factory recommendations

Open source manufacturing research for artists

Hi, I’m Kiwi! Welcome to my research compilation! (which I’m very proud of!)
I run a studio called IllustCafe where we make art and merchandise. We spent a ton of time and resources on this project so we could stop getting ripped off on Alibaba. Hope it can help you too.

I’ve personally quality-tested these factories and can vouch for their quality and prices. The more clients we refer, the better relationship we have with the factory. (pls help me get those sweet deals 👀)
IllustCafe Studio does not take any cut from business referred to these factories.

If you find my research helpful, please consider supporting my studio by ordering our merch or commissioning us ^^


Why we don't use Alibaba

1. Art theft is common on Alibaba. Custom merch designs may be stolen, or sold without permission by your Alibaba manufacturers. Sometimes, factories do it accidentally even if they don't intend to, due to their poor organization.

2. Many Chinese sellers overcharge for shipping and pocket the overages. It's too easy to rip off foreign clients as it's impossible for foreigners to verify freight costs. After verifying shipping costs with our Chinese dispatch centers, I found that my Alibaba sellers were charging as much as TRIPLE the actual shipping cost. If your manufacturer quotes you a shipping price before production is finished, you can be certain that they are overcharging you on shipping.

3. Many Alibaba sellers are middlemen. (not the actual factory) Like drop-shippers, they are fantastic at marketing, but their products come with an added price. A prime example of this is Vograce.

4. Alibaba fees means sellers charge more to make back fees.

5. Alibaba sellers literally stole my pins and charms????? Some factories even got a hold of my actual art files, so I suspect my old Alibaba factory sold off my designs :( Once the art is leaked, its almost imposible to stop...


IllustCafe’s recommended factories

1. These factories are under contract to never use artwork for any purposes without the client’s permission. This applies for IllustCafe studio’s referred clients.

2. Shipping fees are charged after production. Items can be weighed to accurately calculate the shipping cost. You will not be overcharged for shipping/handling.

3. To save on shipping costs, my studio arranges these factories to dispatch from the same shipping warehouse, so you can request product from multiple factories to be shipped together. (ex. if you order acrylic charms + pins + stickers, and they finish at the same time, they can be shipped together)

None of these factories have english websites but I wrote detailed reviews here:

All things acrylic. Charms, stands, pins, shaker, candy bag, etc.

Metal products. Enamel pins, metal charms, etc.

All kinds of adhesives. Washi, vinyl, memo, holographic, gold foil, etc

I will add more factories if I find more good ones. Follow ToasterKiwi for updates.

Acrylic factory

This page is best viewed on computer or tablet. (phone too small)

This is my favourite material: single board acrylic with double sided glitter epoxy.

PRODUCTS
Charmspinscandy bagsshaker charmsliquid shaker charmsstandeesacrylic clocksclipboardspuzzlespencil cupsclocksbasically, anything made out of acrylic.
MATERIALS
They literally have everything. all kinds of keychain attachments, Holographic film, glitters, epoxy, tinted, gold foil, rainbow holo, backing cards, etc.
They can go shopping for materials if you request something they don't have.

Pricing
The best price - quality ratio I've ever encountered. Compared to other popular companies, this factory’s price can get as low as 50% of Vograce’s pricing, and 65% of Zap creatives, while being significantly higher quality than both. Please contact them for a price quote.

Turnaround time
7-20 business days depending on quantity and complexity

Minimum order quantity
30 pcs per design.
Quantities under 30pcs per design will come with an additional convenience fee.

Other notes
Their prices drop drastically for orders of over 1000+ total pcs.known to give discounted pricing for repeat clientsThey accept USD via PayPal. If you can pay in RMB via wechat, they can give small discount as it cuts out conversion fees.Epoxy (especially double-sided epoxy) is a difficult process. It will take longer than non-epoxy orders. Results are dependent on humidity and weather conditions. Epoxy application is done by hand, and therefore may have some pieces with slight imperfections.

Quality Review

Comparisons between popular factories. I've ordered thousands of pieces from EACH of these 4 factories throughout the years. Reviews are based on long-term experience and thousands of acrylic samples.

