Making Your Own Boxes

If you’re happy getting your boxes made, by either the printers making your cards or elsewhere, feel free to skip this post. Because here I’m just going to explain how I made the boxes. So you’ve probably already realised this post

via GIPHY

I first got the idea of making my own boxes after reading Jackson Pope’s site about handcrafting games. The link is here: http://creationandplay.blogspot.com/2018/05/how-to-craft-tray-and-lid-box.html and full of excellent advice, not all of which I’m about to copy here. The entire website is really useful for anybody interested in games design, production or publishing, so I recommend giving it a read.

I did things slightly differently to Jackson. First thing I did was purchase a Cricut Explore. There are machines which will cut card for you, and save an incredible amount of time when it comes to cutting out the boxes. They’re also useful for cutting out shapes and constructs for prototyping. Mine was second hand and cost around £200, and whilst it’s by no means essential, I wouldn’t have done it without one.

The net of my box was determined by two things- card size and UK postage designations. The maximum height, including packing, could be 2.5cm. Taking into account the thickness of the card I was using (75mm greyboard), I went with a length of 89mm for the box (91mm for the lid); width of 65mm for the box (67mm for the lid), and height of 19mm for the box (17mm for the lid). The 2mm allowed the lid to fit whilst still being a snug fit, and the gap in height meant it could be gripped from below.

The Cricut design is here: https://design.cricut.com/#/design/151555166 (that’t the first design I’ve linked to, so let me know if it doesn’t work). With a simple cut around the perimeter and score the rectangle in the middle. Here’s an image of it:

I went through a number of iterations before landing on this. Hence the name of the file.

The Cricut itself worked a charm. Except when it didn’t. But I learnt through going through a number of sheets of grey board: take care of your cutting mat and blade. I didn’t think about it, but I was using that machine to it’s fullest. I didn’t realise how badly until after a number of poor cuts I tried replacing the blade and mat. All the following cuts were like a hot knife through butter. My cut was a pressure of 300, done three times over, which gave me enough time to fold and stick together the previous box by the time the next one was done.

Once I’d made 300 boxes, it was time to cover them. Jackson recommends vinyl, and I did have some great success with matt laminated vinyl, but after some discussions with a local printing company they persuaded me to try matt laminated paper, and there was no difference. Well, actually, one- it cost about a third as much as the vinyl.

The matt laminated sheets were all printed and I picked them up. I had to cut them out, which was probably the most laborious part of the manufacturing process. I initially started by doing small wing cuts at the corners, keeping as much of the material as possible. Unfortunately, this resulted in some of the sides not sticking to the inside of the box, as there was too much material there. Instead I just cut rectangles form the corners, trying to match the outline of the box closely, whilst leaving a small amount of overlap to keep things structurally sound. The rest followed Jackson’s guide to a tee: start by placing the lid/box face down on the laminate, fold it onto the front and rear side. Fold the flaps around, cut the tops at the corners and fold the rest onto the inner part of the box. Then fold the longer sides up and over.

All of this took longer than actually cutting out the boxes. For one thing, with the Cricut doing all the work I was able to just sit back and watch tv (or SGDQ, which I managed to catch incredibly amounts of), but when wrapping the boxes I had to be focused all the time. But the results were worth it. If you want to make a 2-part lidded box then I hope this was helpful, and get a cricut.

Printing the Cards

I’m writing this from a UK persepctive, so anybody reading this in the USA will probably have closer card printers.

There are three things you’ll need to get printed for your card game. The cards, a box and the rules. Some people combine 1 & 3 and print the rules on additional cards, which will save money at the expense of being able to have the rules on one sheet. If you get the cards printed through a company which does set numbers of cards and won’t change in single increments than this can be a money saver or impossible depending upon the card numbers.

When it comes to card numbers, one thing you need to consider is the size of the box required. In the UK if you need to post anything over 2.5cm the cost goes from a large letter to a small parcel. This includes the packing you need to include to make sure it gets to its destination in one piece. If you need over 60 cards and want to keep postage costs down you need to consider a double deck box, which will obviously increase the box price.

Once you know exactly how many cards you need you can start looking at the printing options. Obviously China is an option, but unlike larger games the savings on card games compared to EU printing aren’t that great, and outweighed by the need to have CE testing and shipping costs. Ivory Games Maker and Cartamundi are obvious UK printing options here, but unless you are printing a lot expect to pay significantly more for them. In the end I went with Ludocards. Their pricing is transparent, easy to see (instant quotes), all safety checks on the materials has been done and they were easy to communicate with. They were also a lot more competitive on price. The great thing about using them was when I was running the Kickstarter I could price in additional cards quickly for the stretch goals.

For the artwork it was just a matter of using the templates provided. Photoshop is the easiest for me, so it was just a case of making sure the bleed etc was correct, then saving the whole thing as a multi-page pdf.

