A lapel pin, also known as an enamel pin, is a small pin worn on clothing, often on the lapel of a jacket, attached to a bag, or displayed on a piece of fabric. Lapel pins can be ornamental or can indicate the wearer’s affiliation with an organization or cause. Before the popularity of wearing lapel pins, boutonnières were worn.
Lapel pins are frequently used as symbols of achievement and belonging in different organizations. Lapel pins from the organization are often collected by members and non-members alike.
Businesses also use lapel pins to designate achievement and membership. Lapel pins are a common element of employee recognition programs, and they are presented to individuals as a symbol of an accomplishment. Like fraternity and sorority pins, these lapel pins instill a sense of belonging to an elite group of performers at the organization. Businesses also award lapel pins to employees more frequently to boost employee morale, productivity, and employee engagement.
The Soviet Union had great production of these. Besides pins showing political figures and as souvenirs for tourist spots, there were pins for various sports, cultural, and political gatherings and for technical achievements of the Soviet Union. The pins had counter cultural meanings as well; for example, the pin featuring the robot spacecraft Kosmos 186 (which approached and docked with Kosmos 188) had a sexual connotation.
In recent years, pin collecting and trading has also become a popular hobby. Demand for pin designs based on popular cartoon characters and themes such as Disney, Betty Boop, and Hard Rock Cafe has surged and led to the creation of pin trading events and other social activities. Disney pin trading is a prime example of this.
In the USSR and the People’s Republic of China, the prominent lapel pins with portraits of Lenin and Mao Zedong, respectively, were worn by youth as well as by Communist party members or people who felt like showing their official political credo. In Czechoslovakia, the Mao badges/pins were worn in the late 1960s and early 1970s by non-conformist youth as a prank and a way to provoke the “normalisationist” reactionaries of the purged post-1968 Communist Party of Czechoslovakia.
In the 1970s, initiates of Guru Maharaj Ji extensively used buttons, sometimes quite large, with images of the guru’s face on them.
Politicians in the United States often wear American flag lapel pins, especially after the attacks of September 11, 2001. By 2008, the flag pin had become “the quickest sartorial method for a politician to telegraph his or her patriotism.” The practice declined somewhat in the following decade.
Senior politicians in the UK’s government, wore official Games pins for the London 2012 Summer Olympics.
Pin design starts off very similar to animation. Everything is hand drawn with a blue line. It is done either digitally or on paper with a light-box to plan out all the elements and artwork that make up the design. Once the design is approved, it is inked, colored, and placed on a mechanical sheet, which is like a blueprint for the pin, with appropriate measurements and call-outs for manufacturing the parts.
Step 1: Stamping Molding
Molds the metal surface to form the design.
Step 2: Outline Cutting
- Cutting molds are made separately, then cut to the exact outline of the design.
- Additional outline cutting molds may be required depending on the complexity of the design. (If a center hole or cut-out is required, an additional cut-through mold must be used.)
Step 3: Attachment
Solder attachment onto the back of each piece.
Step 4: Plating
Plating now can be processed. The quality of plating varies with the length of time the metal is soaked in the plating liquid.
Step 5: Polishing
The metal surface is then polished until it is smooth and shiny. This applies to copper material only. Iron can be polished if required, but this will incur a surcharge.
Step 6: Coloring
Soft enamel is carefully inserted by hand, one color at a time, using different sized syringes. *
Step 7: Drying
To prevent defects, a high degree of skill is required in order to keep each color and the correct amount of enamel in the proper area.
Step 8: Cleaning
Excess color and impurities are then wiped off the metal surfaces.
Step 9: Baking
The metal piece is baked at approximately 450F for 12 to 15 minutes.
Step 10: Epoxy Coating
Clear epoxy is then applied to the surface to protect the enamel from color fading and cracking (Epoxy coating is optional and provided according to customer’s requirements).
- The standard colors are based on the Pantone Chart.
- Bolder designs are recommended in order to prevent any unsatisfactory coloring caused by lines and figures that are too thin or too small.
- General enamel coloring requires a surrounding metal space to ensure good quality painting results. Therefore, it is usually necessary to allow for a blank metal rim (0.3 mm minimum).
For budget considerations, iron material can be used instead of copper, but without polishing.
