Readable name tags

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improved conference interaction
larger name-tag fonts


How to create readable name tags

Selecting name-tag holders

Most name-tag holders in the US are designed to hold a name tag that's 4 inches wide, 3 inches high. Most name-tag holders in Europe are designed to hold a name tag that's 90mm wide, 54mm high. The US size is better for readability but the Europe size is adequate. There are other sizes.

Name-tag holders have several different attachment mechanisms:

  • Strings around the neck are the worst for readability: they're usually hanging too low ("excuse me for a moment while I dive under the lunch table to look at your name tag") and they're often backwards (although good name tags are printed double-sided, eliminating this problem).
  • Metal pins avoid these problems but can rip thin clothing.
  • Rubber alligator clips avoid ripping clothing but are trouble for attendees without shirt pockets.
  • Magnets avoid this trouble, but you have to warn attendees not to pocket them ("why don't my magstripe cards work any more?") and you have to offer alternatives for attendees with pacemakers. Maybe this isn't actually necessary; maybe the warnings on the back of the magnetic holders are just a marketing stunt; but you don't want to risk accidentally killing your attendees, do you? Put up a big sign saying "Magnets! Do not use with pacemakers!" And don't say "Do you have a pacemaker?" specifically to the old guy standing in line; instead loudly say "Make sure not to use this if you have a pacemaker!" to the younger people standing in front of him.

Of course, if you're stealing a pile of name tags rather than buying them, you'll have to make do with what you have.

Preparing the list of attendees

The instructions below assume that you have a simple text file attendees.txt, one attendee per line, with a colon separating the name from the affiliation:
     Brian May:Liverpool John Moores University
     Spike Lee:New York University
     John Cleese:Cornell University
Accents might work properly if your file is UTF-8 encoded.

Creating the PDF

These instructions assume that you are running Ubuntu. Install the TeX typesetting system (as root) if you don't have it installed already:
     aptitude install texlive-full
Download the readablenametags script and the default logo:
     chmod 755 readablenametags
Create the PDF:
     LOGO=nametagscrypto.pdf WIDTH=4in HEIGHT=3in PAPER=letterpaper \
     ./readablenametags < attendees.txt > tags.tex
     pdflatex tags
This creates 4-inch-by-3-inch name tags on letter paper (with marks showing where you should cut):

For typical European name tags you would use
     LOGO=nametagscrypto.pdf WIDTH=90mm HEIGHT=54mm PAPER=a4paper \
     ./readablenametags < attendees.txt > tags.tex
     pdflatex tags
instead. To put your own conference name, logo, etc. on the name tags, replace nametagscrypto.pdf with your own PDF or JPG, formatted as a thin horizontal strip.

Print the PDF (single-sided), cut appropriately, fold each name tag in half (essential if your name-tag holders prefer showing their back sides, and helpful for stability in any case), and insert each name tag into a holder. You might want to try printing one page of the PDF first to check that the size is good for the holder.

That's it!


This is version 2016.01.30 of the howto.html web page.