I just got the prototypes in for Casual Friday of the Dead and thought that everyone would like to know about the quality of the printing service I used.
Back in May I was shopping around for somebody to print the Beta prototypes and decided on using Blue Panther LLC as the prototype printer. Andrew Tullsen was a close second, but the per-unit cost through Blue Panther was lower after my initial setup.
For a bit more than 2 months I pestered Mr. Steve Jones at Bluepanther about costs, details, future runs, every-little-thing, and so on. We even spoke on the phone a couple of times.
I found the knowledge, professionalism, and willingness to put up with a noob like me quite excellent. Most of my questions were of the "can we do this?", "how much would this cost", "can you make me a custom this or that?".
After getting my inital layouts more or less how I wanted them I ported them over to the provided templates and sent them in via Email.
It was unfortunate that I sent them my materials right during "convention week" for Bluepanther. So the staff was out at conventions for a week after I sent in the prototypes. Also my project was only 6 prototypes, not a large order. So I had a small wait in the queue. I had a couple of weeks to wait until they could get to me, and then only 1 week for them to get my project printed and put together, and exactly one week for UPS to get it to me.
This also included a delay due to me having to redo the text on my cards. My original font choice seemed fine on the screen but the small text was nearly unreadable when printed.
I don't know if it is acceptable to talk of costs on the forums, but I am happy with the price paid for a very small run of protoypes. The first unit ran me $50, and $25 for each additional unit. I am not certain if this is expensive or cheap, but it beat the prices from several other POD services.
Once hashed out, there are a couple of price-break levels there depending upon quantity ordered, so the per-unit cost can be greatly reduced. But hey, a decent sized book on Lulu will run you about $25 per unit in small quantity, so the pricing is on par. In large enough quanitites I was quoted slightly more than a 40% decrease in per-unit costs, so there's a goal to shoot for, eh!
My order was shipped via UPS and tracking numbers were Emailed to me right from the get-go. That was kind of cool, as I could check the progress at any given time. My prototypes arrived decently packed in a Bicycle cards box (fitting for a game printing company) and were padded enough that there was no damage whatsover during shipping. I've had plenty of things get mangled in transit so I appreciated them taking the time to ensure that I didn't get a smashed jumble of broken bits.
The Game Boxes:
First and foremost I was very impressed with the overall packaging. My games were right there, in front of me, in full color! What's more, they were even shrink wrapped.
Now the background graphics pattern pretty much didn't show at all. This isn't the printer's fault, this is mine. I knew that what was on my CPU screen wouldn't be exactly like what was printed, but I had no rule to gauge things by. Not really a problem, as everything else was fine, neat, bright, and crisp. A little lightening here and there and my patterns will pop out. I used to do dye-sublmination shirt printing so I am well aware of the computer to printed-media pitfalls.
The box-side graphics were also excellent.
It should be noted that the label wraps all the way around the box so I have the name of the game and my company logo on all sides. this isn't some chincy sticker tossed on a white box, this is a fully wrapped box.
The bottom of the box was pretty slick IMO as well.
So, open the plastic wrap, trying to keep it intact and check out the contents of my game.
My first thought was "Hey! This looks like an actual game".
The game cards were neatly shrink-wrapped, the playing pieces were already assembled, and the temporary instructions were printed on paper so thick that you could build a house with it. The printing on everything was bright and crisp and I was overall very pleased.
CFOTD uses custom pawns. I had initially hoped to have the pawn-images printed on card-stock to be popped into a base. It seemed like an easy solution that would keep costs down. Blue Panther one-upped my idea with style!
My images were placed onto custom-made standees of wood. They are printed on both sides and the perfect size for my game. There is a bit of color-difference on the blond pawn (Lynn A. Q) on the front and back sides but it is negligible.
It should be noted that the blurriness in the picture is my camera not the printing. Each and every one of these is done up sharp and crisp. Now keep in mind that these puppies are only a little over 1.25 inches high, so the detail is pretty amazing.
