Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pinback Buttons FAQ

Buttons are one of those things that many artists are interested in at some point or another. Who can resist that shiny kerchunky machine and the melodic jingle of button parts?

Here's a quick FAQ list that I find myself answering all the time. Hope it helps anyone that's interested, on the fence, or wants to expand. Remember, I'm not here to convince anyone either way so make informed decisions.

1. Aren't button machines expensive?

Yes the punches are a decent chunk of change. You're looking at $250-$300 for a new machine. Most people find that buying a punch pays itself back, for some faster than others.

2. What brand machine should I buy / Is Tecre really worth it?

Yes, Tecre is worth it. Some people consider Badge-A-Minit machines or a few off brands but I use Tecre. No quality issues, no complaints. Some artists have had crappy results from the BAMs like buttons not cinching tight, thereby falling apart. No personal experience there though. I recommend Tecre.

3. What size should I sell?

Size is up to you although the more popular sizes are 1"-1.5". Smaller buttons are convenient to store and wear. Larger buttons make a better canvas for artwork. I don't see too many big buttons for sale. Warning on 1" size: the pin back is a little harder to use.

I sell 1.25" and it's a really popular size. Perfect for simple characters, text, some artwork. I usually recommend 1.25" or 1.5".

4. Where can I buy a button machine?

If you're lucky, you can buy a used one off another artist. If you don't know anyone selling one, you can always check eBay. For Tecre brand, used is just as good as new. I got my Tecre 125 used plus a couple hundred parts off eBay for less than $180. If you want one new, you can get them from quite a few reputable websites. If you're not a fan of eBay, try

5. Where can I get the parts? How much will they cost?

Parts consist of the front shell, pinback, and mylar, and can usually be bought from the same place you got your machine but that might be pricey. I buy my parts from a supplier on eBay called ButtonSafari. They sell all steel parts in wholesale quantities at great prices. Now there's one competitor that sells for slightly cheaper but I bought from them once and their pin backs are lower quality.

Depending on the quantity you purchase, you're looking at between 3¢ to 50¢ per button. Obviously larger quantities ends up being cheaper per button but ordering 1000 parts might not be feasible for everyone.

Extra note: don't buy buttons with plastic backs. They don't hold together very well.

6. How much should I sell my buttons for?

This depends a lot on size, how much you pay for parts, what profit margin you want. Remember you're not just paying for "parts", but for the artwork and time to make the buttons too. Most smaller buttons (1"-1.75") will easily sell for a dollar or two apiece. Artwork can sell for more, text will sell for less. For larger buttons, $2-4 is doable. Remember, buttons are junky small dollar items so don't overcharge. I sell buttons for $1 each or 6 buttons for $5.

7. Will my buttons sell?

Um... yes. Your buttons will sell. How well? That'll depend on what you put on them. Same general rules apply: fan art sells like crazy. People love buttons with their favorite characters or items. Kawaii animals and cute things like cupcakes do well too. Witty text or popular quotes do OK. As for text based buttons, those move slower. Not everyone will read each little button so try to give each one a little doodle to catch the eye.

I know some artists who sell a couple dozen buttons per show, and some who sell a couple hundred. I move an average of 400 buttons per show. I also have almost 125 different designs and cycle out about 50 designs each convention season. Variety helps capture more audiences.

8. How can I make my pictures fit the button machine?

You can find the measurements online (or just measure the button well in your machine). The size you need to cut out will be slightly larger than your button size. You can download a template to use as well. That's the easy way if you have Photoshop, illustrator or some other program that can open the files.

9. Can't I just cut out all the button pictures with scissors instead of buying an expensive punch?

I started with the scissor method because I didn't want to drop $150 on a graphic punch. I mean, that's a lot of money for something to cut paper. If you're comfortable cutting the paper, have at it. But once you start cutting hundreds of circles by hand, your fingers will be singing a different song.

Tecre makes a great graphic punch, perfectly sized for their button machines. Its easy to use and painless too. I only recommend this if you're turning over a ton of buttons, otherwise the punch is too expensive for small game.

Here's a quick link to an article from when I bought my graphic punch: 

10. Can I just make buttons of pictures I print off DeviantArt/Google/imgur/...?

For fun? Sure. For sale? Please don't. If you're selling in the artist alley, use your own work. It's pretty douchey and disrespectful, not to mention a violation of creative commons, to sell someone else's art on your buttons. Same applies to licensed images like official logos and art, except that's copyright/trademark infringement and way more trouble.

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