Game School: Print on Demand and Self Publishing using The Game Crafter or DriveThruCards


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Rather than kick off the Game School with a mechanic or theme idea, I thought I’d start off talking a bit about Print on Demand (PoD), self publishing and using the two resources I’m most familiar with – The Game Crafter and DriveThruCards. This article is meant really as an overview of both services as well as a starting point for actually using them.

They each have their relative merits and detriments – quite frankly it might be in your best interest to use both. Why? Let’s find out!

Print on Demand and Self Publishing

Why go the PoD route? Why not just have some publishing company run with your game? I’m not going to enter into a huge discussion on this right now. This article is more about using two of these resources than why you should, could or would want to. However, here are a few reasons off the top of my head:

  • You want the complete control over your project, want to go it yourself or only plan on small batch printing.
  • Getting publishers to look at your design can be hard – they’re pressed for time and there are tons of designs around!
  • You can control everything – artwork, layout, design decisions, marketing. This can be good and bad.
  • Prototyping. If you do want to get your prototype in front of some eyes, it doesn’t hurt to have it looking slick.
  • Not really for the mass market – your game may be simply for your group, may not appeal to a lot of people or you may be shy about showing it around.
  • PoD is another way to attract publishers – I’ve spoken to a few who specifically look through these sites for games that they may be interested in ‘taking to the next level’.
  • Your game is awesome, and fun but not very marketable.

Look, everyone who gets into game design would love to have their games published by Z-man, Stronghold or Fantasy Flight. It’s just not going to happen though. These companies are, well companies. While the folks in them love games and gaming, they also need to make a profit to continue doing what they do. They can’t often take huge risks on designs that may or may not work. Smaller companies are in a similar boat but with much tighter margins and less room for error. A game like Ninjas – Silent but Deadly I don’t think would ever have been produced by a game publisher. As fun as it is and as good a time as I’ve had playing it, there’s not a lot of return on that investment for a business.

I however get a ton of satisfaction out of getting N:SbD out into the world. I get terribly excited by each new box that sells, and so far I’ve danced right to the bank with the $25 or so I’ve made off of it. If you’re looking to get a game out into the wild, this is a great way to do so. Now, lets hit a quick list of pros and cons and then I’ll dive into actually using two companies, The Game Crafter and DriveThruCards.

PoD Pros

  • Your game is published. Yay!
  • You can have it your way – exactly as you designed it.
  • Great for prototyping and one-offs.
  • No more waiting a year plus for a publisher to get your game made.
  • Your per sales profits will be higher.
  • You don’t pay for production – it doesn’t cost you anything to use the site and have your games printed.

PoD Cons

  • Generally higher production costs for very small print runs means your games will cost more than you may expect.
  • Production and shipping means no instant or near instant gratification – expect 2-3 weeks from purchase to arrival.
  • Everything’s up to you – design, layout, play testing, marketing – all those things publishers would do for you.
  • No financial support from a publisher – no advance, marketing budget, etc.

The Game Crafter VS DriveThruCards

Catchy subject heading there which is good marketing, but let me explain one thing right off. If you’re going to use one of these folks to actually sell games (not just prototype), and these games are card games,  you’re probably best off using both. That’s my opinion anyway, and we’ll get into why that is shortly.

I’ve been using TGC for almost two years now. At first, I used them to simply prototype a few ideas I had, none of which have yet made it into publication. Over the last ten months or so, I’ve been using them to actually sell a few simple card games – Ninja: Silent but Deadly and Fools! DriveThruCards had a soft launch early this year and are now gearing up into full swing production for card games. Lets hit another list to quickly hit the pros of each site.


  • Less expensive production cost.
  • Less expensive shipping cost.
  • Taps directly into the DriveThruRPG/RPGNow franchise, which is huge.

The Game Crafter

  • Vastly larger selection of bits and components.
  • They have boxes that you can design, from tuck boxes for cards to full sized game boxes.
  • You can print boards, instruction booklets and more.
  • Their site can do a decent job of generating publicity for you if your game happens to be highlighted.

Both sites have roughly similar quality when it comes to cards. DTC just introduced a higher quality card stock but I haven’t had a chance to actually look at it.

Why use both? If you do, you’re margins at DTC will be 5% less, but they’re still pretty damned good. And you’ll have the ability to find new fans at either site. That’s twice the exposure. You will have to do more leg work though as the raw files needed by each site to print your games are very different. Here’s how to get yourself started.

