Board game development is a very individual process. Every single developer has different methods for creating their games. This article is the eighteenth of a 19-part suite on board game design and development.
I’ve written about How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer. Now it’s time to talk about finding the right company to print your board game. Since you will most likely be using offset printing to make your board game, you will have to print 1,000 copies or more. Because of the high costs of board game printing and the importance of product quality in establishing your reputation, it is absolutely necessary to find a good company.
This guide comes in five parts:
- Finding a Board Game Printer
- Testing Communication
- Checking for Quality
- Estimating Costs
- Estimating Timetables
Finding a Board Game Printer
Because printing is simultaneously very expensive and a big factor in how customers perceive you, doing your homework is critical. You will spend a lot of time on research, much of which will be spent looking for the perfect printer. Before you do that, though, I recommend you learn as much as you can about the printing process. For that, I have two great resources for you. The first, because I am a fiend for self-promotion, is my article How to Create Board Game Specs and Files for Your Printer. The second is the absolutely fantastic Printing Academy series by PrintNinja.
Once you have a sense of what offset printing is and you can confirm that you need it, there are lots of good resources online provide you with a list of printers. You can always find board game printers by checking on Google and Board Game Geek for the most up-to-date information. There is a particularly good list on the blog of James Mathe, but you should be careful about using it. It is, at the time of this writing, at least four-and-a-half years old. The industry moves too fast for one site to keep up a decent list.
Find five printers you would like to talk to. It’s even better if you can find ten. Make a list and start asking around on Board Game Geek or social media. It’s not enough to find a recommendation on a blog that’s not updated frequently. It’s much better to ask someone who recently had work created by the companies you’re considering. If you hear any red flags regarding quality, communication, cost, or timeliness – keep on walking. The industry is too big and too active to take a risk on a bad printer.
From the moment you contact a printing company for the first time, consider it a test. We’ll talk about what to actually say when you’re requesting a quote or samples next week, but suffice it to say that no matter what you ask for, how the company communicates in response is critical. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about the company you’re looking into:
- Do they communicate in a timely manner?
- Do they provide all information you need?
- Many printers are overseas – how good is their understanding of English?
- Do they provide you with tips on increasing quality or performing a more cost-efficient operation?
If the answers to any of these questions are negative, you need to stop talking to the printer. You shouldn’t have to wait much more than a week after requesting a quote. After that, responses to your inquiries should be pretty rapid. If they take too long, it means they have too much work or they’re giving you the run-around. Either one is a problem and not yours to deal with.
Make sure they answer all your questions and give advice on best practices. Offset printing is a massive commitment for small business owners, and you don’t want to deal with someone who doesn’t want to help you make an excellent product. Finally, make sure they understand English well. I’m sure many low-cost printers in China can produce excellent work, but if they can’t communicate fluently in English, the odds of a high-cost miscommunication are too high for my taste.
Checking for Quality
Next week, I’ll go into a lot more detail about how you can check the quality of your printer’s work. This subject goes pretty deep because there are a lot of aspects to it, some of which are your responsibility to get right and some of which are theirs. For now, you should understand that just about any printer worth your time should be willing to provide a sample kit for free. If they do not provide a sample kit for free, that is usually a pretty big red flag. While this will not involve a custom-made sample of your game, which would be very expensive for them to do, you would be able to see how similar projects by the same printer turned out.
Estimating the cost of printing can be very difficult. First, it depends heavily on the quantity ordered and the location you plan on shipping your games to for fulfillment. Either way, you need to ask for multiple quotes.
When asking for a quote, always ask what the minimum order quantity (MOQ) is. Odds are that it will be 1,000 games or greater, but I’ve seen some who are willing to print as few as 500. You’ll want to ask for a quote at the MOQ, 2 times the MOQ, and 5 times the MOQ. Make sure to also ask about shipping cost – tell them to base their estimates off the zip code of a fulfillment warehouse you’re interested in. If you don’t know where you’ll be shipping your inventory, just give them the zip code of the closest port city. (For me, this would be Savannah, GA).
Bear in mind that both printing and shipping quotes often do not include everything. They do not always include the price of customs or taxes. You should always ask if quotes include customs or taxes. If not, assume that everything will be 20% more expensive than it says once customs are applied.
Last but not least, if your game will be marketed to children younger than 14, set aside some money for child safety testing. This is an important legal requirement that you must obey in order to be compliant with EN-71 and ASTM F 963 safety standards. The cost of safety testing depends on the components in your game. For Highways & Byways, it is going to be about $1,000 no matter what quantity I print.
Last but not least, you need to get an idea of how long it will take for each printer to fulfill your order. In general, the pre-press process will take a couple of weeks. Then printing will take a few weeks. Shipping by sea to your warehousing location will take two to three months. All totaled, printing and shipping your game to a warehouse for fulfillment is about a four-month process. Even still, you need to get hard facts from each individual printer.
If You Get Really Stuck…
Check out this guide by SaleHoo on figuring out how to source items from China. It’s not specific to board games, but the principles in this guide will work for any business venture you start.
The board game printing process can be a difficult one to get right. You need to research companies, email back and forth to test their communication skills, check the quality of their work, and estimate time and cost. It can be overwhelming, so start this as early as you can – right after you have a good idea of your board game’s specs.
Do you have any questions about board game manufacturing? I’d love to read and reply to them below 🙂