---★ IllustCafe's Recommended FactoryVograceQueenKnZap Creatives
Price - quality ratioThe cheapest company I've ever used. Good quality.High prices, low quality. (due to being middleman)Good quality. Slightly cheaper than Vograce.One of the most expensive acrylic companies, but quality is good.
ShippingWeighs the completed product to get the exact shipping cost.Charges shipping upfront. Overcharge a little to get extra profits.Overcharge A LOT on shipping (up to 3x actual price)They give free shipping! Or pay for fast shipping.
Product varietyGood variety (see above)HUGE variety. They are a middleman, so they can resell products from other factories. (like stickers, lanyards, etc) But quality is questionable.They can only make certain types of charms and stands.Very limited variety. They can only make certain types of charms and stands at specific sizes.
PrintingUses triple-layer Printing method.(richer colors and higher contrast) This method is time consuming and expensive, so most other companies don’t do this. High print DPI, accurate white ink alignment. (Allows for very thin details)The worst printing I've ever seen. Not much contrast. Colors look faded, and unsaturated. White ink alignment is not accurate, resulting in fuzzy edges.Very pretty colors, but low DPI and bad color alignment. (grainy tecture). Even worse white ink alignment than Vograce. (fuzzy edges) They have the prettiest bright yellow/orange colors out of all 4 factories.Good vibrant colors and high contrast, but low DPI and bad color alignment. (grainy tecture) They can't sandwich the print between 2 sheets of acrylic, so it's easy for the print to get scratched off.
Cut linePrints closer to cut edge, so the printed area looks bigger, even though it is the same size.Pretty standard. Large border around printed artwork.Can cut VERY close to the printed design. Thin border = printed art looks biggerCan cut VERY close to the printed design. Thin border = printed art looks bigger
Epoxy finishResistant to yellowing. Glitter is noticeably more reflective. (New subtle ultra-thin glitter)This is the worst part about vograce. Their epoxy easily yellows. Glitter looks like black sand, only shining in certain anglesEpoxy pretty good, pretty super-fine glitter. The epoxy is higher quality than vograce. (Resistant to yellowing)No epoxy.
Other notes:Written above.Popular due to their heavy marketing. Exclusively sells to foreign clients. (foreigners are less likely to haggle and more likely to accept high prices) They have an exclusive club for their favorite clients where they charge cheaper prices. Prices can vary depending on which rep/middleman you work with. They never sell off your art! (not sure about their affiliated factories though)They are middlemen. (middlemen fee) Can not make gold foil. I actually LOVE their quality, but they sold off my art to other acrylic companies so I'm never using them again =_=Their file requirements are super strict. They don't quality check big orders, so the larger your order, the more likely for defects. (they said they don't have time to check big orders) Extremely limited material/size options.

White ink alignment
QueenKn's white ink printing is inaccurate, resulting in the inability to print thin details.

Glitter quality
←Left Vograce.
→Right Illustcafe's recommended

Vograce's glitter looks like black sand on lighter colors. You can also see Vograce colors are faded and dull.

Print quality
← Left Illustcafe's recommended
→ Right Vograce.

Vograce' colors are faded. The two charms are the same size, but left appears bigger because thin borders = bigger printed area

Print quality
← Left Illustcafe's recommended
→ Right QueenKn.

QueenKn makes all colors look lighter. Light colors especially look very faded. (light blue hair) Black colors get turned into pastel tones. (black hat)


Contact IllustCafe's recommended factory

Fill out a form to send a message to the factory. (They'll see it's a referral from IllustCafe) Their English is not as good, pls speak as simply as possible. (Chinese is better if you can speak it)
Pls include as much info as possible. (ex. size, quantity, material, acrylic thickness, attachments, etc)

Metal factory

PRODUCTS
Metal enamel pins, metal charms, etc.

