Creating custom card decks is really fun. It adds a physical element to solo play, which can otherwise be rather intangible. I tend to use PDF rules and a dice roller app, so I have nothing to actually ‘play with’.
There are two websites that will print custom card decks for you. The first is DriveThruCards.com and the second is thegamecrafter.com.
These instructions are for DriveThru.
I intentionally said that these instructions were for DriveThru, not specificially for DriveThruCards. If you have an account with any DriveThru site, these instructions will work. These sites are owned and operated by OneBookShelf [OBS] and there is a common publisher back end to the sites.
Step One Get an Account.
Any DriveThru site’s footer has a link Printing & Selling with DriveThruCards (or whichever site you are on).
Follow that link and set up a publisher account. They assume that you are going to sell your cards, but you can use them as a personal printing service. You just need to jump through the hoops.
When you have your account set up you will have an unverified status. This is not a problem.
Verified publishers get full access to all the marketing tools and can withdraw earnings to PayPal whenever they want. Unverified publishers have their earnings held for a cooling-off period, and their titles are checked to make sure they hit OBS’s minimal quality standards. You become verified once you have published two to three titles. This is not going to be a problem for you.
Get a Template
Once you have a publisher account you can start making cards, and books if the fancy takes you.
On the publisher page, the last section of the first column is the Card Printing section and the first link points to the Card templates. My first cards were US Poker sized, but I have moved up to Tarot sized with my newer decks.
They provide templates in four formats. Scribus is free and open source. Affinity Publisher is really popular at the moment. It costs about $50 normally, but it is frequently on sale at half price. I make all my cards in Affinity now. Indesign is the giant of the publishing industry. It is a subscription service from Adobe, but I have an older version that cost me $89 about 4 years ago for the entire suite of CS4. There are loads of copies of CS2 floating around but they are not compatible with Windows 10. I own Affinity and Creative Suite because I worry that Creative Suite 4 will stop working the next time I upgrade my computer or with the next version of Windows. Affinity is my insurance policy.
You only need the barest familiarity with these programs. As long as you know the dimensions of the cards you want to make you can create your cards in any image editor you like and save them as individual images. You then place the image on the template making sure you go card back, card face, card back, card face. The back of the card one the first ‘page’ of the PDF that you are going to create.
The file is then exported as a print pdf using the standard PDF X/a1:2003. You MUST export using “Bleeds”‘ There are lots of different PDF standards and they all have different options. a1:2003 is the lowest common denominator. It does not support any kind of transparency, but if you made your cards in an image editor and then save them as JPEG images, that will take care of any transparency problems.
If you are using Affinity or InDesign you can use their built-in data merge tools. In both programs you can import a spreadsheet with all the data for one card on each row. There are entire tutorials on how to use data merge. Scribus has an add-in called Scribus Generator, I have never used it, but it should offer the same functionality.
What you do when merging is create just one card back and one card front. On the front, you place the data merge fields and any other text or graphics that you want. You can then create a merged document that will create one card for every row in your spreadsheet.
After your merge, you can make any last edits and then export using the same PDF X/a1:2003 standard, including “Bleeds”.
Once you have your card deck in PDF format we can go back to DriveThru.
On the Publisher page, set up a new title. This is the first link in the first section, Title Management.
Only three pieces of information are absolutely required. The Title, Price, and a Cover image. Cover images should be 350 to 900 pixels wide and 1200 pixels tall. This can be anything you like if you are making the cards for your own use, no one else will ever see it.
Save the product page, with just minimal information. It will ask you to either upload a digital file, preview your page or go back and edit. You do not want any of these options. Ignore them and click the publisher link at the top of the page again.
This will show your new card ‘product’. There is an option to add a new format to the product. Click that link and then choose the card format, and then the card size and quality that you prefer. My cards are all premium quality.
You will then be presented with an upload box. Upload your cards PDF. The most common error you will encounter will be not having “Bleeds” turned on.
Once you have got the file uploaded you can set the price, and see the print cost of your deck. Save the form. This will return you to the publisher page. You will now have an Order Proof link next to your new card deck. Click that and it will add the deck to your cart at-cost. Check out and your cards will arrive once printed. Depending on where you are and the shipping options available for you this can be quite quick. For me all delivery options are 4-7 weeks, it is just the price that varies.
That is it.
Bleeds are an area around the card that should never be seen. It is possible that the cards and the trimming cutters are not perfectly aligned. The Bleed should be the same color or pattern as the card background and extends from what should be the edge of the card, out to the limit of the bleed. If the card is a fraction of an inch or mm out, the bleed will stop you from having bare white card showing along the edge.
Verified and unverified publishers. An unverified publisher cannot set a product live, on sale, without the product being checked by the OBS staff. This does not stop you from ordering proof copies of your own titles. The reasons are related to fraud. One could claim amazing things about a title, get loads of orders, and disappear with all the money before anyone realizes. Having a human check the file protects OBS customers from this kind of bad behavior. The other fraud is where the fraudster has some stolen/cloned credit cards. They set up a title for sale, and then buy thousands of copies using the stolen cards. They then withdraw the cash before the transactions are reported as fraudulent. Unverified publishers have to wait for a cooling-off period before they can withdraw funds.
Making cards is not difficult. You only have to set up the account once, then it is just making the cards, exporting in the right format, and then upload the file. For a game where I know the dice mechanics and I have the stock art, or I am not using art, I can make a deck of cards in a couple of hours. I use excel to randomize all the dice rolls and the mail/data merge option. The Rogue Handler Cards on the other hand had to be hand edited to match the NPC descriptions to the profile pictures and took about 20 hours of editing after the cards had been generated.