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Use a Button Machine to Make Custom Pinback Buttons for Promoting - Fundraising

Updated on December 8, 2008

Do you remember the movie Office Space? There was a character in the movie named Brian who was a waiter at the local restaurant Chotsky’s. When the manager of Jennifer Aniston’s character was trying to encourage her to be a better waitress, he often referenced Brian; specifically, the number of “pieces of flair” that Brian wore on his vest. Although more of a satire of TGI Fridays’ dress code for employees, the “pieces of flair” became an icon of the movie. In fact there are very few people who would not know what you are referencing when you mention “pieces of flair.”

"Brian" showing off his flair in Office Space.
"Brian" showing off his flair in Office Space.

Pinback Buttons Overview

In reality, the “pieces of flair” were nothing more than a bunch of custom pinback buttons. Pinback buttons have seen a wide variety of uses in a number of different applications. One classic icon of political campaigns, for example, is the campaign button. Typically, campaign buttons are nothing more than a pinback button with a slogan or picture of the candidate seeking election.

Pinback buttons have been in use for a number of years and some are quite popular as collector’s items. A number of rock bands in the 70’s sold 1” inch pinback buttons with the band’s logo or name. This tradition has increased as more and more bands search for cheap ways to promote and advertise themselves. A visit to the local mall will inevitably bring someone face to face with a teenager who has festooned his or her hat or backpack with a number of pinback buttons supporting their favorite bands or offering an ironic comment.

Pinback buttons are easily the standard for novelty buttons, although there are some variances. According to Keith Brown of American Button Machines, one of the leading online wholesalers of button machines and related supplies, “Novelty buttons have a number of uses. They can be used as refrigerator magnets, key chains, ponytail holders, pocket mirrors, and bottle openers. Pinback buttons are available in various sizes, making them useful for a number of different applications.”

Using a Button Machine to Make Pinback Buttons for Promotional Purposes

Button makers, like those supplied by American Button Machines, are a relatively cost-effective investment for many different types of organizations. In fact, complete button making systems are available for under $300. Additional supplies for large quantity projects and also be acquired in bulk to reduce costs.

One of the most practical uses of pinback buttons, as well as a button machine, is in business applications for marketing purposes or for company functions. There are already a number of companies, such as TGI Fridays, Lowe’s Home Improvement, and the Container Store, which employ the use of pinback buttons.

As previously mentioned, restaurants such as TGI Fridays often use pinback buttons in their server dress code to promote an atmosphere of fun for customers, or to promote specific events or specials. Companies such as Lowe’s Home Improvement utilize pinback buttons to promote different sales or new products. Additionally, grocery stores such as Central Market use buttons as name tags.

Making use of pinback buttons as an effective advertising tool is not limited to companies with a large budget. Due to the relatively low costs of a button making machine and the basic supplies, small businesses can also harness the power of this relatively inexpensive but effective promoting tool.

Pinback buttons encouraging consumers to “Ask me about” a particular promotion is effective in encouraging customers to create a dialogue with employees. An even more simple application is to use pinback buttons as extra signage to support different sales or new product releases. Instead of investing in a number of large and expensive banners, a company with a button machine and requisite supplies can quickly and cheaply produce a number of promotional materials that saturate their store with positive information about whatever promotion or product is being emphasized.

Using a Button Machine to Start a Small Business, Fundraise, or Promote a Campaign

With the development of other types of buttons, in addition to pinback buttons, individuals can also reap the benefits of owning a button machine. People on a tight budget can start their own button business for under $300, and one or two individuals can easily produce a wide variety of novelty items for sale. These items include novelty pinback buttons, as well as earrings, photo buttons, zipper pulls, ponytail holders, and pocket mirrors. This is also an excellent way for a teenager to make a little money, or even for a family to come together to work on a project.

A button machine also has practical applications for a school. Fundraising is always an important part of any school, with parents often stepping up to help in school fundraising events. One fundraising option that continues to gain popularity is the sale of pinback buttons for athletic booster clubs. Pinback buttons with a particular athlete’s picture, name, and number are sold to the player’s family and friends. This fundraising idea is sometimes expanded with the sale of more generic pinback buttons containing a school slogan. A school that were to invest in a button machine would be able to quickly produce a number of buttons to promote school spirit and turn a significant profit as the cost-efficient supplies keep production costs low.

Fundraising to promote school spirit is not the only opportunity that schools have to bring in additional cash. With several button machines, schools can host separate fundraising events selling novelty items such as zipper pulls or ponytail holders.

Furthermore, fundraising is not the only school-related application for button machines. A button machine can be particularly useful during student council elections. (The video to the right, a trailer for the movie "Election" shows a humorous example. Notice how Reese Witherspoon's character angrily tears down all of her wall banners, but always seems to be wearing her official pinback button! There is also a quick clip of her using a button machine to make her buttons.)

Schools can allow students running for student council to purchase the button making supplies for a small fee and use a button maker to produce a number of campaign buttons. This has “real world” implications also, as a small town politician can easily increase his visibility by distributing campaign buttons customized for his or her campaign.

Finally, there is another practical use for a button maker in organizations. Many organizations such as companies or schools host various events. Company functions and class reunions are functions that can easily be enhanced through the use of a button machine. Novelty nametags can be quickly produced with a button maker. In these situations, instead of a sticker nametag, pinback buttons serve as a novelty souvenir and even a convenient conversation starter.

Using a Button Machine to Make Pinback Buttons

When using a button machine to produce pinback buttons, the process is relatively simple. Typically, it is a two-step that takes only a few seconds per button. According to Keith Brown, “With an American Button Machines button maker, for instance, the process of turning out a button can be accomplished in as little as five seconds. With our machines an individual can turn out roughly 250 buttons within an hour.”


Pinback buttons and other related items have always been a useful novelty item. Due to their frequent use in political campaigns, for music promotion, and a high profile in some movies, pinback buttons have become a collector’s item and, for some, cultural icons. For practical purposes, the use of a button machine can be extremely helpful for a number of purposes. Educators, politicians, business managers, small business owners, and some entrepreneurial-minded individuals can easily reap the benefits of this cultural icon that can be used to fit a number of different purposes.

Pinback buttons are not simply “pieces of flair,” but rather an effective marketing, promoting, and fundraising tool.

Primary Resource

We would like to offer our special thanks to Keith Brown, owner of American Button Machines, who provided a great deal of information about the many uses of a button machine and pinback buttons. American Button Machines is one of the largest online wholesalers of button machines and supplies, and Mr. Brown loves teaching people about the wonderful world of buttons. In addition to purchasing button makers and supplies at, you can take an online course about button making with a final quiz that enables you to be a "graduate" of Button University.


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