Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Arts & Crafts Hour: Printing Your Customs

I'm thrilled at the feedback I got from the first part of this series, and it's really cool to see so many bloggers saying they are interested in making their own customs, and hopefully this can give people a little jumpstart to try it themselves.

I spent a couple months simply designing and creating digital cards (who am I kidding, they're jpegs!) before I ever actually tried printing one off.  I spent a lot of time digging around online, hoping to find some guidance as to what kind of paper to use, or how to cut the cards out without much luck.

In this post I'll walk you through my process of turning digital files into something that looks and feels pretty similar to a baseball card.  I know of some folks who use slight variations to my methods, so I'll point those out as we go along.  And if anyone does things differently, I'd certainly love to hear from them!

As I mentioned in the previous post, I think the key to custom cards is patience and trial and error.  I was actually about ready to give up on custom cards completely at one point.  I had some cards designed that I was really happy with.  But I could not for the life of me get them to print correctly.  I spent hours and hours and about a full cartridge of ink trying to get everything to work.  The image would print wildly out of proportion.  I'd change the settings, and then it would print too small.  Eventually I got to the point where I had the cards printing out, but they were coming out about 1/10th of an inch smaller on both sides.  It quite literally had me ready to rip my hair out.

...and then I realized I was an idiot.  After one of those Ben Franklin's kite moments, thirty seconds I was whooping and laughingly wildly, to the point that Kate was probably legitimately concerned.

So hopefully you can avoid the madness, wasted ink and paper, and concern of your significant other.

Before we get started, just a quick editor's note.  I print everything on 4x6 sheets, simply because I found a bunch of packs of photo paper at a Goodwill for dirt cheap.  You could just as easily replicate this on 8x10 pages.

The first step in creating your own customs is...well...picking out which cards you want to print.  The cards I'll be using for this are both headed into the mailbox right after I completed this, and with a little luck will coming back my way signed in the next few weeks.

If you remember from the first tutorial, you want to make sure you have all your customs created at 300DPI, and saved at the highest possible file size for optimum quality.  You'll want to have all your images sideways (Image, Rotate Image, 90 degrees)

Create a new document, with a width of 3.5 in, height of 5.007, and 300 DPI.

This is where I went wrong when I had my printing disasters.  I made the document size 4x6, matching the size of the paper.  However, when the file prints it doesn't print exactly to the size of the paper, but rather leaves some extra room.  By using a printing file that is smaller than your paper size, you won't need to worry about the image size being distorted while printing.

Once the document is created, simply drag your image files onto the canvas, and line them up so that the cards are right up against the border of the file.

If you're wondering while the file height is so strange (5.007 inches), I leave a small sliver of white space between the images to give me a small margin for error when cutting out the cards.  You could probably leave a little more space if desired.

So when the file is ready to print, it will look like this.  Obviously the same process could be used if you only wanted to do one card at a time, but I like to maximize my photo paper.

I have seen some people print cards with about .1 extra card border and cutting guides, which might leave a little more margin for error.  It seems like a good idea, but I haven't tried it.
 Here is the raw printout.  I use standard photo paper and a desktop printer, and have been surprisingly happy with the results.  I have a lower end HP print/scan/copy printer that I think was around $50-80.  But the colors come out very clear, theres no pixellation (why the high DPI is important!), and I can usually get pretty good mileage out of an ink cartridge.

I know some people use photo printing services at somewhere like Costco or Target.  It might save a few cents per print if I sent them to a store, but I like the added control over the process and the fact that I can essentially print on demand.  For me, it's a lot easier to print off 2-6 customs, and I can print directly from the photoshop file, rather than having to create an individual jpeg for each print.
 The actual "card" is composed of two layers.  The photo paper, and a sheet of card stock.  I use 110 lb.  card stock, which I found at Wal Mart for about $5 for 100 sheets.  To mount the photo paper to the card stock, I use basic scrapbooking glue.  There are a few different brands ranging in price from $2-5, and can be found in the craft or packing supply isle at Target or Wal Mart.
I like to mount the photo paper as close as possible to the edges of the paper.  It tends to make the final cuts a little bit easier, in my opinion.  On the sheet of card stock, you can fit 3 sheets of photo paper (6 cards).  If you're using 8x10 photo paper, you should be able to fit 8 cards per sheet.

Another photo paper would go parallel to the one in this photo, and then another one sitting the other direction to the left side of the paper
 Next, cut out the sheets of photo paper from the larger card stock page.  It doesn't have to be a precise cut, and you could use scissors or your trimmer.
Now for the delicate part.

 The cutter I use is a lower end guillotine cutter.  Pretty much like the old paper cutter you used to see ominously sitting in the back of the classroom at school.  The model I have was about $25 at Wal Mart.  The body is plastic, but it has a self sharpening blade and cuts cleanly.  There are also some higher end models that have laser sights, but those seem to be in the $50+ range.  It can be a little difficult to line up the cuts, but you can usually get them fairly straight, and make a secondary cut if necessary to even out the edge.

Before buying this guillotine cutter, I used a Fiskars craft cutter.  Out of the box, it worked fantastic.  There was an snapping arm that allowed you to line up the cut perfectly, and then cut across with a rotary blade.  For about $15, it seemed like a great deal.  But within about two weeks of purchase, the cutter started slicing at a very pronounced angle - about 1/4th of an inch difference between where the cut started and ended.  I took it back and exchanged it, thinking perhaps the plastic got bent.  The second cutter had the same issues in an even shorter timeframe.  Replacement blades were about $7, and there's no way I'm sinking that much money into a cheap cutter.

