plastic board. If the design is less detailed, say it has fewer or no color gradations, it may be printed directly onto the metal.
Polishing and Plating
Once the lapel pins have been removed from their mold or cut from the die-struck metal sheet, they are given a round of polishing to remove any excess metal particles. Afterwards, they undergo chemical or electrochemical plating in which they receive several surface coatings of other metals, usually copper, nickel, silver, or gold.
After plating, die-struck pins are usually sandblasted or texturized to give depth to the design and bring out its finer details. Various finishes can also be chosen. Matte and high-luster finishing are popular options, although die-struck pins can also be “aged” to look antique if you prefer. Dual plating may also be applied for a truly unique look, which also ensures that your design stands out, especially if it has a lot of text elements.
Coloring and Embellising
Enamel pins, as their name suggests, are coated with enamel paints after they are plated. They are usually manually colored with the help of a guide that’s similar to a color-by-numbers kit. The enamel paints are typically painted by hand or dispensed automatically using a special machine.
Hard enamel pins are painted so that the colors are level with the dieline—the metal borders of the design, while soft enamel pins have a thinner layer of enamel paints, thereby creating recessed sections and a more textured look. If there are details that are too small to be painted by hand or by paint dispensers, they are usually stamped onto the surface of the pin using a device called a pad printer. If you so choose, you can also add embellishments on the pins, like synthetic gemstones and other decorations.
Baking, Drying, and Coating
Hard enamel pins are placed in a kiln with temperatures that go up to 1600 degrees Fahrenheit. “Baking” the pins in high temperatures ensures that the paints harden properly to give the lapel pins some extra durability. This process is skipped for soft enamel pins, as the paints are simply given enough time to dry properly.
After drying or baking, the pins are then given a coat of epoxy resin to protect the surface of the paint from scratches and to prevent the premature fading and cracking of the enamel.
Once these steps are completed, it is only a matter of choosing the kind of attachment before the pins are ready for distribution. Attachments like a butterfly or military clutch, a rubber clutch, a safety pin, or a magnetic closure can be chosen. The back portion can also be engraved with any detail a customer wants. For instance, reference numbers for limited edition pins or the signature of the designer can be laser-engraved to make sure that such details are permanent etched on each of the lapel pins.
Are you ready to make a fashion statement or to show your support for a social cause? Wristband Creation has a team of experts ready to help you make any kind of lapel pin you want!