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Yes, We Need Those Steenkin' Badges

by Ian Sorensen

The longest committee meetings I can recall have been the ones that included a discussion on the convention badges. The badge performs many functions: to identify members, guests, staff, committee; allow access to the convention programme; allow members to identify each other; give committees something to argue about. Whatever badge you end up with should be unique to your convention and difficult to forge.

There are two main types of badge: the circular metal badge and the rectangular laminated badge - larger cons can afford the more elaborate rectangular plastic badges with a slot for inserting the membership details. Of course, you don't have to use a badge: ribbons or sticky labels have been used before now. Jim Barker has spent years trying to get a convention to use membership noses instead of badges..... But whatever the device, its functions remain the same and this article is an attempt to to clarify what the priorities should be in designing something to fulfil these functions.

The most common elements on a badge are 1) the name of the convention, 2) the member's name and 3) the membership number. There is often 4) artwork associated with the convention name, and at international cons, 5) the country of origin of the member is also displayed. Let's look at each of these in turn.

1) The name of the convention is included to distinguish the badge from previous badges so that repeat conventions don't have wiseguys trying to use last year's badge to get in. (Using colour paper is also an easy way to make forgery more difficult). The name also gives the badge souvenir value as, in later years, the member can look at the badge and it will bring back memories of the con. However, at the convention itself it isn't really necessary to have the name very visible because everyone knows what con they are at. So, in order of visibility, I would put convention name well down the priority list. It helps if the name is presented in a manner that either ties in with previous letter styles used by the convention or with the artwork on the badge (if any).

2) The member's name is put there to identify the person for security purposes (though only a photo would really do that). In cases of doubt the name can be checked against the membership list to see if the person is entitled to be there or not. The main purpose of the name is, however, to identify the member to other members. A con would be a much less friendly event if everyone was anonymous. To help in the mutual identification process it helps if the name is large and clear on the badge. Ideally, the name should be printed (not written) in solid black type on a light background. Failing that, it should be written in large block letters in non-soluble ink. Too often metal badges have the name written on the plastic cover in felt pen which smudges and is illegible within hours. It is better to write the name on the paper before making the badge up but this means that there is a delay at registration of a minute or so per member walking in. An alternative approach is to write the name on a small strip of sticky paper and then attach that to a ready-made badge, though this might spoil the aesthetic effect for some.

By using a computer system it is usually possible to print out the member's names more clearly than they can be written and the names should already be in a datafile. Do make sure that you invest in a new ribbon before starting and use NLQ print if possible. Any computer can manage printing names onto sticky labels (ideal for rectangular badge types) but a good system should be able to print the whole badge for you, artwork and all. This is what I did for Speculation, using a mail merge labelling program to insert names and numbers onto a template containing the Speculation logo and laser printing a sheet of 6 badges at a time. It still required some to be written manually as their names were too long to fit - step forward Neil Mittenshaw Hodge. I would also mention here that people whole adopt "badge names" for the convention create most of the problems at the badge printing stage as they tend to be longer than their real names. Note too that both names need to be available to registration staff to enable them to locate the correct membership pack.

3) The membership number is there as a security check - does it tie up with the name on the badge and membership list? - and as a status symbol: some people take pride in joining early and getting a low number. It is also handy for competitions as it provides members with a unique identifying number in the event of there being two or more with the same name.

4) Artwork for badges is nice if you can get it. Too often a piece of artwork or a logo from a PR is shrunk down to badge size and used. Unfortunately it usually obscures the member's name or becomes illegible. It is worth commissioning artwork specially for badges, giving the artist this article as a brief. It helps if space for the name and number is part of the design and that the colour or colours to be used are not going to make them disappear into the background. Many conventions adopt the strategy of using the same badge design in different colours to denote different status - day members, staff, committee, guest. Others use different designs to distinguish one group from the others. If different designs are used it helps if they also have an indication on the badge of what it denotes - committee, programme participant, tech etc.

