When it comes to badge ribbons there are two common reactions:
Ribbons? Oh yes! Giveme, giveme, giveme!!
Ribbons? What’s the deal with ribbons? What are you talking about? I’ll pass for now.
At JordanCon, many people are of the first opinion. Let me introduce you to the world of badge ribbons and answer the most common questions about them.
Badge ribbons are a fun way to decorate your badge, declare allegiance to a fandom, or design a moto. The design and quote possibilities are nearly endless. Seeing people walk around with badge ribbon beards might inspire you to say “I want those!” or they might just confuse you, and that’s okay.
JordanCon History with Ribbons:
There used to be just a few ribbons at JordanCon. Focused around the official ones given to guests, panelists, and staff members. Then around 2013 or so, someone asked “Can I bring my own ribbons to trade? Saw it at a different convention.” Permission was given, and a trend started.
For a few years people tried to avoid using the colors of the official JordanCon ribbons, but as more people created their own designs, it became harder to track. Now the convention staff just ask people to avoid key word and color combinations (more below in Designs).
There are several friendly competitions among JordanCon attendees to see who can collect more ribbons. The one between long-time attendees Bao Pham and Thom de Simone is the most well known by regular attendees. Authors Gerald L. Coleman and Milton Davis have one they play out on the JordanCon Facebook page every year as well. Encourage them in their antics.
Follow some simple rules of etiquette at the convention to help avoid awkward moments around your ribbon collecting. Being polite is the best thing we can all do for each other.
First, ribbons cost money. The person who brings the ribbon design sets the rules for their ribbons. They might give them away freely, ask for a trade, or if it’s in support of a cause, even ask for a donation. It is their choice if and how others get their ribbons.
Second, know that not all ribbons are for everyone. Some are made for specific groups: fan groups, people in cosplay, friend groups, participants for a different convention, etc. Someone might have three ribbon designs, but only one that is available to everyone. If they have ribbons, but don’t offer you one, you might not qualify for that ribbon. No hard feelings, there will be others. Who knows, while talking with them you could learn about a cool new fan group to join and be eligible for the ribbon at another time.
For those that have to decline a request, remember to be polite as well. Say something like, “I’m sorry, but this ribbon was specifically made for those who participate at ‘a certain event.’” Or you could try, “Sorry but these are for people who are dressed in cosplay.” Being courteous goes a long way to avoiding hurt feelings. Always remember to be polite on both sides of the ribbon trading game.
If you see someone freely handing out ribbons, feel free to approach them and ask, “May I please have a ribbon?” or “What is your design about?” Or best: “Are your ribbons available for trading? Let’s trade!”
Be respectful of the ribbon designer’s responses by remembering the points above.
It is polite to not duplicate a ribbon’s design without permission. There are many ways to be inspired by a design, or a similar concept. Duplicating all aspects of another’s design is frowned upon. Look at the ribbons as another artform.
The term “badge beard” is used to describe the ribbon collection on the badges. The style people wear their ribbons can mimic the variety of beards: Wide and messy, short and trimmed, or long and neat. Find your own personal style!
F.A.Q. – Frequently Asked Questions
DOES everyone like ribbons?
No. The choice is individual. There is no pressure to wear badge beards. There is no pressure to make custom ribbons. But if you are bitten by the “I want ribbons” bug, this article is intended to answer your questions.
WHAT size ribbon should I make?
JordanCon badges are 4″ wide.
Most ribbon companies sell 4″ wide ribbons in two heights: 2″ and 1 5/8”
The height is up to you. If going with a longer quote or image, the 2″ height gives you more design room.
The other common ribbon size is 3 1/2″ x 1 5/8″. (This is the size of the ribbons used at some other conventions.) The 4” ribbons can be cut down to that size with pinking shears.
WHEN should I buy ribbons?
To be on the safe side, if you want ribbons by JordanCon, order by April 1st from most of the companies listed below. Look at the shipping dates the company provides before ordering.
Their production time does not include weekends. With the companies that send you PDF proofs, each change to the design is another possible two-day delay.
Each company will have its own “last minute” deadline. Most of them ask when your event date is, so they might tell you themselves if they can’t meet the deadline.
Personally, I try to have everything finalized by March 15 most years. This way I don’t risk having to pay a rush fee or for rushed shipping, which both add greatly to the cost per ribbon.
Again, for peace of mind, that’s order by, not start the design process by, April 1st.
WHERE to buy ribbons?
There are multiple online companies that make custom ribbons. In Ribbon Companies, I list the most recommended sources with known pros and cons for each. When bought in bulk of over 100, prices for single color ribbons become similar. Shop to compare for your best price. Setup fees and shipping could determine your best price for the quantity of ribbons you plan to order.
