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[Card Printing/Packaging] Hey Tony

Started by Jason Morningstar, August 08, 2009, 10:45:30 PM

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Jason Morningstar

Hey Tony!

I want to pick your brain about Misery Bubblegum.  I understand you are producing this game as a single deck of cards with 1-2 pages of rules and quick-start material.  Some initial questions:

1.  Who is doing the printing?  The production? 
2.  What are your card specs, in terms of weight, coating, etc?
3.  Are you putting it all in a tuck box, and if so, are you assembling them yourself?  If not, are you shrinking the whole thing?
4.  How are you handling the rules insert - are you paying the printer to put it all together, assembling them after the fact, etc?

I'm working on several custom card-based projects so your experience will be very valuable to me.  I'm sure I'm not alone.




Oh ... okay, first you have to understand that my "production process" here is fundamentally influenced by my getting things together at what turns out to be very much the last minute.

So, first tip:  Eight weeks or so out from the convention you're aiming at?  You need to have things finished.  Not "in progress".  Not "I can knock it into shape easy, it'll just take a day or three."  Finished.

Because if you don't, you'll end up like me, scrambling at the last minute and still just barely getting things finished by the skin of my teeth!  And none of us want that.

That warning having been given:  the folks at Guild of Blades have been absolutely aces in compensating for my total inability to predict how long a process this would be.  I don't know if I got super-special treatment from them, or if they help all of their customers this way, but I felt like I was super-special to them.

A fortunate thing:  I had checked with them in advance, gotten their card template, and therefore knew that for 2.5"x3.5" cards with .1" possible registration errors I needed to produce 2.7"x3.7" art that kept everything important within the 2.3"x3.3" square centered on the middle.  Folks who have dealt with bleed and registration will be nodding their heads in recognition now, but it's a point I like to keep bringing up, in case it saves someone having to redo their art on a deadline:  Anything that gets cut (like cards) may get cut slightly wrong, so you need to make sure that if the borders aren't exactly where you expected (and therefore your center art is closer to the edges than you planned) there is both slack on the side where your art gets too close to the edge so that it doesn't run over, and extra art on the side where your art gets too far from the edge, so that it doesn't show unexpected white at the edges.

But, like I said, I actually had that under control.  All the art was made to the proper specs.  I don't like to think about where I'd have been if I only found out later that I needed everything small in the center, with extra room at the outside.  Removing .2 inches from every border of my art would not have been fun.  Get your sizes right before you start doing art (unless you're doing your art all-vector, in which case you do not care, so good for you!)

And it's worth pointing out that, though the GoB people were always very serious about telling me how registration errors can and do crop up, the decks that I've looked at so far appear to all have registration so perfect that I can't find a single card where I can say "Oh, hey, that art seems slightly off center in some direction."  So you make your cards so that even the one-in-a-thousand massive mis-cut looks good, but those are a rarity.

GoB does 12pt Carolina Cover Stock:  I believe it's a glossy paper, then hit with glossy ink, so it's not really the same as printing the card and then coating it paper, ink and all ... but seriously, I've gotten my hands on the physical cards and I can't tell the difference.  It all just looks uniformly glossy.  Maybe in a year or two, when I've been using them consistently, I'll notice the colors starting to wear off but right now they seem pretty darn good. 

The cards are not casino-heavy:  more like Magic cards in both stiffness and weight.  That said, they are brilliantly well color saturated.  I had grown accustomed to looking at the output that my images made when run through my home color printer, so seeing the professionally printed versions was like being socked in the eyeballs with a rubber hose filled with awesome.

GoB's process lets you specify the back of each card individually, which for some people is just another hoop to jump through (copy-paste my one back into every spot in this template) and for some (like me) is a sine-qua-non of producing a deck where there are not just a few backs, but actual whole sections of deck where every single card has meaningful and unique information printed on both sides.  The problem?  There's no guide yet for how to lay out your backs so that they line up with your fronts.  There's a logic to it:  if you read the instructions it's fairly clear how the cardstock must be being fed through the machine at each phase, and so I was fairly convinced that the layout I'd given was the only possible layout, and that the cards must all line up, even if I didn't have time for a proof deck to make sure of it.  But I'll say that the minutes checking through the first deck I could pull out of the Priority Mail boxes were pretty tense:  Every front went with the back it was intended for, but I'd have preferred a chance to have made a mistake on that without the results being devastating.  Again:  That's because I didn't include enough time in my process for a proof-deck before going to a full print run of 100 decks.

