Cap badges are a modern form of heraldry and the design of same generally incorporates highly symbolic devices.
British cap badges are commonly made of the following materials:
Plastic cap badges were normally introduced during a prolonged war (e.g. the Second World War) when metals became strategic materials. Nowadays many cap badges in the British Army are made of a material called "stay-brite" plastic because it is cheap, flexible and does not require as much maintenance as the brass ones.
Regimental cap badges are usually cast as one single piece but in a number of cases they may be cast in different pieces. For instance, the badge of the, now amalgamated, The Highlanders (Seaforth, Gordons and Camerons) was cast in two separate pieces: the Queen's Crown and the thistle in one piece, and the stag's head and scroll with regimental motto in another piece. (see the first picture above)
A regiment or battalion may maintain different variations of the same cap badge for members of different sub-units within the same regiment. Such variations are usually made in terms of the badges' material, size and stylization. In most British and Commonwealth regiments, variations in cap badges are normally made for:
Some regiments, mainly the infantry ones, maintain a blackened or subdued version of their cap badges as shiny brass cap badges may attract the enemy's (especially snipers') attention on the battlefield. There are also cloth or embroidered versions for officers or for wear on the jungle cap.
Moreover, regimental badges would often be removed during wartime (and indeed by the modern-day Pakistan Army along the disputed Indian-Pakistani border), to prevent the enemy forces from gathering intelligence about troop strengths and movements.
Soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment and subsequently the Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment wore a cap badge on both the front and the rear of their headdress, a tradition maintained by soldiers in The Rifles when in service dress. The back badge is unique in the British Army and was awarded to the 28th Regiment of Foot for their actions at the Battle of Alexandria in 1801. Knowledge of this honour encouraged the soldiers of the Gloucestershire Regiment in the defence of Gloster Hill during the Battle of the Imjin River in April 1951 during the Korean War.
Additional items that reflect a regiment's historical accomplishments, such as backing cloth and hackles, may be worn behind the cap badge. In Scottish regiments, for instance, it is a tradition for soldiers to wear their cap badges on a small square piece of their regimental tartans. Officer Cadets may wear a small white piece of fabric behind their badges. Members of the Adjutant General's Corps who are attached to a Scottish infantry unit may be seen wearing a Scottish tam o'shanter with their corps badge instead of the Scottish regiment's badge. Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers soldiers attached to regiments likewise often wear that regiment's beret or headdress but with their own Corps badge.
The Royal Highland Fusiliers prefer to wear their white hackle instead of their cap badge with the Scottish Tam O'Shanter. Similarly, in the Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment), only the pipers and drummers wear the regimental cap badge with their glengarries and feather bonnet, while the rest of the regiment wears the red hackle with their blue balmoral and tam o'shanter.
For a period leading up to Remembrance Day artificial poppies are worn by many people in Britain and Canada to commemorate those killed in war. When worn by service personnel in uniform, the plastic stem of the poppy is discarded and the paper petals are fitted behind the cap badge. (On forage caps the paper petals are fitted under the left hand chin strap button.)