First Posted Mar 10, 2019 + May 30, 2019 (Update)
It’s been a while since I wanted to share my thoughts and process involved in creating a pen-related series of merch. I had a lot of ideas, though some that feel as though it fell a bit short of what I really had hoped for them to become.
As much as I wanted to love everything about this process, it definitely took a lot more twists and turns than I would’ve liked and now it has left me, while happy I saw it through, with not the best feelings towards the final production of things that were made.
But that aside, I think it’ll be worthwhile for me to write everything down regardless, share it and see the feedback. I hope those who decide to read further (or at least scroll through) will enjoy, or at least learn a thing or two otherwise!
The prompt for this design.. actually came around a year ago, when I came across a tweet online and pondered at.. my wish that there was something better than what existed currently.
I love the look of something poking out of a solid wood block, but these weren’t really that practical other than a statement piece, and I really wanted something that was both useful and captured the nib design.
This was back at the end of 2017 and at the start of when I was first investigating how to make my acrylic shelves come to fruition. Acrylic engraving, laser cutting.. yeah it was all along those lines.
Design + Progress
I kinda decided that I wanted to do something that would be sticking out of a wood block, but it could either be really simple (the basic pentagon nib shape, or I could really twist it with my own turn and make a design that was really intricate.
I originally posted some ideas on twitter back when I was doodling on my ipad to see if there would be interest in a design that was super intricate which focused on the nib and the bottle.
They seemed well received, so I went ahead and fixed them up on procreate before bringing them into illustrator to be vectored into their final quality/form.
LED Wood-Base Lamps
The entire project started with the idea of nibs in a wood base. And thus, that was the first thing I went out to source. Because I was in the midst of making my shelves, I was under-educated and had stupidly decided that perhaps I could get the laser engraving on acrylic done locally so it would be okay to order the wood bases ahead of time.
Why was it stupid? Because the acrylic options are very limited in the west (i.e. the thickness wold not fit into the wood base properly), and cost A LOT if you don’t own your own machine (or wasn’t an art student who had access to those labs).
I sent my designs in black and white and as vectors in hopes to get them engraved and cut into acrylic to hopefully work as perfect slips that would fit into the light bases.
It was infuriating though since.. the vendor went through many many shortcuts while providing me with samples and mockups. I did get a lot of sample images through production though and I spent a good month going back and forth in excitement at the prospect of getting these in…
And while the final product wasn’t perfectly perfect, it was a decent enough quality for me to be satisfied (and happy) with the final product. I love that the design also looks good in the absence of light, just as a statement piece on your desk, which could double up as a lamp.
These were LED light strips and also used USB which means that it could work internationally with all the different types of sockets, and even on-the-go, if you brought along a battery pack. There’s such a unique look of the laser engraving because it looks pixellated which.. was very fitting for such a complicated and complex design. I kinda prefer this compared to very exact and sharp.
These would’ve been quite a success and really fun as a product that I made, but knowing that I ordered on two different occasions (base, and then the acrylic sheets).. I ended up having to pay for shipping and Canadian customs twice. These were insanely expensive to make, moreso than I had anticipated at the start.
When I was super happy with my designs, I decided it’d also be nice to bring them into physical form that could be outside of just your desk space, but also to show your love for pens/inks on everyday carry. That and it had been a while since I last made new designs for pins.
I think it’s not a surprise to anyone who follows me on social media that I wasn’t happy with how my first batch of pins turned out. Unfortunately with manufacturing, there’s always things that arise that you can’t anticipate. At first glance, it seems like there isn’t much wrong with the pins, however.. they were definitely not to the standard or quality that I wanted them to be at.
I started my order with making a “cheat sheet” for the vendor because I knew my design was super finicky and had a lot of small details that were easy to mess up. I wanted there to be perfect cut-outs, so there was an option to chain the nib to bottle, pen to bottle, and/or pen to nib for the wearer’s preferences; have a mold that would reach a certain size, and 2 enamel colours each pin. I also made sure to ask for samples, and do multiple checks throughout the process to ensure that it would be made properly.
I don’t think I could’ve been much clearer. But somehow, my experience was still less than what I had hoped.
Not only did I not get the samples and checks that I had been really adamant on getting, I received my pins in late February, weeks after I had already opened preorders and was promised for their arrival. Granted, I should’ve been smarter than to order them in early February, right at the new year. That, I admit, was a mistake on my part.
