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Lanyard Making: Materials, Hardware, Instructions and Machinery

Lanyards, or neck lanyards, are designed to carry a small object around the neck while keeping the hands free. They are comprised of one large loop to fit over one's head and a small loop at the bottom for the object attaching hardware. They are typically used for holding i.d. cards, but more uses are cropping up every day, from keys and cell phones to lip balm and mp3 players. Here I discuss all the essential ingredients that go into making lanyards, from material and hardware selection to lanyard-making instructions and the machinery used to put them together.

Material for making neck lanyards varies from a simple cord or beaded chain to 1.0" wide flat synthetic or cotton webbing. Cotton and nylon lanyard cord material is 1/8" to 3/16" in diameter and available in a wide variety of colors. Beaded chain is available in metal as well as plastic. Nickel plated brass ball chain is by far the most popular for i.d. cards. The most common ball size for beaded chain is 0.12" diameter with an overall chain length 24" to 30". Both cord lanyards and ball chains fall into the subcategory of lanyards known as blank lanyards (non-imprinted), and are among the least expensive lanyards available. For custom printed lanyards, flat cotton, nylon and polyester are the most common. The most popular material widths for printing range from 3/8" to 3/4". Wider materials allow for more robust imprints, as well as better-resolved logos. Material selection for printing will depend on the printing process being used. Cotton and nylon are most commonly used for screen printed lanyards, whereas polyester material is required for both hot stamping and dye sublimation. The most common cut material length for a lanyard is 36" when measured end to end. The finished size (after the loops are formed) is approximately 17", as some of the material gets used up in the production process.

Lanyard hardware selection will depend on the intended use of the lanyard. For i.d. cards and name badge holders, the two most common pieces of hardware are snaphooks and bulldog clips. Snaphooks are also used for attaching many different kinds of objects, from pens and lip balm to cell phones and whistles. A snaphook is a "teardrop" shaped piece of metal or plastic hardware which stays closed due to the tension in the material. They bend open by applying side pressure and spring closed when released. Bulldog clips are manufactured specifically for attaching i.d. cards and i.d. holders with oblong holes punched out of the top. They are spring-loaded and open like jaws when the end is squeezed, and close when released. For attaching keys, lanyards are made with split ring hardware. Familiar to everyone, they consist of a coiled wire for snaking keys on and off the ring. Solid o-rings are used when the id card and name badge holders incorporate a bulldog clip. In this case the bulldog clip (and i.d. holder) is attached directly to the o-ring. Lanyard water bottle holders are becoming more popular as people learn more about the health benefits of proper hydration. The most common water bottle holding attachment hardware is a rubber o-ring which can be stretched around the neck of standard pint and liter plastic water bottles.

In addition to object-attaching lanyard hardware, there is also "inline" lanyard hardware, which adds additional functionality as well as safety features to the lanyard. Center push and side squeeze buckles (similar to those used on backpacks) are used at the bottom of lanyards, allowing the release of a lower lanyard segment containing the lanyard hardware and attached small object. Such release or quick-release features allow for the convenient use of the object without having to remove the lanyard from around the neck i.e. keys, i.d. cards, cell phones etc. Increased personal safety concerns have dictated the use of breakaway connectors for lanyards being used in schools, offices, hospitals and other places where lanyards can get snagged, caught or pulled. These breakaway or "safety" connectors are comprised of a pair of female and male parts installed in line (either in front or behind the neck) with the lanyard material, and come apart when enough force is applied. They are easily reconnected for continued use of the lanyard. Breakaway connectors are available for cord as well as flat lanyard material in all widths.

The method used for producing lanyards depends for the most part on the material being used. For cord and soft ribbon-like materials such as lightweight polyester and cotton, the two lanyard loops are formed by squeezing a metal crimp on to the material with the two ends meeting inside the crimp. For most woven nylon webbing material from 3/8" to 1.0" the loops are formed by stitching the overlapping two ends together using a specialized sewing machine. More recently, molded plastic connectors have been developed for forming the main lanyard loop, which does not require specialized machinery. These plastic connectors secure the cut ends of the material and also allow for the incorporation of a variety of object-attaching hardware, from snaphooks and bulldog clips to o-rings and water bottle holders.

Machinery for making lanyards ranges from light- to heavy-duty, and from manual to automatic. For large scale lightweight and "soft" lanyard material production, a foot press fitted with metal stamping dies to hold and form a metal crimp is usually necessary. Lanyards made of heavier material, such as nylon webbing, use either a dedicated industrial bar tack machine or a more modern computer-controlled machine capable of stitching a variety of different patterns selected from a user-operated control panel. Both types of machines are capable of varying the length of the stitch across the material, which is important for materials of different widths. - Article by Scott Shenkel