Printing Cards Overseas

OK, so you have checked in the U.S. and determined (probably correctly) that unless you print 10,000+ units the costs per deck are totally insane. Then you got a clever idea: how about printing in China or India? Wow, you got a quote and the cost was half or even a third of the U.S. quote and they print in smaller volumes. You throw a party. Well, don't party too soon.

Printing cards in the U.S. is crazy expensive. Printing cards overseas is an epic pain in the butt. In the U.S. you will get expensive timely service from people who are on the same sleep schedule as you, who speak the same language as you, and who, as a general rule, will tend to use the same paper stock and dies between print runs.

If you order overseas, paper stock may or may not be of super high quality (get samples), people will be on a different schedule compared to you, and they may not speak your language (less of a problem in India than in China). On top of this, shipping is handled on a "slow boat from China", so that delivery to you may be from 8 to 16 weeks after you order (something that can make publishing a game for GENCON absolute murder). Then there's the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement service (I.C.E.) who may put your stuff on metaphorical ice for a while if you are unlucky. Then you have to deal with a port authority, arrange for pickup of your goods, etc. This all adds up a lot. Thankfully boat transport costs a lot less per mile than truck transport, so the costs will still typically be cheaper than printing in the U.S. You have to, have to, have to get samples, get proofs, etc. This is mission critical.

If you can, you can cut a deal with a U.S. "print buyer" who will act as an intermediary for you. Nobody likes going to court, but if someone screws up your order and won't fix it, it is a lot nicer to go to court with a U.S. print buyer than with a foreign company. The print buyer will charge you extra, but unless you have personal contacts yourself, this is well worth the charge in a lot of cases. Make sure that you are contracting with the print buyer and NOT with the Chinese or Indian print company if you use a print buyer.

Some Indian and Chinese print companies have U.S. affiliates. These are like "built in" print buyers, and are often less of a hassle to deal with. That said, whenever there is an intermediary between you and the printer, there's a chance that things get mistranslated (sometimes literally), and there will be additional delays.

When getting an overseas print quote, be very wary of the term FOB, free on board, because that is a sign that that is as far along the trail as the printer is paying to carry the goods. You could be in for nasty surprises when your total price goes up by hundreds or thousands of dollars for import taxes, customs duties, boat shipping, storage, etc.

I personally think that most small game publishers will have no choice but to print overseas if they are doing 1000 to 3000 games. It's just a matter of cost. But get those samples and proofs, because it does not do you a darn bit of good to save fifty percent on printing only to sell no product because your stock quality is inferior.

I personally have not noticed the playing card stock being woefully inferior in overseas samples as I was forewarned. Sometimes it is. Sometimes it is not. What is generally more feeble overseas is playing card varnish coats -- that plastic stuff they seal your card in to protect it from people with greasy fingers. Varnish from many overseas printers feels somehow inferior to the touch to many savvy gamers. Also, some overseas printers do not clean their machines perfectly and you will thus get some random ink or dirt specks on otherwise white cards, things that would be quite a bit less frequent with a company like Carta Mundi in the U.S.

Always make darn sure that your products have cellowrap on them, both on the outside of each tuckbox and on the outside of each POP display. Otherwise your products will arrive, after boat shipping, looking like they just went through a war zone.

Particularly, if you end up deciding to manufacture overseas, read the article on the CPSIA-What It Means to You. Your entire print run may depend on it!!

As a parting shot for those designing CCGs (this is not that important for people designing stand-alone games): sometimes overseas companies use whatever playing card stock they can find. Try to get them to agree to match samples, particularly of a previous product they have printed for you. Otherwise, the stock may change between printing. Make sure that they exactly match the radius on the rounding of your card corners too, as at least one major CCG has gotten de facto marked cards by having some cards come out with different corners than the initial print runs.