How I Grade My Pins

Curious about the Grade A, B and C Grade pins in my shop? Or just wondering what “Grading”, “B Grades” or “Seconds” means in relation to enamel pins?

I use a three-class system for grading my pins. This is a system I’ve developed from talking to other artists, reading through the grading systems of other creators, and studying Grade A and B pins I’ve purchased from other creators.

Two super cute pangolin enamel pins and two adorable axolotl enamel pins, all in curled up poses looking cozy and asleep.

What is enamel pin “Grading”?

For pin makers, “grading” refers to sorting individual pins into groups (or grades) based on the quality of the pin. There’s no one way to do this, -some makers have a two-grade system: one grade for mint condition pins, and one for flawed pins. Others might have multiple grades depending on the severity of the imperfections a pin might have.

I operate on a three-grade system: My A Grades(“Standard”) are the best of the batch, my B Grades(“Seconds”) have small imperfections, and my C Grades have larger flaws.

Are A Grades perfect?

Enamel pins are made by humans, and like most things in this world, every pin is likely to have small traces of imperfections. These are imperfections we may not recognize as “flaws”, but rather attributes of the materials the pins are made of. However, some pins come with more noticeable flaws, and that’s why I use a grading system.

In my grading system, A Grades are the best of the batch. An A Grade pin might display the occasional dark edge where the paint meets the metal (especially with white or yellow paint where you have a high translucency), a spec or two of dust, a tiny air bubble, and if you look really hard for it, you’re likely to find a tiny mark or two in the metal.

My Grade Levels

A Grade (“Standard“) Enamel Pins

A Grade pins will have an uninterrupted shiny plating and smooth color fill.

A-Grade pins are as flawless as they come and represent the best of the batch. They might still include minor flaws such as:

  • A tiny air bubble in a non-central part of the design
  • Tiny, hardly noticeable specs of dust in the paint
  • Minor scratches in the metal

Examples of A Grade pins:

A Rainbow Clouded Leopard hard enamel pin by EvyB Pin Club.
Three B Grade axolotl pins by EvyB Illustration
These three Tea Rose Axolotls all have one tiny flaw each. I would classify the one on the right, with a flaw in its eye, as a B Grade, because the flaw is in such a central part of the design. The other two would be considered A Grades, as such flaws are inevitable in enamel pins, and hardly noticeable unless you inspect them.

FAQ: A Grades

  • When I order pins, an average of 45% will be A Grades
  • My A Grade pins are priced at £12.99(approx. $16.80)
  • Rainbow Club Member’s Price: $13.50

B Grade (“Seconds”) Enamel Pins

B Grade pins are still of really great quality in my opinion. B Grades will have minor defects, often these won’t be visible at first glance. Such defects might be darkened or burnt outline plating, small air bubbles or scratches, scratches in the plating, small drops of wrong coloured paint, small areas of missing paint, chips in the enamel, or specs of debris captured in the enamel paint.

Because of their small defects, B Grades are sold at a 30% discount.

Because they already have small imperfections, B Grades are perfect for anyone who like to wear their pins outdoors, where they might be exposed to wear and tear. They’re also great if you’re more interested in the pin’s design itself, rather than it being mint condition.

Imperfections you might find in a B Grade pin are, but not limited to:

  • Air bubbles, chips or dents
  • Small scratches or chips in the metal and/or paint
  • Dust particles or small paint splatter embedded in the paint
  • Small areas of underfilled or missing paint

Gallery of B Grade examples:

An adorable enamel pin by EvyB, showing a rainbow pangolin curled up and asleep.
Here’s an example of a classic B Grade pin. Can you see the dust embedded on one of the pangolin’s scales? If the spec of dust had been slightly smaller, I might have considered it an A Grade. But this one is quite large, so I’ve graded it as a nice quality B Grade.
A beautiful red fox enamel pin decorated in swirly patterns, backed by a circular winter background.
Similarly, this Red Fox B Grade has a small spec of blue paint embedded in the white area of its tail, and it’s just slightly too obvious to be considered an A Grade.
A winter landscape enamel pin by EvyB, depicting a tranquil lynx resting in a winter setting. The lynx's warm yellow gives a beautiful contrast to the cold blue and white background.
This Lynx B Grade has a chip/dent in the blue paint. It’s not as noticeable in the image, but it’s quite easy to see in real life, so I’ve classified this pin as a B Grade.
A horned owl hard enamel pin with a scratch next to its eye.
My Horned Owl pins had quite a low rate of B Grades. Here’s an example of a more severe one. If it hadn’t been for the large scratch next to the eye, I would have classified this pin as an A Grade, as the small spec of dust on its neck is a minor flaw.
An axolotl enamel pin with a small piece of dust embedded in its white paint, and a rainbow pangolin hard enamel pin with a dark scratch on one of its blue paint scales.
A Grade vs. B Grade: the Hydrangea Axolotl only has a small spec of dust in it, and would be considered an A Grade. The Hydrangea Pangolin has a larger spec of dust that’s way too noticeable, thus I would classify it as a B Grade.