Some of the problems included:
- Quality of the metal plating - imperfect edges
- Circle punch out is not properly made - the pen pin does not have a hole
- Placement of the pin backings are incorrect - the bottle pin only has one pin backing
- Some enamel elements are coloured in wrong (black instead of white and vice versa)
- The enamel has been half filed and thus, not hard enamel pin
- Some pins have a resin coating on top
It just didn’t seem like there was much consistency.
In accumulation, all these mistakes seem minor, but it was really painful seeing them not only delayed, but also just having to message every person who had extended their support in preorders and letting them know they’d have to either wait just a little longer, or be willing to settle for something less than what was promised.
Ultimately, I ended up spending twice as much as I originally intended to budget for this (went deep into my pockets) and had them reordered with a second vendor.. this time I’m adamant about getting samples and making sure everything would be to my personal standard. I decided to sell the pins as seconds at a discounted price.
A small update on these pins– I have received the restocks from a different manufacturer. I decided to go through pin individually and write a small spiel about it.
The “new” pin is on the right. It’s definitely far from perfect, with a lot of defects, but there was some things I was able to ensure were definitely right this round.
The size is smaller, which adds to the possibility of errors in the colours, but that aside, the circle hoop is definitely of a more passable standard, and the vendor was able to work with me to do some elements with screenprinting rather than enamel, which mean the design was more visible and strong, rather than some elements missing.
The backside doesn’t change too much, but for some reason they gave me yellow backings for this. I think the quality of the metal itself can also be seen without the extra cracks which are visible on the first round’s order.
The first set of pen pins didn’t have many problems to begin with, but this time they didn’t fill in the hole with enamel (lol).
This round though the pantone is somewhat more green (which I think is probably more accurate to file), but overall, both manufacturers were okay with this pin design.
This pin doesn’t look too different, but the pin hole is definitely nicer on the most recent stock (right)! I think one of the biggest things is also the fact that the hard enamel is more filled in, so each of the lines look a lot thinner in the restocks. It makes the design look sharper!
I was most appreciative of the double pin backings. I still can’t believe the first round manufacturers did a 1.5” pin with only one pin backing. If worn on clothing, the cloth would have to be able to support the entire weight of the pin which I think isn’t really the best option for such a large size of a pin.
I have a lot of mixed feelings towards this whole project. It feels like there was too much compromise and settling that I’ve had to give for it to give me the feeling of satisfaction.
For one, it really highlights and gives myself a reminder of how much things could and WILL go wrong when you’re really just dumping a lot of your own personal resources into something. Manufacturing and sourcing is really not a hobby those that aren’t serious.. if you’re not serious, don’t delve too deep into it because it’s full of a lot of stress, investment, and just not a guaranteed payback.
It’s reasons why those who are have worked so hard to make it work for themselves (i.e. veterans or seeded makers) are less likely to share their resources; it takes SO much continual effort to uphold personal quality standards, and that isn’t the added pressure of ensuring your orders aren’t jeopardized when sharing resources can cause back-up with your vendor, resulting in increased prices, lower quality of goods, etc etc.
Although the new stock of pins aren’t exactly perfect, they are somewhat closer to what I’d hope for them to be. I think at this point, the perfectionist in myself needs to give leeway for what the design is and the limitations of the manufacturing process. Also understanding that each of these enamel pins are usually hand-coloured and filled by someone in a factory that is being underpaid for their craft is adding to the need to just let it go. Ethical options for pins don’t really exist, and those that exist locally are mostly middlemen using Chinese sources.
In true honesty, I am somewhat sad with everything surrounding these designs.. it has been much more of a struggle than I would’ve wanted it to be and it really makes me question if I would really want to pursue doing something similar (i.e. continue to push my personal designs) in the future.
With the inclusion of my own dumb mistakes, the delays, and just things outside of my own control, it makes me doubt if it was really at all worth it. Personally, it really made me doubt how much I truly enjoy seeing my ideas and designs come to fruition
But if anything, the handful of people who supported them, those who are subscribed to my patreon (I can’t even begin to express how much support this platform has given me, albeit small, it’s always readily available monetary means when I really need it), and the friends who gave me encouragement - that feeling is something I really hold dear to and will always be grateful for.
Everything I share online is an accumulation of personal and selfish endeavours (which unfortunately my family doesn’t support) and to get that support elsewhere.. it really makes such a huge difference.
Thank you so much for reading!