The Unique Process Of Making Challenge Coins

October 16, 2023

Key Takeaways

  • Custom challenge coins are available to everyone on PinProsPlus.
  • Challenge coins originated to show membership in a military unit or other organizations.
  • Custom challenge coin designs are made from dyed and stamped onto coin blanks.
  • Coins are made from common metals plated with gold, silver, or other precious metals.
  • Challenge coins are perfect for recognizing achievements or remembering events.

Challenge coins have become more popular over the past several years. Many organizations hand them out for events and as mementos, among other reasons.

Challenge coins are made by creating a custom design, then transferring this design to a metal die to cast the coin. Next, the design is stamped on the metal die, making a raised image and text. Then the coins are plated, colorized (if needed), and polished.

Challenge coins are a great way to remember an event or celebrate a victory. They are also great souvenirs and are sure to stand the test of time. As a company specializing in creating memorable coins and pins, we know these make an excellent addition to any collection. Keep reading to learn more about the unique process of making challenge coins and tips for creating the perfect design for a challenge coin project.

Table of Contents

What are Challenge Coins, and What are They For?

Challenge coins are small metal tokens commonly used to commemorate a particular event or symbolize membership in a specific group or organization. The tradition of carrying them dates back to the First World War. American soldiers would carry challenge coins to prove they were unit members.

One story goes that a wealthy American officer had medallions made for his unit and gave them to his soldiers as a symbol of brotherhood. According to the story, one soldier was captured and taken prisoner but escaped and returned to American lines.

However, he was challenged by a guard who did not believe he was a member of the American military. The soldier pulled out his medallion, and the guard recognized the unit logo, allowing him to pass.

Today, members of military units, law enforcement agencies, and other organizations often carry challenge coins to prove they belong to the agency. They have become popular as collectible items and to commemorate special events and milestones.

Can Anyone Make a Challenge Coin?

We specialize in custom coins for individuals, organizations, and businesses.

All you need is an idea for a design and the willingness to invest in the production process.

Then, with our help, you can create a unique, custom challenge coin you will be happy to award someone or keep for yourself.

How Long Does it Take To Make a Challenge Coin?

Challenge coins will typically be shipped out in 15 days or less. Of course, if for some reason we cannot get them to you in this timeframe, we will work with you to ensure the coins arrive in time for when you need them.

But as always, plan ahead and submit your order as soon as possible for the best experience!

Do I Need to Order Hundreds of Challenge Coins to Place an Order?

No, we typically produce batches starting at 50 coins, but we are happy to work with you no matter how many custom challenge coins you need. Of course, the more you need, the less each coin will cost to produce. These savings are passed on to you.

For example, if you need 100 size two coins, we sell them for a base price of $5.17. But if you order 1000 of the same coin, they will cost $3.76.

Suppose you are still determining what you need or how many to order, no problem. Our team is here to help and will send you a free quote.

What are Most Challenge Coins Made Of?

The most common metals in challenge coin production are brass, pewter, zinc, and iron. Sometimes an alloy of these metals is used depending on the requirements. Most modern coins are not made from precious metals but are plated with them.

We offer plating in gold, antique gold, silver, antique silver, black nickel, bronze, antique bronze, copper, and antique copper.

How are Challenge Coins Made?

Like other coins, making challenge coins requires a lot of heat and metal. The challenge coin minting process beings with the design and ends with a beautiful coin you will love to own and show off.