Overall I was pretty impressed that not only did they deliver what I had in mind, but improved upon my idea. I do want the bases to be made a bit larger to stop them from tipping over, but was told that it would be no problem whatsoever.
I forget what paper Steve said that the instructions wre printed on, but it is very thick textured stock that is definitely durable. These are simply temporary instructions until I have the game rules solidified. I'll be honest, even if they were permanent they would be cool.
It should be noted that Blue Panther usually does instructions in booklet form, or brochure fold-out type form. For quickness and note-taking I wanted them simply stapled.
Overall though, the print quality was fairly amazing.
The game cards were printed on a decently thick stock a bit more rigid than a typical business card. They were all clean-cut with slightly rounded corners. The graphics were, again, crisp and bright and they were overall very excellent in quality. From the first card down to the last the print quality was exceptional.
Again though, my background patterns showed up as pretty much just black.
The only issues I had with the cards were that they were offset a bit here and there on both the horizontal and verticle axis on some, but not all, of the cards. This is mainly due to my miscalculation of the alignment process during printing. I left very very little space for the bleed over and less blank space around the edges than I should have. I was also warned the limitations of the POD process and chose to push the gauntlet as far as minimizing the borders and keeping a very thin outer piping, etc.
Easy enough to remedy for future prints, so I am not displeased with the results. Keep in mind that these are business card-sized cards. So my being off by a millimeter or two makes a notable difference in the final product...but hey, it's a prototype. Even with me not leaving enough room, the cards are useable and of excellent quality.
Overall I was impressed with the depth and consistency of color in the cards. Now these are cards that you can shuffle like playing card without worrying about tearing them apart. They are thick enough to grab hold of, and there isn't a single cut out of whack anywhere.
These are nice cards with straight edge lines and nothing printed or cut crooked. Stacked up, I couldn't see a single edge mar or mishapen card in the bunch.
The game board is set on a wooden base / backing. This makes it a higher durability and quality than one would expect. It is a 4-piece affair that fits together like puzzle pieces. Overall the board is the coolest part. The graphics are crisp and clean, the text readible, and it is nearly perfect in every way. The printing is also smooth to the touch..no ridges or ink strata anywhere.
The only problems were due to us switching around the way the board would be produced a few times. Somewhere in the mix we switched the way the board was going to be manufactured and I didn't adjust the template to accomodate for it. This left about 1/2 in replicated in teh center strip all across the board, but Mr. Jones has already worked it out for future prints.
Outside of that, I was very happily surprised. The board is of superior quality to just about any production game I've owned. I cannot describe how cool it came out without sounding like I'm tooting my own horn, but I generally expect less in a board from big-name manufacturers, so I was very happy with the print quality and construction, etc.
Now granted, my experience with board game prototype printers is extremely limited so I have nothing but my satisfaction to go by. I've designed other games before, Pen & Paper RPG's and computer Games. My experience with the printing industry has been novels and manuscripts, so this is my first foray into something of this varied media type.
However, I very much like the way that I was treated with respect as well as the genuine desire from Steve and Blue Panther to actually make the project rather than to get my money...in fact the invoicing was almost an afterthought in the process. They were mostly concerned with making a good product.
I'm not saying that there were not a few issues that need to be hashed out, but all the printing problems were pretty much from my design, not from a bad print-job. I know enough to know this and am happy that it is all easy stuff to rectify. What's more, I wasn't abandoned as a client with no followup. Mr. Jones has already helped me hash out the bugs in the originals, and this less than 24 hours after getting the prototypes.
I wanted a good-looking prototype to hash out the Beta testing with and got a high-quality prototype that is durable and of professional quality. To be honest, once I get the few issues with the card layout and the board template smoothed over I would have no problems using the exact same service for retail sales units.
So, in my opinion as a newbie noob in Board Game Design that Blue Panther scored pretty high on my list for satisfaction.
I hope that you all find this at lest a little helpful.
Very helpful post! Thanks for all the detail.
thier website could use some freshning up.