Modern manufacturing process
Almost all manufacturing is currently done in China, specifically in and around Kunshan, a satellite city in the greater Suzhou region that is administratively at the county-level in southeast Jiangsu, China, just outside Shanghai. Inexpensive labor in China has made non-Chinese production of lapel pins non-existent.
In the die struck manufacturing process, there are five basic types of pins: Cloisonné, soft enamel, photo etched, screen printed and 4-color printed. In all processes, the outer shape of the pin is stamped out from a sheet of steel, aluminum, copper, brass, or iron. In the case of cloisonne and soft enamel, the shape and the design are stamped out.
Sometimes called Epola (Imitation Cloisonné) or hard enamel, Cloisonné is stamped out from a sheet of copper. The stamping leaves recessed areas, or pools, which are filled with enamel powder and high fired at 800900 degrees. After cooling, the surface of the pin is ground down to a smooth finish and then the copper is plated.
This process is like Epola and Cloisonné in that strips of metal separate areas of color. Unlike Cloisonné, the areas of color rest below the metal strip surface, which can be felt when you run your finger over the surface. Like the photo etched process, the top can be covered with protective epoxy so that the piece appears smooth.
In the photo etch process, only the shape of the piece is stamped out. The design on the face of the pin is chemically etched into the base metal, then color-filled by hand and baked before being polished. In the final step, a thin coat of clear epoxy can be applied to the surface.
This process begins by printing the art or design on vinyl or paper and then applying it to a metal pin base. The vinyl is then coated with an epoxy dome that protects the art from wear and the elements. This process is gaining in popularity because of advances in printing resolutions and the ability to complete these pins quickly in the United States.
Screen printing, a.k.a. silk screening is produced by applying each color to the metal base using a “silk screen” process. These are blocks of solid color. A very thin epoxy coat protects the color material from scratching.
4-colors process, a.k.a. offset printing, allows for bleeds and blends of colors, as is used in magazines. The colors are printed in the traditional CMYK process. This style is can be used for complex art and photo reproduction. An unlimited number of colors can be used.
- Pin on pin – A pin is riveted on top of another pin to give the design a 3-D look.
- Dangler pin – Dangle pins have an extension to the base of the pin that dangles (hangs) from one or more small loops or chains.
- Bobble pin – A bobble pin is an upside-down dangler pin that uses a spring instead of a chain.
- Flocking – A flocked pin has an area that is fuzzy.
- Lenticular pin – A lenticular pin has two or more images that can change when it is tilted back and forth.
LED pin – A LED is a light-up pin that flashes when activated. The light-up element has been used less in recent years due to difficulties in battery replacement and bulkiness.
- Slider pin – A slider pin has a movable piece that slides back and forth across the base of a pin.
- Spinner Pin – A spinner pin has a spinning mechanism that moves a piece of the pin 360 degrees.
The backside of a lapel pin holds the pin in place, and attachment pieces come in a variety of styles.
- Butterfly clutch – One of the most popular modern methods of attaching pins is the butterfly clutch, sometimes called a military clutch. The back of the pin has a small prong attached and when the butterfly clutch is squeezed and pulled up from the prong the pin is released from the clutch. Butterfly clutches may be made out of metal, plastic, or rubber. Also known as a dammit.
- Jewelry clutch – The jewelry clutch, or tie tack, is a simple but elegant design. The clutch locks into place when it covers the prong.
- Safety clasp – A safety clasp is similar to a safety pin in design. A long pin prong tucks under a small hook or clasp to hold the pin in place.
- Magnetic clasp – Magnetic clasps are composed of a small disc magnet that is attracted to another magnet that is attached to the back of the pin. Although this method is generally less secure, it is designed to prevent hole punctures in garments. Bar magnet clasps help disperse the tension with two sets of magnets.
- Screw and nut – A screw and nut clasp is one of the most secure. The prong is threaded so that the nut screws into place to hold the pin firmly.
- Stick pin – A stick pin has a thin needle with a collar that slides up and down the needle to secure or release the pin.
- Back stamp – A pin’s back stamp contains information about the pin and can include copyright information and edition size.
- Artist proof – Artist proof pins (or AP pins) are created during a manufacturing run to verify quality. AP pins have a small AP stamped on their back. Some collectors value the AP markings, but most AP pins have minimal difference in secondary value because the markings are not normally visible.