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Card Boxes, Handmade

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Adv.jpgThis is a new topic started based on requests about my boxes asked elsewhere. I like to mess around with craft work once in a while.  As much as there are some great pre-maded card boxes out there to purchase, I prefer to make my own.

The decorated paired boxes to the right are the adventure deck for my household. A very basic "panel" design for the graphics is used rather than full wrap around because

  1. Handmade boxes are not always the same dimension from one to the next, even when the pieces are cut to supposedly precise duplicate measures.
  2. Assembly can cause shift and slight warp of configuration from one box to the next.

Though neither problem is noticeable to the eye, these variances do make it impossible to do full wrap decoration of a box, such as you seen on commercial products like Talisman.

Graphics you see are based on those I designed for a Talisman Rules Card template, which Jon put into the latest plugin for the Strange Eons card maker. The only absconded graphic was the reduced art inside the split center ring. You should all know where that came from. I have no intention of sharing these graphic panels, so this little breach in morality, ethics, or law stays inside my house.

Panel art (designed in Photoshop CS4-E) is printed out on photo quality semi-gloss light-weight paper with black bleed zones all around. Once the panels are cut out, the edges of the white paper are dyed to black using a permanent marker. The panels are then adhered, and are designed to leave a bit of black between them from the paper used to  wrap-assemble the box (such the other ones in the background).

These two side by side boxes allow for an adventure deck of about 200 to 250 sleeved cards (at a guess(, depending on how tightly one packs them in. That's more than enough for any game, and I have other boxes that store cards not used.

Adv_Interior.jpgFor components, I use black matt board with black core.  All panels (external and internal) are cut by hand, assemble with light use of black butcher/craft paper and basic glue sticks.  I've use rubber cement and other non-soluable glues, but they tend to maked the paper stretch and the shrink, causing initial fitting problems and them warping.

All boxes have approximately an 1/8" extra space side to side and just under 1/4" top clearance.  This gives enough room for the separator tab you see to the left. Discards can be placed face forward or face back behind the separator, depending on whether the box's backend or the behind the separator is where people want to access the top of the discard pile as needed.

Q.jpgBoxes are built to my estimation of the deck in question and how many cards it will need to hold.  If I find later there are more cards needed, well, I just build a bigger box.  The two small ones on the left and right right edges of the first picture hold about 50-70 cards each in sleeves. 

So why such a small deck?  One will eventually be used for the Talisman Tasks quest deck, the other possibly for a spell deck.

To the right you can see a little of how the boxes fit together. They are actually two boxes cut in half. The inner one's split is offset from the outer.  Though matt board (for picture matts) may seem rather flimsy, when done this way it becomes pretty tough and sturdy for general handling.

There is also the possibility to build other sizes and to use one box for even multiple small decks.  After all, you need a little somewhere to put those Alignment and Talisman cards.  In the next box below on the left, the cards are all from the same deck, but dividers have been permanently added to the interior, creating 6 compartments. This is for the Purchase deck, which includes Armor, Weapons, Followers, Resources (rafts, bottles), Tools, and Other (I won't try to explain the last two categories right now). Eventually this box will be decorated with appropriately colored panels which will include match monotone illustrations of a sample card from each category on the outside bottom half. It should be easy to see which little subdeck to grab when look for that Purchase one has just made.

P_box.jpgAs both storage and in-play deck organizers, these are so much better than a loose deck on the board (especially if using those slippery card sleeves). A whole deck and can easily handed around the board no matter how many players you have.  While someones digging out that mule they just bought, with the Purchase box in hand, the next players is already taking her turn.

So I'll warp it up here.  Perhaps when I have time to get to it, I'll post pictures of the finished Purchase, Spell, and Quest boxes. If you have any question, feel free to post them.

Oh, and laid on their sides, they fit pretty well into the box, though with the board on top them, the top shell of the Talisman box does ride about 1/4" high.


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I'm grateful for these pics. The boxes are really good quality and I like the design very much. Could you give some details on the total cost of these boxes and also approximate time spent on doing them?

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Thanks guys.  As to cost and time, I'll try to guess, as these were made from various supplies around the house from my other dabblings. Supplies required are...

  • Matt board - for the pieces of course, so cost would be whatever size of board you buy. For the Adventure sized box you would need around 60 square inches. I prefer black core, but since it is fully covered in black paper, any color board would obviously work.
  • Scotch tape - for initially assembling the pieces of the 4 box parts (2 outside shells and 2 insider). Small squares of tape hold the structures together until papering, and the tape is fully hidden afterward paper wrapping. It is possible to assemble without tape and just using strips of black paper. I don't recommend it as it is more time consuming and potential of shift and misalignment is greater until you become skilled at assembly.
  • Glue - and as stated, washable glue sticks are acceptable, since you're not going to get the boxes wet... and have them fall apart.  Rubber cement is better, but requires experience in estimating stretch of paper while wet, and then estimating of how much stinch tension to apply when wrapping to avoid warping assembles when the glue dries and the paper shrinks.
  • Black craft paper - thin like butcher paper, comes in rolls usually.  DO NOT USE CONSTRUCTION PAPER; it feels tougher, and you'd think it was better, but it is harder to wrap around corners and edges, and it is weaker once it is dampened by glue. You WILL tear it trying to push it in over the edges and into the corners of the assembled parts.