Pricing
Unit price: lower than average.
Mold fees: average
(Enamel pin factories have VASTLY different quality-price ratios. It's hard to judge pricing due to quality variation)

Turnaround time
10-30 business days depending on quantity and complexity

Minimum order quantity
50 pcs per design.
I recommend ordering at least 200, because quantities under 200pcs per design will have an additional small fee.
Prices drop drastically at 500 pcs per design, which qualifies for machine enamel filling. (not human labor)

Color enamel
The factory can interpret your design's colors, but it's best to choose your own pantone color codes. Pantone color codes

Other notes
For hard enamel, each color needs to be mixed and cured, so more colors = more expensive.Shipping is calculated after weighing completed product. This way, you will not be overcharged on shipping.Chinese factory. No Alibaba or english website. Only way to order is to personally visit their factory or email/wechat.They accept USD via PayPal. If you can pay in RMB via wechat, they can give small discount as it cuts out conversion fees.

Quality Review

Metal badges have complex processes so quality varies drastically across different factories.
Enamels are hand-filled, 100% perfection rate is impossible due to human error. Usually factories have an imperfection rate of 10-30% depending on the factory’s pricing and quality standards.

Illustcafe’s recommended factory has an imperfection rate of ~15%

85% good
No visible imperfections.
Pretty much perfect.

10% imperfect
Subtle imperfections visible upon careful inspection.

Pictured: scratch that is visible when light is shined at certain angles. A customer might not notice, but I noticed upon close inspection.

5% defective
Clearly visible imperfections.

Pictured: enamel discoloration that can not be wiped off. Visible at all light angles. I would not sell this pin at full price.

If you have strict quality standards, you can request the factory to produce extra quantities to counterbalance imperfections for an extra cost. (Ex. If you order 100pcs, the factory will produce 115pcs and pick out the best 100pcs for you)

Imperfections due to design:

Big yellow area = bigger imperfection rate

Designs with big single-color areas have a higher chance of enamel imperfections. It is difficult to evenly fill a big area of enamel.

Yellow area is broken up by other colors/metal. No big single-color areas = smaller imperfection rate.
Smaller-sized pins also have less chance of having imperfections!

Big metal area = bigger imperfection rate.

Designs with large metal areas have a higher chance of plating imperfections and scratches.

Small metal area = smaller imperfection rate for plating

Kiwi's spring mechanism

This spring mechanism is a custom manufacturing process I designed in collaboration with the factory. This design ONLY exists at this factory. Please do not try to replicate it with another factory. I do not consent to copies.

I allow artists to make pins using my spring design at my factory.

Please keep in mind:
The spring mechanism is more expensive than regular pins. Expect a unit price of a few dollars per pin.Minimum order quantity is 100 pcs per design (I recommend 200+pcs for better price)Spring attachment needs a flat area minimum 1.5 x 1.5 cm (they said my Pikachu's tail area is too narrow, and it was too difficult to attach, but Eevee's size was perfect.)


Contact the factory

Fill out a form to send a message to the factory. (They'll see it's a referral from IllustCafe) Their English is not as good, pls speak as simply as possible. (Chinese is better if you can speak it)
Factory needs to see design and quantity to give price quote.

Sticker Printing

Professional printing factory. I don't recommend them for beginners because of their high MOQ.

PRODUCTS
TONS of material and finishing options like clear, glitter, holographic, gold foil, embossed, UV gloss, thickness variations, etc.
Western sticker companies usually offer specific types of stickers/materials. Unlike western companies, they have a huge material selection, and can go shopping for materials if you request something they don't have.

Pricing
Pricing: ~30-50% cheaper than sticker mule/stickerapp.

Turnaround time
5-15 business days

Minimum order quantity
Min 200 pcs per design, min order 500pcs total.
Prices are best at 500+ pcs per design.

Other notes
You can get their large format machines for quantities of 1000pcs per design. The colors on this equipment is really beautiful!They accept USD via PayPal. If you can pay in RMB via wechat, they can give small discount as it cuts out conversion fees.


Contact the factory

Fill out a form to send a message to the factory. (They'll see it's a referral from Kiwi) Their English is not as good, pls speak as simply as possible. (Chinese is better if you can speak it)
Pls include as much info as possible. (ex. size, quantity, material, thickness, kiss-cut/die-cut, etc)