Chipboard off the old block.

My friend Kathleen printed her business cards on chipboard. You've probably seen chipboard on the back of notepads or inside hardcovers. Naturally, I got to thinking about using it for games. So, I got in touch Julie, the print rep who helped Kathleen get her cards printed. I talked to Julie about chipboard and its potential as a medium for printing game components.

First, an explanation of the stuff: To make chipboard, paper scraps are swept up from a print house's various projects. The scraps are processed into a rough sheet of stiff stock. Because it is reclaimed paper stock, it is more eco-friendly way to make card than using virgin wood pulp. Plus, it keeps serviceable paper stock out of landfills. To top it all off, it's more affordable than glossy white paper.

This is all good to know as I pursue self-publishing a board game. Throughout the process, I'm trying to find options that are environmentally sound and economically sustainable. As far as print media goes, I think chipboard is for me. Before you go out and start printing your game on chipboard. There are some things to keep in mind.

First, chipboard is not archival and definitely not acid-free. If you're concerned about your game components looking exactly as they did twenty years ago, you're out of luck. But you're probably not choosing chipboard based on its pristine austerity. Your components are going to look and feel more "earthy" than a standard glossy game. They'll be rugged when they're first printed and keep that appearance for a long, long time.

The surface has a bit of "tooth" to it. When printed, the ink might not get into every nook and cranny of your board, so there may be the occasional gap in printing quality. Also, when the paper gets cut into small components, small particles might remain on the surface before printing, thus creating more blank spots in the print area. All of this is something to keep in mind if you intend to have small print type on your game components. Otherwise, it'll add an authentic grittiness to your print quality.

Chipboard ranges from a light gray to a tan, speckled throughout with lighter and darker particles. Based on Kathleen's example, I'd recommend printing two-colors. One of them will probably be a black or very dark ink, paired with a slightly lighter ink for fills and accents. Note that anything lighter than black will effectively be semi-translucent, revealing the chipboard's texture from beneath. Design your components accordingly and use this as a feature. If you want a color to pop more, you'll have to do a pass of white ink first, then print on top of that. (Also, see Kathleen's note in the comments.)

Lastly, most chipboard isn't as thick as you think it will be. (For print nerds, it's usually somewhere around 22pts, or 0.024") They're more like a card stock than a plank of wood. You'll probably have to glue two sheets together to get an adequately stiff weight. Also, if you plan to score and fold chipboard, get some advice from your print rep before doing so. They'll be able to tell you whether your particular stock is durable enough for that kind of wear.

I would love to see more game companies considering eco-friendly printing processes like chipboard. While physical distribution is probably a bigger environmental impact, you gotta do what you can where you can. In this case, making ecologically sound choices about production is a step towards keeping games (and players) around for the next thousand years.

» Many thanks to Julie from Heritage for her advice.
» Check out Kathleen's Business Cards
» And these chipboard wedding invitations
» Previously: Sustainable Games: Arimaa, New Forest and Elephant Poo
» Previously: Anillos del Tiempo (Time Rings Puzzle) from Designo Patagonia


  1. Another note - the Pantone color you select will come out as quite a different shade on chip board. I recommend doing a color test if you need to be exact. Otherwise, cross your fingers and hope for happy accidents.

    Also note that it's hard to find printers that can print with white ink. A lot of times you have to use a foil to get white on kraft or colored paper - which can get pricey.

  2. Oooh. Good things to keep in mind. I'll add a note to the post.

  3. I've been planning on using chipboard covers and components for games and have had been very excited by the stuff turned out by Pinball Publishing in Portland, a printer that does a lot of great work with chipboard.

  4. Oooh. I took a look at their blog. They use soy-based inks, too. Very, very nice.


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