Imperfections you won’t find in any of my B Grade pins:

  • Large gaps of missing paint or wrong-color paint
  • Large scratches or cracks in the paint or metal
  • Blue lines of missing plating

FAQ: B Grades

  • When I order pins, an average of 50% will be B Grades
  • My B Grade pins are priced at £9 (approx. $11.70)
  • Rainbow Club Member’s Price: $9.80

“C Grade” Enamel Pins

C Grade pins have clearly visible and large defects such as paint bleeding over the plating outline, air bubbles in the enamel paint, hollow areas, larger scratches or larger areas of darkened or burnt plating. Because of these severe imperfections, they’re sold at a 65% discount.

C Grades are great for large pin board collections, i.e. if you collect a specific color palette and don’t plan on taking close-up photos 🙂 I also think they look great on backpacks.

Imperfections you might find in a B Grade pin are, but not limited to:

  • Large of missing paint
  • Burnt edges or blue lines of missing plating
  • Paint overflowing the metal outlines and other areas of the designs
  • Large cracks, scratches or air bubbles
  • If a pin displays a very high number of B Grade defects, I will classify it as a C Grade
vA C Grade hard enamel pin depicting a tranquil snow mink. The pin has a smudge of white paint going over the metal plating and into the blue background area.
Here’s a great example of one of my C Grade pins: this Snow Mink enamel pin has paint leaking over the plating and into another color space, plus some embedded dust particles.
Other common G Grade defects: multiple areas of burnt metal(left) and overflowing paint and holes(right).
I tried overexposing this image to make the paint overflowing more clear, but if you can’t see it, the areas highlighted in the lower row of badger pins have overflowing paint and/or burnt metal.
This Hydrangea Clouded Leopard pin has a few areas of regular B Grade flaws, but his front paw has a dent and quite a lot of dust specs.
The Tea Rose Clouded leopard pin on the left has two areas of dirt smudges, plus a few more areas of B Grade flaws. The one on the right has a large dirt smudge on the nose, plus multiple areas of dust around its body.
Three common C Grade imperfections: dirt smudge(leopard, left), wrong paint fill(fox, middle), and a large hole(badger, right).
These bunny pins are weird. Their only flaw is that they all have one area where a different type of white paint has been used. The main body of paint has a higher translucency level, whereas the mouth(top left), head(top right) and eye patch(bottom centre) have a more hard and clear white. Other than this paint error, they’re pretty much perfect!

FAQ: C Grades

  • When I order pins, an average of 5% will be C Grades
  • My C Grade pins are priced at £5 (approx. $6.50)
  • Rainbow Club Member’s Price: $5.40

Other FAQ

Do you ever get pins that don’t qualify for any of the grades?

I do! I have a secret little D Grade category for pins that are so severely flawed that they just can’t be sold.

D Grades are a pretty rare occurrence, and this makes them so unique that I don’t like to throw them away. Instead, I place them on a “rescue” board in my workspace where they can help me develop new designs 😀

I also get the occasional pin of what I call “Portfolio” grade. These appear absolutely flaw-free, and I might get two or three in one order. I use these for my photo shoots, and after I’m done I tend to just include them with the A Grades.

Can I use your grading system?

Of course you can! You may not copy the article over to your own website or blog, but you’re more than welcome to direct anyone to this page for reference 🙂

Do you grade the back of your pins?

No, -or at least not with accordance to this grading system. I will test that the backers work and aren’t likely to fall off, and I’ll check that no flaws on the back are interrupting the front of the design, but I don’t grade the actual metal surface of the backs.

Do you accept returns on B and C Grades?

I accept returns of A Grade pins, but not on B Grades or C Grades. Each of these pins will have its individual flaws within the guidelines provided in this article, so please only purchase a B or C Grade pin if you’re okay with this 🙂

When are B and C Grades made available?

I’m a fairly new pin maker, and I originally intended to release my B and C Grades in flash sales throughout the year. I’ve later changed my mind on this, and am just beginning to make B Grade pins available in pre-orders and Kickstarter campaigns. I’ve also launched B Grade tiers for my Patreon Pin Club.

I can offer B Grade pins as pre-orders, Kickstarter rewards and Pin Club tiers because I’ve ordered enough batches of pins to know how many I’ll receive on average, as well as the most usual minimum and maximum quantity. With this experience, I also know that C Grades occur more rarely. I might get 2 in one order and 20 in another. Because of this, C Grade pins are only made available after I’ve actually received and graded the pins 🙂

Can I request a specific pin from the B and C Grades?

No, unfortunately not. I wish I could offer this, but the extra time spent on it would mean I’d have to increase the prices, which I’d rather not do 😀

Rainbow Club’s Clouded Leopard rewards for April 🙂

Thank you so much for checking out my grading system! Most of the pins I’ve shown you here will be available in my regular shop and the Member’s Exclusive Shop. Please also check out Rainbow Club (my Patreon Pin Club) if this is something you’re interested in 🙂

Big hugs! – Evy <3