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Pin Guide

Lapel pins are a versatile, discreet, and classic way of proclaiming a party affiliation, group membership, fan loyalty, or your support of a cause. Nearly everyone is familiar with the red or pink AIDS and breast cancer awareness pins; they have become global symbols of these diseases, as well as a means of raising money for research. Businesses regularly use them in employee recognition programs and as promotional items. They can be very elegant and simple, or very elaborate and colorful. Because of their symbolic value and diverse range of styles and subjects, an entire subculture has sprung up around the collection of lapel pins. The Disney Corporation has developed a very detailed and exacting protocol around the trading of their pins.

History of Lapel Pins

Historically, lapel pins have been associated with the military and the world of politics.

  • The first appearance dates back to the Civil War era, when they were used by both sides to identify different units.
  • During the first World War, they were awarded as symbols of merit and distinguished service, often adding a ribbon or dangling ornament.
  • The wearing of these pins eventually spread to civil service entities, such as police and fire departments, and then eventually to government agencies, notably the CIA and FBI.

These type of military and other service pins are often handed down in families, becoming meaningful heirlooms. Due to their historical significance, they have also become much sought-after collectibles.

The trend of lapel pins moving from military and government agencies to political and other affiliations was not such a long jump, and went on to be popularized by political and social groups.

  • A very meaningful recent example is the proliferation of the American flag pins that became popular right after 9/11. These pins were not only popular in the United States, but worldwide, as a symbol of compassion and solidarity with the American people in their time of sorrow.
  • A notable historical example of this is the widely popular Mao Tse Tung pins, which became powerful symbols of the Communist party in China in the 1960s and 1970s.

In the present day, pin backs are widely worn, traded, and collected, and not only as political, military, or social symbols. By tradition a distinctly American hobby, pin collecting has become a world-wide phenomenon.

Pins are now worn to show loyalty to a favorite band or sports team, celebrate a beloved character, or can be simply worn as a decorative article.

Uses for Lapel Pins

Over the last century, we have seen the metamorphosis of lapel pins from a means of identifying group members to their use as cultural symbols. Pins are very versatile and have a wide variety of applications.

  • Though most commonly worn on the lapels of jackets, they can adorn any type of material: lanyards, hats, and pocketbooks are other popular options. In fact, you can usually spot a collector by the amount of pins attached to their hats or jackets.
  • Cork boards are a very common and easy means of displaying a permanent collection of pins.

For everyday usage, lapel pins are a relatively inexpensive, but classic way of conferring a sense of belonging to group members. It is an honor for new initiates into a society such as a fraternity or sorority to become “pinned.” Businesses use them quite often to honor top performers in their company.

Here are some other examples of pins in business, social, and entertainment environments:

  • Using custom pins for events such as conventions can have many benefits. They can be given to convention attendees as a means of identification while at the convention, and as a keepsake after. It is typical to see a veteran conventioneer wearing rows of pins, representing their years of attendance, on their ID tags. They can be handed out at conventions as a means of advertising to prospective customers or clients, or as “thank you” tokens for loyal customers. Pins are also given at conventions to signify special achievements at awards dinners or luncheons.
  • Charitable organizations have long used lapel pins as fund-raising tools and symbols of their organization, and their donors proudly wear them to show their commitment to the cause. Some of these, such as the previously mentioned red or pink ribbons, become so linked to the cause that they are symbolic of that they are nearly universally recognized. These ribbon symbols have even developed an electronic version, which is a popular profile badge on some social networks.
  • The use of trading pins in sports and entertainment has a wide range of implications as well. Notable examples of this are the special pins which are designed for each Olympic Games. Normally these pins are limited additions, available only for the duration of the event, and are highly desired as collectibles. In fact, many major sports teams and sporting events have their own pin designs, and their fans proudly wear these pins to show their loyalty and dedication.
  • Theme parks, restaurants, festivals, arts enterprises, and musical groups all benefit from the creation and sale of lapel pins to celebrate their attractions and to promote fan or customer loyalty and unity. Hard Rock Cafe and Disney are very notable examples.


