Note: This article isn’t about ‘Artist Alley’ per se, but more of an article about something many artists make at artist alley. I put it in Angry Artist Alley because it could possibly be relevant to some people.
Chilly Pig Creations is an independent company that prints acrylic and wooden charms. This article describes my first experience with making acrylic charms, and working with this company.
THIS IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL GUIDE TO MAKING ACRYLIC CHARMS. I REPEAT. THIS IS NOT A PROFESSIONAL GUIDE TO MAKING CHARMS.
It’s a beginner’s perspective on making charms. If you’re a noob who wants expert advice, go ask an expert on it. Heck, if I wanted expert advice I’d be asking my other friends on this (which I did). I’m just writing this article based on my very first experience making them. I just have a LOT to say. I’m sure someone on the internet probably wants to read a personal article about me struggling and crying in agony. Here you go.
I couldn’t find a good article that puts making acrylic charms into a beginner’s point of view. More like an expert’s point of view, that describes quality, perks, and etc. with these things. This is more like the process of making them. If you’re looking for expert advice, I’ve just warned you now, this isn’t the article you should be basing all your opinions from.
To skip through unnecessary backstory, one day I wanted to make acrylic charms out of some chibi drawings I already made. One night I had a conversation with someone about the process, and she showed me a ton of samples, materials, etc, and I did my research, and chose Chilly Pig Creations to be my printers because they had excellent reviews on printing quality, along with being local.
Process 1: Choosing the Design
The series I chose to make them from was Monster Musume (r-18 monster girl manga). I had six chibi designs already made from a stickersheet, and really liked them. These initial designs took about three weeks to make. I didn’t realize it until step 3, but you REALLY need to think carefully about your design before you decide to make any random charm.
note to self: BEFORE YOU DESIGN YOUR CHARM, MAKE SURE IT IS SUITABLE FOR A SQUARE SHAPE. Otherwise, that ‘weird shape’ might look shrunk compared to the other charms because you needed to fit in in that box. All templates fall in a constrained square sized shape, so you need to take advantage of it. If your charm is more vertical, align the image diagonally on the corners instead for more surface area.
Process 2: Designing the Backside
I found out Chilly Pig doesn’t charge extra for a backside printing, so I took advantage of it and made ‘alternate outfit’ versions of the girls. The characters in Monster Musume often have clothing rotation, and few wear the exact same outfit after a few chapters. Except for Suu, the slime girl. She’s always wearing that raincoat…or nothing at all XD
To design the backside, first I flipped the image horizontal, then redrew what I wanted on the back, while retaining the silhouette of the original image (i can’t draw outside of the area of the original image). It took almost two weeks to complete the alternate designs.
Some designs were super tricky, because i had to make sure everything fit the silhouette of the front side. I had to make a few sacrifices or thicken the borders of some parts to make it work.
note to self: make sure to plan the backside AND the front side before working on the final, to make sure both images work with the same silhouette.
Process 3: Template
Now, here’s the tricky part. These printing sites have an online template that you need to fit in every image file to indicate where the whites, coating, image, and cut line will be. It’s really, really tricky if you’re doing it for the first time (like me). Thankfully, Chilly Pig had an easy-to-understand tutorial for people like me.
To submit the template, first you download their template off their website, then open it up on Photoshop. There are different folders indicating which things you put in them. For example, the ‘front side’ folder is your front image, the ‘back side’ folder is your back image, the gloss folder is to have an image of where you want the gloss to be for your charms by filling in a black area, etc etc. The websites have directions.
I had some really oddball shaped designs, and I was blankly staring at the monitor trying to think of the best possible cut line. It took an entire day to do six designs. I mean…all you do is pop in the pic and make the cut line, right? Uh…YES. But somehow that took forever because I kept screwing up or noticing mistakes on my art.
Here’s a nice happy list I went through with my work during step 3 and 4:
-file resolution size was wrong
-accidentally saved the ‘backside’ image right on top of the ‘front side’ image (in the original photoshop drawing file)
-really tiny specs of ink scattered all over the page
-backside and front side images don’t match up when aligned together
-finding mistakes on the image right before saving, having to fix it, and then right before saving, I find another–an endless task
-changing the cutline on some of the shapes, and realizing that cut line goes off the edge of the template, and having to shrink the image, try it all over again, and I *already* had the perfect shape…then it would be too small, and then I’d have to do it all over again.
-Forgot to flip image halfway through for printing, then when I flipped it, I found mistakes I had to fix. Some required redrawing and coloring the areas.
….okay. I was reckless. These are all mistakes that were my fault for not paying attention. Usually my art is a lot messier, but yea…it was still frustrating as hell T_T
Hopefully this list will help you prepare for the worst. Especially the one about accidentally saving your front side and backside image on one file.
Process 4: Troubleshooting
This is pretty much the part where you sit patiently on your computer waiting for the printers to tell you if your designs are good or not. I’m sure you guessed it by now, but there were a number of issues. I’m not going into details, but I’m just gonna say that Chilly Pig Creations and I………we had quite a number of emails about fixing my work up ||orz
Process 5: Ordering straps
Chilly Pig Creations does not provide straps with their charms, but I easily found a 100 pack of some colored ones I liked. I was searching on the internet for what other artists have done, and there were some that had a cellphone plug. I decided to buy a pack of those too. And then I found out those cellphone plug holes were too tight for the keychain straps, so I bought tiny loops/split rings (I didn’t want to take the chance that the next company selling dust plugs would have the same issue). I’ve never messed with metal rings and stuff before, so it was incredibly frustrating. In the end, I kind of regret buying the cellphone plugs and split rings…the bonus sounded cool, but I don’t even know if people want them.
