A graphic showing an insert medal, a wooden medal, and a metal medal.

When shopping for a custom medal, the first thing you must do is choose the type.

The problem is that there are so many options to choose from, with insert medals, wooden medals and metal medals being the most popular. Each has pros and cons, but sifting through these to find the right fit for your event can be overwhelming. That's where we at Badges And Medals come in.

We've helped hundreds of customers find their perfect medal match and discovered that the secret to our success lies in providing answers to these questions:

In this article, we’ll compare insert, wooden, and metal medals by addressing these questions, so you can confidently pick the right one for your event.

Which medal is the most eco-friendly?

When it comes to eco-friendliness, the material of a medal matters most. It influences whether a medal is sustainable, recyclable, or biodegradable. Let's examine how insert, wooden, and metal medals measure up in eco-friendliness.

Metal medal eco-friendliness:

Metal medals present a mixed case.

While they are recyclable, the environmental cost of producing them is quite high. Most metal medals are made from zinc alloy - with a bit of brass or copper thrown in for strength - or brass, a mix of copper, zinc and tin. Mining and smelting these materials can have negative environmental impacts, like land degradation and water and air pollution. Making zinc alloy and brass also takes a huge amount of energy.

On the upside, once zinc alloy and brass have been made, they can be infinitely recycled. Some suppliers take advantage of this, such as Badges And Medals, making their medals sustainable.

Insert medal eco-friendliness:

Insert medals also present sustainability challenges. They're made of three components: a zinc alloy medal, a vinyl sticker, and a plastic dome to protect the sticker. The dome is made of a man made resin which often can't be recycled because once it's set, it can't be remelted.

Even if your insert medal does have a type of resin that can be recycled, it still complicates recycling efforts because the resin is attached to metal, which has a different recycling process to it. This means the two materials need to be separated before recycling can begin. If your local area doesn't have the facilities to do this, the medals will likely end up in a landfill.

Wooden medal eco-friendliness:

Wooden medals are very eco-friendly. They're kind to the earth, both in production and at the end of their life.

The trees they're cut from absorb carbon dioxide as they grow and can be replanted. (The key is finding a medal supplier that sources its wood from a business with a Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification, which proves the wood has been harvested sustainably.) Wooden medals also take less energy to make than their metal counterparts and, at the end of their life, can be placed in compost to decompose naturally, enriching the soil.

Winner: wooden medals

A custom wooden medal made for Whitianga Marathon.

Which medal is the most durable?

When it comes to durability, not all medals are created equal. Here’s how they stand:

Wooden medal durability:

Wooden medals, while strong, have several vulnerabilities. Like most wooden products, long or extreme exposures to the elements can cause them to become warped, discoloured or deteriorate over time.

To prevent this, keep them away from excessive temperatures, moisture, sunlight, salt, or chlorine. Wooden medals can also be scratched or even broken with enough pressure, but this isn't an easy feat.

Metal medal durability:

Metal medals are well-known for their durability. Although they may get minor scratches or tarnish over time, metal medals are highly resistant to damage and maintain their appearance far longer than their insert or wooden medal counterparts.

Funnily enough, their biggest threat is themselves - if they aren't properly packed during postage, they can rub against each other and leave scratches.

Insert medal durability:

Insert medals are the easiest of the three medals to damage. Their plastic dome, built to shield the design beneath, is also their weak point. It can be scratched and can even warp in high temperatures, such as sitting in a too-hot car.

Winner: metal medals

A photograph of Australian Oz Tag's custom medal.

Which medal offers the most design flexibility?

All custom medals can be customised in some way - hence the name. Being able to customise your medal is a major benefit not only for you but for your recipients as well. It can encourage sign-ups and even boost your promotion opportunities!

Below we'll compare the customisability of insert, wooden and metal medals. Before we start, it's worth noting that all three medal types can be engraved on their backs with a laser and be given a custom ribbon.

Insert medal customisation:

These offer a basic level of customisation. You often have to pick from two sizes - a 50mm medal or a 70mm one - and three colours: gold, silver, and bronze. Some suppliers allow you to choose the decorative elements around the sticker, like a wreath or stars, and all suppliers let you pick the design of the sticker itself. But beyond these aspects, the scope for personalisation is quite limited.

Wooden medal customisation:

Moving a step up in terms of customisation, wooden medals offer a few more options than insert medals. You can often choose their size, wood type, and thickness. You also get to make the design lasered onto one side of the medal. Sometimes, as an additional perk, a supplier will allow you to incorporate unique materials such as paua shell or a plastic 'metal' sheet onto your design to create a distinct look. You can also add a magnet.

Metal medal customisation:

Here's where the real creativity kicks in. Metal medals stand out with the broadest range of customisable features. Most custom medal suppliers will let you choose their thickness, shape, material (such as zinc alloy or brass), plating type (such as antique finishes for a vintage vibe or shiny finishes for more sparkle), and size (and that size range is often bigger than it is for insert or wooden medals).

Some will even let you pick a colour beyond the usual gold, silver and bronze - like black or white! You can also design the medal's face and add colours, line engraving, or cut-outs. Plus, metal medals can be enhanced with unique add-ons such as bottle openers, fidget spinners, or magnets.

