Tooling and Setup Costs

Tooling and setup costs generally fall into four categories -- (1) die struck or stamped tools, (2) molds, (3) setup charges for photo-etch, and (4) screen or setup charges for silkscreening or photo-printing.

Die struck or stamped tools are generally the most expensive.  These tools are used in die struck pins, emblems, or medallions, whether color-filled or not.  Die struck emblems actually require two tools -- the trim tool and the die.

The trim tool is a steel alloy cutter (like a cookie cutter) that cuts the overall shape of the pin out of the metal.  If your emblem is a single flat, basic round, oval, or square piece, there may not be a separate trim tool charge because an existing trim tool can often be used.  A new trim tool will have to be made for unusual shapes, sizes, designs, or complex features.  These include multiple layers, internal piercings or cuttings, curved or dapped emblems, and extremely modulated or intricate designs.  The more complex your piece, the more costly the trim tool.

The die is the detailed pattern cut into a piece of steel alloy that actually stamps your emblem’s imprint into the metal.  This die strikes the metal with tremendous force to make the imprint -- so it must be tempered and properly treated to prevent cracks.

The second tooling category is the molds used in casting operations.  There are three casting methods used in emblematic manufacturing and each has its own tooling requirements.  Die and spin casting are used most often.  Lost wax casting is usually for precious metals or small quantities.

Die casting uses a metal die that is best described as a sandwich held vertically.  The two sides of the metal die like ‘two pieces of bread’ close rapidly upon each other.  At that moment, the liquid metal is injected into the ‘meat area’ with tremendous force.  This is a rapid and continuous process.  The casting dies are similar to the dies used in stamping.  Die casting allows a very low per piece price but also has the most expensive tooling costs.

Spin, or rubber mold casting, uses a rubber mold in a centrifuge.  Molten metal pours into a center hole in the mold as it spins.  The spinning forces the molten metal outward.  This mold uses a ‘Christmas tree’ form to produce numerous pieces at one time.  Tooling for rubber mold casting actually is made up of three parts.  First, you must have a model of your emblem.  If one does not already exist, the model must be created by a model maker.  Next, the caster makes the model mold.  This is used to make the multiple models which in turn are used to make the production molds.  These production molds have a finite life and may have to be replaced at regular intervals.

The third category of tooling is the setup charge used in the photo-etch process.  This tool is actually a photographic negative.  A film negative is made from camera-ready artwork.  The metal strips which are used to make the embelms are coated with a photo active chemical.  The film negative is exposed onto the metal strips and chemicals are used to etch away the exposed metal producing shallow cavities.  This tooling cost is relatively inexpensive.

The final tooling category is the screen charge for a silk screened pin or the setup charge for a photo printed emblem.  We will cover these charges in the section on silkscreen and photo printed emblems.

While tooling costs are important, they should not control the choice of production method.  Your paramount concern should be the desired look of the pin.