First off, I only recommend getting into this mess if you genuinely enjoy papercraft. If you hate papercraft, you will hate PNP. By the time you factor in supplies and elbow grease you are not necessarily saving much money, either. I like all kinds of games, and I like making things, so it works for me.
The HP Instant Ink program makes PNP cost-effective in some circumstances, as I can print a Letter-size sheet for anywhere from a third to a quarter of what the print shop charges. I bought an inkjet printer, the Envy 5055, after my old dinosaur laser printer died, knowing it would pay for itself after a few war games, and I have gotten so much use out of it. I bought it because it was Instant Ink compatible and that program has been really great. I usually do the 100 page plan, but if I know I’ll be printing some large games I bump it up to 300 pages for that month. It allows 2x rollover pages. I have no idea how they make money. I assume they gain money from normal people, and lose money from PNPers, and break about even.
- Self-healing cutting mat
- metal cork-backed ruler
- utility knife
- double-sided tape for tuckboxes and counters
- Avery permenant gluestick for almost everything else
- blade sharpener, I have no idea why people go through so many blades instead of sharpening
- Scotch laminator with Scotch 3mil sheets
- We-R 3-way corner punch (4mm,7,mm,10mm) that has been amazing all the way up to laminated stock which it can’t handle too well.
- Crop-o-Dile to supplement it, the Crop-o-Dile only does ¼” and ½” corners, which is a bit larger than I’d like, but it is heavy duty.
I am big on recycling and upcycling and routinely thrift old games for bits, boards, and boxes. I have picked up various craft and educational items, like counting cubes and projector tiles, and put them to very good use. You can find a lot of useful materials thrifting. YMMV, but a few examples of more common finds: older versions of Risk come with lots of wooden cubes, some versions of Clue have interesting minis, lots of games have circular or square tokens that can easily be stickered, and of course folding boards, dice, and the boxes themselves may be useful, as well as throwaway cards you can use to back other sleeved cards. I bought a copy of The Man Game for $3 because it comes with a nice set of mini poker chips. You do you.
Traditional Method - Layered Paper
The key to cards with a professional look and feel is textured stock and a spray coating. This method is about as good as it gets in terms of the finish product vs. time and expense.
I currently use linen 65lb coverstock for fronts, 24lb linen paper for the back, coated twice with Mod Podge Matte Spray and combined with Avery permenant gluestick, and I punch the corners (at least 4mm). I like the combination of 65/24, however, it is still slightly thin and the paper doesn’t quite line up with the coverstock size-wise. I’ve been meaning to try 65/32.
Many people use Southworth linen paper of various weights. My issue with their 24lb linen paper is it’s somehow cut slightly different than the 65lb coverstock, so it ended up being hard to get it to line up just right.
Paper typing is confusing, the gsm is more important than the weight in this regard. 110lb cardstock (approximately 199 gsm) is actually flimsier than 110lb coverstock (270 gsm). I have found common 110lb cardstock, like the Staples brand, is adequate but still a bit flexible for cards. It is the minimum firmness you want for cards.
I picked up 110lb coverstock and was disappointed to find it jams my printer. It makes a good core material, however, and I’m experimenting with using it for different types of tuckboxes and layering. It may end up replacing cereal box.
A coating ensures the cards have a good finish. Some coatings also smooth and enhance inkjet inks, making them look more vibrant and professional (closer to laser).
I have experimented with a lot of different spray and brush-on coatings, including Krylon. Ultimately, Mod Podge Matte Spray has been the cheapest, dries most quickly, and has the least smell, although the odor is strong enough it must be used outdoors.
For a while I wanted to find a good brush-on alternative so I could coat cards indoors and not be so affected by weather, especially humidity. I’ve given that up, for the most part. All of the coatings I tried required multiple hours of dry time between coats and usually took several days for the odor to fade. The Mod Podge Matte Spray is hard to beat, and when it rains I can set up a spray area on my back deck. The quick dry time alone (15 minutes) makes it worth it, and I use it on anything that needs to be sealed, including tuckboxes and box wrappers (spray before you wrap). Some notes on others:
Watco Clear Gloss wood Lacquer: It is too glossy. The odor fades within a day and coats can be applied every 2 hours with a foam brush. The big problem is it’s hard to get an even coat on linen paper and coverstock. 1 heavy coat ends up being a lighter coating, like the matte spray below, but obviously uneven. 2 heavy coats ends up being more even and results in a plastic-y coating. I can make thick, tile-like cards using 2x 110lb coverstock and 2 coatings of this.
Brush-on Minwax Satin polyurethane: Greasy finish and the smell lingered.
Minwax Polycrylic: Ruined the paper. I think people have had good luck with the spray, I really wasn’t expecting that result from brush-on.
