How It's Made

How Are Keychains Made?

It takes a crazy amount of work to make even the smallest items. Take for instance keychains, the world’s number one souvenir item. Whether they’re made from metal, plastic, or any other material, it takes time, machines, and elbow grease to get them ready for your keyring.

How are keychains made? Why do we love putting them on our car keys? Start your engines – it’s time to learn all about the manufacturing of keychains!

Making Keychains: One Step at a Time

Before we dive into the different processes, let’s first talk about the parts of a keychain. There are three main pieces that connect together.

Keychain Steps
Keychain Steps

Keep in mind, there might not always be a chain and the clasp may not be round. For instance, some keychains feature a clasp that looks like a lobster claw, while others have a simple ball that fits into a little metal piece.

Number One Keychain

The material for the trinket is also not going to be the same. Most keychains are made from either plastic or metal. However, they can also be made from fabric, paper, wood, or rubber. Think of a lucky rabbit’s foot or those flimsy #1’s that were popular in the 90s.

With that in mind, there’s no right way to make a keychain. It comes down to the manufacturer and what style they’re trying to create.

How Are Keychains Shaped

The end result may always look different, but at its core, making keychains is about shaping the materials and putting the pieces together. To see this in action, take a look at the three ways keychain trinkets are shaped:

  1. 1. Die Cutting
  2. 2. Stamping Press
  3. 3. Injection Molding

How Does Die Cutting Work?

Think of a die cut like a giant cookie cutter for different low-strength materials like plastic and paper. The process can be done on a grand scale via heavy machinery or right at home with a die cutting machine. Sounds fairly cut and die, right?

  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Choosing the Material
    The material for the keychain is fed through a machine via mechanized rollers. This can be done for keychains made from plastic, rubber, fabric, wood, paper, or sheet metal.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    Cutting With the Die
    A custom die is properly aligned so it comes down onto the material and creates the intended shape. This die has an attached cutting blade that’s strong enough to cut through the material. This step has to be done on a flat surface.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Removing Any Extras
    If the keychain is made from fabric, paper, rubber, or plastic, any excess material is trimmed off. Since the die is so precise, there is rarely too much to clean up at this stage.

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    The Trinket is Ready
    The trinket part of the keychain is now ready! Manual dies produce only one at a time, but digital dies can produce thousands with one run of the machine.

    Step 4
  5. Step 5
    Step 5

    Adding on the Ring
    Your keychain is still not quite ready. The chain and clasp are manufactured separately, measured, and cut to the appropriate size.

    Step 5
  6. Step 6
    Step 6

    Ready for Your Car Keys
    Once the chain and clasp are attached, the keychain is ready to go!

    Step 6

The best part of die cutting is the versatility in the design. You can get keychains shaped like guitars, stars, houses, and so much more thanks to this easy-to-use process.

Did you know?

Dies were first used to create coins during the Middle Ages.

How Does a Stamping Press Work?

Aside from die cutting, keychains are also made with the help of a stamping press. This process can be compared to the Medieval practice of using a hammer and anvil to shape metal. Today, it involves a hydraulic press that shapes keychains made from stronger metals like stainless steel and iron.

  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Cutting the Shape
    The metal is pressed between a die and a strong machine called a punch to get the desired shape. It takes about 71 tons of pressure to cut a 10 inch circle from the metal.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CuJjSk4U38

    Running the Machines
    The products (known as blanks) are pressed out of the machine at a continuous rate to avoid any holdups, which could damage the machine.

    Step 2 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CuJjSk4U38
  3. Step 3
    Step 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CuJjSk4U38

    Moving the Blanks
    The blanks are moved from station to station via gripping devices to get their desired form. At this stage, they can be recognized as the keychain’s trinket.

    Step 3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CuJjSk4U38
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    Removing Any Extras
    After the trinket is ready, excess material is cut from the metal. This isn’t as easy as just grabbing a pair of scissors, so a technician uses heavier tools.

