Making Lapel Pins Using SketchBook: Step-by-Step with Simone Brown

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DIY: how to produce enamel pins

Recently, we found a talented artist who uses SketchBook to turn her original art into jewelry. Her name is Simone V. Brown, and she creates her art from her home in southeast Iowa in the middle of farm country. She makes a specific type of jewelry — enamel lapel pins. You’ve all seen pins like this, but have you really thought about how they were made? They start as drawings, and the beauty and success of every one of them is largely based on how well drawn that original line art is. Her lapel pins are beautiful, but what really makes them special to us is that they’re drawn entirely on her phone. She uses SketchBook mobile to create the art that ends up being produced and sold to pin-loving fanatics everywhere. She’ll show you how she does it in this post step by step, and you can download a free trial (no credit card required) of SketchBook Pro if you want to follow her example.

The Pin Community

You can find any kind of fan online, but we were surprised at the level of enthusiasm in the lapel pin community. They really love pins! And it’s easy to see why. Fan art translates very well to this medium, which means anyone with a love of a character or creation can make their own interpretive version and manifest it as a real-world object. Anyone with line-art drawing chops can do it, and some people make art that’s so good they sell it online. Simone does just that, and her dream is to be able to support herself with the artwork and jewelry she makes.

Since I make all my art on my phone, I take a photo of my drawn sketch and load the photo into SketchBook mobile. From there I use layers to do the line art and coloring.

We wanted to know exactly how this DIY lapel art economy works, so we pinned down Simone for an interview. She graciously shared her experience and art with us so that others might learn by example. If you’ve ever wanted to create something like this — or even if this is the first time you’ve heard about pin art and want to give it a try — she has all the details you need to get started.

What inspires the art you make?

I was heavily inspired by comic books, movies, and cartoons as a kid. That’s what got me interested in art. I started taking art seriously around 13 years of age. I’ve never had any formal training. Everything I know about drawing and digital art I learned from library books, online tutorials, and a lot of trial and error. I like to draw anime mostly, but I’m pretty versatile and can do other styles. I’d say things that inspire my artwork now are pop culture, anime, and nature.

pins lapel custom make your own how to diy
A few of Simone’s recently produced pins inspired by one of her favorite shows.

What kind of digital tools do you use?

For my digital art when I had a working computer of my own I liked to use Photoshop and Illustrator. Right now I don’t have a PC or tablet so I am making all of my digital artwork on my LG G3 Verizon Smartphone using Autodesk SketchBook mobile. It has been a life saver! I love that you can work in layers. All the different brushes, fonts, and tools are awesome. One of my favorite SketchBook mobile features is how you can save, export, or e-mail your files as a PSD because I need to e-mail my designs to a printing company that requires you to submit your designs as a PSD file.

The awesome thing about digital art is you can put it on anything. I want my art to be different and stand out, but I also want it to be functional. I use SketchBook to make postcards, business cards, stickers, small prints, convention banners, promotional fans, acrylic charms, bookmarks, rubber stamps, and decals. In the future I want to make t-shirts, totes, and patches. There’s no limit to what you can make with digital art. I love getting positive reviews and photos from my Etsy customers, and seeing people wearing my pins and using my stickers makes me feel fulfilled and so happy.

Why lapel pins?

I started making pins because I was looking for fun and unusual ways to present my artwork. I found out about the lapel pin/hat pin community through Instagram, and I immediately knew I wanted to be part of it. Making and collecting pins is truly addictive. It’s so much fun coming up with new ideas for pins. I release one limited edition enamel pin a month right now, but I would love to be able to make more pins per month.

What’s the process of making a pin step by step?

I shall tell you, and I will add things I wish I had known when I first started making pins. It all starts out with an idea and a sketch. I like to keep a little notebook so I can write down my ideas. If you start making pins you will find the ideas will come at random and at any time. If you don’t write them down you risk losing them.

A lot of my pins are based on cartoons, but a pin can be anything. It can be a saying, a phrase, or simply a single word. A pin can be a zentangle, a mandala, or a geometric pattern. Once I have a few good ideas down then I thumb through them and decide which ones I think will make successful designs that people will want to buy from me and add to their collections.