Designing Custom Challenge Coins

Perhaps the most important step is the first, the design. The challenge coin’s design should reflect the coin's meaning while being easy to understand. Here are some tips for designing the perfect challenge coin:

  • Keep the design simple: Challenge coins are small, so keep the design simple and easy to read. Stick to key elements, such as a logo, emblem, or text, and avoid adding too much to the design.
  • Consider the size: Challenge coins are typically between 1.25 to 3 inches in diameter, so make sure the design elements are proportionate and easy to see. When drawing the design, do it to scale; this avoids any issues concerning sizing.
  • Choose meaningful symbols: If designing a challenge coin for a specific organization, consider using meaningful symbols for the group. This could be an emblem, flag, crest, or other custom artwork.
  • Use contrasting colors: Using contrasting colors can make the design elements on your custom coin stand out and be easily readable.
  • Sketch out more than one design: Until you have verified the design you choose will fit and look good on the challenge coin, don’t get upset if you have to make adjustments. For example, sometimes the design will look good on paper or a screen but not be ideal for stamping on a coin.
  • Make it unique: Your challenge coin should be unique to your organization, so choose a design that reflects your group's mission, values, or history.
  • Consult with a professional: If you need help, consider consulting with one of our designers free of charge. We can help you create a design that meets your needs, and we have years of experience designing the perfect challenge coin for our customers.

Making the Mold

Now that the challenge coin design has been finalized, the mold or die is created with the help of CAD or Computer-Aided Design software.

Next, the image is loaded into the CAD software, which makes a blueprint that can be read by the CNC (Computerized Numerical Control) machine.

This machine reads this blueprint to mill an inverse image of the coin's design into a steel die.  This is done for both sides of the coin.

Once the die has been finished, it is tested to ensure the images transfer to the blank properly. Then, the die is tempered to ensure that it is strong enough to endure the stamping process.

Die Striking

It is time to stamp the image onto the blank coin using the dies. This process not only imprints an image onto the coin but also adds the raised design elements. This gives the blank the depth and dimension it needs to transform into a beautiful challenge coin.

The blank is positioned properly and pressed with tremendous pressure between the two dies, ensuring the image transfers evenly and deep enough.

The striking is done several times to make sure the design looks correct and to guarantee the proper depth of the image.

Edging Options

A cool feature of challenge coins is the custom coin edge that you can add for additional uniqueness. The edge is either part of the die or is added after based on the intricacy of the design.

Some popular edges are Oblique Line, Bevel Cut, Diamond Cross Cut, and Spur Cut. Each has a different look and feel and can complete the design beautifully.

Polishing and Deburring the Coin

After completing all the cutting and stamping, the coin goes through a polishing and deburring process. First, the edges of the coin are deburred to remove any sharp edges created during the die-striking process.

Deburring ensures that the edges of the coin are smooth and safe to handle, as these edges can be extremely sharp and dangerous.

Next up is polishing. Polishing the coin can be done with buffing wheels and compounds to remove any surface imperfections and give the coin a shiny finish. The type of polishing compound used will depend on the metal used for the coin and the finish you need.

For example, a rouge polishing compound is commonly used to polish brass and other yellow metals, while a white diamond compound is used to polish stainless steel and other white metals.

Polishing can also be done by tumbling the coins in a barrel with abrasive media. This method can be used for bulk orders and is a more efficient way to polish large quantities of coins.

Regardless of the method used, polishing helps protect the coin from tarnishing and other forms of corrosion, which can damage the surface over time.

Plating with Another Metal

Plating a custom challenge coin is a big part of the coin design process. The coin cannot be made entirely of a precious metal like gold due to the cost of the metal.

Instead, the coin is made from more common metals like zinc and iron and a tin layer of silver, gold, nickel, bronze, or copper as applied after.

These coin plating options provide a unique look and feel; the type of metal used will depend on the desired appearance and budget for the coin.

The process is typically done via electroplating. The process starts by immersing the coin in a solution containing metal ions that will be used for plating. The coin serves as the cathode, and a piece of metal that serves as the anode is also immersed into the solution.

An electrical current is then applied, causing the metal ions in the solution to be attracted to the coin's surface. The metal ions bond to the coin's surface, forming a thin layer of metal covering the entire coin.

Why Plating is Important

Some people may see the challenge coin plating process as an unnecessary step. However, there are several reasons why you should not skip it.