    Step 4
  5. Step 5
    Step 5

    Adding on the Ring
    Similar to die cutting, the chain and ring are manufactured separately and then welded onto the trinket.

    Step 5
  6. Step 6
    Step 6

    Ready for Your Car Keys
    The keychain is ready to work its magic on your keyring!

    Step 6

The stamping press also involves a die, but it’s designed for stronger materials than paper and plastic. High-end keychains, like the ones you’d receive as a graduation gift, are likely made with this technology.

Did you know?

The stamping press was invented by a toymaker named John Pickering and two other colleagues.

How Does Injection Molding Work?

The final process used to make keychains is known as injection molding. Injection molding is the process most commonly used to shape plastic. This includes not just keychains, but also water bottles, chairs, toys, and many other products.

  1. Step 1
    Step 1

    Into the Hopper
    Small plastic pellets known as resin are poured by a technician into a funnel-like contraption known as a hopper. Some machines also use a giant vacuum that sucks the pellets in and gets them into the hopper at a faster rate.

    Step 1
  2. Step 2
    Step 2

    Injected Into Molds
    The plastic travels down the machine into a part called an extruder, where it gets melted down and injected into molds in the shape of the keychains. The molds are often made from heavier metals like steel and aluminum as these materials can withstand higher temperatures.

    Step 2
  3. Step 3
    Step 3

    Removed Via Robots
    A robotic arm removes the keychain trinkets from the assembly line where they’re ready to be fitted with their clasps and chains.

    Step 3
  4. Step 4
    Step 4

    Adding on the Ring
    As is the case with other processes, the keychain’s ring and chain are manufactured separately. They are then added to the trinket.

    Step 4
  5. Step 5
    Step 5

    Ready for Your Car Keys
    Once the chain and ring are secure, the keychain is ready to decorate your car keys!

    Step 5

Injection molding is the most common way to mass produce plastic products. Many promotional keychains, such as the ones you see at trade shows or fundraisers, are made using this process.

Did you know?

Injection molding was originally invented for billiards. The balls had previously been made from elephant tusks, so injection molding was the more animal-friendly solution!

Are you more visual? Learn more about all these processes in this exclusive video!

Pros & Cons of Each Process

Each process is unique and has its own advantages and disadvantages. This chart helps break everything down even further:


Process
Materials
Pros
Cons
  • Die Cutting
    Materials

    • Plastic
    • Rubber
    • Fabric
    • Wood
    • Paper
    • Sheet Metal

    Pros:

    • Cost-effective
    • Fast turnaround
    • Clean, crisp design
    • Less waste
    • Accessible to anyone

    Cons:

    • Not as effective with complex desgins
    • Cheaper quality

  • Stamp Pressing
    Materials

    • Stainless steel
    • Iron
    • Nickel
    • Titanium
    • Chrome
    • Silver
    • SilverZinc

    Pros:

    • Cost-effective
    • Fast turnaround
    • Higher quality
    • Clean, crisp design

    Cons:

    • Not as eco-friendly
    • Less efficient
    • Less accessible

  • Injection Molding
    Materials

    • Acrylic
    • Polyester
    • Polypropylene
    • Polyurethane
    • PVC
    • Silicone

    Pros:

    • Cost-effective
    • Produced items in bulk
    • Fast turnaround
    • Less waste
    • Widely used
    • Good for complex and simple designs

    Cons:

    • Difficult to make changes
    • The machine is expensive
    • Cheaper quality



Whistle Keychain

A Variety of Keychains

Whistle Keychain

Extra bells and whistles (sometimes literally) can be part of the keychains as well, depending on the design. You’ll see options featuring flashlights, tape measures, bottle openers, and a whole lot more!

Customizing Keychains

After a keychain has been made, it can be customized with a message, logo, or name. Custom keychains are often ordered in bulk by realtors, car dealerships, and many other companies as they’re great advertising items. The design is added to the keychain by the following:

Screen Printing

Screen Printing
This is the most common way to decorate promotional products. A thick green goo called an emulsion is spread over a screen and the design is transferred over to your keychain.

