Foamcore is a great material because it’s easy to work with, looks professional and is still fairly strong and, along with glue, will hold your creations together for a long long time.
I’ve been making foamcore organizers for some time now and it’s so much fun I figured I’d share some on my process and some general tips and tricks when working with this awesome material.
So here are some general tips and tricks on working with Foamcore and making board game inserts. I’ll go over planning in Illustrator, creating plans, cutting and finally building.
These are the tools I use when making my foamcore organizers.
- Foamcore, also known as Foamboard
- Utility/Craft knife
- Metal ruler
- White glue or paper glue
- Self-healing cutting mat
- Sewing pins
- Rabbet Cutter (optional)
- Pencil (optional)
The very first thing to do is to settle on what game you are going to make an organizer for. Remember that each game is unique and while some solutions can work for multiple games, each game will require its unique organizer.
Setting it up
I always set up an A4 document with the units set on milimeters when I’m planning a new organizer. This makes sure I get the correct measurements and a simple way to create a PDF.
Measuring the box and components
One of the most tricky things to do is measuring the box. If your game has a cardboard insert, I recommend measuring the cardboard as it is made to fit inside the box. However I always double-check by also measuring the box itself.
Measuring is sometimes hard, my tips is to measure with a regular plastic ruler (the 30cm ones) and rather than measuring from the 0-mark, measure from the 1cm mark. Also remember that you need to fit it inside the box.
If you want to be extra sure of your measurement, I recommend cutting a small piece of foamcore in the length that you think it is, starting with the biggest length you think it is. Then it’s easy to remove milimeter by milimeter until you get something that fits the box. If you want you can also cut out the base based on your first measurement, then shave of as much as you need, and then measure that base.
I recommend fitting it snuggly, meaning it should fit inside the box but not leave any spare space between the box and the insert. Don’t worry when it’s all assembled if it’s hard to fit inside the box – it will comform after a short while inside the box. Also remember to measure the height of the box and make sure you take into account that you’ll want to fit the rulebook and anything else that might go ontop of the foamcore organizer.
Next up is the components. Tiles, dices and cards are often the easiest, and tokens and meeples the hardest.
I’ve found that most cardboard tokens require at least 45x45mm and 2,5mm in height. The best way to measure is to place it into a plastic bag and measure the dimensions from there, and then add some extra room to allow you to pick the tokens up.
Before, or while I’m designing I often check BoardGameGeek.com for components, expansions, and browse the images uploaded by others to see how the game is played and for new ideas. I’ve also found a nice list of foamcore inserts that others have made, that serves as inspiration for my own creations.
I always write down all measurements inside a text-object inside Illustrator before I draw out all components, including the base plate, with a white fill and a black 1pt stroke. This makes it easier to see how much space you’ll need and the boxes for the components is bound to be lost in the process.
I then create a 5 milimeter wide line from a rectangle, set the fill to none and the stroke to 1pt black. 5 milimeter is exactly the thickness of standard foamcore and thus I make all walls that width.
And thus the planning begins. Each board game is unique and so are all organizers. The size box is what affects the design of the organizer the most, and then the components.
As I’ve stated earlier I have some goals when designing an organizer, mainly that it needs to be as play-ready as possible. What this means is that the organizer should be designed in such a way that it doesn’t obstruct the ability to set up the game for play, or if possible improve that ability or improve the game experience as a whole.
For example making a Token tray makes sure it’s easier to keep track of all tokens not in use. Making sure that the components you need first are available, and that as few components are mixed (for example two deck of cards).
Each component should also be easy to take out, remember to plan space for your fingers to get your components! A tips is to, if possible, leave 1-2 milimeters of space when making slots for cards. Otherwise there is a small risk of warping.
One or two layers?
Depending on the height of the box, and the amount of components, it may be best to create two layers. There are multiple ways to create two layers – for example creating an insert with walls as tall as the box with multiple trays, or to simply have two trays ontop of each other. Remember to make a slight room for the rules and anything else that might go ontop of the organizer.
Room for more?
Something you also need to think about is if you want to be able to store any expansions inside the organizer or anything else that you might want to add to the game. As I know me and my girlfriend usually get expansions for games we like, I always design my organizers to fit as many expansions as possible.
How will you store your game?
One final thing to think about is how you store your game. Do you place it on its side, lay it down, or any other way? Some games, like for example Descent: Journeys into the Dark, requires it to be stored laying down due to all its miniatures, but most games I try to store on its side because it’s easier to access and less risk of the box warping due to the weight on games stored ontop of it.
Different kinds of build techniques
I’ve identified a few kinds of build techniques that I’ve used on multiple builds and that I will be using in the future as well that I figured would be worth sharing.
Creating Notches or Grooves to interlock the pieces is the first technique I used on the Carcassonne organizer.
