Swancon Name Badges
For the past few years, we’ve done laminated badges, as opposed to badges stuck in little transparent plastic holders, because holders are much more expensive than laminating pouches.
Allow approximately 1 minute per badge when working in bulk. That’s time for printing, cutting, laminating and hole-punching. Cutting may be easier and neater with a guillotine.
You could buy pre-perforated sheets to print badges on, but it’s a pain to align your printing with the perforations, and you can only get ’em in one colour: white.
Pitfalls to not fall into
Ensure your badge design leaves adequate space at the top for the hole punch. Ensure the font(s) you have selected have high readability. Ensure the font and font sizes you have selected are readable to below-average eyesight at a reasonable distance, but are small enough that names like “Christopher” and “Bateman-Graham” will fit. When choosing paper colours (for various special badges such as committee, guests, etc), do not choose dark colours that will decrease readability.
Consider double-siding your badges, by printing two copies of the badge side-by-side, and then folding so they are back-to-back, before you laminate. Single-sided badges have a 50% chance of being unreadable. If you do not double-side, consider punching two holes at the top of the badge instead of one, so that the badge with the string threaded through both holes is less likely to flip around.
If you get fancy with your badge designs, carefully consider how much longer this will cause the whole job to take, and how this will impact the badges you have to print at the convention. Consider only getting fancy with the guest and committee badges, as these can all be done before the convention.
A non-trivial number of people will buy convention memberships just before the convention; Assuming you are selling memberships through a solution like Grenadine, you can close as close to the convention as you feel comfortable with, relying on "Just in time" badge printing to cover any you might have otherwise missed. If you have gone back to manual membership systems, ensure that pre-selling of memberships closes at an early enough date that receipt books can be collected (from committee, from shops like Empire and Fantastic Planet, etc.), and names from receipts can be sent to the badge person. Why you might want to do this is an exercise best left to the reader.
Consider what you will need for badge creation at the convention. The first day is particularly busy for badges; mostly for people who are paying on the spot, but also for preprinted badges that were misspelled. Subsequent days are mostly day memberships. For days after the first, you may wish to hand-print badges, to avoid the need for a laptop and printer at the front desk, and to allow you to create badges one at a time without wasting a whole A4 page. (This is particularly a concern if you have chosen to use unusual or expensive paper). If you hand-print, prepare a large number of pre-printed pre-cut blanks for this purpose, so that you only need to fill in name and membership type.
John Parker recommends using a label printer such as Brother's VM-100VP or Dymo's LabelWriter 450. Pre-print and laminate blank badges, then use the label printer at the front desk to quickly produce a professional-looking name to stick on the blank.
Doug Burbidge has written badge printing software that may or may not be useful to you, available here. It automatically scales text so that short names are written in large font size, and longer names in smaller font size.
Laminating machines come in a couple of varieties: constant temperature and variable temperature. Variable temperature machines cost several times as much, but they have an advantage: they warm up much faster, and they are designed to run continuously. Constant temperature machines may take 15 minutes to warm up, and may be designed for something like a 50% duty cycle (e.g. after you’ve had it turned on for 20 minutes, you’re supposed to turn it off for the next 20 minutes). A constant temperature machine may suffice, particularly if you have a backup machine: just leave it turned on all day, and if it dies, oh well. If you don't have a backup machine, however, laminator failure can be catastrophic.
Machines also come in different sizes; a smaller one will take up less space on the registration desk.