Process 6: Arriving in the mail and setting up
Basically, it came in the mail, I screamed, ripped the package open, and stringed a few together to take this montage of photos for my shop and show it here.
Note to self: I should NOT trim my nails to the skin before the package arrives. I only peeled a few of the backings right now, but it was sooo tedious T_T
Next step, I had to combine the tiny split rings with the tiny dust plugs. It is NOT fun for people with stubby fingers. Those things are hell to assemble! Those split rings were pretty darn stubborn (which is tedious for me, but means it’s good for the customer). I eventually figured out a method using the side of an index card and pliers. I saw some special pliers for these things on Amazon, so I’m sure there are secrets to doing this properly. I think I spent enough money on this project =_=’
After setting that up, I need to take photos of ALL the key chains, measurements, and samples for my online shop and for internet advertising. You can check out the photos (and products) in my shop here. Photographing looks easy, but it’s a LOT of work.
Process 7: Determining the price
I rarely talk about pricing due to mass amounts of hate and controversy, but it does kind of bother me a bit for this situation. It costs about $3.67 each to get them printed around the 2″ size. I see many around $5-$8 on the internet. Sometimes I see them for $10. I’ve found a total of three artists on the internet that sold for over $11. As a rule of thumb, you should be pricing your art at least 3x the cost to make it. Factoring in the cost of the strap and cellphone plug, it would add up to a little over $11.50 if I followed that rule, so I would be charging $12 each for one. That sounds like it’s on the high side though, so depending on sales in a future convention, I may or may not lower it. Then again, these are about 2″ instead of the classic 1.5″, and are double-sided with an optional cellphone plug…a bit on the fancier side, although photos barely show it.
Although I have NO experience with other companies making acrylic charms, this is incredibly one-sided opinion in which I have nothing to compare to other than other than the other charms I’ve seen and another sample pack mailed to me. I don’t know if any company is better or worse, but I know for sure this isn’t a bad company whatsoever.
Compared to Zap Creative’s sample pack, Chilly Pig Creations was better, print-quality-wise. Chilly Pig’s sample pack also arrived earlier despite being ordered at the same time Zap’s samples were ordered. I’ll note that Zap Creative’s sample pack was massive (including metalic colored and glow-in-the-dark acrylic options), compared to Chilly Pig’s, but since I just wanted to check out the gloss/matte on the clear acrylic, it didn’t bother me.
Extra Pieces: They left a handy image chart in the package that indicated that there were extras for some of the designs. They indicated which design, and how many were added. In the end, I got at least one extra one for each one except for Cerea, which I was one of the two that I ordered most of. I got 8 extra pieces in total. woot woot!
In my opinion, I think the BEST part of Chilly Pig Creations is their customer service.
Highlights of Chilly Pig Creation’s Customer Service:
-I emailed them really late at night a few times, hoping to get a response the day after. Nope, I got a response around MIDNIGHT. LOL, omg, midnight? Damn. Yes. Talk about fast email response. Sometimes it took a few hours, but never over 24 hours. We exchanged emails quite a bit.
-I requested that they check my files a little more carefully because it was my first time making them. Boy…wow…they really checked those files for every possible concern. They found two image issues, and even questioned a few of the cutlines on other ones. These people are pro. I’m so grateful they did that–imagine 15 wasted acrylic charms because you left that tiiiiny dumb little speck of art on the wrong side of the piece 0_0
-They don’t sound like an answering machine–this applies to some printing companies that want to sound more ‘professional’, but have no idea you’re a complete beginner so you have no idea what the heck they are talking about. A good example is when you send your picture files to a printing company, and their response is: “One of the image files you have selected does not fit the requirements for our template. Please fix the bleed area so that it can fit the trim zone to the edge of the page.” It’s like they assume everyone has been doing it for years and they expect you to sift through your pile of files to find that *one* mistake. Chilly Pig’s directions were simple, direct, and no fuss: “please check [file name] on the left leg area. The cut line is a little close–was this intentional, or would you like it to be fixed?” YES. THANK YOU FOR EXPLAINING EVERYTHING IN A WAY I CAN UNDERSTAND.
Regarding shipping, it was 12 days turnaround time (which meant 12 weekdays), and a 2-3 day shipping. Right on time!
Props to anyone in the artist alley community who makes these. They’re tedious yet rewarding, but just like anything else in artist alley, I’m sure you’re just used to the work by now. For a newcomer, I can’t say much, because I’m one too ^_^;
Would I ever want to make acrylic charms in the future?
Not for a long time. Trying to make stuff precise was difficult, and the cost to make them vs. the profit is too small for me to consider at the moment since this is my first time. Don’t get me wrong though, there are many artists out there (like this one) who do a great job making them, but I’m just not one of them. I really wish I could do more with my chibi work though, and I’m sure they would be cute as charms, but the cost to invest in making them outweighs the risk of making them. Well, I am probably making my decision about that too early right now since I haven’t gone to a convention and sold any…
So, experiment is over, and time to try another medium! :D