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Article #13 – Demystifying Game Components (Art vs. Graphic Design)

Our 3rd Article in the “Demystifying Game Components” series…

Art vs. Graphic Design!

“What’s the difference and how do I get/do it?”


What is it?

Noun: Any single piece of visual beauty that is going into your game. (vs. Graphic Design below).

These are painted electronically 99% of the time (yes, it’s still called painting, even with a computer and a stylus).   In the rare case they’re made electronically, they need to be converted to an electronic medium for printing.

How is it made?

By now I’m sure you’ve you’ve seen Article #5 on Finding Artists, as finding the right artist is the first step.  Once that occurs, the artist you hire draws/paints art according to your specifications using Photoshop and a host of other programs and techniques that, frankly, don’t concern you.  You’ve finally found 1 place that you’ve hired a professional to do it for you… let them. : )

What are my options?

Color Choice
Black and White – (No color = little eye draw, you’ll need a good genre reason.)

Images courtesy of: iello’s “Guardian Chronicles”; Gate Keeper Games’ “Yhe King’s Armory”; Brown Eyed Games’ “The King’s Abbey”; Robb de Nicola’s “Pixel Guardians”; Artist Clémentine’s “Thor”; Gate Keeper Games’ “A.D.A.P.T.”

Partial Color – (A big style choice, rarely done.)

Full Color – (Most games.  Your color palette will reveal a lot about your game.)

Beyond that, it’s all genre
Traditional medieval fantasy art (varies by artist)

Comic book style, Comic Strip, Anime, Cartoon (variety)

3d, Video Game Retro, pixel art

Traditional mediums from Art Class: watercolor, charcoal, sketch, etc.

Traditional styles from Art History Class: Renaissance, iconography, fresco

Find and choose a style you like and that fits your game, then find the artist that can do what you need.  Chances are that you already know what you want your game to look like, but these ideas might turn some wheels.

What are my size limitations?

You should have all art painted at the exact dimensions you need (ideally measured in pixel count) for the art’s primary place in the game …or larger (you can always scale art down with little loss, but scaling up more than 10 to 15% will destroy its quality). Make sure you measure size while viewing at 300dpi (dots per inch).  A 16 inch image at 72dpi (internet resolution) becomes about a 4 inch image when converted to 300dpi (standard print resolution).

Also bear in mind that all art needs to be made at least 3mm wider and longer than the final game component, as the outer 1.5mm is subject to be cut off by the die cutting.  Having the extra 3mm on the outside (called Bleed) you’ll never accidentally have a cut component showing white-space on the outside (very unprofessional).  Your printer will demand this anyway.


Commission art at the size needed (measured in pixels) while at a 300dpi (dots per inch) resolution; as all art files need to be 300dpi to print with a full level of quality; the standard 72dpi that your art program’s default is good for electronic viewing but breaks down and looks pixelated when printed.   When you convert from 72dpi to 300dpi your image size (in inches/mm) shrinks to about 1/4 size. – So be sure to commission it at 300dpi from go.

Artists paint art in layers, there may be 1, 2, or 100, the electronic layers make design modifications and corrections much easier than traditional pigment and canvas. Request your artist to submit .psd files to you retaining as many layers as possible. By doing so, you can very easily extract single images from their backgrounds, as they’ll be on a different layer. You can also easily export a .psd as a .jpg or .png or any other format.  Gimp can handle .psds but doesn’t always convert all of Photoshop’s layering tools well, so you might have to trouble shoot that with your artist depending on what tools he used.

Where possible, export files as .png’s; they are “lossless” and have transparent backgrounds; and since they are flat (1 layer), they are far smaller files than .psd’s. If you have to save as .jpg just be sure to adjust your design program’s export settings to 100% quality and be aware that it will insert a background upon exporting as .jpgs don’t support the transparent “alpha channel”.Bleen & Margin

As 3mm bleed is required on the outside of the art, 3mm bleed is also suggested for the inside (between the die line and the nearest important piece of the art or text), this is properly called Inner Margin. By having that extra 3mm safety on the inside, even if the die cut misses its mark by a whole 1.5mm the art/text/piece still looks professional.

Click for close up view for comparison.

Be aware that art is electronically painted in the RGB (light) color mode, but will be printed in CMYK (pigment) color mode. Light has more and brighter colors than printing pigment can achieve; so upon conversion from RBG to CMYK your art will darken and lose a lot of contrast. Fear not! EVERYONE prints in CMYK, so it doesn’t look as bad as you’ll first think when you see it.  Just be sure adjust every image’s brightness level before exporting for print.  See example below.

When headed to the presses I suggest importing every final art file you have (ie: Fully designed cards, fully designed player boards, etc.) into Adobe InDesign for conversion to PDF.  Why?  InDesign will convert your files to a CMYK mode automatically upon export, and does so with amazing quality. Files are required by your printer/manufacturer to be submitted in CMYK PDFs, as their printing factory won’t do it for you.  Vistaprint can and will, but Vistaprint is a very different service to a very diff demographic.

