3D vs. 2D Challenge Coins

Posted by Lars Chace | Tuesday December 11th, 2018 | Topic: Design

What Is the Difference Between a 2D and 3D Challenge Coin?

When describing a coin as “2D” or “3D,” we’re referring to the number of raised or recessed “levels” on a coin’s metal surface. A 2D coin has exactly two planes of metal. A raised level coming out of the coin’s surface and a recessed level slightly lower. A 2D coin has a sharp and clear contrast between the two levels on its surface. All paint is applied to a recessed area on the coin so the colorfills are neatly contained. Meanwhile, a 3D coin takes full advantage of an almost infinite number of levels, allowing us to slope and round edges between levels of raised and recessed areas on a coin. A 3D coin allows for the creation of rounded edges, beveling and creation of multiple different textures.

An easy way to tell the difference between the two types of coins is to set a coin face down on a table. If the coin sits flat without wobbling when you push on the different edges, then it’s probably a 2D coin. If a coin wobbles slightly on the surface of the table, then it’s most likely a 3D coin. Additionally, stacking the same set of 2D coins on top of one another flat is an easy task, but trying the same with a set of 3D coins is more likely to leave you with a pile instead of a neat stack.
Both 2D and 3D coins have physical characteristics that change the look, feel and weight of your coin. Neither options are necessarily better than the other and both are effective for creating different designs. Ultimately, deciding which is best for you is an important part of the initial design process.

Five Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Order 2D Coins

You should consider the following factors when deciding whether to order a set of 2D challenge coins:

  1. One of the biggest advantages to ordering a set of 2D coins is it’s virtually always less expensive and faster. With only two levels, it’s easier and less time-consuming to create, proof, produce and then deliver a 2D coin. The creation of the 3D CAD file can be time intensive, and the mold machining itself can take two to four times as long for a 3D coin. 
  2. The sharp contrast between the raised and recessed surfaces of a 2D coin makes it easy to color different sections of the recessed surfaces, which can be important for logos, ranks, flag colors or other color elements to be incorporated into a design.
  3. A 2D coin can be ordered in smaller and thinner coin sizes without losing visual details on the original design or image. It can become difficult to maintain the details on a 3D coin if the coin is smaller than 1.5”.
  4. If incorporating a glossy or highly polished design, then the physical shape of a 2D coin is ideal for maintaining a clean look without obscuring detail.
  5. A 2D design is better for capturing a stylized likeness of an individual’s face. It may not have as much detail as a 3D coin, but this allows us to control exactly what they will look like. We do not recommend using a 3D mold for a coin that is going to depict someone’s face

Five Factors to Consider When Deciding Whether to Order 3D Coins

You should consider the following factors when deciding whether to order a set of 3D challenge coins:

  1. Crafting a set of full 3D coins is often worth the extra time and cost for more complicated designs due to the ability to capture and integrate the full shape and details. It gives us the ability to capture theoretically infinite details that would not be possible with just two planes of metal to work with. It also lets us get around the mandatory production minimums of a 2D coin. A 3D coin can feature layers, shapes and other physical design elements impossible to capture on the surface of a 2D coin.
  2. A 3D coin is better for capturing the precise size, shape and feel of the edges and surfaces of a unique design not fitting the mold of a typical circular coin.
  3. While it is more difficult to incorporate color into a 3D coin, it’s not impossible. Using special transparent paints and careful design choices, we can fill in your design with different layers of colors that are brought into stunning relief on the physical product.
  4. The rounded curves and shapes of 3D coins are ideal for antiquing the surface of the coin and allowing the natural shape to capture shadows and shades looking fuller and more animated.
  5. Images and designs with details such as mountains, buildings and illustrations can take full advantage of a 3D coin’s full spectrum of textures, allowing a design to look much more photo-realistic.

The Best of Both Worlds

Choosing between a 2D or 3D coin might seem a bit difficult if your great design only comes to life on a 3D coin, but you want to incorporate the official colors of a unit or organization. However, the two options aren’t mutually exclusive, and it’s possible to get the best of both worlds by ordering a coin 2D on one side and 3D on the other. This compromise is less expensive than ordering a coin with 3D designs on both sides, allows you to take advantage of the design depth of a 3D coin, and incorporates the full spectrum of color options of 2D coins. Another option is picking areas of a design like the edges, a unique emblem or another element to have 3D details, but keep sections of the coin within two layers to maintain those sharp easy-to-color recesses.

Blog Author

Lars Chace

Lars Chace writes (clearly) and allegedly studied journalism at the University of Florida. Having torn an ink-stained swath of content through newspapers, magazines and online blogs, he now turns his attention to Signature Coins. He’s known to go rock climbing and do his share of swimming when his time isn’t spent on empire building.