Tuck boxes were a problem, because my deck weighs in at 81 cards, and GoB's standard tuck box only goes out to 72 cards ... so I went with their oversized tuck box, and the guys there told me "Seriously, these boxes are pretty big!" but I said "Hey, don't sweat it, I don't have time to look into anything else before GenCon, so you're doing me a favor."  And yeah, now that I've seen them the boxes are larger than I wanted (particularly, they won't fit into a pocket, which means that they'll presumably be discarded fairly quickly by anyone actually using the cards) but like I said, that's a factor of my not having given enough lead-time.  I have no doubt that post-GenCon I can find a place to get printed tuck boxes made to size, and correct the size issue.  But GenCon folks, and some thereafter, will be purchasing a small deck rattling around inside a big oversized box as a testimony to my hurried process.

I am assembling everything myself.  I've got bagged decks (thank goodness I don't have to sort all the cards) but I'll be folding tuck boxes and inserting pamphlets by hand.  I assume that by this time it goes without saying that I didn't have the rules inserts ready at the time that I finished up the card art?  I didn't.  GoB would have happily printed them for me, and assembled the boxes and everything.  But I couldn't take advantage of that service, more fool me.  So instead I've printed the pamphlets on my home printer, and cut them out with the fairly-high-end razor cutter that is one of the many home tools I have from past production processes, and they'll all look fine.

I don't quite know whether to be ashamed that I'm putting things together so much at the last minute in so many ways, or proud of how 'indie' it all is.  I could formulate a "Quick Start" guide on wednesday, print it in the afternoon, cut it in the evening, then fold it on the plane to GenCon and insert it into boxes before handing them to IPR.  And I may.  It's nice to have the capacity to do some of the publishing tasks straight from home, because it gives you the ability to really keep making refinements right up to delivery.

I will say this though:  you can't afford to have that mindset with the cards themselves.  I got lucky.  If I'd pushed the card printing more like four weeks in advance of the GenCon date?  I would not have product to come to GenCon with.  As it is, I was aiming to have something to come to DexCon, and only the complete impossibility of meeting that 'lead-the-target' deadline got me into panic mode in time to get this done.  There were very real concerns with GoB about whether they would have capacity in this season to process my order (as they're doing a lot) and all sorts of other questions that I hadn't even thought about until they suddenly cropped up.  Not niggling questions, real and serious questions brought about by the fact that there are very, very few places doing POD card printing these days.  The whole industry is near its capacity at this time of year, so that shopping around doesn't do you much good.  You just hear "Uh ... bad time of year to ask for things."  The folks at Guild of Blades were absolute champs in helping me through this, and I'm very pleased both with their ability to compensate for my poor planning, and their ability to turn out good product.  Happy customer here.

So if there's one lesson I would suggest to people?  Give yourself way, way, WAY more time in advance, for something like card printing, than you think you'll need.  Lulu makes printing a book a very turn-key process:  Once you've actually gotten it formatted correctly, you can (if you're desperate) have books to you the NEXT DAY.  That's not theoretical, by the way, I had a mix-up a few GenCons ago where that ended up being precisely the service I needed, and Lulu delivered.  But Card printing is not at that stage:  It is both a more involved process (since the die-cutters for card printing are nowhere near as automated as the page-cutters and binders for book printing) and one that is less saturated with services.  You need the kind of lead time that in olden days you would have needed for printing a book.  And that's if (as, thank heavens, was the case for me) nothing goes wrong.

A sane process would have a lead-time where you started talking to the card printers perhaps six months in advance of when you needed final cards:  Have all of your rules ready, all your pamphlets, the art for your tuck boxes, everything.  Get a batch of cards turned out as proofs, look them over, have time to correct any mistakes.  As part of the proof, take a look at the tuck box and pamphlets, see how everything's put together by the printer.  Maybe have a go-round or two with them about that.  Get onto their queue of product five months or so in advance, so that they can do your job at a time when they're not so busy, and you can have the cards sitting around making you feel confident for a month before your convention.

