Into The Details: The Differences Between 2D and 3D Challenge Coins

Choosing between 2D and 3D challenge coins depends on your specific design

Challenge coins are mementos that represent the membership of a group and a way to acknowledge leadership, service, or commitment. Challenge coins are also used to enhance morale and for team building. They may be a bit of a mystery to many, but they are an excellent way to honor and celebrate hard work. 

Typically small in size, these coins often feature an organization’s logo or emblem to be carried by members at all times. They symbolize membership in an organization, community, or company, but custom coins recognize specific achievements and accomplishments. These coins are designed to be unique to any organization, brand, or business. Coins are arranged in a keepsake box, carried in a pocket, or even in a case on the wall. They may have no monetary value, but it's the memories and sentimental value that last for a lifetime. They represent unity and are treasured by their recipients, even passed on an heirloom.

History of Challenge Coins

Challenge coins have a fascinating history that is based in military tradition. Dating all the way back to the Roman Empire, unique coins were presented to soldiers who went above and beyond in battle. That tradition carries on today, though modern challenge coins got their start during World War I. A wealthy lieutenant had custom medallions of solid bronze created, presenting them to members of his unit. One of the coins was used to identify a wounded soldier, eventually becoming a tradition that ensured all members carried their challenge coin at all times. The practice has grown, spreading throughout all branches of the military and even Congress. Challenge coins are still a staple of the military, though they have been embraced by first-responder services, businesses, brands, and other organizations. But, they are still used in many of the same ways to honor achievements and membership in an organization.

Challenge Coin Design

Challenge coins can be custom-made to look like anything. Traditionally challenge coins are round, but they can come in virtually any shape you can imagine. The most common coins are made of zinc, bronze, brass, silver, or even solid gold, boasting textured or raised details throughout. Some coins feature colored enamel painted onto the etching for a decorative look. Some coins boast emblems and logos, as well as more information that pertains to a specific group. This information may reflect a particular date, a distinct achievement, the date the coin was presented, or the company's motto. But remember, challenge coins can be customized entirely to say what you want. Get creative and design something that will be cherished and remembered for years to come.

2D Challenge Coins

Let's talk about 2D challenge coins. While you cannot create as much detail or depth with 3D coins, 2D designs have their upsides. They are often best suited for adding customizations that can be essential to your design. One of the benefits is the ability to add color easily. It's not impossible to add color to 3D coins, but the results are often subtle and require more planning. The recessed areas on 2D coins are great for filling in color with enamel paint. This adds depth to designs like flags or for organizations with iconic colors. Visual elements and details are distinct on a 2D coin, even on lighter and smaller coin sizes. 2D coins also look remarkable with high-polished plating options. The reflected light will not hide details, instead, accenting them and other elements. Illustrations look exceptional on 2D coin designs, boasting precise line detail throughout. If you are looking for a simple, colorful design, consider using a 2D design to make an impact.

Things To Consider

One of the advantages of ordering 2D coins is that they are less expensive and faster to produce. It is far easier and less time-consuming to create, proof, produce and deliver a 2D coin. The 3D CAD file can be time draining, and the mold itself can take four times as long as 2D coins. 2D coins are ideal for color, offering contrasts between raised and recessed surfaces. This is ideal for coins with logos, ranks, and other details with color. A 2D coin can be produced in smaller and thinner sizes, which is excellent for those working within a budget. A 2D  design will better capture the likeness of an individual’s face. Though it may not have as many details as 3D coins, 2D coins allow for better control of the final result.

3D Challenge Coins

3D coins offer more depth and layered texture. This is great for statues, mascots, buildings, or emblems. 3D coins look best in realistic designs or images with both depth and texture. Cut-to-shape coins or challenge coins in any shape or size are perfect for 3D coins. With so much sculpted depth and sculpted edges, 3D designs look magnificent with antique plating. This will bring out the highlight details and create visual depth in the recesses of the coin. Larger coins provide more room for finer details, taking visual advantage of the sculpted elements. Any image based on a photo of an actual object is perfect. Consider using vehicles, buildings, people, animals, or views that feature textured details. Stone and brickwork feature carved intricacies that look good in 3D. Art designs with photorealism or fine detail take advantage of the added depth. Objects in real life with natural curves and physical elements can only be recreated with a 3D mold. Ruffled fur, rounded columns, and curved metal have visual textures that stand out in 3D. Even detailed symbols and icons look exceptional in 3D form.

Things To Consider

A complete set of 3D coins can be time-consuming and a bit more expensive due to the ability to capture and integrate the entire shape of the images. 3D designs capture infinite details that 2D designs cannot. A 3D coin can feature layers and forms that are impossible to capture in 2D. 3D coins capture the size, shape, and feel of the edges and surfaces. The rounded curves and shapes are great for antiquing the surface. This allows the natural shape to capture shadows and shades. Images such as mountains, buildings, and illustrations are perfect for 3D challenge coins.

Ordering 2D and 3D Challenge Coins

Choosing between the two options isn't as simple as saying one type is better than the other. Like many options with custom coins, it depends on the intended designs and the other custom options you may want. For more detailed and realistic-looking designs, 3D coins are the best option. Simple designs with designed shapes and details will be best created as a 2D challenge coin. With over fifteen years of experience, we have created challenge coins of all sorts. We understand what a well-designed challenge coin looks like and what options will work best for any particular design. An outstanding design will make a lasting impression, which is what you want from a challenge coin.

Jesse Daugherty

Jesse Daugherty


Hello, I'm Jesse Daugherty, a music enthusiast, sports aficionado, and an avid supporter of the arts. I'm a writer and content creator. For the past 5 years, I've shared my knowledge of custom challenge coins and other promotional products, exploring their designs, meaning, and purpose.