How can I varnish paper to make it more slippery?
December 11, 2017 3:09 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the middle of creating a boardgame that uses a dexterity element. This means that players will physically flick little wooden spaceships across a printed paper board. To make the wooden spaceships glide nicely - I am looking for a finish or varnish or spray or something that will lower the friction of the paper. The goal is to make it easier for little wooden disks to glide over the printed paper surface with a flick. I've never used anything like this and I've no idea even where to start !
posted by Cogentesque to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Lamination might be a good way to go ? I cant imagine being able to apply a varnish to paper and not make a large clump of paper like mess. I have seen glossy photo paper that is moderately smooth, but I think the lamination might be better because it would also give you some durability.

I have played a game that might be similar called Ascending Empires. They just used rigid cardboard with a "normal" printed surface that you find on most board games. It didn't seem to have much problem in function.

Might be worth checking it out if you can at a local game store.
posted by Oceanic Trench at 3:31 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Either lamination or varnish will be fine - it might be easier to use lamination and get a smooth finish if this is just a hand-made prototype, but if you're doing a small commercial run an even coating of varnish will present no problem at all, and would normally be applied anyhow to protect the ink.

As Oceanic Trench says above, most regular board/card finishes will be smooth enough to make this work anyhow, without worrying about super super slippy finishes.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:41 AM on December 11, 2017

Oh, and generally I'd go for a varnish rather than lamination as there's no chance of it ever starting to pull away at the edges.
posted by ominous_paws at 3:44 AM on December 11, 2017

If something other than paper is an option, you might take a trip to your local hardware/lumber store and try racing your pieces down ramps of different materials - various plywoods, MDFs, acrylic, melamine, etc.

I'm pretty sure that the crokinole playing surfaces that I grew up with were made with white hardboard.
posted by clawsoon at 4:13 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'd do a test with silicone spray.
I'm using this occasionally for mechanical parts in musical instruments, and I invariably slip on the wooden floor for weeks afterwards, so it might be just the thing for you...
posted by Namlit at 4:16 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

If it's compatible with the visual design, in addition to a transparent laminate you've got the option of laminating on parchment paper (which is normally coated on one side with silicone, I believe) or aluminum foil or something similar.

Also btw, you might want your spaceships to have more mass (and therefore more inertia) than wood—if not by making them out of metal, you might check out the various ways that the weights of (wooden) Pinewood Derby cars are adjusted: by drilling a hole and filling it with solder, for example.
posted by XMLicious at 5:14 AM on December 11, 2017

Is this something that's a one-off as a personal project or something that you want to produce at commercial scale?
posted by Candleman at 5:21 AM on December 11, 2017 [2 favorites]

Don't forget about the tokens, it might be easier to polish up the wooden game pieces. Smooth out the bottoms, maybe round then off to reduce contact with the board and wax or silicone them.
posted by yeahlikethat at 5:21 AM on December 11, 2017 [1 favorite]

An art supply store will have acrylic medium or varnish in liquid and spray form.

You could also lay a sheet of mylar over the game board and see how that works.

Rather than paper you might look for something with a bit more weight to it. A piece of fine-grained wood, carefully sanded with decreasing grades of sand paper and then painted and varnished, might work.

Or plexiglass with the game details printed (maybe transferred?) backwards on the bottom so that they're correct when viewed from the top.
posted by bunderful at 5:25 AM on December 11, 2017

Seconding other suggestions on silicone papers. Parchment paper now manufactured for baking is sturdy and super slick.
posted by effluvia at 7:07 AM on December 11, 2017

You could look at the surfaces used in other dexterity board games like PitchCar; I think it is a fairly normal painted pressed wood.

If you want exceptional slide, upgrade the space ship tokens with a spot of Teflon tape.
posted by redorangeyellow at 8:34 AM on December 11, 2017 [3 favorites]

If you're imagining the clear laminate everyone generally uses and thinking it's too smooth, I'd encourage you to find a sign-making shop with samples, because there are definitely higher-friction options that will still be much slicker than paper.
posted by teremala at 9:31 AM on December 11, 2017

I think lamination is the right idea as long as you want to keep this relatively easy/cheap. I think a matte (rather than glossy) finish will present lower friction and allow your pieces to slide a little smoother.
posted by stinkfoot at 10:14 AM on December 11, 2017

If you are still thinking along the lines of a painted on coating, I've used this water based polycrylic with a couple of paper projects and it worked very well. Bunderful's suggestion of acrylic medium will work, too. With either of these, just be sure your underlying paper is firmly glued down, to avoid buckling of the paper. Come to think of it, you can use either the polycrylic or the acrylic medium as a glue to adhere your base paper, let it dry and then give it top coat(s) of the same medium.
posted by sarajane at 1:24 PM on December 11, 2017

You can buy plastic "paper". We use it all the time at work so buy in bulk from various places (I think polyart is one brand) but the Rocketbook erasable notebooks use it too and are only $20 or so. Not the ones you microwave to erase, the ones you wash, called Everlast.

It's not cheap, it's about $1/sheet but it is extremely durable and is thin and pretty much acts and feels like slippery paper.
posted by fshgrl at 1:56 PM on December 11, 2017

I'd use clear mac tac or something like that. That, or lamination is the only surface that'll be uniform enough for tiny game pieces to slide across smoothly. Any sort of brushed on sealer is going to leave tiny ridges when it dries.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:34 PM on December 11, 2017

You don't want both surfaces to be perfectly smooth, or they'll stick together. The relationship between roughness and friction is very complicated, and there are times when making a surface rougher will make it more slippery.

Your best bet is to experiment with lots of different surfaces, without too many preconceptions. If you have the time and the money, try everything that's been suggested.
posted by clawsoon at 8:09 PM on December 11, 2017

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