There are a few things to consider when using Ludocards:

  • The tuck boxes aren’t great. For my promo copies I didn’t get them laminated, which may have made a difference, but the box quality was what made me want to make my own. I’ll talk more about making my own next time, but definitely check out the tuck box quality before deciding upon using it to sell. I can’t talk about the other boxes as I never ordered them. One good thing about this was I knew that my boxes would be considered large letters instead of small parcels (the postage costs of which was untenable).
  • You need to ask via email for things such as spray varnishing, which is free, but something I expected as standard. If you’re aware of this it’s no problem though.
  • Additional leaflets are expensive for what they are. This is understandable as it does complicate the manufacturing process somewhat, but you can get them printed elsewhere for a fraction of the price. We’re talking 0.85 euro vs 0.10 euro per leaflet.
  • If you are getting them printed cards only, it actually isn’t always cheaper to get them printed in sets. When I needed sets of 60 cards, it was actually cheaper to get them printed in sets of 120. This changed depending upon the total sets I wanted, with the cheapests varying between 60, 120, 180 and 240 depending upon the numbers. We’re talking a few pence per set, but if you’re on a budget that adds up, heres an example of a spreadsheet I made to work it out:
Luckily I like spreadsheets
  • Don’t forget to add the 22% tax, unless you’re VAT registered (which, unless you expect to sell a lot of your game, it doesn’t really make sense to be if you can avoid it (disclaimer- I am not an accountant))
  • Brexit. God knows what’s going to happen here, but on the flip side if you manufacturer in the EU and the UK you won’t get hit with US China tarrifs.

I had my cards printed at Ludocards, made the boxes myself, and had the rules leaflets printed at an online printing company. I’ll go over making a box next post, as it’s quite detailed, but leaflets are suprisingly easy- any leaflet printing company will give you quotes instantly. Your rules leaflet should fold up to be the size of your cards and printed double sided. For costs I paid a little over £25 for 400 rules leaflets.

Getting Art

pt 2 of how to publish a small card game

You’ve designed your card game, playtested it until it’s in a state you’re happy with, and you want to make it and sell it. One of the biggest obstacles to this is the art; where to source it from and how much it costs. If you’re already something of an artist yourself then excellent, but most of us can’t draw for toffee, so need to get it elsewhere. Hopefully some of these experiences regarding art are helpful.

  1. Art isn’t graphic design. Before you go looking for artwork ensure you understand what you want your cards to look like. For Forks I had a chat with some friends who suggested some looks, and we settled on a clear yet distinct look. This meant when I needed to source the artwork for the cards I could specify dimensions, colour and give as much detail as possible about what I needed.
  2. How much art do you actually need? If you’ve got ~50 cards, each with unique art, that is going to cost a lot. Consider ways to cut down on the art requirements per card. Can cards share the artwork, or zoom in on different parts of the same art? Can a change in colour help to differentiate? Does every card need a piece of artwork? Also, are you remembering art for the box and the back of cards? For Forks, we used the boxart for the art for the back of the cards, changing the colour and removing different parts depending upon the type of card. This allowed us to get the most out of the most expensive piece of art.
  3. Is it possible to use pre-existing art? If you like something, approach the artist and ask how much to use it commercially. This is what I did for some of the logos, and it should work out much cheaper than paying for commissions.
  4. Budget for a good artist for the most critical pieces. As I detailed here: https://radical8games.com/forks/designer-diary-8-choice-art/ unlike the logos on the card, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted for the box art, just something striking, clean and distinct. In this case I decided to budget much more for something which I would be discussing with the artist, rather than just telling them what I want. The results ended up being fantastic, and suitable for use not just on the box, but on the back of each card.
  5. Where to look. I used conceptart.org, which was a wonderful resource full of artists who actually listened to commission requests before pitching. Unfortunately that’s now dead. I’d now recommend Deviant Art for small commissions. If you offer a paying job you will be able to find someone to fit your budget. Just make sure you look at their previous work and how much they read your commission, because there are a number of artists there who reply to every commission offer no matter what. Other sites like ArtStation allow you to contact artists directly, but charge a fee for posting adverts.
  6. Write a contract before exchanging money or art. It doesn’t need to be filled with legalese, just a clear expectation of:
    • When you will pay (I did two payments- half up front with the rest to follow after milestones have been met)
    • The timescale you agree on, and what will happen if they’re not met
    • How many revisions you can expect, and what will happen if you exceed that number
    • What format you will receive the artwork in, and at what resolution if digital
    • Confirm that the art will be used for commercial purposes, and whether or not you want exclusivity of it.
  7. The cost will vary massively, and you should be able to find something to fit your budget. I don’t want to give a price here, because you’ll be able to find a hundred examples that prove me wrong. The more you can budget per art, the better it will be, but if you’re desperate to get lots of low quality pieces you will be able to do that (to a point), but at that stage it will feel exploitative. Better to think cleverly about your art requirements.

I hope I haven’t missed anything about the art, really it’s a case of knowing what you want, budgeting for as good art as you can get, and making sure yourartist also knows what you want. Let me know if I’ve missed anything out!