3 Simple Rules for Setting Up a Great Print & Play File

Oh glorious day! The Kickstarter project you backed finally funded! In a scant 8 months you will have a brand new game! Until then, you are the proud owner of a PNP! PNP is an acronym that stands for ‘Print and Play,” which usually means an awful digital file that you may print, cut, and arduously assemble into a vague facsimile of the game you are waiting for.

You go to print your PNP… the question marks appear over your head. The files are wonky, the cut lines are bizarre, and the artwork assets makes the PDF  an obscenely large size and almost impossible to print. In other words, you will be waiting for 8 months to play your game… angry face emoticon.


The value of knowing how to set up a good PNP is immense. If you can generate a simple, accessible, printable, no hassle file that contains an entire game you can use it for playtesting, prototyping, sharing your game, and, of course, a low level backer tier for Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding endeavor.

Here are some simple rules that can ensure an awesome and convenient PNP:

  1. Considering Sizes and Setting up your Document: Set up your printable document at 8.5 x 11. And use a standard card size for any cards that you’ll be printing. (Big secret: standard card sizes fit standard card sleeves.) Unless you are printing on card stock, you most likely will need to sleeve your cards using bulk playing cards as a back. On an 8.5 x 11 sheet you can get nine 2.5 x 3.5 cards.
    For setting up your printable document, I recommend using a layout based software like InDesign which allows for linked files. For PNPs that will be continually updated (as in a prototype), linked files will just need to be edited at their source and your PNP will be updated automatically. It is a huge time saver, especially at the early stages of development.
  2. Use Pared-down Art Assets: Depending on your use of the PNP this may or may not be desirable. If you are creating a PNP as a backer reward or to show off the final look of the game, you will definitely want to ignore this. Generating artwork with the most minimal components possible decrease your file size and printing time.
  3. Good Die Lines: Make sure that the components are separated by clearly defined crops or cut lines. Depending on the where you are in your design process and your need for the PNP, you may do this differently. If I’m just working through a concept I’ll just use dotted lines over the art. It is easier to cut and I really don’t care about the visual look at this point. If I’m trying to make the components look as good as possible, I’ll add crop lines outside of the game elements.
    I highly recommend making all cuts universal i.e. all (or most) page will cut the same. That may not make sense for more uniquely sized components, but for playtesting purposes, I’m sure you can make it work.

Here is an example for the San, Ni, Ichi Kickstarter PNP: Note we provided a full art version and a pared-down version.


If the file is easy to set up and use, you can iterate your design faster and you can deliver the game more easily for playtesting. These two concepts are the CORE principles of game design and work seamlessly together. If you are playing your game often you probably are changing your game often. If iterations are quick, you can move more quickly through your design process and end with a finished product sooner.

Likewise, if the file is easy to print and assemble, it is more likely that players will actually spend the time to literally print and play your game. This can generate more feedback to ‘feed’ into your design or otherwise, spread the game’s reach farther (depending on the stage of development of your game).

I’ve created a ton of prototypes with innumerable iterations of each. Following these guidelines has insured that the “busywork” of design is kept to a minimum and that my prototypes look great 🙂

If you’d like, you can download the San, Ni, Ichi PNP files and an InDesign template for a standard playing cards here.

Happy Game-Making,