Often Inserts and Organizers are used as synonymes, however I prefer to use them seperately because an Insert is essentially a kind of organizer or part of an organizer.
An Insert is a base with walls that fit snuggly inside the box. It can be used to hold trays, or be the entire organizer. This is the most common way I’ve made organizers.
One of the coolest techniques is the Token tray. Rather than keeping the tokens needed during play stored inside an insert in the box, a Token tray can be made to hold these tokens and enhances the game.
This technique can also be used for cards as a Card tray. When making a token tray, all you need is a seperate base plate which holds walls and dividers. Remember that adding another base plate means the token tray becomes 5 milimeter higher.
Individual boxes for components can also be made – for example with the trains from Ticket to Ride it’s so much better to create containers for each player than to create a tray that holds them all. Essentially player-specific tokens should, if possible, have their own container, while game-wide tokens can be stored in a tray.
Finalizing a design
Once I’ve settled on a design, it’s time to create the Cutting pages. I do this by creating A4s and ontop of them drawing out all the pieces that I will be needing. When making the cutting pages its important to remember the height (and that the total height includes 5 milimeter because of the base, more if more layers are used).
When finalizing its important to remember if you should use notches and plan accordingly where they need to be, and to note all measurements for the pieces and where they will be glued to each other.
Finally it’s time to go outside of the digital world and start cutting! When cutting, I recommend using either an utility or craft knife (for example an X-acto knife), a metal ruler, and a selfhealing cutting mat.
Cut directly down to get the right angle on the edge. If you angle your knife when cutting it will be harder to fit and to make corners.
You don’t have to cut it all in one go, but if you are having trouble cutting the foamcore I would recommend to sharpen your knife – foamcore is quite good at dulling the blades.
There are two ways to cut; Measuring or Printing.
Printing is easier but requires you to create a PDF of A4 sheets that depicts. To cut, simply place and align the paper over the foamcore sheet and cut at the lines through both the paper and sheet, making sure to keep them aligned. I recommend using a metal ruler to make sure you cut straight. This works without using A4-sized foamcore sheets but will be less efficient and harder.
Instead of printing and cutting by the lines, you can also write down all measurements and cut by measuring with a ruler. This saves paper and ink but has a higher risk of making misstakes.
The reason is that you have to first measure the width, cut a slight indentation to mark where the width is, do the same for the other side and then place the ruler so it aligns to these two cuts, and cut.
In both Measuring and Printing I’ve found that using pieces you’ve already cut as a template greatly reduces the time needed to cut.
Time to put everything together! Before you start to glue, I would recommend that you try everything out, including putting it into the box and the components, before actually applying the glue. This makes it easier to make adjustments if needed.
I usually start from the inside out and glue together the dividers and the end-bits in card slots. When finishing it’s easiest to glue together the shorter sides and then the long sides.
In my recent builds I process has been that I create a framework with all dividers and such, making sure to align their heights on their top so that it looks nice. I then flip the entire thing over, apply glue to all undersides and then place the bottom ontop.
Using sewing pins
A technique when gluing is to, when having placed the glued piece in its place, stick a sewing pin through the back of the piece it’s been glued onto so it also sticks into the piece. This holds the piece in place while the glue hardens and allows for you to continue working without having to wait.
The right stuff
I recommend using a glue that doesn’t solidify for some time, but is still sticky enough to hold the pieces together fairly well. I use a water-based photo- and paper glue that works really nice.
It’s transparent (although it will be visible on black foamcore) and odorless and solidifies over a few hours but becomes sticky enough to hold most things within the first few minutes, allowing for correction even up to two hours after.
Usually white glue is used and recommended because it’s easy to work with and becomes transparent when it hardens, and is easy to brush off your fingers if you get any on you.
Foamcore is quite forgiving on making faults, both while cutting and while gluing. Most faults will be invisible once the entire thing is complete.
Should something not quite fit you can try to force it down (for example if you’ve made a tray that supposed to fit inside a slot in an insert) and the foamcore will at some point conform to this.
I’ve seen some inserts where, the creators try to make it as professional as possible by adding a sheet of foamcore ontop, like how Cwhitpan does with his games, for example Star Trek Catan. It gives it an incredibly nice look and is something I’ve been thinking of doing. However it also requires more space and thus less space for the components so I guess its just a matter of finding the right game to make it for.
There are multiple ways to create organizers and inserts and I’m not saying any way is the right way. The beauty of creating these things for your game is that it really becomes your unique game. Sure foamcore comes with a cost, I recon most of my inserts costs around 100kr, depending on how many sheets I’m using (one sheet costs 16kr).
There are many more resources I would recommend checking out some of these links for either more tips and tricks, or inspiration and ideas for foamcore organizers.