Material for making game boards out of?
August 7, 2013 8:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm trying to hand-paint gameboards (five 21cm x 29cm boards, for a boardgame) for someone, except I can't figure out what material can hold up to the dual stresses of being painted/printed on (not by computer, but by the older methods of linocuts or woodblocks or etching) and the day-to-day wear and tear from being used as a gameboard, while still being reasonably priced. Can you help?

The options I've considered:

1. Glass or plexi: an absolute no, because even when primed it doesn't keep pigment well if constantly handled and scraped against (moving wooden game pieces), and is not very nice-feeling to touch.
2. Hardwood: if I can find some more cheap fruitwood from the local hardware shop and get them to rip it in relatively thin sheets, this is a possibility, but it's more of a wish than a plan at this point.
3. Watercolor stock: the stuff I have tends to curl if exposed to much more than, well, watercolor.
4. Fibreboards (various): unless they are far thicker than I'd like, years of experience (ex fine-arts student) have taught me that they curve when painted, if not already curved by storage upright instead of flat and weighted. I want the board to be flat.
5. Canvas (regular): Nope, either it'll be on a stretcher and can't but used for playing without carrying a huge box and being careful when playing not to puncture the surface, or not stretched and liable to warp.
6. Canvas board: an actual option, but I've never used it and I was wondering if anyone had any experience with it? Would it be good for this job?

I will be sealing all of the boards, but even then, I want them to stand up well. I don't want to spend dozens of hours working only to have them look terrible in a year.
posted by flibbertigibbet to Media & Arts (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Binder's board?
posted by wens at 8:35 AM on August 7, 2013

Is creating a board by combining materials out of the question for some reason? I'm thinking, much like commercial gameboards, or mounted photographs, make your board on a printable surface that works with the materials you're using, and then bond it to a stiff, strong substrate, like wood or plastic, then seal all over.
posted by Mizu at 8:50 AM on August 7, 2013

posted by julthumbscrew at 8:57 AM on August 7, 2013

When we made Ouija boards two years ago, we used thin wood and then had a thin sheet of plastic affixed over them so the surface was smooth and the image was clear. They've held up very well.
posted by haplesschild at 8:58 AM on August 7, 2013

I think masonite board will be what you want. After painting, edge it in some of that fabricy bookbinders tape. Want it to fold? Cut it and attach tiny hinges.

My mom actually has a few homemade game boards like this from her early teaching days.
posted by phunniemee at 9:06 AM on August 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

the trick to keeping fiberboard/binder's board/cardboard from curling from painting is to just paint a solid coat on the back side when you're done. what curling remains will generally flatten out and stay flat once you weight it down for a while. You might also try painting/printing the board on a lighter stock, and painting/printing the back of the board on the same stock, then gluing them together (possibly with a nice edge tape)...this way, the curling cancels out, and if i'm not mistaken, is the process most game boards (like monopoly,etc) are made.
posted by sexyrobot at 9:10 AM on August 7, 2013

Hardwood slices will curve much worse than your fiberboard in art school did.
posted by jon1270 at 9:11 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, masonite is the main fibre/hardboard I've worked with in the past, and of the dozen-or-so pieces of masonite (some 8' long, some gameboard-sized), none are still flat 5-10 years later. And that's even with every single back painted.

jon: I was thinking (properly kiln-dried) half-inch slices, akin to what I use when I'm making relatively small wood boxes. Would it still be a problem?
posted by flibbertigibbet at 9:19 AM on August 7, 2013

What about printing on paper and attaching it to corrugated plastic board?
posted by tilde at 9:29 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I made a hardcover children's book as part of a gradeschool requirement the teachers recommended matboard for the cover, which is used for picture framing. That book is still straight after 20+ years, though it had light cloth glued to it - it wasn't painted.

I have a painting done on canvas board and it is warped.
posted by txtwinkletoes at 9:37 AM on August 7, 2013

Half-inch slices would be much heavier and thicker than typical commercial game boards, but anyhow, yes, it would very likely still be a problem. Thin sheets of solid wood are not very stable at all. You can reduce problems by coating them in moisture-resistant sealers and such, but you'd still be asking for trouble. Just leaving one out on a table in direct sun for a while could dry out the top and cause it to curl noticeably. You could attach battens, which would make it thicker, or breadboard the ends, which would make it much more expensive. It's just not a good choice given your constraints.

I'm looking at a commercial folding game board right now, and the core is just two pieces of what I'd call chipboard (a thicker version of what cereal boxes are made of), spaced about a quarter-inch apart to provide a hinge. On top is printed, glossy paper and on the bottom is a tougher textured plastic layer.
posted by jon1270 at 9:52 AM on August 7, 2013

Medium Density Overlay is, with the exception of weight, ideal for this purpose. Takes paint and most adhesives excellently, won't warp, should be flat when you get it. Commonly available in 1/2" and 3/4" thicknesses for signs it is also available in 1/4" and 3/16" thicknesses for curved concrete form work. And the thinner products will weigh less than 1/2" hardwood.

Or cheaper if you are will to deal with the thickness is MDF. You need to prime it with an oil based primer but otherwise it is dimensionally stable. It's not nearly as durable as the MDO though.
posted by Mitheral at 10:08 AM on August 7, 2013

Buy five of these $10.00 APTITLIG bamboo cutting boards from IKEA, and cut them to size.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could you paint on watercolor paper, or something similar, then get it thickly laminated? Kinda like they do on those menu placemats at certain restaurants.

Thick enough laminate shouldn't curl up and should be quite heavy and sturdy; yet still pretty lightweight and flexible.
posted by Dimes at 10:45 AM on August 7, 2013

If you have time to experiment Garolite (XX) might work. It's like fiberglass with paper-based fill material instead of glass fiber. The stock surface is glossy resin so I think you'd need to sand it to expose the fill for paint adhesion. I've not handled thin pieces so I don't know how flat or brittle it is. I have a 12 x 24 x 3/8" piece and just measured it is bowed .009" over an 18" span.
posted by tinker at 2:13 PM on August 7, 2013

Rather than a canvas board, go with linen. The boards are archival and won't warp. Jack Richeson and Frederix both make some.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 2:15 PM on August 7, 2013

I know nothing about these folks, but I think I might use them for some thin oak veneer I need for some cabinets. They may have what you need. They may be able to give you an educated opinion about what will work for you. They may be some goofy teenagers who put up a website for the lulz. I've no idea.
posted by tllaya at 4:56 PM on August 7, 2013

I'm with Jon, masonite is the way. I have paintings on masonite that have lasted for decades still flat.

An 8 foot long board ( if I read that correctly) will never stay flat, how can you store that? Upright against a wall in a closet. Gravity is not your friend.

Maybe a coat of gesso would help? Still not for 8 foot long boards.
posted by Max Power at 7:09 PM on August 7, 2013

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