I have seen other methods for cutting out cards.  Some folks prefer a hand held rotary trimmer  (for crafts or fabric cutting) or xacto knife with a cutting mat and metal straight edge.  I've never tried this method, since I could see my hand easily slipping and slicing through half the card.  The guillotine cutter gives a nice, precise cut.  It's just a matter of making sure everything is lined up correctly.
 Speaking of which, here are the first two cuts.  The right side of the Hernandez card came out perfectly.  The bottom cut wasn't as nice, and there's a slight slant to the bottom of the Casey Blake card.
 After making the final three cuts, both cards are completely released.  I forgot to take a photo, but they match up almost perfectly with a standard pack issued card.  I had to make a second cut on the bottom of the Blake card to even it out, but as you can see there is still plenty of border, and the card is literally maybe a millimeter smaller than standard size.
One thing worth noting about these customs is that they do tend to warp slightly, similar to early Finest or Chrome cards from the 90's (but not nearly as pronounced as the warp to Chrome cards from the last 10 years or so).  This is a photo of a custom that I printed 3 days ago.  I typically put the card in a toploader for a few days, that tends to flatten them out.  I'm sure something like stacking the cards under a few heavy books would have the same impact.

The end product produces a card that looks and feels pretty similar to a modern card.  The layered custom is both a little thicker and a little heavier than your average Topps card today.  I would say it's comparable to early 2000's Donruss sets, which were a little thicker and heavier than some of their counterparts.  The photo paper gives the card a nice glossy look, while also holding signatures very well if you want to get your customs signed.

I don't make backs for my cards.  It's just a personal choice that I never really gave much thought to.  I rarely look at the back of my cards, so for me adding a back is just more time designing and printing with little added benefit.  I'd imagine including a back would be as simply as gluing another layer of photo paper one the card stock.  The images will print in almost identical spots on the photo paper if you use the method above.  If you use the corner gluing method I used above, you should be able to match the location of the photo paper on front and back pretty closely.  From there, the same steps of cutting out would apply.

I have also never tried printing directly on card stock to get more of a vintage feel.  I like the cleaner, semi glossy, look that the cards have on the photo paper with crisper images and no worry of color bleed.  I'd be interested to hear if anyone has or does experiment with printing directly on thicker stock paper.  I know the pre 1990 Topps sets were printed on a low end pulp based stock, but I don't know if something like that is readily available at retail.

Obviously there are certain limitations to homemade cards.  Things like foil on modern cards can be imitated in color, but it's not nearly the same.  There are ways to use higher end vinyls and foil board to make cards that are similar to refractors, the various Topps sparkle cards, and Superfractors.  I have a rough idea how to make these, but I'm still striking out when it comes to getting a finished product.  If anyone has any ideas, I'm all ears.

I'm going to have a short followup piece on fonts.  It will undoubtedly be the most dry, boring, and disinteresting post in the history of this blog.  But I'll try to include some pretty pictures.

So there it is.  Two posts, from start to finish how to create your own baseball card.  There are some really cool options for creating unique projects for friends or family.  Kate recently started playing roller derby, so I imagine at some point I'll be making some cards for her and her teammates.  Doing something similar for your son's little league team, or your beer league softball team would definitely earn you a basket of wings.

For those who have been on the fence about making customs or thinking "I don't have the talent to do that," I hope these posts give you a little nudge to give it a try.  Six months ago, I never would have believed I'd be making cards that I liked this much, or that were this complex.  For about $35 in materials a few hours of your time, see what you can come up with!

If anyone has any extra questions, or if there's something you'd like to see in a future "How to" post, feel free to leave a comment or email me directly!


  1. I'm definitely bookmarking this post! I've been making customs for years, but I have very little experience with printing. I first started doing the customs because I wanted cards for players who got ignored by Topps & UD, but I printed with a color laser printer directly on fairly thin card stock. The results would fool nobody, but it was, as they say, close enough for government work. That printer died, we replaced it with a B&W one and I've not printed a custom since... But now that I have a better idea of how to get good results, I'm thinking I'll have to give it another try.

    1. A few years ago I made custom A&G cards for players who didn't have a card as a Pirate. I printed it on a cardstock that was probably closer to construction paper. They're still a part of my collection, but the results were kind of cringe worthy - the cards looked too dark because it was a tan colored paper, the colors bled into each other. It was just bad.

      When I started making customs again, I was in the same boat as you. I made the digital file, but didn't really want to go through the headache of printing. I had some photo paper left over from the photobooth we had at our wedding, and decided to give it another try. After that, it was some trial and error before I found a process that worked.

      BTW, I love the Kellogg's 3D custom you did. That's really awesome.

  2. Thanks for this primer. I started making some customs this year to mail out for spring training. I went very basic, created a simple design using Powerpoint, then printing the entire slide on 8x10 paper with one sticky side that I was able to attach to a piece of cardboard that I scrounged around from work. Like you said, close enough for gov't work and I got decent results. When the cardboard runs out, as it will this season, I was wondering what weight paper to use. Thanks for the tip!

    1. I went with basically the cheapest paper I could find, since I didn't want to get stuck with an entire ream of paper I had no use for. Luckily it worked like a charm. I've seen some people use watercolor paper, which is a little thicker, but it's also pretty expensive. Good luck with your customs!

  3. I thought the paper you used for the customs was terrific. I also got a very early 2000s Donruss feel from the stock...although the cards you made were about 1,000 times better than anything from early 2000s Donruss.

    1. Thanks, Nick! That's some really high praise, but I'll take it :-)

  4. Very cool - thanks for posting this and sharing your process!