Here is a graph showcasing the design options for each medal type:

A table showing how customisable wooden medals, insert medals and metal medals are.

Winner: metal medals

Which medal is the fastest to make?

Insert medal turnaround time:

These are the sprinters in the medal-making marathon. For smaller orders, they're incredibly quick off the blocks, making them a go-to choice for those in a rush. Larger insert medals take about 17 days to design, make and deliver, while smaller insert medals take about eight days. But this speed only holds until the 150-medal mark.

Beyond this point, wooden medals are faster to make. This is because insert medals have a plastic dome which must be added by hand, and then left to dry - a process that slows down as orders increase. Wooden medals, on the other hand, are made using machines, allowing them to be produced more quickly in larger quantities.

Wood medal turnaround time:

Unlike insert medals, wooden medals maintain a more consistent, steady pace in production. They take an average of 22 days to deliver. While this might seem slower, especially for smaller orders, the wooden medals reveal their true strength in bulk. If you want more than 150 medals, wooden medals are the fastest option.

Metal medal turnaround time:

Metal medals are the marathon runners of the group, taking their time to ensure quality and customisation. It takes about 29 days for them to reach your door once you've placed your order. The reason for this longer timeline? It's all in the customisation. Metal medals offer a wider array of customisation options compared to insert or wooden medals, and some must be done by hand, which takes longer.

Winner: insert medals (small orders), wooden medals (large orders)

A diagram showing how long it takes to make each medal type.

Which medal is the best value for money?

Budget is an important factor to consider when choosing your medal. However, several factors influence the final cost of an insert, wooden and metal medal:

  • The number of medals you order
    Big orders have a lower cost-per-medal than smaller orders. This is because bigger orders allow medal suppliers to use their resources more efficiently and reduce overhead costs such as rent, utilities, and salaries.

  • The size of the medal
    The most popular medal sizes are 50mm wide and 70mm wide, although wooden medals tend to be a bit bigger, at around 85mm wide. A smaller medal (e.g. 50mm) will cost you less than a bigger medal (e.g. 70mm) as it's made from fewer materials.

  • The level of customisation
    Some suppliers include full customisation in the price, while others only cover a certain level of customisation and charge for add-ons. These can add up.

  • The type of ribbon
    You can usually choose whether your medal has custom or plain ribbons. Plain ribbons usually have only one or two colours. Meanwhile, custom ribbons can have any colours, text or design features you'd like. Custom ribbons cost more than plain ribbons but have a higher 'wow factor'.

Let's say, for example, that you want to buy 100 medals with a custom ribbon. Here's what that might cost you for each type of medal:

Metal medal price:

Metal medals usually cost between US$3.60 and US$6.90 for an order of 100, but ordering in bulk reduces the cost. For example, ordering 500 medals brings the cost range down to about US$2.60 to US$6.20 per medal. Suppliers usually charge a setup fee to cover the creation of a custom medal mould; however, this fee is usually charged just once because the mould is reusable. At Badges And Medals, this setup fee is $87.40.

Insert medal price:

Insert medals are more budget-friendly, ranging between US$3 to $4.20 per medal for an order of 100. However, it’s important to note that suppliers often charge a setup fee for each insert medal order to cover the costs of using their machines. At Badges And Medals, for example, the setup fee is US$27.20.

Wooden medal price:

Wooden medals often come in at US$3 to US$6 per medal for a batch of 100. However, the type of wood significantly alters the final price. For example, at Badges And Medals, medals made from our sustainably sourced basswood are cheaper than those made from our recycled native timber. Like insert medals, wooden medals also incur a setup fee for each order due to the machine setup required for production. At Badges And Medals, this setup fee is US$51.

Winner: Insert medals (small orders), metal medals (large orders)

Which medal should you choose?

In short, there's no one-size-fits-all answer for every event. It's clear that insert, wooden and metal medals each offer distinct advantages, depending on your specific needs. The decision on which medal to choose ultimately rests with you, considering what best aligns with the spirit and requirements of your event.

Insert medals are best for those who:

  • Are short on time and have a small recipient list.
  • Are hosting a small event on a tight budget.
  • Are less concerned with the environment.

Metal medals would suit those who:

  • Want as much design freedom as possible.
  • Want a high-quality, expensive feel.
  • Are hosting a large event and want to save money.
  • Want a medal that will last as a memento for decades.

Wooden medals are the right choice for those who:

  • Want a medal that aligns with their eco-friendly values.
  • Need a large number of medals relatively quickly.
  • Aren't hosting an event with lots of moisture, salt, chlorine.

Below is a summary of the key differences between the three medal types:

A diagraph showing the key differences between wooden medals, insert medals and metal medals.

Need help choosing a medal?

At Badges And Medals, we understand that choosing the right medal type for your event can be overwhelming. We hope these answers helped you to figure out the right medal to suit your event's needs. If you want personalised advice or to explore our range of custom wooden and metal medals, we encourage you to contact our team.

Contact Our Specialists