Buttons, Badges & Pins - People Power Blog

I get asked this one alot.  “The Chinese are cheap at everything, why not button makers?”  Here’s the actual question this time:  I know that they say not to buy buttons from places like china. But you have to say that there prices especially for machines are so much cheaper than from the US. There has to be some companies that sell good quality parts. Please let me know if you know of any.

Chinese button parts are actually more expensive than US button parts, they are also not compatible with standard button parts.

There are no real Chinese button machine options that I have found.  Whilst the button machines are often cheaper than US options the parts are really so much more expensive that the saving on the machine is lost.  US companies produce literally millions of buttons a day and the Chinese have a long way to go until their production matches that of the US and until then they will not be able to compete on the price of button parts. Over the years you will spend more on button parts than you will on the original purchase of the button maker.  Chinese parts are selling here mostly in 100 packs and are about double the price of US parts at the 1000 rate.

As far as quality of the button machines is concerned they are also worlds apart.  The Tecre button makers for example are extremely well crafted, designed by engineers, built for the long term, sturdy and precise. In comparison the Chinese button makers contain plastic parts, are not sturdy and are not a comparable precision press.  A button maker is simply a press but it has to press accurately and it has to take the repetition of button production. The plastic parts and low quality metal in the Chinese button makers will not allow them to work well for long. They are certainly not engineered to the calibre of Tecre button machines.

A third point is that the Chinese have based their button makers on millimetre sizes so you cannot use cheap North American parts in the Chinese button machines. Also if you look at Chinese button parts they are a little bit nasty.  They are using low grade metal so the buttons are super light or in some cases they use white plastic backs with a pin that is glued on.  If your selling buttons with your designs a good way to depress your button sales would be to put your designs on cheesy button parts.  If you’re giving your buttons away as a promotion maybe it doesn’t matter…….maybe.

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Flattening Button Edges is only possible with the 1”, 2” and 6” sizes only.

Why would you want to flatten the edge of the back of a button.  Well for the 6” it makes the clocks look better.  For the 2” it is particularly popular with people that make rosettes and also medallions (pendents and game pieces).  With the 1” too medallions look better and are easier to stick.  You can make a hole using a “Key-chain Punch” and put them on a chain or keyring. You can also use a sticky pad, double sided tape or glue.  These are also used widely for game pieces.

This is not the same process as flattening the front of a button as is done with 3-1/2” coaster buttons.

When using the Third Press Operation have a rare earth magnet (or strong magnet) to get the button out of the die.  It really helps.

Technical details - Medallion Back Buttons - Third Pressing Operation

When a button is made with a plastic flat back such as those used for medallions, the rim of the button is crimped at approximately a 45 degree angle. This leaves a flange extended inward and away from the flat back as shown in the lower left picture.

The Third Press Operation is unique to the red & black button makers. This process allows the 45 degree flange to be pressed down onto the flat back so a more secure and flat crimp is obtained. This is shown in the lower right picture. The Third Press Operation is currently available for 1”, 2”, and 6” button sizes.

Flat back buttons can be mounted directly onto plaques, trophies, and other applications with a two-sided peel and stick foam disks. “

 Cross section of a standard six inch button
Cross section of a button after the Third Press Operation

See the difference?

  1. Assemble a button without a pin installed in the back. There is no room in the button assembler for pins during the Third Press Operation. Adhesive pins can be attached after the button is complete.
  2. Return the button face-up into the pick-up die cavity of the button assembly machine (where the shell, graphic and mylar were first placed when the button was made).
  3. Pull the press handle to the lower limit of its stroke to flatten the edges of your button. If you are using a manual machine the third press will require more force than the previous strokes of the handle.
  4. Attach an adhesive pin to the button or use a peel & stick foam disk to mount the button on a trophy, plaque or medallion. 

2" button flattened using third press method  pickup die & crimp die illustration on a button maker

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Buttons are an inexpensive way to create game pieces for board games and various applications in the game and toy industry.  A button maker is an essential for small production games or even for board game developers creating mockups of their games.  Flat back buttons are a cheap way to create a one off board game.

What kind of button parts will make board game pieces? There are a couple of options: Medallion back buttons or flat back buttons.

Medallion back buttons are black plastic backs, popular in 1” or 2” or in 6” with a cardboard flat back.  What makes this interesting is the “Third Press Operation”  A method of flattening a button to make it more like a coin.  Read more about the third press here.

Most of the square, oval and rectangular buttons also have an option for flatbacks that are plastic backs without the pin - There will be holes in the plastic!

Round flat back buttons are available in most sizes with clean flat metal backs. No holes.  Widely available in 1”, 1-1/4”, 1-1/2” and 2-1/4”.  These you do not flatten.

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Welded up eyes? - What are they?  How do you use them?

I think welded up eyes are an underestimated, under-used little accessory for button making. They are a small metal ring with a backing plate.  Think of any pin-back button and the holes on the back of the button: welded up eyes can be inserted through the hole in the back - pressed in the button maker for permanence and used to attach key-chain, pendant, ponytail holder or any other accessory.  A welded up eye can make a button attachable… to almost anything.

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How to make a pin-back button: How are buttons made?

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The insurance question pops up pretty frequently.  You are starting a button making business at home: when do you get insurance?  What are the liabilities for a home business?  If you make the buttons at home and sell at events or to stores, do you need insurance.

The quick answer is that strictly speaking you do need liability insurance and I know this is not the answer you wanted to hear.  If you are selling a product in stores, online or at events you do have liability exposure that you may want to cover but a business policy is costly for a small business just getting going ($1000 + per year) and not everyone uses their button making business as a full time business but that makes no difference to the price even if it is part-time.

Most home insurance companies will do a small business insurance extension to a home policy for $200 - $350 per year. If your insurance company does not allow button making as a home business then try a different company or get your broker to look around. You should get the additional coverage for the aprox $250 a year.

Do consider that in the research & development stage or whilst making samples and developing your business plan for your button making business you do not need liability insurance.  As soon as you start selling you do need business insurance.

Many people have of course worked from home for years and never had insurance.  Some event organisers will want a copy of your liability insurance as part of the application for vending but THE MAJORITY DO NOT in my experience.

The events that usually require liability insurance are the larger commercial events or events run by the city, province, state or municipality. These are often the better events for sending so there may be no way around the insurance issue.

My personal experience is that I did not get insurance for a couple of years, whilst I was setting up my business.  I suppose I took a risk and I was lucky. If you ask a financial adviser, insurance broker or lawyer, they will tell you to get insurance.  If you can afford the lawyer you can probably afford the insurance.

This article was written in response to multiple questions over time on the insurance question:

Hi Button Guy, I’ve got a strange question for you and hope you’ll be able to answer it.

 I’ve ordered 2 button makers from People Power Press and love them.  (2.25 and 1” models) I bought the machines so I could make some “environmental” buttons and have had a lot of fun making a bunch of environmental ones and others as well.

 I want to sell buttons, mirrors etc. at our local craft fair (and anywhere else I may be able to), but to do so, I had to get a business licence from the municipality.  I did that ($75 a year), but they also require that I have liability insurance.  

 Our home insurance carrier will not allow us to add my “business” to our policy as a home based business (the $250 a year option). They say that making buttons at my kitchen table and selling them is too risky  because of choking and pricking hazards to customers.  Apparently I need a business liability policy costing approx $1000 a year.  If I choose to have a website, that might be higher. Their reasoning being that I might attract business from other countries and different laws would be in effect. Crazy, eh?  Especially since I doubt I’d make more than $1000 a year.

Thanks to Ryan Mitchell from Mitchell Sandham Brokers for his input on home and small business insurance.  http://www.mitchellsandham.com/

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People ask me all the time if the circle cutter is necessary when buying a button maker.  Do I need a graphic punch to make buttons? What is the graphic punch for?

No you do not need a graphic punch or circle cutter to make buttons.  You can cut circles with scissors.  A button made with a circle cutter or graphic punch looks identical to a button cut with scissors when finished.  The difference is the time it takes to make the button or more relevant the number of buttons you wish to make at a time.  If you’re making a few buttons at a time, up to say 20, you can do that with scissors.  Once you start thinking you need 100 buttons in an hour that will be difficult with scissors - and not much fun.  If you need 1000 buttons in a day: impossible but certainly doable with a graphic punch.

A Graphic Punch for cutting circles to make buttons

If you are doing “make your own button” events, tables or workshops with kids then you also do not have to get a circle cutter.  Better to buy pre-cut circles to match your button maker. I know People Power Press sell the pre-cut circles here:  http://peoplepowerpress.org/products/copy-of-mylar-bulk-mylar-for-button-making

 There are different kinds of circle cutters.  I recommend the graphic punch from Tecre for speed and excellent centering. (See picture above) Good centering is key, when buttonmaking! http://peoplepowerpress.org/search?q=graphic+punch  If you are doing low volume circle cutting or if you buy pre-cut circles and just want a circle cutter for occasional and not volume use then this is a reasonable cutter for $20 - (You do get what you pay for)  http://peoplepowerpress.org/products/hobby-cutter-adjustable-for-circle-cutting

A hobby circle cutter for button making Inexpensive hobby cutter

If you are considering getting more than 1 button machine and looking to save money.  Say you have your eye on a 1” button maker now but further down the road maybe a 2-1/4” then an adjustable cutter makes sense.  Not if speed is your driving force, graphic punches are faster, but a well priced machine that cuts multiple size circles is the adjustable rotary punch:  http://peoplepowerpress.org/products/adjustable-cutter-for-circle-cutting-for-multiple-button-makers   A big plus for the rotary punch is that it cuts fabric!!!  A lot of people make fabric buttons - without mylar so you get the fabric texture and graphic punches do not cut fabric.

adjustable rotary circle cutter Adjustable Rotary Circle cutter

Any feedback on your experience with circle cutting and/or this article welcome!

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