Doing things in a hurry is a fine and glorious tradition of our community, but I don't want anyone to think it's better.  It's possible, barely, but it'll cost you in frayed nerves and decisions made on the fly.

Still ... it's been a good ride.  I'm looking forward to getting product to people, big, oversized box and all.
Just published: Capes
New Project:  Misery Bubblegum


the over sized box is just so people have a place to hold all their expansion decks! thanks for the story, i have been looking into POD cards for a long time, good to hear GOB has good service.


Hi Tony,

Average registration variance runs about .03" to .04", but if you look hard enough, I am sure you will find a small number than ran as much as .07" and even .09" and .1". It just happens that your card design and color scheme was ideal for masking that variance to such a degree its extraordinarily hard to see. So kudos on the graphic design front. It makes a HUGE difference.

Now that we are polishing off the last of the summer convention season printing with the last of the Gen Con orders heading out on Monday, over the next week we'll finally have the time needed to put up our expanded documentation. I've got two several page PDFs, one covering card design and layout (especially with regards to its visual impact on the varying registration issue) and expanded layout guide, that will go over press sheet layouts, covering front and back orientations and matching up specific fronts with specific backs. So hopefully the pre press process of preparing cards and layouts will be easier henchforth.

Sadly, this summer I have had to decline/delay printing for a goodly number of business. As POD card printing has been expanding, our orders going into the convention seasons quickly outstripped our ability to keep up with production. We chose to vastly limit taking in new clients in order to guarantee we could adequately service existing clients. One reason we were able to take you on was how prepared you were with you card designs and press sheet layouts. I am so with you with trying to get your publications ready for print far in advance of the show, and in fact, even in yoru rush, you were more prepared than many. Hehe, I myself can remember being at Kinkos in years past printing off small saddle stitched RPG books the nights before Origins and Gen Con, so, um, yeah.

You are right, for POD productions, there really are no automated die cutting solutions for cards. Some folks have tried to use paper riem cutters to cut decks whole swath as a means of being fast, but those aren't die cut, so they become problematic if you ever wanted those cards to match up with cards produced later in a later printing. There are automated die cutting presses, but they are NOt for POD. The smallest I found was 20 tons, would take up 1/3rd the square footage of our retail store and would take hours to program, but once programed could knock off thousands of decks fairly quickly. We have a design for an automated die cutter that is appropriate sized and scaled for our operations, that when finished will spead up the process by a multiple of 5 to 10 times. So in the not-so-distant future we'll have a lot more capacity and should be about to get faster turn arounds, even during the busy convention season.

Thanks for the good words. Glad you are happy with the cards and hope you have a good Gen Con.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group -
Guild of Blades Publishing Group -
1483 Online -

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group

Jason Morningstar

Thanks Tony,

That's a cautionary tale and a ringing endorsement of Guild of Blades.

Ryan, I'm looking forward to your expanded documentation.  My happiness would be complete if it included an InDesign template for cards, with fronts and backs mapped accurately.

Double King


I think Bill White went with Guild of Blades also for his limited run deck on Ganakagok.  You may also want to ping him for feedback on his experiences.  Those are supposed to be out for GenCon (i hope i hope).

Fwiw, I know designers that have had good and bad experiences with GoB POD.  In about equal measure.  Not certain how i feel about vendors using the Forge as quality control and feedback.  I've been leery of that here for a while.  Feels less helpful and slightly predatorial. 



Jason Morningstar

I don't know, if Ryan wants to participate here I think that can only be good.

He's providing a service that is relatively unique right now, he's attuned to our needs, he's listening and responding.  I don't get a hard sell vibe.  I'm not seeing the downside.


I agree, I like to read what Ryan has to say.

David Artman

Quote from: guildofblades on August 09, 2009, 05:52:48 PMIt just happens that your card design and color scheme was ideal for masking that variance to such a degree its extraordinarily hard to see.
Could you unpack that further? Was it a use of borders? Or is the art very detailed or "busy" so that one can't really say for sure where the center is?