Whatever type of pin you are having made for your organization, the manufacturing process is fairly streamlined and standardized across the board. You will start with a design, either of your own creation or one that the pin manufacturer has created for you. From there, you will decide what type of materials and finish will be applied. There are several steps to the manufacturing process, and the complexity of the process depends on the complexity of the finished product.

In general, once your design is finalized, it is inked and colored, and then transferred to a sheet which is marked with the specifications of size and features. A mold is then made and cut to form the outline of the pin. This is used to stamp the individual pins into a sheet of metal, usually copper or brass. These are the preferred metals for lapel pins because they are softer and more impressionable. It is especially good for a design which has a lot of detail. The copper or brass is then plated with a more durable metal after the final stage. This can be as basic as nickel or as elaborate and pricey as gold, silver, or platinum.

After all of the pins in the run have been stamped out, including the back stamp, if specified, the required backing is applied to each pin. The pins are then plated and polished, and the coloring process can begin.

Here is a run down of the different types of materials used in the final filling and coloring process. Keep in mind that the more pins you order, the lower the your price per pin will be.

Common Materials & Methods


This is a technique perfected by the Chinese. After the pin has been cut, the shape of the design is impressed into the pin, leaving raised outlines of the separate areas of color. A powdered color mixture, similar to sand or ground glass, is then added to the design and baked in high heat, color by color. This keeps the colors separate so that they retain their brilliancy. This is the most high-quality and attractive finish, and many embellishments such as glitter and jewels can be added.

Soft enamel

This method is similar to cloisonne. The beginning steps are the same, but the coloring is done by injecting soft enamel in your choice of colors into the recessed areas of the stamped design. The piece is then baked to set the colors. The look is very similar to cloisonne, but the process is less expensive, and it is one of the most common finishes.

Die struck

A die-struck pin is created by first creating an image of your design on a die. The outline shape of your artwork is cut out of sheets of brass or copper, and then the die stamps your design into each of the pins. After this die stamping, the piece is plated with your choice of plating material and polished. This method gives your pin the look of an engraving.

Etched enamel

In etched enamel, the image is etched into the surface of the pin using an acid solution, and then the image is hand-painted and fired, then polished.

Off-set printed

This is the best method for very complex or detailed artwork and for photographic images. The design is created and transferred to the base metal using a printing method similar to that used in magazine printing. This process allows for an unlimited number of colors.

Screen printed

This is a process of applying blocks of color, one at a time, using a silk- screening method or block printing method. This is the same process which is used to create images on T-shirts.

After the coloring has been added, the pins are cleaned and polished. In the final stage, a coating of clear epoxy resin is applied in order to protect the finish.

Options and Features

Once you have chosen a design and material, you will have to decide what type of attachment you want, and any special features, such as lighting or 3D effects. If you want the pins to be back stamped, you will need to supply this information as well. Some other features you may want to consider are:


These are little charm-like objects that hangs from a small hoop on the bottom of the pin. They can be tiny figures, bells, or stones and jewels.


This is the opposite of a dangler. The charm is affixed to the top of the pin with a spring, so that it “bobbles” around.

3D effects

These are usually created by bolting a pin on top of the base pin to give it a 3-dimensional look.


This is a process that creates a fuzzy, textured area on surface of the pin.


These are pins that have a movable piece attached at the bottom of the pin so that the attached piece can slide back and forth.


Spinners are pins that have a movable piece attached by a bolt or screw through the center of the attached piece that allows the attachment to be spun like a pinwheel.

LED Lighting

An blinking pin is one that has an area that lights up, displaying a digital message of your choice. The light is powered by a small battery attached to the back of the pin, usually just above or below the backside attachment. The batteries are not replaceable, so the feature will no longer work once the battery has run down.

Attachment Options

The next most important step in creating your pin is to decide on a backside attachment. The attachment is usually soldered on, but can be glued into place. As with other features, your choice will affect the final cost per pin. Here are the most popular choices for pin attachment.