Once I’ve chosen a design it’s time to refine it. Since I make all my art on my phone, I take a photo of my drawn sketch and load the photo into SketchBook mobile. From there I use layers to do the line art and coloring. Once I finalize the design and have it just how I like it, it’s ready to be submitted and produced. It’s that simple.

my little pony art fan pins
Simone starts with a rough sketch, which leads to a strong line drawing on a new layer. Then, she tackles the all-important coloring.

If I’ve never done this, what should I know?

There are things I wish I had known before I started making pins. These are things I keep in mind while I’m finalizing a design.

  • Learn About Enamel: This won’t take much time at all. Just know the difference between soft and hard enamel. A good place to read about the differences between enamels is on the Made by Cooper blog.
  • Match Your Colors: Pantone is known for its Pantone color matching system, and just about every printer uses it to get accurate colors. With the first pin I made, a Tree Trunks pin, the green didn’t match my original design. It still came out great, but if you want to avoid any surprises use the Pantone color system. (Need a place to start? Check out this Pantone Dictionary for just about everything you would ever need to know about Pantone.)
  • Line Work: It’s important to have good crisp connecting line work because each line is going to be a metal die line that separates your colors. And those colors will be manually “poured” into place There’s a great How It’s Made video that shows the details of the entire process. You can see why clean lines are so important.
  • Simplify: It’s important to keep your design simple. My first few designs had to be altered because I didn’t take into consideration the process of how enamel pins are made. You have to leave enough space between your drawn lines for the enamel to flow into your design. The company will let you know if they have to alter your design. They always send a digital proof before production. But this can turn into a long, drawn out e-mail conversation about what you want and don’t want changed, and it can drag out the design process. You’ll save time and make the design process much smoother if you simplify your design to begin with.
  • Time: It takes about 4-6 weeks after payment is received and proof is approved for enamel pins to be made and shipped to your door. Most websites claim 3-4 weeks, but I have tried three different companies and have not had a pin arrive in three weeks ever. This isn’t a complaint. It’s just how long it takes after payment and design approval. If you plan on making pins, be patient.
adventure time lapel pins
Color proofs from the printer that show Simone’s Pantone choices — and the final results when they’re shipped to her.

What if I want to sell pins? How do you do it?

Funding is a big issue when it comes to making your own products to sell. Enamel pins are not cheap to have made, and the pricing is based on quantity, size, colors, materials, and packaging. Getting just one pin design made can set you back a couple hundred dollars. It all depends on what you want.

I found a few ways to cut costs and sell in creative ways:

  • Keep your pins small. Use fewer colors and simplify your design.
  • Consider a collaboration. Some people in the pin community collaborate and split their costs.
  • Consider pre-orders. Some people sell designs in their shops for pre-order. If you decide to do pre-orders always offer your customers perks!
  • Crowdfunding might work. Some people, like Titty Bats, have turned to crowdfunding to create their pins. Believe it or not, there is even a new crowdfunding site similar to Kickstarter called Curio Mill just for enamel lapel pins. I fund my own designs and do pre-orders, but I’m exploring crowdfunding with Patreon for my pins and other merchandise.
  • Open an online shop: There are so many places to sell: Etsy, Big Cartel, Storenvy, Depop. Find the space where you feel most comfortable and open up that storefront!
  • Subscriptions: Some ambitious makers offer monthly subscriptions like Pin Club.
  • Promotion: The next step is to tell everyone about your lovely new pins and shop. I highly recommend getting an Instagram account just for your pins. You should really take advantage of those hashtags.
  • Giveaways: Doing giveaways on Instagram is a great way to advertise. Form partnerships with other pin artists and offer to advertise for them if they’ll do the same for you. Do a pin trade or a joint giveaway. The pin community is so friendly and open to new artists.

Make friends and have fun! Don’t forget to link your new shop to your social networks — that’s very important.

What about manufacturing? Who do you use?

If you feel confident enough to self fund your designs, two companies I’ve used and highly recommend are Made by Cooper and Night Owls Print. If you would like to try making enamel pins with no risk I recommend Curio Mill. I hope all of this advice will prove helpful to you! Thank you so much for expressing interest in what I do. You can find me on Instagram, and please check out my Etsy shop and my Patreon page.

How did the pins come out?

We’re so glad you asked. Check out the final product Simone made for us — four separate sets of pins; one for Pixlr, SketchBook, Graphic, and Creative Market.