And I concur with Jason, though I'd hope you'd make a template for a variety of DTP and illustration packages, not just the ($700+) InDesign (e.g. Inkscape, GIMP, Scribus, OpenOffice).
Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

Andy Kitkowski

Quote from: Double King on August 13, 2009, 01:35:22 PM
Fwiw, I know designers that have had good and bad experiences with GoB POD.  In about equal measure.  Not certain how i feel about vendors using the Forge as quality control and feedback.  I've been leery of that here for a while.  Feels less helpful and slightly predatorial.

Yeah, I'm mixed on this as well, would like to maybe see an official ruling on it. There's only one negative experience that I've heard of with GoB, and that was all pretty much due to the following:
1) GoB didn't (like he did this year and further) cut off clients when it looked like too much was coming his way in the con season.
2) GoB had to outsource gluing, and couldn't do as much quality control as in-house (and since, they now have their own gluing/binding machines so quality has never had problems since).
3) The author waited until the last minute to print, literally getting his product rejected by every other PoD on the market because the rush job was unmanagable.

I've had close to about 1,000 copies of Maid printed by GoB since last year. There were some glue issue last year. There was a process issue which they immediately streamlined. There have been queuing issues with print/ship jobs due to con season (I ordered a major reprint of several hundred copies, sent to 3 locations (including direct to Japan) and totally forgot that I was doing so right before Con Season, duh). Anyway, my overall experience with them has been so unshakingly positive that it will take a slew of problems (or hearing a slew of client problems that have happened within the last 8 months) to make me lose faith. Every few months I re-evaluate and keep options open (you never know what the future brings), and each time I choose GoB again.

GoB has overcome their hurdles and growing pains (last year GC-time there were a bunch that creeped up at once). So if you're looking for feedback on their service, I'd do the following:
* Discard all stories you've heard about them that happened prior to January 2009: Both positive and negative.
* Listen to the stories (both positive and negative) that have happened this year (and beyond), and make your decision then.
* Re-evaluate regularly, and be mindful of your own problems and others' recent problems. There's no reason to remain unwaveringly loyal in the face of an organization that later fails to meet goals for yourself or others, so keep your ears open.
The Story Games Community - It's like RPGNet for small press games and new play styles.


Hi All,

Well, if Ron or any other powers that be (are there any others here?) decide its not cool for me or any other service provider to not respond to comments about their service, good or bad, then I will certainly abide by that.

However, the idea that I should not be welcome here to participate on the forge would seem rather silly, since I have been here for 8-10 years or so I think. And I remain a principle owner of a small press game publishing company too, that does publish RPG material and will be publishing more in the future.

There have been issues that have come up, for certain. Some we've been able to correct either through refined processes or better equipment. With books its almost always binding and trimming. For instance, for a rush job we took this year, we ended up with a sizable books (450+ pages) with fairly small page margins. When trimming the books, we found the amount of blade drift (which always happens to some degree when cutting through a large stack of paper) caused the cut to drift into the outter page template print when doing the face trim. After 3 such bad trims, we worked it out with the publisher to bind the books and trim the tops and bottoms, but not the faces, then tweaked our binding process a bit to those face books faces to come out more square without trimming. They came out "decent", but not as I would have liked. If the book had had larger margins, likely would not have been an issue. If we had a lot of advance time on the production, it could have layed out again to have those wider margins. The time was not there. I suspect there must be some higher end hydrolic cutters that have the force and clamping pressure needed to cut such large books more squarely with far less blade drift, but I don't know which machines those might be and they are almost certainly larger than what would be ideal for a POD producer to use.

Some issues are merely those of expectations. Obviously as a producer we strive to meet all expectations, but sadly some can be unrealistic. The most common we have encountered is that of print and die cutting registration on ur POD cards. All printers have a registration variance. All die cutters do too. Combine them together and the combined affect can add up. Our average registration is NOT the equal of traditionally printed cards done by a printer that specializes in such. At least not one that is doing their job well. But sometimes there is an expectation that our variance should somehow come in smaller than even the traditional amount found on Magic the Gathering Cards and the like. Which, to be frank, is likely never going to happen (though we'll continue to try and figure out how to make it happen). Its not a realistic expectation, in my opinion. That being something we are unable to change, we are simply working on a greater amount of documentation and examples, so this can be clearly understood by potential clients up front so if they decide to move forward they can have measured expectations and can more adequately make designs that will compensate for such.