  • Aesthetics: Plating a coin with precious metal, such as gold or silver, gives the coin a more premium look and feel, making it a valuable collectible item or symbol of recognition.
  • Durability: Plating acts as a protective layer for the coin, shielding it from damage caused by everyday wear and tear. This helps preserve the coin's appearance over time and keeps it looking new.
  • Protection: Plating helps protect the coin from tarnishing and other forms of corrosion, which can damage the coin's surface over time.
  • Cost-effectiveness: As mentioned before, plating a challenge coin with a thin layer of metal is significantly less expensive than using a precious metal for the entire coin. This makes plating cost-effective to achieve a premium look and feel without losing quality.
  • Versatility: Various plating options are available, each with its unique look and feel. This allows for greater flexibility in the design process, as you can choose the type of plating that best fits your design and budget.

Can a Coin be Dual Plated?

Absolutely! Dual plating allows for the creation of challenge coins with two different metal finishes, adding depth and visual interest to the design.

For example, a challenge coin can be dual-plated with a brass base and a silver outer layer, giving it a unique look that combines the warm tones of brass with the shine of silver.

Texturing the Metal

One optional step is the texturing of the metal. Not all coins are made perfectly smooth and glossy. Look at the change in your pocket. Some coins have multiple textures to make specific elements pop from the rest of the design.

Depending on the required finish, these are done at different stages of the challenge coin production process.

  • Satin: A satin finish gives the challenge coin a matte, non-reflective appearance, making it look sleek and modern. This finish is achieved using a low-polish process that leaves the coin's surface smooth and uniform.
  • Antique: An antique finish gives the coin a vintage, aged look that gives it character and distinction. This finish is created by applying a dark patina to the surface of the coin, which makes a unique and timeless appearance.
  • Sandblasted: A sandblasted finish gives the coin a rough and textured appearance, making it look rugged and durable. This finish is achieved by blasting the coin's surface with sand or other abrasive materials, creating a unique and distinctive look.

Coloring the Coin

A cool addition to any challenge coin is adding color. While not required, it can add depth to the images and provide a unique look to an otherwise bland metal coin. This can be done in a few different ways: desired look, metal, and image depth.

  • Hard Enamel: This is a process where a layer of enamel paint is applied to the coin's surface and then baked to harden it. The result is a smooth, durable, and vibrant color that will not fade or peel over time.
  • Soft Enamel: This is where the enamel paint is applied to the recessed areas of the coin, giving it a textured feel. The enamel is then baked to harden it, creating a durable and vibrant color.
  • Pad Printing: This is a printing process where ink is transferred from a silicone pad to the coin's surface. The ink is then baked onto the coin, making a permanent color finish.

Laser Engraving

Another step, if the design calls for it, is the laser engraving process. Lasers are used to etch an intricate design onto the challenge coin that may not have transferred over during stamping. It is typically used for adding text and other fine details.

Lasers can also add custom text to the edges of the coin, enhancing the custom challenge coin’s look. This step is typically done after plating, as the lasers do not damage the added metal.

Finishing the Challenge Coin

With the other steps complete, it is time to finish the coin. We thoroughly check the coin to ensure the image is clear, the edges are smooth or cut to the requested design, and the color is bright.

Once the inspection is complete, we add a layer to protect the coin further. This is not mandatory, as the coating will cover some textures added to the coin.


An epoxy coating is a clear, protective layer applied to the coin's surface. This coating protects the coin from scratches, fading, and other damage and gives it a high-gloss appearance.

Clear Resin

A clear resin coating is another protective layer we can apply to challenge coins. This coating gives the challenge coin a glossy and smooth appearance while protecting it from scratches and other damage.

High-Gloss Lacquer

A high-gloss lacquer coating gives the custom challenge coin a shiny and reflective appearance while protecting it from damage.

Finally, the coin is packaged and ready to ship to you. Again, quality control is vital, and we do not send any coins that do not meet our standards.

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