That Damned Learning Curve

If you’ve never prepared anything for print before, well this is going to be a little painful. There’s no getting around it. You’re going to need to learn how to use some sort of image manipulation program (Photoshop, the free GIMP, Illustrator, etc.) and you’re going to have to use some sort of word process program (Word, OpenOffice, etc.). You’ll also need to learn about some basic layout and design concepts for both your cards/game and your instructions. I’m not going to teach you any of that now, or here. In fact, there are folks far, far more talented at this than I am so in future articles, I’ll probably be linking all over the net when talking about this. You’re also going to need to be able to produce print ready PDFs. I use Acrobat X Pro for this. Other free PDF creation tools may work as well but I don’t have any experience with them. You’re also going to want to read up a bit on bleeds, image sizes, what DPI means and more. All of these can be found in the FAQs for both sites.

Lets assume you’ve gone through and actually created your game as well. All the play testing, design choices, more play testing, prototyping in a basic sense, play testing, maybe a spread sheet or two, some more play testing. Now you’re ready to order a pretty prototype or even go to market for yourself!



Right here is where you want to start. This is a great overview of what they’ll need from you. They answer a lot of common questions and cover a few common mistakes too. Now here’s my boiling all of this down to several basic steps.

Have your rules ready to go as a PDF. You’re also going to need to make one big mother of a PDF for your cards. The way it works with DTC is that you need your (standard poker sized) card images to be 2.75 inches by 3.75 inches at 300 DPI. You can find all of their templates here. I use the GIMP to do all of my image processing and it’s as easy as scaling your image to meet these requirements. Got that done? Now, take the image you’ve prepared for your card backing, and each individual card. In this massive PDF you’re going to start with the card back, and then add the card front. Each is a page unto itself. So for one single card, you’ll have two pages. Card back, card front. Repeat this for every single copy of each card you need. If you have a deck of sixty cards, thats a 120 page PDF. This document will take you through the steps needed to actually create the PDF, as well as the image and color needs.

Here’s DTC’s poker card template:


You’ll then create a new product through DTC, upload the massive PDF containing all of the cards, upload the rules book and order a proof. Once you’ve received the proof (2-3 weeks) you’ll look it over, correct any problems and then approve the game for sale.

DTC has a pretty extensive FAQ that I’d recommend you read as well.


The Game Crafter

Personally, I’m more a fan of TGC’s file preparations but that may just be because I was exposed to them first. Your going to have your rules ready as a PDF again, but you have a few more options. You can print the rules as straight 8.5″ document through TGC, or have them as a downloadable PDF. You can also create an actual rules book, more akin to what you’ll see in any game purchased off of a store shelf. One thing TGC excels at are having templates available for you to use. Here are a bunch of game booklet templates, and here are their card templates. They’ve been at this game a bit longer than DTC and have a much greater offering when it comes to game production, above and beyond cards.

TGC will have you create an image template for each card and the card back. Each card (for a standard, poker sized card) is 825×1125 px in size. In fact, the template looks like this:


You’ll first create a deck of cards through TGC. Then, you upload the image file that will be the back of these cards. You then create each individual card type. By example, if you have a 30 card deck of 3 different cards, you’d create 3 card types. Upload those images (3 images in this example) and set the quantity of each to 10. That’s 3o cards, and to me a bit easier than having to construct a PDF for each card in the deck. That’s why I prefer TGC for prototyping – it’s just easier.

Here is a great place to start when it comes to using TGC.

In Conclusion

Both services have their advantages and disadvantages. For prototyping only, I default to TGC. For me the time it actually takes to prepare a prototype is a bit faster on my side of things, but printing and delivery can take longer. For games that I sell, well I’m using both sites. It just makes sense to spread my exposure as far and wide as I can. The extra effort in setting up the games for both sites pays off with the first few sales.

I hope this helps, even though it’s not meant to be an exhaustive overview of file preparation and using these two companies. Both have great online resources and are fairly responsive when it comes to questions. TGC also has an online forum dedicated to using the site. If you have any questions for me, feel free to ask them here, or head on over to the Game School community on Google Plus!





2 thoughts on “Game School: Print on Demand and Self Publishing using The Game Crafter or DriveThruCards

Add yours

  1. Nice article! Very informative. I noticed that you kept using TCG for The Game Crafter but that should be TGC. Not a big deal but I figured you might want to know. =P


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