>>>Could you unpack that further? Was it a use of borders? Or is the art very detailed or "busy" so that one can't really say for sure where the center is?

And I concur with Jason, though I'd hope you'd make a template for a variety of DTP and illustration packages, not just the ($700+) InDesign (e.g. Inkscape, GIMP, Scribus, <<<

Hi David,

Well, the largest issue with arriving with good looking game cards, especially those done via POD, is compensating for registration variance. The simple reality is the image will print slightly off where it should on the sheet (registration variance) and the die cutting will be off slightly as well. That is a universal truth of printing and cutting anything. Its why for must full color fliers, book covers, etc, printers want a good 18" bleed. Obviously for cards, a variance of 1/8 would be fairly substantial. It is the challenge of good card production to lower that variance. We work with a maximum bleed of .1" and therefore also a maximum registration variance of .1", though our average variance is more like .03" or so.

Lets say you designed a card with a solid colored border. Black, white, whatever. If you content inside was a stark contrast from that border color, then the border itself will stand out more visibly. A finished card is 2.5" x 3.5". Lets say you design a border of .1" on either side of the card. If the card prints and registers .05" off the left side, with such a small border what you end up with is a left border of just .05" and then a right border of .15", making the right border 3 times larger than the left. That unbalance can look a bit funny. There are a lot of ways to design around this to compensate for it, from wider borders to no borders, to background images that extent over the borders and the bleed area, to borders with very similar design colors as the interior, etc. I am quite sure I haven't seen but a fraction of the design methods that can compensate for registration drift. With the expanded documentation we are working on, we are simply striving to bring how important the issue is to the final look of the cards and showing some methods on how to test how a particular design will fair.

I know that didn't exactly answer your question. I think Tony's cards blended main card content and the border areas well plus his artwork is simply awsome, so I suspect that it simply further detracts attention away from the borders. The end result being that his cards simply look dead centered, but if I were a betting man and knowing our production process, I would say they aren't truly centered. I wold expect there to be an average variance of about .03" in one direction or another, but with his design you just don't see it.

Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Retail Group -
Guild of Blades Publishing Group -
1483 Online -
Ryan S. Johnson
Guild of Blades Publishing Group

David Artman

Thanks, Ryan--that's mostly what I thought.

Now... to finish that new Mafia design. ;)
Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages

Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Just in case ...

Anyone who provides services or any other aspect of role-playing publishing is welcome to participate here, if those services et cetera are demonstrably useful to independent publishers. I can't say Guild of Blades is officially welcome or unwelcome; that makes no sense. Basically, Ryan is both promoting his services and opening them up to public critique by participating. I don't think he's ever over-stepped the bounds into raw advertising to jack a thread topic, which I'd moderate. (If you disagree, of course, you can always report a post, and I'll consider your point.)

I wish other fulfillers, printers, retailers, and distributors would do the same. Some have in the past and the vast majority have been welcome and have posted some great stuff. Ryan Dancy's points about what we do at the Forge were especially insightful. A few have tried to offer exploitative services as if they were colonials and we were savages, and in nearly every case, that resulted in near-massacres which I recall with pride.

Anyway, never mind the memory lane; my point is that the Guild of Blades presence here isn't an endorsement at the site level, so much as a degree of participation would be maybe easier to understand if it were one of many rather than all by itself.

I hope that made sense ...

Best, Ron

Paul Czege

Hey Tony,

I think the Misery Bubblegum cards look great.

Can I ask what DTP program you used to lay them out? And you delivered them to GoB for printing as pdf files? Did you do RGB or CMYK images? Did you use a specific color palette when you colored and created them? What was the DPI of your artwork? Did you deliver a pdf comprised of a combination of raster artwork and vector text? Or was each card a fully rasterized image?


My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans