Designer Jason Caldeira loves buttons. “They’re just one of those little things that make people smile,” he says. “They’re whimsical, impactive, affordable, and most importantly fun.” Caldeira is a veteran button designer. You can add this design skill to your toolbox , too. Here are some points to consider when button-making, courtesy of Chicago-based Busy Beaver Button Company, featured in the May 2012 Issue of HOW’s Sidelines column, and some friends.
1. Think big. Buttons are a dynamic medium. You’ve got plenty of options, ranging from size to shape to format to color. Want glow-in-the-dark, diamond-shaped buttons? You’re in luck! The sky’s the limit; use your imagination.
2. Now think small. Though you’ve got myriad choices, remember that buttons are a very to-the-point product. You have a limited space to work with and an even shorter amount of time to be seen, so keep it simple. Less is always more.
“My favorite way to work with the buttons is to print one-color (black) on colored paper, resulting in a two-color design,” Caldeira says. “In the same way that the testament of a great logo is its ability to work in black-and-white, limiting yourself to two colors can often help focus your message.”
3. Don’t fly blind. Busy Beaver offers templates for every type of button they produce, along with detailed how-to files for both Illustrator and Photoshop. Use them. They’re an important insurance policy and will only make things easier for you. And those producing your buttons.
4. Carefully consider color. Use CMYK color builds for your design. Buttons produced using RBG colors will reproduce much duller than their four-color counterparts. If possible, avoid using deep blues and purples, which print much darker than you’d expect. To eliminate trapping, use a rich black (add 30% cyan, for instance).
5. Consider the recipient, too. “I’ve found that the audiences I’ve designed for have been more interested in slightly ambiguous designs that act as conversation starters,” Caldeira says. “When it comes down to it, you want someone to wear your button, and not just shove it in a drawer somewhere. Experiment with materials for displaying your buttons, like backing cards and multi-packs. Sometimes even a big ol’ jar full of buttons is enough to generate interest. Get creative and have fun with it!”
6. Let art work for you. Both vector and raster art perform quite well on buttons. That said, keep raster art at 300 DPI to avoid unwanted pixelation. And never mix low-res raster art with vector art. To avoid further surprises, don’t forget to outline any typefaces.
7. Practice safe production. When designing buttons with a color background, always add a full bleed. If you’re looking for perfectly curved text, combine circles with type on a path. Avoid unnecessary borders, which can potentially make your button look off-center. Keep round art for round buttons and square art for square buttons.
8. Protect yourself. Don’t forget to check your spelling, as even one errant letter can turn your funk band into, well, something else altogether. If you can, do a test print of your final design at actual size. You’ll be able to catch things on paper that you may not see on screen.
Follow these simple pointers and you’ll be well on your way to a compelling first project. Something else to consider is pitching buttons to your clients, who are always seeking something memorable. “I’ve designed buttons as premiums at corporate trade shows, buttons for local bands, buttons as promotional leave-behinds, buttons for baby showers — you name it,” Caldeira says. “Buttons can be the perfect medium for spreading your message. Direct mail often gets thrown away. Buttons don’t.”
Their affordability and novelty make buttons quite versatile, too, says writer/illustrator/baker Jessie Oleson. “Buttons are an excellent freebie at events, or an awesome little extra to throw in with big orders,” she says. “People always love something fee, and buttons don’t break the bank. As an item to sell, they’re also effective — people don’t balk at spending $2 on a single button, and the cost to produce is quite low.”