Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Cost of printing cards on demand

I wanted to compare the costs among the leading printers of print-on-demand, short run cards for the tabletop game community. The leading printers seem to be: The GameCrafter, Printer Studio, Bicycle Personalized, MPC (makeplayingcards), and DriveThruCards.

In the table below, I compare single deck printing costs (as a game designer in prototyping might print) and also a higher volume run as might be used for convention sales or KickStarter fulfillment of a card game.

All data here is current as of this post in January 2015.

Comparing Print-on-Demand Card Costs

The GameCrafterPrinter StudioBicycleMPCDriveThruCards
54-card Poker (Standard Stock)
1 Deck$5.57not offered$9.95$11.60$4.32
100 Decks$475.00not offered$746.00$410.00$317.00
54-card Poker (Premium Stock)
1 Decknot offered$7.99$20.95$12.00$4.59
100 Decksnot offered$450.00$1,676.00$450.00$344.00

The fine print:
The Game Crafter's price includes an 89-cent fee that tGC adds to each game they print.
All prices are for the deck of cards only, except Printer Studio prices include a soft plastic case and Bicycle prices include a generic (not custom-printed) cardboard tuckbox. To compare, if you included the deluxe, plastic deckbox in DriveThruCards prices, the DriveThruCards premium stock prices would be $5.59 for one deck, and $424 for 100 decks.

So DriveThruCards offers the best pricing on print-on-demand cards, in many cases by a significant margin.

As I work at DriveThruCards it's not surprising that I'm posting this, but before you dismiss my credibility, know that this price information is available on each printer's site. There's no bias to the information; I'm just collating the pricing information for your convenience.

Beyond Pricing

With the factual cost data now stated, let me get subjective and say a few kind words about the competition including why you might choose them over DriveThruCards despite our superior pricing.

The Game Crafter - Has a good reputation for service. While they do not offer premium card stock their card quality is generally rated well. They offer a marketplace to help you sell more copies of your game. Their biggest benefit is that they also offer a host of other components should your card game be more than just cards.

Printer Studio - Their website is easy-to-use. They offer a range of premium stocks including linen.

Bicycle - I guess you get the Bicycle brand name which some people value adding into their KickStarter marketing?

MPC - I don't know enough about them to offer feedback. They tend to have better pricing on higher volume runs.

DriveThruCards - I'll also try to be self-critical of our own operation here and point out what's good and not so good about DriveThruCards.

     The Good
  • Our quality has been rated quite high; we use HP Indigo presses with actual ink instead of toner printing.
  • We have over a thousand publisher clients and have earned a good reputation for personal service.
  • You can print any number of cards in your deck; there's no sheet multiple you need to meet.
  • We offer a marketplace where you can list your card game and generate more sales (who doesn't like more sales?). Once your deck is set up for printing you can choose to toggle a setting in your account and start selling the deck to DriveThru customers. We pay millions in earnings to publishers every year.
     The Not So Good
  • We have a very powerful publisher interface which gives you a lot of capabilities on site, especially if you choose to sell on our marketplace. The by-product of that power is that there is more to learn, and new publishers face a bit more of a learning curve when first interfacing with our site.
  • To get the best results printing with us, you need to use a professional designer who can use Adobe software and create a PDF file to our print specifications. We do have a fancy, easy-to-use online deck builder which will take plain image uploads, but this is currently in beta mode right now. Of course the advantage to using a professional designer is that you also get cards that look ... professionally designed.
  • We have custom tuckboxes coming, but do not offer them yet.

Too Big for Short Run?

Finally, some publishers like to know when print-on-demand stops making sense as the best option for printing a short run of cards. Generally the answer seems to be around 700 decks. If you're printing more than 700 decks and have the time, you'll be better served using a printer who focuses on larger runs.

Even though such printers might have a minimum print run of 1,500 decks, you'll still end up better served getting 1,500 decks from them than 700 decks through a short-run printer like those mentioned here.

Just don't go crazy. Many first-time game publishers get wildly optimistic about how many copies they will sell over and above their KickStarter amount or over and above their initial orders from channels and they mistakenly print far too many of their game. Hobby game channels get so many new games offered to them every week that few new games get ordered at all and fewer still get restocked. With print-on-demand it's quick and easy to restock as needed and you don't end up with half your garage filled with extra games you printed in China.

If you'd like a run down of larger-scale printers to use, I recommend James Mathe's post.

If you are interested to learn more about printing with DriveThruCards, you can get more information here.

As always your comments (and any corrections!) are welcome.

Steve Wieck