5) Country of origin could be replaced by town or regional of origin to allow members to recognise their geographical relations. It usually only appears on rectangular badges where there is more space.


Metal badges come in two main types - solid backed and pin back. The solid back are more expensive and require slightly more assembly but have finer pins which make smaller holes on clothing and don't leave a black mark, they also stay fastened more securely. They cost approximately 10p each. The pin back have a loop of wire under the rim of the badge which is bent across the badge to form the pin. The pin slots into a loop in the wire which does not make it very secure. As mentioned above, the metal that these pins are made of is not coated and leaves a black mark on clothes where the pin enters and leaves. Pin back badges cost around 8p each. For each type you must add the cost of copying the badge design. As you can get 6 badges per A4 sheet it can cost another 1p per badge on colour paper. The most common badge size is 58mm diameter, but you must allow a 72mm cutting circle to allow the paper to be folded under the badge to secure it in place.

To make up metal badges you require a cutter to cut out the discs (though I have done the cutting with scissors) and a machine to assemble the parts. These come in a variety of designs and prices, from 100 to 300. Each machine will assemble only one type and size of badge, though some can have other dies bought for them to do other sizes. Suppliers can be found in Exchange & Mart.

Rectangular badges vary in price from 4p for a piece of cardboard in a plastic sleeve with a safety pin taped to the back, up to 50p+ for a specially moulded plastic shape with integral pin and card insert.

Blank cardboard discs with a pin on the back can be purchased from stationers but usually come in small packs of 10 and cost about 5p per badge.

Other issues

Badges cannot perform any of the functions they are meant to if they are not worn by members. Although it is possible at small cons where everyone knows each other to be more relaxed about badge wearing, it is important at bigger cons to encourage people to wear there badges in a readily visible location at all times. Some people, especially women, find that what they are wearing does not lend itself to prominent badge display but attaching the badge to the strap of a hand or shoulder bag, a watchstrap, a belt or braces is usually possible. If not, they either have to carry the badge in their hand, tie it round their wrist or change their clothes.

Most conventions find themselves making up badges in the last few days before the con. This is unnecessary: the bulk of badges should be made up a few weeks beforehand with new member's badges being done as they join up. Badges have to be ready to go into membership packs, with the badge name matched up with the envelope. The best way to do this is to put the names on the envelopes at the time you are making the badges and pop the badges in then. This means that, nearer the time of the con you can stuff all the envelopes with the programme material without worrying about finding particular envelopes to match with badges.

If you decide to use a variety of colours or designs it is important that you keep track of what they all mean. If you are using colour to determine day membership you need to tell security each day what colour is valid. It is usually better to have the day in large letters on the badge as well. You will also have to estimate the numbers you expect on each day and have sheets printed or badges made up accordingly. Some staff prefer to have a normal membership badge and a separate staff one so that they can take it off when they are not on duty. Some conventions, notably Unicons 2&3, made gopher badges so outstandingly wonderful that people have queued up to become gophers just to get a badge. For Speculation the tech and gopher badges were ribbons attached to perspex blocks which were pretty impressive but a little too heavy for easy attachment to clothing.

Lastly, another approach to badges. For Clonespiracy I came up with the idea of using playing cards from packs of Happy Families with member's names written on them and pins stuck to the back. This had the added benefit of allowing people to go up to others with the same card and say "Snap! You owe me a drink." (Which led to new friendships being started and old ones being killed off, and made splitting people into teams for games dead easy as we had the Butchers, Bakers etc. already selected.)

To sum up: a badge should show at a glance the member's name, membership type and the convention they are attending. After that it helps if the badge is easy to wear, doesn't fall off and is as inexpensive as possible. It can also contain artwork and other information about the person such as membership number and where they come from.

Or you could just take up Jim Barker's idea and issue everyone with a plastic nose with their name written on it. Not an idea to be sneezed at, I say.


This page updated on 09 July 1999