Oh boy! Getting ready to manufacture your first game is exciting! It's also a lot of work to get it right. I'm here to share some of that experience with you for my first game, Top Tale: The O.G. Volume 1. Disclaimer: This may be boring, unless you are actually interested in the process of preparing a game for production. Other game designers or publishers might get a few nuggets of knowledge that can help save time.
First step when preparing to manufacture a game is to approach a few manufacturers to quote your game. Before this step, you should have a general concept of what your artwork for the box and components would look like. I would recommend that you request quotes for the exact same parameters from each manufacturer (to get an apples-to-apples comparison), but also ask for some options.
Things like card materials, finishes, box construction, and other options can have a big influence on your final cost (they add up!), so you can gauge manufacturer's quotes on the option costs as well as the base game cost. This is obviously going to vary project to project, but for my fairly simple card game, I ended up being enticed enough by one of the manufacturer's quote for optional upgrades, that I went with them in the end to make give the game more "shelf appeal".
Now that you have your quotes, you ideally want to pick a manufacturer to work with. You don't typically have to pay anything until you start asking for actual physical proofs, so you technically could work with multiple manufacturers up until you want to go into production, however this will take a ton of time. I opted to go full steam ahead with Meijia versus asking multiple manufacturers to do work for me beyond the quote.
Now that you have your manufacturer, you'll want to start fleshing out your digital design. If you take anything out of this, ask your manufacturer to look at your artwork from a printing perspective early! I ended up spending a lot of cycles getting colors right, which I could have avoided if I asked them to evaluate the artwork for manufacturing up front. You'll also encounter things like, bleed, die lines, and templates, which all will define what your final artwork will look like.
The above artwork is what my graphic designer, Meagan Tallman, produced to submit for production. It's great! It has all the elements that I wanted, but it wasn't quite in the shape I ended up going for. The above is for a two-piece box, and I ended up opting to upgrade the box with a magnetic flap box (below). For that, the entire design would need to be modified to fit the manufacturer's template. You can save your graphic designer (and/or you) a lot of work if you can start with the box design that you want to print.
As you can see, the magnetic flap box is quite a bit different than the two-piece design. There are also different bleed lines and die lines, which need to be accounted for. I won't get into all that, but the bottom line is to make sure you get all of the parameters required from your manufacturer when you start conforming your artwork to the design template(s) given to you by the manufacturer. They really know best, so trust them when they ask you to make changes.
The biggest thing that messed up my pre-production schedule is colors. Get your colors right early! Most, if not all, manufacturers print in CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black). If you're doing graphic design, most design tools default to RGB (Red Green Blue), which is what modern monitors have for LED colors in the pixels. This makes sense as you will see the exact colors that you are designing with on a monitor. When you print, those colors are printed in CMYK. So, in your design tool, be sure to select a CMYK color profile when exporting your design for print, and export the colors early to make sure they look right before you spend too much time on the overall design.
Above is an example of what I'm talking about. On the left is the RGB image of the card front background, and on the right is what the design tool spat out as CMYK of a rendered card (ignore the image scaling difference). On the monitor, the colors are way off, and when printed, they will also be way off!
Even after I was given the card background images in a CMYK format, if I used just about any program to open them, the colors would be converted to RGB, and at that point, the original CMYK colors were lost! The trick is to work in a program that keeps the CMYK colors when rendered.
For my cards, I absolutely love using NANDeck (http://www.nandeck.com/), as you can quickly generate a whole deck of cards and make quick revisions. It's a tool that allows you to script the creation of card images, which for a guy with a computer engineering background, it's wonderful! Anyhow, it wasn't playing nice with my CMYK colors, so I reached out to the designer for help. The designer, Andrea, was able to create a beta for me that allowed me to preserve the colors, and also gave some really good guidance on how to use CMYK color profiles. Note: NANDeck is free to use, but I have donated a few times as my way to show thanks for the free tool. The support I received may or may not have been expedited due to donating. Either way, be sure to thank those that help you, in whatever form that may be.
In the end, I was able to submit all of the artwork in CMYK and in the colors that Meagan and I wanted! I'm now waiting for the physical proof to be finished and shipped to me from China. Once approved, the manufacturing run for 2,000 units will be scheduled. All of this back and fourth took about five weeks, which was about three weeks longer that I had planned for. If you're a designer or publisher, I'd be happy to answer questions or go into various aspects of the pre-production work in more detail. If I can save you some time, I would be more than happy to help! Feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) or comment below.
If you are interested in seeing all the fruits of this labor, you can get your very own copy of Top Tale, which is available for pre-order on BackerKit: https://top-tale-og-vol1.backerkit.com/hosted_preorders