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I am working on a prototype of a board game for which I need to design several cards. The cards will have several features like name, picture, text and some additional symbols. I am not sure which program would be the best for designing them.

First I thought about LaTeX - I have a template for generating the cards. The biggest advantage is, that when I decide to make a change in design, it is instantly applied to all the cards using this template. The disadvantage is, that making a design in TeX is a painful process and some special features are not very easy to manage in it...

Second choice would be Inkscape or similar vector-based editor. Is there some free library or model, which would make it easier to design a card from a scratch? What approach would you suggest?

Thanks for any tips!

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If you decide to go with LaTeX, have a look at the Pgf/TikZ package. tex.stackexchange.com has lots of question about it and some people with impressive proficiency at designing graphics and intricate layout with LaTeX. –  Alfred M. Jul 15 '13 at 11:57

7 Answers 7

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I use custom SVG when designing playing cards. Inkscape uses SVG as its backend format. Coming from a web development background, I found SVG to be easier to learn than something like LaTeX. (It's just XML.)

I have a single external CSS file and a Ruby script using the "builder" library to construct the SVGs from a database. If you don't want to use a script to generate your SVGs, it is also possible to pass parameters to your SVG.

The most difficult aspect of SVG I have found is its compatibility with other formats. The only SVG rendering enging I've found to do a reliably good job is Apache Batik. You can use Batik to convert your SVGs to PDF, which of course is a widely accepted format. "Squiggle" is an SVG viewer that runs on top of Batik so that you don't need to render your SVGs every time you make a change.

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I am not knew to TeX and Batik, since I, too, come from IT development background. I used batik + java architecture for generating svg files back in my old job. It just seems to be a bit too complicated to write a program from scratch to generate cards. I was thinking if there are some ready-made solutions already. However, I must admit that using batik did not occur to me when I asked this question :-) Maybe I will give it a try! –  Smajl Jun 9 '13 at 10:14
I was impressed at the simplicity of building the application. My current script is only 384 lines of Ruby (much of which is just markup for the XML builder library) and 124 lines of CSS (which has a lot of duplication; a SCSS version would be much shorter). My cards don't have pictures, but that is only a few lines of SVG if you already have the images. If you wanted to do more intricate card-by-card design, it's easy enough to fire up Inkscape and copy in the SVG code that it generates. :-) –  vote539 Jun 9 '13 at 10:28
if you make the svg to size and want to lay them out yourself on a page, Scribus does a descent job of rendering SVG. I have made a nujmber of card based games with inkscape as design and scribus as my renderer. if you do it properly and pay attention to your bleeds, you can make double sided cards failry easily and they look good also. –  Pow-Ian Jun 10 '13 at 12:24
Wanted to mention that you don't need a custom program to flow cards into SVG. I have been able to accomplish this with some creative XSL. –  Pow-Ian Jul 16 '13 at 12:54

I have been using GIMP to make all my cards. Since I make mostly print and play games, I have a single template I use with OpenOffice draw to allow the printing of 8 cards per page. After I have designed the card with GIMP, I save it as a JPEG, open the template in Draw, drag each JPEG file to it's place on the template, then save as a PDF.

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Take a look at Magic Set Editor 2. It will let you define one or more templates for the structure of you cards. Each template can include a configurable background, classifications (such as manna color or team association) You can also define a number of editable text fields on the face of the card for title, descriptions and flavor text. Then, in application Magic Set Editor, you can create empty instances of a template and "fill in" text and other attributes. You need to use a custom scripting language to define these editable field and such, but this will let you avoid doing this tedious text editing you image editor.

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If you're doing basic prototyping for the game, consider using HTML/CSS.

It's not as glamourous, but it can be a lot faster to move elements around to test things.

You'll need something more 'shop-ish when you get to actual card elements design, but on the plus side you'll already have a template of what you want things to look like!

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Illustrator is what I design all my cards in. Its pretty simple and easy and there are TONs of tutorials and books to learn from.

It also plays well with all the other Adobe software if you need to do raster graphics or layout design, etc.

Its also an industry standard in the graphic design community.

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I use Strange Eon 3. There are a lot of templates for different cards (most of them for the Boardgame Arkham Horror based on the novels from H.P. Lovecraft).

Here's the link: http://cgjennings.ca/eons/

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Many people like Nandeck (google it). Nearest comparable would be Magic Set Editor, already mentioned above.

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