Casting a challenge coin using a custom 3D mold is one of the best ways to add depth and fidelity to a challenge coin. But designing a 3D challenge coin isn’t as straightforward as swapping colors or changing coin size. From the use of colors to recommended sizing, the extra detail and depth of 3D coins also come with extra considerations for your initial design. 

Here are a few practical tips from AllAboutChallengeCoin’s team of designers to maximize your 3D challenge coins. 

Choose a Subject With Depth

A 3D image can make many designs look better by virtue of highlighting details and depth that’d get flattened out by a standard mold. However, don’t run into the mistake of thinking using a 3D mold will make any design or feature magically pop. Flat images or simple shapes will look about as flat as they did on paper. A 3D mold brings out existing depth and detail in a coin, subjects with a lot of visual texture will get the most out of 3D. 

For designs based on a photograph, subjects with a lot of texture such as buildings, animals, faces or anything with metalwork on it will come out looking great when featured on a 3D coin. In the example above, designed to honor Operation Okra, an F/A – 18 Hornet was a great subject for a 3D design because of the jet’s curved features and angled parts. That kind of curved and realistic detail really pops out in 3D. Conversely, using a 3D mold on a simple smiley face would just give you a slightly curved smiley face.

If you’re working with a drawing or artwork, just make sure the design itself has a lot of dimension and detail on it that can be raised and brought out in 3D.

Plate in Antique

Unless you’re using a translucent paint or other color feature to create contrast in your challenge coin, you’ll want to go with antique plating on a 3D challenge coin. With high polish plating, the rounded edges and curved areas of a 3D coin reflect light that can obscure details by shining over recessed areas on a coin. 

Antiquing a coin creates naturally darker areas in the recesses of your coin that make the raised surfaces of your design look clearer and helps bring out that textured detail from your artwork. On a purely aesthetic angle, most of our own designers recommend going for antique plating as the best option for most designs. Of course, that doesn’t mean high-polish designs can’t work, you’ll just need a design with flatter surfaces to make it work. If you’re not sure if antique or high-polish is best for your design, don’t be afraid to check in with one of our designers at AllAboutChallengeCoins.

Limit Color Use

If you’re using a 3D mold for your custom coin design, you’re going to need to make a few sacrifices with colors. AllAboutChallengeCoins uses an enamel color fill to individually add colors to the recessed areas of the challenge coin. However, with 3D challenge coins, it’s not possible to fill in color details like your traditional challenge coins because the sloped and curved recesses in 3D detail can’t hold paint. 

This doesn’t mean you can’t use colors on 3D challenge coins. It comes down to how you want to use color around the 3D details on your challenge coin. Most popularly, we’ve color-filled along the edge of 3D coins to frame the 3D details or added color to specific details on a 3D design that we can recess to hold the paint. If you really want to add color to details on a 3D design, ask for translucent paint! Translucent paint can be glazed over details as a wash to tint specific details in your desired colors.

Contrast With Dual Plating

One of the most effective ways to create visual contrast in a 3D coin design is to use dual plating on your challenge coin. We cannot oversell how combining two different plating options can create a really defining visual pop on coin design. Dual plating gives more options for customizing the look of a coin and also grants you the best of both worlds when using the different features of our plating options. Worried that matte plating will look too dull?

Add a high-polish plating to your coin to add a gleaming feature that will stand out. We’d recommend you avoid combining plating options from the same metal or you’ll the two options or going to end up mostly blending together.

Go Big With 3D

We mean this literally. A 3D challenge coin will define and mold out the details of your custom design. However, those details only look as big as the surface they are molded on and when 1.75” is the average size of a coin, that’s not a lot of space to showcase a ton of detail. Typically, the more detailed and textured the initial design, the bigger you should size a 3D challenge coin to make sure you can see all of that visible texture and detail. Of course, if your design has very large details, then you can get away with a smaller coin. Every design is going vary depending on any other customizations you might add but going bigger will almost always help make your detail look better.

As with any creative medium, designing a challenge coin comes down to knowing what you can accomplish with the materials and techniques on hand. But, AllAboutChallengeCoins has a ton of experience working with nearly every technique and style you could want on a custom challenge coin. While 3D challenge coins might take a few extra preparations, with our help you’ll be on your way to creating a uniquely sculpted coin that’ll be your next community favorite.

Still, need help? Check out some our other articles for designing and customizing your custom challenge coin: