As of today as I write this post, there are no enamel pin manufacturers (to my knowledge) in the United States. Every single enamel pin in the market is made overseas, mainly in China. If you stumble across a company that makes custom pins, they are most likely a middle man/broker who is sourcing the work from overseas. There are pros to using a broker, but if cost is a major factor, then you may want to consider going directly to the manufacturer.
Why are pins not made domestically? It comes down to labor costs. Enamel pin making is a very manual process where plating is done by hand. Also depending on the factory, sometimes the enamel fill is also by hand where workers use syringes to fill each nook and cranny in the design!
It may seem daunting at first to even consider working with a company overseas, let alone a completely different culture with a different language! However, with technology and global communication, many of these companies have representatives who are trained proficiently (just passing for some, depends the on the luck of the draw I suppose) to speak in English and understand your needs. There are sites such as alibaba.com that is a directory to hundreds of manufacturers! What a time to be alive!
With options out of the way, what do you need to consider when looking for a manufacturer?
+ Costs: Probably the biggest factor for most, choose a design and start asking for quotes! Remember, there are many factors that account for costs, so it would be wise to keep your design simple with minimal colors to get a feel for costs and just the whole process in general! Once you're comfortable, you can really dive into the fun options we talk about here.
+ Communication: After initial conversations when requesting for a quote, does the representative understand your questions? A pro tip is being very clear on what you want, the more pictures the better! Use pictures of pins you've seen and have the result you want to achieve! Remember, English is a second language so sometimes ideas don't get translated over properly. Pro tip #2: never assume. They're not mind readers, so if you want something, better say it or get ready to be disappointed. (For example, I had a kzli888 logo backstamp that I had applied to my first pin. When I submitted a new design, I only made a note I wanted the kzli888 logo on the new design... but when I received the pins, they didn't use the logo and just typed out kzli888. There was an artwork proof before going into production, but I missed this error and I was bummed they didn't point out the inconsistency. In the end it's my fault for approving the proof, so again, no assumptions!)
+ Allow a Deposit: Check to see if the manufacturer allows a deposit. You definitely don't want to go with a supplier who doesn't allow any deposit because you would have no leverage if the manufacturer messes up on your pins (you can learn more about common flaws here)! A 50% deposit is commonly accepted, so beware if a supplier refuses to accept deposits and asks for all the money upfront!
+ Additional Costs: A few other costs you'll need to pay attention to are shipping costs and artwork costs. Shipping costs are inevitable but shouldn't be over $100. (For 2-3 pins, pricing ranged from $25-50, and for my largest order 8 pin designs pricing was around $65-70). Please note shipping also includes any customs fees, but you'll most likely see it all wrapped up into one price. If you need help with cleaning up your artwork, you'll need to account for artwork costs as well. For minimal clean-up (i.e. taking a .jpg / .png file and getting you a proof) the manufacturer will typically do it for free. However, if it's a rough sketch, there may be some costs tacked on.
Again, keep it simple! It's going to be a learning process either way so save yourself the headache and think of a simple design to test with. You won't learn until you try! Once you find a manufacturer you're comfortable with, in time you'll build a good relationship with your rep. In the end you're both helping each other, so make sure you do your part and find yourself a good partner!
Which manufacturer do I use? That's a secret! Many times artists don't share who their manufacturers are due to the fear that too many people will use that manufacturer causing the quality of their work to go down. Since pin making is a manual process, it only makes sense that quality may be sacrificed if production levels are high. It's only fair you do your diligence anyways, so go out there and get hunting!