Krylon: I had a hard time getting an even coat with Krylon sprays and the odor really lingered.
SPRAY TIP: If you end up with a gritty finish, you are spraying much too lightly. Everyone says spray a light coat, but think of it as spraypaint. Spray a light coat that would still give you full coverage with an opaque spraypaint.
Just a word on this. A lot of people use spray adhesives. I have issues both with the fumes and setting up a space, I find it much more convenient to use a permenant gluestick. My current brand is Avery. I coat both sides, and after the sheets are glued I roll them with a rolling pin. It’s quick, easy, and cheap, and I’ve never had cards separate using Avery. I have had cards separate with cheap gluesticks, however.
For me, lamination is a mixed bag. I have made excellent double-sided roll-and-write dry erase boards sandwiching a layer of cereal board with two sheets of 110lb coverstock. I have also used it to make quick ‘n easy folding maps/boards, and it is excellent for micro card games and durable prototypes that you don’t want to spend time coating and gluing. It also works well for basic tiles and counters if you don’t have the time or inclination to mount on wood, it adds a smooth coating and just enough thickness to make them much easier to pick up and handle than plain cardstock.
Cons: The coating is too glossy, and it does not improve inkjet inks the way spray coating does. Laminated sheets often have bend that can take time to flatten out, and I have managed to crease the underlying card attempting to remove the bend from laminated sheets. Laminated cards have sharp edges that are distracting during play and I have to use a heavy-duty corner rounder to smooth them.
The method is to print double-sided to cardstock and laminate in 3mil pouches on the 5mil setting twice. This is to ensure the laminate fully fuses to the cardstock.
This is currently my go-to for quick(ish) PNP builds. I print double-sided on 110lb cardstock, cut, and sleeve. That’s it. The sleeves ensure the cards shuffle well and give a slight bit of extra thickness to the cardstock, which is otherwise too flimsy. There is no need for a coating or textured paper since they are sleeved, nor is there a need to corner punch.
You can also sleeve printed paper with regular playing cards. I have done this a number of times to test a game that didn’t have too many cards.
Playing Cards with Labels
I found generic name-badge labels that come 8 to a sheet are fit a poker card exactly. No cutting or extra adhesive required, but usually I have to make adjustments to the .pdf so the cards will line up right, and the inkjet may fade off the label over time. I generally only do this if the files more or less match up to the sheet without too much editing, most of the time it’s easier to sleeve cardstock.
I am big on formatting rules into booklets whenever possible, as it looks nice and takes up half the space. PDFBooklet is quite handy for stitching various pdfs together, adding page numbers, etc. Paper doesn’t really matter but the 24lb linen does look nice for this.
PocketMods are 1-sheet mini-books that work well as rulebooks for card and small box games. The official Pocketmod website now has an online generator. I personally have found the older PDF-to-Pocketmod software is the easiest way to format existing rulebooks, especially those formatted for the web, provided it is 8 pages or less.
You can saddle-stitch staple with a regular stapler by putting an eraser under the booklet spine and stapling through that, then removing it and manually folding down the stapler prongs.
Counters and Tokens
Mounting on Square Tiles
I don’t like cutting chipboard, at all, and am a huge fan of mounting counters on tiles. Wooden Scrabble tiles work well for many war games, and you can buy lots of these online or find them in thrift stores. I routinely pick up any type of wood or plastic tile I see at a thrift store. Recently I’ve gotten excellent use out of 1-inch clear Overhead Projector Arithmetic Tiles I got at Goodwill for $1, they are larger than Scrabble tiles and work for tile-based games that don’t take up a lot of space.
My preferred method is to print the countersheet on a full-page label, spray with Mod Podge Matte Spray, then flip it, remove the backing, and line up the tiles one by one, cutting around each with an Xacto knife. This ensures the label is always flush with the edge. This only works if the counters are the size of your tile (or preferably, just slightly larger). There may be situations where the counters are smaller and I don’t want to put a lot of effort into Photoshopping in bleeds and whatnot. In that case, I cut them into squares and apply them that way.
If you prefer to cut the labels into squares, make sure to score a line across the backing for each row before you cut them out. This makes it much easier to remove the label backing.
I’ve been experimenting with 110lb coverstock core with 100lb index on either side, because that’s what I have. Laminated, these make REALLY decent tokens that are thick but still easy to cut with a knife or rounder. Black tokens can even be edged with Sharpie and look nice. I haven’t had good results edging other colors with laminate because of issues with bleeding.
I have experimented with several coatings for tiles. I’ve found that Mod Podge Matte Decoupage activates the magenta in inkjet ink and makes it bleed, and unfortunately Mod Podge Gloss Decoupage remains slightly tacky for a long time. Mod Podge Matte Spray is adequate for coating the surface of the token to prevent casual wear, but I have yet to find a good medium for giving counters a nice protective coating.
