What Are Challenge Coins Made Of?

October 16, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • A challenge coin is made of three main parts, the parent metal, metal plating, and paint.
  • Challenge coins are most often made from gold, silver, bronze, copper, and nickel.
  • There are lots of different metal plating options to choose from for your challenge coin.
  • A challenge coin can be colored with hard or soft enamel paint.
  • With so many options, it is easy to design your own custom challenge coins.

Challenge coins are incredibly popular both in and outside of the military, but if you receive a challenge coin, you’ll probably wonder what it's made of.

So what are challenge coins typically made of? Challenge coins like all coins can be made out of a variety of different metals including gold, silver, copper, nickel, and bronze. Challenge coins are also plated with a variety of different metals and often contain hard or soft enamel paint.

Coins have been made out of a variety of different metals throughout history so there have always been plenty of options to choose from when deciding what metal you want to use when designing a custom challenge coin. However, if you are new to the world of challenge coins and are interested in designing your own coins, it will be useful to know what your options are. So how are challenge coins made, what materials are they made out of and what are the differences between them?

Table of Contents

What Are Challenge Coins Made Out Of?

The great thing about custom challenge coins is that they are completely customizable, so there are a variety of different materials you can choose to have your challenge coins made out of. However, before getting into the details of what materials are used, it will help to understand a bit about the coin design and challenge coin minting process.

So then, how are challenge coins made? First, custom coin molds will need to be made in order to mint the challenge coin. Once the coin molds are made, a base or parent metal must be chosen and poured into the mold in order to make the body of the coin.

Once you have your parent metal, you can choose a metal plating option, which will most likely be a different metal meant to protect the parent metal in addition to giving your challenge coin your desired look.

The other step of the process involves adding color to the challenge coins using soft or hard enamel paint. Depending on the type of enamel used this step will either occur before or after the metal plating step.

The most important thing to take away from this is that a challenge coin is made out of a base metal, a plating metal, and enamel paint, all of which can be picked and chosen from a variety of popular metals.

What Are The Most Common Metals Used To Make Custom Challenge Coins?

The first material you need to choose when making a specially designed coin is the base or parent metal. This is the metal that will make up the majority of the coin so it is a very important step in the coin design process. There are a variety of different metal options to choose from when designing your challenge coins, all with varying weights, looks, and values.

Some of the most common metals used in custom challenge coins are gold, silver, copper, nickel, and bronze but if you look around long enough, you’ll be able to find challenge coins made from other more common metals too.

Ultimately, the type of metal that you choose to make your challenge coin out of is a matter of personal preference, so no matter how much or how little you are willing to spend, you’ll be able to find the perfect metal to achieve the look and feel that you want for your challenge coin.


Gold has been one of the most common metals used in coins throughout all of history so it’s no surprise that it is also incredibly common for making custom challenge coins. It looks great and feels fancy and valuable making it a great choice for any custom coin.

However, challenge coins that are made from this metal will be much more expensive than custom coins made from cheaper and more common metals.


Silver is another incredibly popular choice for people designing their own challenge coins. It’s another metal that has been used to make coins for centuries and though it is less valuable than gold, many challenge coin designers prefer the look of silver.

Price-wise, silver is a great middle ground if you want to make sure that your challenge coins are still made of a valuable precious metal without spending nearly as much as you would on a gold challenge coin.


Bronze is another popular choice for people designing their own custom challenge coins. While again, not quite as valuable as the first two metals, bronze challenge coins still give you the look and feel of a precious metal without needing to pay the higher price for more expensive metal coins.

It's said the first modern challenge coin, made by a wealthy lieutenant during World War I for pilots in the United States Air Force, was made of solid bronze, so if you want to go the historical route, using bronze for your challenge coin is the way to go with your coin design.


While precious metals are nice and many people choose them when ordering custom challenge coins, there’s no rule that says you need to use one. In fact, copper is a great option when it comes to making custom challenge coins.

Copper is much lighter than most of the other metals, with the exception of bronze, making copper a good middle ground when it comes to the weight of your challenge coins. Copper also has its own unique look and color making it a favorite for those looking for a different color for their challenge coin.


Nickel is also a great budget option when designing your own custom coins and nickel, along with copper is commonly used in US coins like dimes and quarters. Nickel is great if you want your challenge coin to have that silver look without the silver price.

Other Common Metals

While the above-stated metals are some of the most common metals used to make challenge coins, you can find challenge coins made out of lots of other metals too. It’s not uncommon to see challenge coins that are made out of metals like iron, brass, pewter, and zinc alloy as well, so the perfect metal is out there for you, no matter what look you want for your challenge coin.

What Metals Are Challenge Coins Plated With?

Just like with the body of the coin, there are tons of different plating options to choose from when making your custom design. Again, the type of metal plating that you choose is completely up to your personal preferences and how much you want to spend.

After all, though challenge coin plating is a great way to protect the parent metal from corrosion and other damage when it comes to challenge coins, its primary purpose is to enhance the appearance of the challenge coin.

There are tons of options to choose from including gold, antique gold, silver, antique silver, black nickel, bronze, antique bronze, copper, and antique copper, all of which can give your challenge coin a unique look and feel.

What Is Used To Color A Custom Challenge Coin?

Custom challenge coins often include a variety of different colors on top of whatever metal is used to make and plate the coin. These colors are painted with either soft enamel or hard enamel paint.

Soft enamel coins are by far the most common types of challenge coin, with most coins made for military units in the armed forces being these types of coins.

Hard enamel coins are less common but hard enamel is the preferred choice for the badges of law enforcement personnel and fire departments.

There are two big differences between soft enamel coins and hard enamel coins, the first of which is when the coin plating process happens. For soft enamel, coin plating happens first, but for a hard enamel coin, the plating process happens after the challenge coin has been colored.

However, the biggest and most important difference between soft enamel and hard enamel coins is their appearance. For example, with soft enamel challenge coins, the paint fills in the space between the raised areas of the coin.

Because of this, these challenge coins have a more layered look to them. They’ll also feel different from hard enamel challenge coins as if you run your finger across the top of a soft enamel challenge coin, you’ll be able to feel the raised metal rising above the enamel paint.

Hard enamel challenge coins on the other hand have a smoother feel. This is because, during the polishing process, the excess paint and raised metal is essentially sanded down so that the face of the challenge coin is completely smooth.

Again, the type of paint you use on your custom challenge coin is completely a matter of personal preference. If you want a smoother coin, hard enamel is the way to go, but if you want your custom coins to have a more layered feel, soft enamel is the right choice for you.

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