If you want to shop local, look for trophy companies or custom print shops.
HOW many should I buy?
The answer to this question is determined by your personal choices and budget.
As said in the Etiquette section, some ribbons are made for smaller groups, so there is no need to have hundreds made up. Other ribbons are made to be given away to everyone that wants one. Thus the question becomes, how many do you want to give away?
At JordanCon there are up to 1200 attendees, but around half don’t collect the ribbons and the other half don’t collect every ribbon available. The most I’ve given away was 100 ribbons in a year. Other people have given away 30 to 400 ribbons.
At one larger local convention, there are 80,000 attendees and dedicated ribbon trading times and sessions. Even they say 200 ribbons is a good number to bring for trading, so don’t feel like you have to bring enough for everyone at the con.
If you plan to give away ribbons for more than one year, I’ve found the math works to buy more than I need for a single year. But that’s only if I have the budget for them. Shipping and set-up fees are a factor in the costs not included in the price per ribbon quoted by the companies.
Obviously, vendors or authors who want to make ribbons part of their promotional material, would be wise to order larger batches.
HOW do people walk around with long badge beards?
People have many tricks, but the easiest is to bring a clip with you to the convention.
Examples: Binder clip, large paper clip, alligator clip, etc.
Roll up the ribbons as you walk with it in a much neater arrangement. Then you can have a dramatic reveal to show off your impressive collection.
Keeping your ribbons rolled can also help keep the edges looking nicer longer. If the edges start to look ragged, use a pair of pinking shears to trim them nicely.
MY ribbons keep falling off, what can I do?
Duct tape, Gaffters tape, or a strong masking tape. Tape is your friend if your ribbons don’t want to stick together. Put a strip down the center backs of them.
You can also decorate the back of your ribbons with stickers or other items. Because your badge will spin around and there’s no stopping it.
ARE there forbidden or restrictions on the ribbons?
The convention tries to be a welcoming place for all ages. Keeping word choices and artwork PG-13 is encouraged. There is at least one “F*** Moash” ribbon that goes around the convention. The asterisks are part of the design, not an edit for this article.
JordanCon has ten official ribbons. To prevent confusion we ask that you do not copy the Wording & Color combos of the list below. Even the wording should be avoided, since each represents an official group at the convention. Aiel and Jenn Aiel ribbons can be earned by anyone that volunteers to help at the convention.
CON is over. Now what do I do with the ribbons?
Some cons have ribbon recycling programs. JordanCon is not one of them.
If you have leftover ribbons to hand out, save them for your next con or bring them back next year. Repeating a ribbon is 100% acceptable.
Typically people start each new con with a fresh badge, so whole badge beards are not used again. Yet it is up to your personal choice. Reusing selected favorite ribbons is more common.
Some people collect ribbons with the intent to create some larger art project. I’ve seen skirts, vests, hats, and a few other creative crafts made from con ribbons.
Many just hang them as a fun reminder of their convention trip somewhere in their house.
Below is a list of the best known and most recommended companies that create custom ribbons. Known pros and cons are listed for each. Listed in alphabetical order only, not a ranked order. No one at JordanCon was paid to promote these companies.
*Editor’s Note: These companies were chosen and researched by Deana for the purposes of this article. JordanCon does not endorse these companies or guarantee their services in any way.
Pro: Provides full-color ink printing (sublimation). The cost per ribbon is higher than single ink color printing. Need to contact customer service to arrange for full color printing.
No set-up fees for single color print ribbons.
Con: Text only, no images allowed. Very limited font options.
Does not make 3 1/2″ ribbons (issue for other conventions, not JordanCon).
Type your text, they email you a PDF proof to approve.
Pro: Provides full-color ink printing (sublimation). The cost per ribbon is higher than single ink color printing.
The company has a pre-made package of pronoun ribbons.
Offers the option to buy packages of pre-made ribbons of random sayings if you want to get in the ribbon game but don’t have a design in mind yet. Also useful to help create something with ribbons when you don’t want to cut up your own ribbon collection.
Con: Has a set-up fee and a 100 ribbon minimum to buy.
Pro: Two color text printing possible. Had a Prism foil print for design. (Could still, I just didn’t see it while checking for this article.)
Clipart printing is possible. Multiple text styles possible.
Widest selection of ribbon colors available, examples: Rainbow, gold trimmed, Netherlands’ flag
Con: Set-up fee. Extra fee, if you order less than 100 ribbons.
