What’s the difference between 2D or 3D coins? When should you order a 2D coin versus a 3D coin? The topic isn’t exactly common knowledge, we know and that’s why this week’s Challenge Coins 101 will explain the differences and get you up to speed on the best designs for each.

The Differences Between 2D and 3D Coins

The big difference between 2D and 3D coins comes down to the number of raised and recessed levels on a coin’s surface. A 2D coin only has two levels, one raised level over a lower recessed level, which means most coin designs will look like flat images. Meanwhile, 3D coins have infinite levels of raised and recessed detail, allowing for sculpted images and rounded edges with more realistic depth on a coin’s metallic surface. If that sounds confusing, there are a few simple ways to quickly differentiate between the two. Rounded surfaces on a design or slopping shapes on the coin? A 3D coin? Sits flat when stacked? A 2D coin.

When is it best to order a coin in 2D?

When it comes to 2D coins, you can’t create as much detail or depth as you could with 3D coins but they are suited for adding unique customizations that can be essential to your design including:

  • Adding Color to Challenge Coins: One of the biggest features of 2D coins is the ability to easily add color to a design. While it’s not impossible to add color to a 3D coin, the results are often very subtle and require much more precise planning that doesn’t always create the best result. Meanwhile, the recessed areas on 2D coins are perfect for filling in color with enamel paint for designs like flags or designs by organizations with iconic colors like red for firefighters or blue for police officers.
  • Smaller Coin Sizes: Visual elements and details remain distinct on a 2D coin even when going for lighter and smaller coin sizes. On 3D coin designs with tons of complicated details, we’ve noticed smaller details become lost or hard to distinguish when attempted on a smaller design.
  • High Polish Plating: High-polish coin plating is very popular with our customers and it looks best on simple 2D coins where reflected light won’t hide details or busy up the design. On a 3D design, the sloping and curved angles can cause light to gleam over details.

What type of designs looks best with 2D coins?

While any design can be made in 2D or 3D, there are a few design concepts or objects that we recommend ordering as a 2D challenge coin instead of 3D, including:

  • Simple Illustrated Art or Mascots: Illustrations, whether they’re penciled, inked or painted, look best when they’re 2D coin designs to keep the clear line detail and stylized nature of illustrations. Things like cartoon mascots, drawn characters or other illustrated concepts tend to have most of their details and depth already as 2D concepts. 
  • Colored Flags and Emblems: As mentioned, adding color is one of 2D’s biggest advantages and if you want your organization or group’s emblems in full-color, then 2D is the way to go. 
  • Text-heavy designs: Written words, slogans or phrases are 2D by nature and lack clear depth or detail that will good advantage of a 3D mold. 
  • Simple Color Logos: Here’s a good rule to follow, the simpler the logo, the better it’ll look on a 2D design. Memorable logos like McDonalds “M” or the shape of Mickey Mouse’s head, use bright colors or definite shapes to draw attention and they look great as 2D designs since they’re inherently simple and instantly recognizable.

When is it best to order a coin in 3D?

For 3D coins, you can create designs with more depth and layered texture, such as statues, mascots, buildings or emblems. Overall, 3D coins look best in realistic designs or images with both depth or texture and are especially suited for customizations such as: 

  • Cut-to-shape Challenge Coins: Cut-to-shape coins are challenge coins in any shape or size a client might want whether that be a square, a symbol, or any other design. While both 2D and 3D coins can be cut-to-shape, 3D coins can take advantage of the new shape ton mold new details on a coin.
  • Antique Coin Plating: Because 3D coins have so much sculpted depth and sculpted edges, antique plating looks especially good as a way to bring out highlighted details and create visual depth in the recesses of a design. 
  • Larger Coin Sizes: Big coins give more room to highlight finer details and take the best visual advantage of a 3D design’s sculpted elements and rounded parts.

What type of designs looks best with 3D coins?

A good rule of thumb to follow with 3D coin designs is to always start with a photograph. Any design based on a photo of an actual object, vehicle, building, person, animal or view automatically has loads of physical elements and visuals best reproduced in 3D for a realistic effect.

Here are a few design concepts we think look best for 3D coins:

  • Buildings and Structures: If you want a coin based on a real-life building or vehicle, then 3D coins are your best shot for capturing the textured details. Stone or brickwork especially have a lot of carved or textured elements that look best in 3D.
  • Photorealistic or Highly-Detailed Art: Art designs leaning towards photorealism or fine detail with lots of shading can take advantage of the extra depth and visual composition.
  • Realistic Objects: Objects in real life have natural curves and physical irregularities like rounded edges or curved recesses you can only recreate with a 3D mold. For example, elements like ruffled fur, rounded columns or curved metal plates can only have their unique visual textures showcased in 3D.
  • Complex Logos or Emblems: Highly-detailed or complex symbols or organizational icons look good on 2D coins but they look great on sculpted 3D coins. With 3D, you can bring out the natural detail work and visuals of a complex emblem or coat-of-arms, especially if it involves an animal or mascot shape with carved or sculpted elements.

When to order 2D vs 3D challenge coins?

Choosing between a 2D or 3D coin isn’t as cut and dry as saying one type is inherently better than the other. Like many options, it often depends on your intended design and the other unique customizations you might want on a coin but a good rule of thumb to follow is that the more detailed or realistic a design, then the better it will likely look in 3D. Whereas, simpler designs with defined shapes or colorful details will want to look to be represented on a 2D coin.

However, the choice isn’t black and white. One happy compromise many clients chose is getting both 2d and 3D on a single coin design with 2D on one side and 3D on the other. This allows you to keep any essential colors or organizational text while also taking advantage of the additional detail and texture of a 3D coin. Depending on your design, you could even split a coin into 2D and 3D sections to get the best of both worlds on a single design.

At All About Challenge Coins, we offer high-quality challenge coins in both 2D and 3D and we love working individually with each client to ensure that each product is exactly how they want it. No matter which type of coin you want, we’ve got the tools and expertise to offer the highest-quality products for your custom challenge coins.

Ready to get started? Just ask for a free quote and send us your designs so we can help you discover whether 2D or 3D will work best for you.