Additional Information:

RGB = Red, Green, Blue; the primary colors, it’s what we see.

CMYK = Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (which stands for Black); the colors of printing pigment.  It’s Notice that your Inkjet printer has 2 cartridges: Black & “Tri-color” (C, M, & Y).

Lossless = No quality loss on export. .jpg’s are such small files, they can lose quality/integrity over time and multiple saves.  You can mitigate this by following the advice above.

Save vs. Export = Saving saves the program’s document file; Exporting turns the image into the .jpg or .png you need for printing.

Resolution / DPI = Dots (pixels) Per Inch. 72dpi is standard web browsing resolution; 300dpi is standard print resolution; vinyl banners print anywhere between 100-200 dpi depending on the service provider.

4c/4c = Full Color, both sides.
4c/1c = Full Color on main side, black & white reverse side.
4c/- = Full Color on one side, no printing on the reverse side. (It will remain white or greyish depending on the paperboard color).

Samples of “Art”.

We’ll revisit some of these after “Graphic Design”.

Character Art

Art CollageArt for use in Graphic Design

Graphic Art2

Now we come to…

Graphic Design

What is it?

Verb: The assembling of the above Art into a final layout, including the addition of text, symbols, charts, and frames, that will result in a final printable product.

Often it is referred to in noun form, “The graphic design on these stat cards is flawless.”  What they are referring to is the result of the Verb, the assembled.  Though this can also rightfully be seen as a compliment to the choices that were made when directing the art so that it matches, accentuates, and flows with the other art in any given final game image.  See the next image below for 4 examples of what I mean by this.

How is it made?

Depending on the item, some projects are designed in Photoshop (or Gimp), while others require Adobe InDesign.  The pieces are layered on top of each other, text is added on, in, or around it, and a final item is exported in PDF format.

What are my options?

Graphic Art Options1
Free text headings with beveling and drop shadow. Text boxes for the body of text with no beveling or drop shadow (nobody said the text box can’t be a parchment or your unique design). No use of symbology to keep appearance uniform by color.  – Regarding text quantity, each card is likely to be held a differing amount of time, therefore the text quantity and size is relational to the card’s usage; the Reward Card is used quickly, so its design facilitates that, while the Armory Card is one of the end-all-be-all cards that the game is named after, so its text is plenteous and self-contains all of its rules.
Borderless Graphic Design
The information needs to be used quickly, discarded, then replaced.  The stocky consistent design facilitates the style of gameplay.

Artistically your options are endless, limited only by you and your designer’s imagination.  So find a designer you like.  But we want to get your wheels turning, so here’s some options:

Text boxes or free text?

Symbology or full text?

Border or borderless?

Stocky, fluid, or abstract?

Plain text or beveled text?

Drop shadow around or drop shadow far removed for depth or none at all?  (Perspective shadow?)

What are my size limitations?



Find a game who’s graphic design (not art, but graphic layouts) are appealing, with text that matches the genre, is well centered, well spaced, looks clear, readable, and not too “busy” to the eye.  Contact the designer, and ask them for their graphic designer’s information.




In short, “Art” is physical (including electronic) pieces of art, while “Graphic Design” is the process of assembling the pieces of Art into an aesthetically pleasing and visually functional layout.

Let it be known: As the art industry hasn’t officialized these clear lines universally, it behooves Artists to call themselves “Artist and Graphic Designer”, though not all Artists are skilled Graphic Designers, and not all Graphic Designers are good enough Artists. It’s kinda like a seamstress calling herself an interior decorator and an interior decorator calling herself a seamstress.  Yes, each is remotely skilled at the other’s trade, but that doesn’t make them a specialist at it.

Make sure you find one of each that truly specializes.
Those that are really good at both are diamonds in the rough.

Tutorial Time!

How to assemble the final Graphic Design.

We’ll be using our flagship TKA Hero, Valcor, as our example.

A lot of heavy thought goes into each step, and the general layout should be something you already have a solid concept of (self-invented, or invented by your graphic designer) before doing the assembly.  You’ll also need all Art in hand as the assembly is the final phase before exporting and lightening for printing.

Building a Stat Card Valcor 2

…using that same template we duplicate the Statistics box for use as a smaller Special Actions box (as we don’t want unused grey space), and sliding it over, we build Zoe; but let her cheat the graphic design by popping out of frame a bit…

Zoe Sample…adjusting the design further we now build Artaxerxes.  He likes to break the rules and cause chaos, so we added darts all over his stat card and let him outright hang from the Graphic Design so that his final image well illustrates his style of play…

Artaxerxes sampleTo see how we used the templates here, while swapping out the different sized Stat and Attack Options boxes, visit our “Meet the Heroes” page to see all the layouts.

Thanks for reading the “Demystifying Game Components” series!

Did we miss something?  Have a tip?  Share it in the comments.



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