Type your text, they email you a PDF proof to approve.
Name Badge Productions
They call them the 4” Stick and stack ribbons
Pro: Can order low quantities of ribbons.
Good selection of colors.
Con: Set-up fee for text and a Logo fee for custom line art. The design is only kept for 2 years after you order, so you need to re-order yearly or pay the fees again. You type your text, they email you a PDF proof to approve.
Pro: Able to see a draft of the ribbon as you design it. Wide range of available clipart and fonts preloaded. Able to upload your own line art.
I personally prefer the interactive design feature on this website. You can see the design and feel confident about the look.
They will email you a PDF proof of the final design to confirm and make suggested changes before printing.
No set-up fee. Can order low quantities of ribbons.
Con: Single color print only. More expensive, per ribbon, in comparison when ordering smaller quantities.
Ribbon Design Tips:
The combinations of colors and inks seem practically endless, though some of the companies have more options available than others. As a general rule, less is more in ribbon design. Keeping artwork lines and text short makes for better visual impact. There are exceptions to the guidelines below, but in general, simpler is better.
After avoiding the official JoranCon ribbon combos, the rest of the world is open to explore and design. Pull inspiration from your favorite things! From food, to books, to super heroes, to sarcasm. Express yourself freely.
Remember, just because the ribbon is 4” wide does not mean you have 4” of design space.
The design space is closer to 3 ½” x 1 1/4” on a 4” x 1 5/8″ ribbon. This allows for open ribbon space around the edges and the cut edges. If using Ribbons Galore, turn on the “Print Area” blue lines to see the design area space. For the other companies, to see your design before submitting it to print you can achieve a passable template using Word’s “Text Box” function or one of Adobe’s more powerful tools like Photoshop and InDesign.
Text Length & Font:
It’s a rare ribbon that looks good with three or more lines of text. One or two lines of text is best for readability. If you do plan on a longer quote, the 4” x 2” ribbon is a better option.
As a general rule, use one font for your ribbon design. The exception is using a different font for a website in small plain text under something more elaborate. Check the fonts available from the company you intend to order from. If you want to use a font they do not offer, you have to turn your phrase into an image and upload it as clipart or a logo.
The more elaborate the font, the simpler the text should be. Keep in mind font can also convey meaning. The font you select can alter the perception people have of the ribbon. Are you getting the reaction you want? Try altering the font to see how you feel.
Visual impact – Color on color printing is valid, but black foil on top of black fabric will not be visible from more than 6” away depending on the viewer’s eyesight and room lighting.
Dark ink on a dark fabric is harder to read.
Light ink on a light fabric is harder to read.
Rainbow ink on a rainbow fabric is harder to read and also a hard to find combination.
There are many design rules at play as to why black, white, silver, and gold are the most common ink colors seen.
Grab a color wheel and play with contrasting colors. Be inspired by the color combinations of your favorite superheroes or logos! What you see on the screen won’t reflect the finished ribbon, since the printing is normally a foil. The shimmer will help the text pop. Full color sublimation printing is an exception, since those are often printed as a flat color.
Logos, Designs, and Clipart:
Each printing company listed above accepts artwork as various types of digital files. There is widespread acceptance of JPGS and EPS files. Double check with your printer and ensure the open spaces of your design show as you intend.
When designing with clipart or custom vector art, again—less is more. Elements with fewer lines and more defined open spaces look great on ribbons., especially at a distance. Too many fine lines in a design can blend together creating an unclear image. Repeating elements can be more impactful than many different elements like an emoji string.
Example: The “Let’s Eat Pancakes” ribbon shown was one of my early designs. I will not be reprinting this ribbon. The busy font and complicated clipart does not read well at a distance. Narrow gold lettering on white ribbon – not a good choice. It is very hard to read at any distance. Gold on white? Use a block text.
The “Your Panckefulness” with the simple fork clipart and larger silver text is a more successful ribbon design. Props to Dea Carey for her creativity when creating that one.
Do not use copyrighted designs that are not your own. If you have permission from the artist to use the design, wonderful! Use it well!
There are millions of “free clipart line art” images available on the internet. Low-resolution files are typically fine for badge ribbons since the artwork size rarely exceeds ½” x ½”. Are just the lines showing or is everything printing as a block of color? You may have to adjust the file’s transparency settings before it is usable for printing. The transparency allows the ribbon’s color to show inside the open spaces of the line art.
Whatever inspires you, have fun with both the design process and handing the ribbons out! We all look forward to seeing what people create every year.
Join us at the next JordanCon for sharing ribbon fun and more shenanigans.
-By Deana Whitney