Butterfly clutch

This is the most typical way of attaching a lapel pin. Since it originated with the military, it is sometimes called a military clutch. It is a small round with a hole in the middle, and a “wing” on each side. When the “wings” are squeezed together, it releases a catch inside that allows it to be removed from the prong on the pin. It is common to have 2 tacks and 2 clutches on larger pins. These helps prevent the pins from spinning.

Jewelry clutch

This is a simple design that looks similar to the butterfly clutch, but is a little more robust and therefore a little more expensive. A mechanism inside catches on the prong attachment when it is pushed into place. These almost lock down, and require a pull to loosen the clutch before it can be removed.

Safety clasp

This attachment looks like a safety pin, and works in the same manner. Different widths and sizes are available.

Magnetic clasp

This is a clasp that has a magnet attached. It holds the pin in place by attraction to another magnet that is affixed to the back of the pin. It is a good option if you do not want to damage a garment by putting pinholes in it.

Nut and screw

This is a means of attaching a lapel pin by means of applying a small threaded bolt to a small screw that is attached to the back of the pin.

Pin Markings & Back Stamps

Markings on the back of lapel pins usually will simply state the organization for which the pin was created. Special markings might include a dedication, the date the pin was made, or if the pin is a special or limited edition, the edition number or number of items in that release. Another back stamp you might encounter is AP. This stands for an “Artists Proof,” which is a very small initial test run of a lapel pin, usually limited to about 20 pins. Some collectors prize these AP pins, as there are relatively few of them created before any changes are made and the pin goes into mass production.

Custom Pin Ordering Guide

Most manufacturers and suppliers have web sites which list their services and what is included in the price. Many will offer free art design and molding as an added bonus. Here are a few hints about what information you should have ready before you inquire about a quote, and some suggestions about art work.

Preparing to Get a Quote

Before you contact a manufacturer, you should have a few things settled in preparation for placing your order. Try to have a general idea of what you want. If you do not have a design, have a general idea of what you would like, such as the size, colors or logo if one is to be used. Know how many pins you will need for the purpose of your organization. Keep in mind the purpose of the pin. Is it for employee recognition, a membership drive, a charity, or a one-time, special purchase? Know what your budget requirements will allow, and stick within that range. After you have consulted with a couple of manufacturers and have decided on one that you feel comfortable with, they will work with you to finalize your design, materials, colors, back attachment, and order size.

Best Art Designs and Detailing Options

The best art design for your lapel pins is one which keeps it simple and gets your message or idea across to your target market at the same time. A bold design works best, since the coloring methods will turn out better if there is not too much detail, such as small or narrow areas of color. If it is a single pin, or a small run for a special project, you can go big dollar with the quality of plating metal, and even add crystals or jewels. If you are ordering in bulk for a convention or volunteer organization, you can keep it very basic.

If you have the time and an artistic inclination, you can design the pin yourself, or you can meet with your board to come up with a design that is agreeable to all. Some companies will even hold contests among employees and their families or customers and the general public to help find a new logo or art design. If you do not have a design in mind, most lapel pin manufacturers have artists on staff who will work with you to come up with a unique design that suits your company’s budget and specifications.

Pricing Information

Pricing depends on the number of pins you need to have manufactured, the materials and finish you require, and any special details that are to be added to the pin. The more features you add in the way of lighting, jewels, dangles, and elaborate details, the higher your cost per pin. For a basic, 4 color soft enamel pin with a standard butterfly clasp, you can expect to pay anywhere from $0.43 per pin for a small 3/4”pin in a run of 10,000 pins up to $3.67 per pin for a larger 2” pin in a run of 100 pins. Any additional features, such as magnetic clasps, or more colors will add to the price, usually starting at about $0.20 per pin and up.

Since the manufacturing of the pins is labor intensive it is also time intensive. To save money, order your pins with plenty of time to spare. This will eliminate rush manufacturing and shipping fees.

Many manufacturers will give you a free quote, so don’t be afraid to check around and find the best one for your company or organization’s budget and needs.

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