I am struggling with the box situation. I have tried making boxes from chipboard, which is the preferred method, foamboard, and repurposing craft and thrift boxes. I am VERY BAD at making boxes, my chipboard boxes have been a disaster, but I recently got a pile of chipboard so I may give it another try. The foamboard boxes are doable, but equally janky, and the thinkness of the foamboard creates issues when it comes to wrapping. I’ve taken to thrifting puzzles and games with good, thin boxes. I have come to prefer tuckboxes for small card games.
Small boxes are easily wrapped with full-page labels. Larger boxes are trickier. I have tried using black wrapping paper, which… well, looks like a box with wrapping paper on it. I’ve had the most luck poster-printing full-sheet labels. Prior to assembly I spray the labels with Mod Podge Matte spray. This not only helps protect the inkjet ink, it also makes the label MUCH more forgiving to being removed/reapplied. If you’re labelling a box with a glossy finish this will give you some room for error when it comes to lining up the pieces.
I have tried using templatemaker.nl’s box template generator for wrappers, but kept encountering size/measurement issues. I’m now experimenting with the Panda Game generator, using the 2-piece box templates for wrapper guides.
I have begun making tuckboxes for all my small card games. It’s a good way to give them a compact shelf presence. There are a number of cardbox generators online but I have been using templatemaker.nl for vertical boxes and flash42’s horizontal tuckbox generator for the others. The latter is useful for decks that need dividers, I’ve used it to store and organize a lot of the smaller Arkham Horror decks.
- Generate a tuckbox. I try to only add 1mm extra to the card dimensions. This allows a snug-enough fit without making it difficult to remove the deck.
- Open the file in Gimp at 200% resolution.
- Remove the white background (Color > Alpha, or use the select all color tool). I keep the transparent guidelines as the top layer while I’m working.
- Import graphics. I have had good luck importing rulebooks at high resolution to get good quality logos, etc.
- Tip on graphic design: Overshoot your outside boundaries.
- After I’ve designed it, I merge to 2 layers to create a 2 page pdf. The first page is a fully merged tuckbox graphic on a white background. (I have found that transparent layers sometime print oddly). The second page is the tuckbox template flipped horizontally on a white background.
Double-page print to actual size.
Assembling a tuckbox is straightforward but there are a few tips. Use the outside edge of a pair of scissors with a ruler to pre-mark crease lines. I also use double-sided tape, cut to size, on the glue tab. If you’re using inkjet, designs with lots of dark colors will probably need a coating to keep the ink from rubbing off. I use Mod Podge Matte Spray.
Currently experimenting with 110lb coverstock (not cardstock). It is very sturdy, but it is more difficult to get a good crease.
I have had good results with foamcore inserts, though I find them time-consuming. Foamboard is plentiful and easy to cut, and I found I could get it more cheaply at Wal-Mart than craft stores. That being said, I have found a wide range of inexpensive Plano-style boxes at the Dollar Tree, Wal-Mart, and Harbor Freight, and a variety of smaller storage (usually bead containers) from craft stores, and I can usually find something that fits my needs for $1 to $3. If I were to make any more of these, it would have to be a game that sees a lot of play and would really benefit some special type of organization I couldn’t get from planos/tuckboxes.
Game Customization and Upgrading
Recently I have gotten into board game customization, which is either awesome or a weird waste of time depending on your perspective. But I like making things obviously, and I’ve enjoyed adding little personal touches to my favorite games that either make them look nicer or help make them more organized and easy to set up. I’m also big on reducing components and shelf-space.
I have plenty of closet storage space so I don’t formally debox (cutting a board game box to reduce its size) but I do rebox and I now combination-box most of my PNP games. See my comments on custom boxes but thrifted boxes seem to work best for this.
One of the most economic and easy ways you can improve stock components is by applying color to the bare edges of chipboard tokens and chits. A common method is a basic Sharpie.
Sharpies work well for dark colors that are easy to match, especially tokens with black borders. I almost always get some degree of bleed from Sharpies, however, so the ink needs to match very close or be lighter than the surrounding cardboard edge. The lighter-colored Sharpies only tint the cardboard. Some people hate this. I actually don’t mind, I think yellow-edged coins look fine for example.
Bleeding has been a consistent problem for me, if the token is even slightly lighter-colored than the sharpie there tends to be noticeable bleed at the edge. I have had some luck painting lighter-colored tokens with a acrylic paint and a small brush or sponge. Some people use fabric paint pens. This method is more time consuming but more forgiving, as acrylic can easily be wiped off a glossy or matte token while wet, and it can usually be rubbed off after it dries. I use a gloss additive for sheen.
I am a VP track junkie, you can reduce a lot of components and end-game counting this way.