Dr. Don's Buttons

button machines, button-making supplies and custom buttons
Button-making Tips, Tricks and Trade Secrets

Welcome to the wonderful world of button-making!

In some areas, people call them badges. Here, in sunny Phoenix, Arizona, which is where Dr. Don's Buttons, Badges & More is located, we call them buttons.

Whether you will make them for fun, for profit, or both, making buttons is a very enjoyable, artistic endeavor.

I like to think of each button I design as a miniature canvas. I do because I know the designs I create will likely be around for a lot longer than I am.

The tips, tricks, and trade secrets that I will share with you here can help you learn how to make buttons and how to make doing so easier, more enjoyable, and a lot more profitable.

Button Sizes

The 2-1/4" is the most popular size button and the most versatile, as well. For most people, they are a happy medium between being too big, and being too small.

However, 3" buttons are better suited for certain purposes such as photo buttons, business promotions, trade shows, etc.

When I first started making buttons, I thought I would only make 2-1/4" buttons. But it didn't take long for me to realize that there was a very good market for 3" buttons, as well.

Three inch buttons now comprise about 40% of the buttons we produce each year.

If you plan on making buttons as a full, or part-time business, at some point you really should consider investing in a 3" button machine.

Printing Your Artwork

To make buttons, you will need to be able to design and print the artwork for your buttons.

And now, with the advent of personal computers and color printers, designing and printing artwork for buttons is so much easier than it was in the pre-PC days. There are many good quality color printers on the market today that are nothing short of fantastic!!

One important consideration if you will be printing your artwork on an inkjet printer is the type of paper on which it will be printed.

Trust me, your choice of paper can make all the difference in the world.

Here's why.

When an ink-jet prints on ordinary paper, the ink tends to soak into the paper and starts to "run". When this happens, the colors won't be nearly as bright as if the right type of inkjet paper had been used. Specially formulated inkjet papers will hold the ink on the upper most layer of the paper and will provide much better color. (But do avoid glossy photo papers, as some of them are so slick that your button machines may not be able to work with them and could cause you button-making issues. It's better to stay with non-glossy papers which are usually less expensive).

Keep in mind that if you will be making lots of buttons, what you spend on inkjet cartridges will definitely add up FAST. I recommend getting a printer that has individual color cartridges. That way, if you run out of one color (which often happens if you are printing designs that are predominantly red or blue), you just replace that cartridge.

Button Design CDs

One of the challenges button-makers often face is how to create backgrounds for their buttons. White or solid colors backgrounds can be so boring.

And this is where our line of Button Design CDs can really help.

With our Button Design CDs, you simply choose an image that works for the type of button you're trying to make, add whatever text you need to complete your design and send it to print.

Learn more about our Button Design CDs, click here

Creating Artwork for Your Buttons (if you will be using your own design software)
(You can skip this section if you will be using the Online Button Design Studio to create your artwork, as it automatically handles all the details covered here).

Now lets cover some of the design aspects of creating artwork for your buttons.

When you are designing buttons, one of the most important considerations is making certain your artwork has been set up properly BEFORE you print it. After all, if your design is too big, or too small, or if your design sits off center, it won't fit properly on the face of the button.

Buttons only have a limited amount of space and you need to make certain that all the design elements are the right size and in the right place on your finished button.

Here are the steps you need to take to take to ensure that happens.

The first step, no matter what size button you are designing, is to create a template to guide you in creating your design. Using a template assures you that the artwork will be just the right size. And after you create it once, you can save it to your computer and bring it up again the next time you need to create a button of that size.


Template for a Badge a Minit 2-1/4" button machine
Template for a standard 2-1/4" button machine like our Model 225
Template for a Badge a Minit 3" button machine
Template for a standard 3" button machine like our Model 300 SX

To create a template, first center three different size circles within each other. The exact size of each of those three circles will depend on the size of the button you are making. So for purposes of this article I won't list the sizes.

The outer circle is called the "cut line". The cut line guides you when cutting the designs from the page on which they are printed.

No matter what type of cutter you are using, you should be able to look down through the throat of the cutter and see the cut line. (Properly set up, the cut line will NOT show on the button itself).

If your cut line is the right size for your particular cutter, it should edge up against and be visible through the opening in your cutter. This will allow you to see that you are making a perfectly centered cut before actually making it. This is important, because if you cut a design "off center" and then use that off-center design to make a button, your design will, of course, sit off-center on your button. Depending how far "off center" the cut, the button will be less desirable or completely unusable.

The second circle is called "the bleed". The bleed ensures that your background color goes all the way over the edge of your button. It will also help you save LOTS of money on ink!

In the image above, notice that there is a gap between the red line (bleed) and black line (cut line). Since this area is tucked up under your button and won't show after the button is made, printing ink in this area is a waste of money. So only printing your background color to the bleed line will SAVE you lots of money over time.

The third circle is what we call "Image Area". This circle provides a visual boundary similar to the margin on a printed page.

The margin on a page and Image Area on a button keep the type from being to close to the edge and improve readability.

Besides readability, another practical reason for not putting your text or design elements too close to the edge of the button is that no matter how careful you are when cutting designs, there will be times when you won't make a perfect cut. If you incorporate adequate space from the edge of the button, you then are far less likely to notice that the cut was cut off-center.

(For the 2-1/4" designs we create, the Image Area typically measures 1-3/4". This isn't a hard, fast rule, though. If you like the text to go closer to the edge, you could make the Image area 1-7/8" or 2").

Now insert your text and/or artwork you want to use, making certain it doesn't extend outside of the Image Area circle. If it does, I the design will likely be too "tight" on the face of the button.

Once your text/artwork has been centered within the Image Area circle, be sure and delete the Image Area circle or it will become part of your design and show on the face of your buttons.

Here's another handy tip.

Whenever possible, avoid creating designs that have a circle that run very close to the the edge of the button (such as international NO designs). If your cuts aren't precise, the fact that they are off center will be very noticeable. By moving the circle a bit more towards the center of the button makes off center cuts less noticeable.

Once your designs have been printed it's time to start cutting them. I hope you aren't going to try and cut them with scissors. If you do, plan on spending lots of time making your cuts.

Instead of using scissors or a cheap plastic circle cutter, I highly recommend that you go ahead and invest in a good quality cutter.

For most button-makers, I recommend the AC-1 circle cutter, which comes standard with most of our button-making kits we offer. If you're still using a Badge-A-Minit hand press, the AC-1 might be reason enough to upgrade to one of our button-making kits.

If you plan on making lots of buttons, the AC-1 will save you time and effort. And our button machines will, too!

Here are some ideas that will help simplify the process of cutting your designs.

I discovered a long time ago that I could staple several sheets of printed button designs together and in doing so, cut more than one design at a time. If you choose to do this, just make certain your designs "line up" before stapling the sheets together.

To do this I hold several sheets together in front of a bright light and use the cutting circle guides to align the designs. (Some printers are better than others at printing the designs at precisely the same place on each successive page, which is also known in the printing industry as "registration"). In any case, be sure to visually align your sheets before stapling them. Otherwise your designs may not line up and your cuts will be off-center.

Here again, having a cut line as part of your design comes in handy. If your designs are perfectly cut, the entire cut line will be visible at the edge of your cut design. If a design was cut off-center, part of the cut line will be missing.

Depending on how sharp your blade is, how thick your paper is, and how much downward force you can exert, you should be able to cut through 4-6 sheets of paper with the AC-1 cutter.

Remember, time is money, and cutting designs is quite boring, so the more designs you can cut at one time, the less time you'll spend cutting the designs and the faster you can finish the job.

Once your designs have been cut, you're ready to start making buttons.

No matter which button machine you use, be sure to follow the directions that came with it.

Two problems I encountered when I first started making buttons with a Badge-A- Minit hand press was that the "plastic" often would not tuck up inside the button, leaving an edge of the plastic sticking out and the buttons didn't have tightly crimped edges and often would often fall apart shortly after being made.

The Badge-A-Minit representatives I spoke with said this was caused by applying uneven pressure to the handle.

Unfortunately though, these problems are all too common when using any of Badge a Minit's starter models, and is itself enough reason to upgrade to a better machine.

If you are using a Badge a Minit starter model, yet another reason to upgrade will quickly become apparent.

It has to do with how sore your hand is going to be after squeezing the handle together, again and again, when making lots of buttons. I'm a big guy (6 ft 3 in) and if I had problems squeezing the handle, you can imagine most everyone will, too.

If you use an inexpensive button machine, you are going to have "waste" from time to time. Waste occurs when a button doesn't go together properly (with our machines this problem is almost non-existant). But it's good to know that you can recycle the pin-back part of your button and use it again (the plastic and shell cannot be re-used, because they will be damaged during the initial crimp).

You can break a button apart quite easily and then re-use the pin-back part using a standard bottle opener. Just turn the button upside down, fit the bottle opener at the lip of the button and crack it open.

Great button-making ideas

There are all sorts of purposes for buttons and if you'd like to learn some of my best button-making ideas, click here.

Packaging your buttons

After you have finished doing a run of buttons, you need to package them.

Doing large runs of buttons will require boxes and you can find many sources for what you need. When we produce a relatively small run of buttons (25-100), we often place them in zip lock plastic bags, ready for our customer to pick them up. Doing can save you money, because plastic bags costs a lot less than small boxes.

Stickers for the back of your buttons

Here's a tip that helped my business grow back in those early days and one you should adopt if you want your button business to grow.

Unlike business cards, flyers, brochures, and other types of advertising, people almost never throw a button away.

Knowing this, I always placed a small sticker on the back of the buttons we produced. Our sticker carried our name (Dr. Don's Buttons), our advertising message, (same day service and no minimum order), and our telephone number.

Since these buttons will likely never be thrown away, they are like little seeds just waiting to germinate.

Sooner or later someone who received one of these buttons with a sticker on back will need buttons themselves (or know someone who does), and hopefully they would remember seeing our sticker on the back of the button they received.

With our information readily at hand, it's easy for them to contact us and have their own buttons made.

As a service to customers who purchase a button-making kit or pinback button-making supplies, we offer these same stickers FREE of CHARGE (except with their information on them).

Click here to learn more about using this exciting method to help your button business grow.

Since I knew people aren't likely to throw buttons away, I seldom used business cards. Instead I created button business cards.

On the button business card I created, I had our logo, our company name, address, city, state, zip, phone number, and our marketing slogan.

People would inevitably toss these buttons in their desks and then be able to find our information a lot easier than if we had given them a standard business card that would just up in a trash can.

I hope you find these tips, tricks, and trade secrets helpful in building your own button business.

If you have any questions, or know any good tips that you would like to share, just e-mail them to me and I'll be glad to post those questions / tips to our website and of course give you the credit.

Take care and happy button-making!


Don Ratliff
aka Dr. Don

If you have questions about our items and services,
or if you'd like to place an order by phone,
call us toll-free at:

(800) 243-8293 or (623) 869-8233

Dr. Don's Buttons, Badges & More
3906 W. Morrow Drive
Glendale, Arizona 85308

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