Pad Printing

Pad Printing
Pad printing is the best option for layering colors. Each stamp is covered with a different ink and then applied directly to your keychain.

Digital Printing

Digital Printing
Your logo or design will be in full color at no additional cost. The end result is a super colorful, eye-catching design.

Laser Engraving

Laser Engraving
The best part about laser engraving is the imprint won’t chip or fade. It’s slightly more expensive, but results in a super clean, polished look.

Debossing

Debossing
A debossed keychain has a raised, three dimensional look. This is a good choice for keychains made from leather or suede.

Hot Stamping

Hot Stamping
Back in the day, cowboys used to mark their cattle with a hot iron. This process works the same way, only using a hot stamp to create a design on your keychain.

At the end of the day, custom keychains are an awesome addition to any event. They’re super affordable and easy to store, making them an especially great choice for trade shows and fundraisers.

Why Do We Love Keychains?

Every keychain tells a story. Let’s say your realtor attached one to your new house keys. Now you’ve got something to remind you of that special moment when you opened the front door for the first time. You also have a person you can recommend to your friends and family. That’s the power of a good keychain!

Not only that, but keychains are also symbols of special memories. Whether it was a family trip to Disney World or a wedding favor we received at our son’s ceremony, these little trinkets remind us of landmark moments in our lives. It may be small, but the keychain creates a big impact!

The Bottom Line

Go ahead and fire up that stamp press, die cutter, or injection molding machine! It’s well worth the time and effort to make a good keychain. After all, there’s no item that better represents wonderful memories and helps you advertise your business!

References

Bright Hub Engineering. (2018). Processes Involved in Commercial Metal Forming Technology. Retrieved December 11, 2018, from https://www.brighthubengineering.com/manufacturing-technology/122541-how-metals-are-formed-into-different-shapes/

Nadca Design. (2018). Die Casting vs. Metal Extrusion. Retrieved December 12, 2018, from https://www.diecastingdesign.org/metal-extrusions

Lightning Labels. (2018). Learn What Custom Die Cut Labels Is & How It Works. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.lightninglabels.com/custom-die-cut-labels

Bear, J. (2018, July 28). Learn How Dies Cut Shapes Out of Print Designs. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.lifewire.com/diecuts-in-printing-1078019

Las Vegas Color Graphics. (2014, January 7). What is Die Cut and How Does This Process Work? Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.lasvegascolor.com/what-is-die-cut-process-work/

Diamond, G. (2018). How Does a Die Cutter Work? Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.ehow.com/how-does_4966225_die-cutter-work.html

Scrapbook.com. (2018). Top Die Cutting Questions & Answers. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.scrapbook.com/articles/die-cutting

Mainland Machinery. (2015, February 25). The Sheet Metal Stamping Process: How Does It Work? Retrieved December 14, 2018, from https://www.mainlandmachinery.com/the-sheet-metal-stamping-process-how-does-it-work/

Copper Development Association. (2018). Invention of the Stamping Press. Retrieved December 14, 2018, from https://www.copper.org/education/history/60centuries/industrial_age/invention.html

Deziel, C. (2018, March 13). What Are the Top 10 Strongest Metals on Earth? Retrieved December 14, 2018, from https://sciencing.com/top-10-strongest-metals-earth-2595.html

Engineer Guy. (2015, November 24). Plastic Injection Molding. Retrieved December 17, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RMjtmsr3CqA

Discover Channel. (2009, October 7). How It’s Made: Plastic Injection Molds. Retrieved December 17, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=seZqq1qxW30

Rogers, T. (2015, December 21). Everything You Need to Know About Injection Molding. Retrieved December 17, 2018, from https://www.creativemechanisms.com/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-injection-molding

Martin, M. (2015, March 19). What is Hot Stamping? Retrieved December 17, 2018, from https://www.durable-tech.com/blog/bid/75083/What-is-Hot-Stamping