Printed Materials Guide

Printer

If you decide to make your own boardgame, at some point you’re going to need printed materials. These are things like cards, the rulebook and of course the box itself. This is in contrast to components, which would include counters, cubes, dice and miniatures.

Many components are fairly straightforward (not including miniatures, which are a different ball game!). You can choose components from the manufacturer’s online catelogue like you would if you were shopping at Amazon.

Printed materials however, are much trickier. You can’t just give them a bunch of rectangular images and say, “Make a deck of cards with these.” You need to know about margin lines, trim lines, bleeds lines, colour modes, colour profiles, resolution… the list goes on.

Not getting these things right initially can be very time consuming and cause you the world of trouble down the line. Let me illuminate the world of printed materials for you…


The first thing to point out is that not all manufacturer’s are going to have the same requirements. A good manufacturer should have produced a guide for publishers that specifies exactly what their requirements are. It is imperative that you follow this very carefully.

That being said, there are a bunch of technical terms that you really need to be familiar with. Your artist and/or graphic designer may not be familiar with all these terms, depending on their background, so you need to make it very clear to them what the requirements are.

Margins

Margins
From the Panda Design Guidebook

Margins are necessary due to imperfections in the manufacturing process. If a machine is printing images on card and then cutting the card to make a deck of cards, there are going to be slight differences in where images are printed on the sheet and where the cut lines are. Margins allow you to avoid spoiled cards when the cards aren’t printed/cut exactly as they should be.

The trim line (in pink in the picture) is where the card ought to be cut. However, if the cut ends up too high, then it will go over the trim line at the top and chop off part of the actual card at the bottom. To prevent this being a problem, all artwork (eg. background colours) needs to extend to the bleed line (in blue), but no text or important icons should appear outside the margin line (in green).

Making sure your graphic designer creates the cards larger than they should be, with an appropriate bleed and making sure that important information stays within the margin line will massively reduce any printing issues. This is equally true for any printed materials, not just cards.

Colours

The central issue here is that colours displayed on a screen look different when you print them. Not only that, but in the same way that colours appear differently on different monitors, they also appear differently when printed using different printers/inks/etc.

You really don’t want the sparkly cards you designed to appear dull and washed out when you print them. Ensuring you follow a few basic rules will prevent any colour mistakes.

The first thing to appreciate is that creating colour with light (like a monitor) is subtly different from creating colour with ink (printing). To ensure maximum compatibility, images designed for display on monitors should use the RGB colour mode (it creates colours by mixing different amounts of Red, Green and Blue).

Images designed for printing on the other hand, should use the CMYK colour mode (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK). This is a crucial setting that you have to get right when the image is created in your graphics software (eg. Photoshop).

Colour Settings
Panda’s recommended settings

The second, trickier issue is the colour profile, which accounts for differences between different printers and inks. For a particular manufacturer, they will have calibrated their machines to work with a particular colour profile. For example, Panda uses the “US Sheetfed Uncoated v2” colour profile. It might sound like gibberish, but it’s very important that you set the colour profile in your graphics software when you create the image.

Finally then, the resolution of the image should typically be set to 300 pixels per inch (ppi). Much like the blockiness that results when you reduce the resolution of your computer display, using the wrong resolution when your images are created will result in your printed materials looking fuzzy and lacking sharpness.

Text

The main issue to be aware of here is that text is typically comprised of very thin black lines and we have been trained over many years of reading to spot small differences between these lines. This makes it particularly important that text is rendered accurately.

Now you might think black is black, but there are actually different ways of creating black print. Obviously you have black ink and if you just use this it is known as pure black. Rich black, on the other hand, is a version of black created by mixing black with cyan, magenta and yellow. It still looks black, but it’s warmer and less stark.

For text though, you want it to be as stark as possible. To this end, you should ensure that all text, where appropriate, is pure black. This will avoid any blurriness that might occur if you are mixing inks to create the black text colour.


This is by no means a comprehensive guide, but hopefully it will alert you to the key things you should be aware of. Would you have any other tips for the aspiring publisher?

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Jonathan Hicks

Jonathan is the director of Maven Games. He blogs and records podcast episodes several times a week. Whenever he isn't doing anything else, he designs games.

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