Tools needed may include;

  • Craft / Xacto knife - with extra blades. And don't get cheap or lazy; make sure you are always using a clean, sharp blade.
  • Triangle - for cutting those nice square sides and corners. See through plastic is best, but make sure it has clean smooth edges. After long term use in cutting projects, knifes for trimming project materials with wear and roughen the triangle's edges. Alternatively you could use a metal triangle, but it limits view of aligning cuts and even the edges of metal ones will wear down (though not as fast as plastic).
  • Upright Straight edge - to flush the matt board against when cutting those 90 angles.  I found an old large wooden cutting board and bolted a 1" x 1" length of wood along one edge to butt the matt board against when cutting angles.
  • Ruler - of course, probably metal, but anything will do.
  • Folding Bone - or something to help rub and smooth the paper flat when glued around or inside of the box pieces. I've also used the narrow end of a 30/60 triangle effectively instead.
  • Lots of scrap paper - on which you'll lay paper and board pieces at various times to coat them in glue. Spare printer paper will do. Never use the same area or piece of scrap twice; you WILL end up making a mess of parts that might be visible when the box is finished as half dried daubs of glue stick and mar pieces.
  • Scrap matt or cardboard - on which you will do your cutting. 1 foot square should be enough, though use as much as is needed to fully cover any workspace for cutting. Be nice to your diningroom table. (Or your spouse will choke you to death in your sleep with that finished box, especially if you just got a new table a few months ago after 10 years.  Even the Evil Eye gets dangerous after a while if you're not being careful.)
  • Small scissors - are optional but may be handy to have. Small as in the size used to trim beards and mustaches.  If used, they won't be just for cutting long strips of paper to wrap box assemblies. You may have to trim off excess paper while working, and typical sized paper scissors are rather clumsy for small and angle cuts during assembly.

From these you should see what you have around the house, what you'll need to acquire, and then how much you'll spend.  I buy my matt board in full sheets of about 4' x 4' or larger, since I do other things with it.  Usually around $15 a sheet, but I've made about 7 varied boxes (not all for Talisman stuff) and other things... still have around a quarter board left.  A roll of black paper of the kind needed ranges arond $7 to $10 and  I still have half of a roll after going through two full matt boards for projects.  Tools of course are one time purchases if there's something you don't have, so spend a little to get something good, 'cause you'll always have it around for other stuff.

Since assembly time includes letting sub-assembles dry (though you can work on other parts while they do so), overall time for a box from scratch (no parts pre-prepared) is about 2-4 "leisurely" hours.  If you do more than one at a time, the amount of time per box is less.  I did two of the small ones (and size doesn't change time required) in about 4+ hours while watching some movies (Pride and Prejudice, and The Replacement Killers).

Once I get some decoration panels designed, printed, and applied to other boxes, I'll try to remember to post more pictures.

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Thanks guys.  Indeed, they take a little time. Overall, ready made boxes are easier (obviously) and just as good in most cases.  The ones Jon has demo'ed certainly work well except for minor conflicts with some types of sleeves.  In another week or so I may have the Purchase box decorated as well, which will be just a little different on the side panels.

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Beautiful Work. I'll have to try a similar solution. I posted on the general wish list that future expansions (the large boxes) come with black plastic trays made specifically for card storage and take into account ALL cards made to date - a mega storage tray if you will - for those of us that dont have the time/talent to create something like this.  (my next request will be for BLANK cards of all types - even though strange eons is awesome - itd be nice to write on blanks with the exact look and feel of the original cards - I'd definately spend money for a set of 25 blanks of each card type to date and heck, throw in 25 copies of a previously undesigned card back for unique player developed mechanics)

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I actually finished both construction and papering on this one a while back. But life caught up to me and I only just stumbled upon these images again.  This is the Purchase deck box for our group. The artwork on top was scavenge off the internet, but since it will not be distributed, I don't feel too guilty.


Below you will notice the labeling on the box's side. Our group (and a couple others) uses extra subtypes for Purchase Cards (Followers, Weapons, Armour, Tools, Resourses, Other), particularly for Objects. I won't go into that, since it is a house rule thing most wouldn't be interested in. Background illustration on the section panels also helps out a little as well to know where to look for something.


The box interior is also divided into sections to match the side panels. With all of the Purchase cards, present and future (plus some home brewed), it certainly helps in finding what you're after.


I've already completed construction on the last "deck" based boxes - Spells - but I haven't decorated it yet. Hopefully I'll get to it before another month (or two) slips by. Chow for now.

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