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How to make circular cardboard tokens with a punch

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Rick-Holzgrafe
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I am now experimenting with a new (to me) technique for creating circular cardboard tokens with printed artwork, the kind that might be used in a game as money, victory points, ownership markers, or other things. The idea and most of the advice I'm repeating here came from this thread at BoardGameGeek, and I recommend reading that as well. This post is about my own experience and lessons learned.

Disclaimer #1: I'm making tokens for prototypes, not for sale. So far I've found that this technique makes tokens that are pretty good for prototypes. They are not much effort to make and not expensive once you've bought the tools, but they are not of professional quality.

Overview

The basic idea is this: you print your artwork on paper, and glue the paper to a sheet of chipboard. Then you cut out the counters by using a punch, which is a heavy-duty circular cookie-cutter with a big metal handle, sort of like a chisel with a circular edge. You place the punch over the paper-and-chipboard and whack it a few times with a hammer to cut out each token. I found that there are some details you have to get right, or you won't get good results.

The Details

Disclaimer #2: There are specific brand names mentioned here. I'm not recommending those brands over any others; they're just the ones I found that were inexpensive and easy for me to obtain.

First, the punch tool. The original thread recommends the use of an "arch punch" and warns against using a "hollow punch" because it is harder to remove the tokens from the punch. I don't know what the difference is. (Anybody?) I bought a "hollow punch" set because they are cheap on Amazon. The set I bought has 10 different sizes of circle, including a 1" circle (just right for my usual purposes) and a couple smaller and larger sizes than that, along with several that seem too small to be used for this purpose.

The cardboard to use is called "chipboard". I bought a package of medium-weight Grafix Chipboard at Michael's, a local craft store: six 12x12" sheets for around $6. The stuff I got is matte-surfaced and uncolored; you can also get it in white or black and perhaps other colors.

I print my artwork onto matte paper such as Epson Premium Presentation Paper, but pretty much anything labeld "Double-sided Matte" should be equivalent. It's heavier than regular paper and takes color well. On my ink-jet printer, I use the options for "Matte Paper, Best Quality, Heavy Ink".

To glue the paper to the chipboard, spray the back of the paper with an adhesive such as 3M "Super 77", then smooth it down onto the chipboard. (I let it dry for a while before trying to punch it; I don't really know whether that helps or not.)

There's one more thing you need: a cutting mat. Bear with me while I explain why:

I've found that you cannot punch through the cardboard unless it is lying on a hard, immovable surface. Anything that will bounce or give under the blows of the hammer is no good, and this includes tables and benches. I was only able to get good results by using a concrete floor. (Getting down on the garage floor is hard on my aging joints. I do a little better using my front porch, which is about a foot above the level of my front lawn.)

The problem with using a punch over concrete is that once it's gone through the cardboard, it starts trying to go through the concrete. This will destroy the fine edge of the punch, and like an idiot I found this out the hard way. The solution is a cutting mat such as this one, which cost me about $12 at Michael's. (You might be able to find smaller ones that are even cheaper.)

The cutting mat will resist the punch without damaging the edge. The punch will leave little circular slices in the surface of the mat. That's not a problem if you don't intend to use the mat for anything else.

I found that I got the best results by laying the cutting mat on the concrete, then a sheet of scrap chipboard on the mat, and finally my chipboard-with-artwork on top of the scrap chipboard. You'll be able to cut all the way through the top layer of chipboard, with the layer of scrap making up for the fact that the punch usually cuts a bit deeper on one side: you have to cut a ways into the second sheet of chipboard in order to cleanly cut all the way through the top sheet. The mat, of course, backstops the second layer of chipboard and keeps your punch safe.

Once you've got this sandwich ready to go, you just position your punch on your artwork, hold it steady in one hand, and pound away with your hammer. It usually takes me about 9 or 10 blows to cut all the way through; your mileage may vary. After the first 8 blows or so I pick up the punch, and the sheet of chipboard usually comes with it. I can look at the back side to see if I've cut all the way through; if I haven't I just put it down again and give it a couple more whacks.

When the punch has gone all the way through, I pull the chipboard off of the outside of the punch, and then remove the newly-cut counter from the inside. This usually requires unscrewing the punch from its handle, and poking the counter through the punch's screw hole to get the counter out. Just as the original thread said, it's a bit of a pain to get the counter out of a hollow punch.

After that, of course, you screw the punch back onto its handle and repeat for the next counter.

The Results

The counters that this method produces vary from pretty nice to a bit rough-looking. The chipboard that I'm using seems to be less compressed than the stuff that a quality game is made from. Sometimes it will delaminate a little when punched, and your counter looks like a flaky pastry when viewed from the side. A little of that is okay for a prototype, but you should probably plan on making more counters than you need because a few just won't turn out good enough.

Rick-Holzgrafe
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Link to BGG

I don't know why, but the link to "this thread at BoardGameGeek" didn't quite work right in the post above. Here's the link:

http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/507240/making-circular-tokens-and-co...

Black Canyon
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Some advice

Hey Rick, I wrote the tutorial on BGG that you linked to. I'm glad it inspired you to give those punches a try!

I think I might have some ideas why your tokens didn't come out so well. First, just as you suspected, maybe the chipboard you're using isn't dense enough. You can also look for bookbinding board (also called Davey board), illustration board, or a different brand of chipboard. If you have an art supply store nearby, you can usually get a fairly large sheet of chipboard for less than $4.00, depending on the thickness. Secondly, I found that if I made multiple small hits when I was punching, the tokens didn't come out as well. You should try punching all the way through in one or two hits and see if that makes a difference. The reason is that when the punch stops cutting mid way through the chipboard, it causes the layers below to separate from those above. Imagine using an x-acto knife to cut through a ream of paper, and half way through the knife goes dull. If you keep pushing the knife through, it will create a gap between the layers it cut and the layers it's pushing on.

I hope that helps!

Rick-Holzgrafe
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Thanks for the input, and

Thanks for the input, and I'll give your suggestions a try! I'm glad to hear my suspicions about the chipboard density confirmed.

I'm not sure why it seems to take me so many strokes to cut through. Maybe I'm just timid about swinging the hammer.

Thanks also for your original post that put me onto this. I found another post about making square tokens using this method, but for that you apparently must make your own punch out of a length of square-cross-section metal tubing, grinding or filing an edge onto it yourself. I may try that one of these days, too.

Black Canyon
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Square Punches

Yeah, I read that tutorial, too. While I do think it's a great idea, two main things keep me from making a square punch. First of all, square counters are easy enough to make using a metal ruler and knife, so I can't see a punch being more efficient. And secondly, a real punch is forged with a hardened edge whereas a homemade punch's edge, being softer stuff, will need to be sharpened more often (the original post suggested after every 25-30 punches).

On the other hand, one thing I do like about the idea is being able to produce square counters that are all uniform and that have slightly rounded corners. So all said and done, I may eventually attempt to make my own square punch.

t0tem
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Thank you for the tips, good

Thank you for the tips, good thread! I'm in the middle of making circular tokens myself and am not looking forward to scissoring them out of paperboard (i need about a hundred). Unfortunately - idiot that I am - they need to be right between 1" and 3/4". So now I may need to redesign the board a little...

zipplockbag
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I've recently used a

I've recently used a cuttlebug to make square and circle tokens from matte board about 1/16 thick. Worked well but it wore out the cutting dies after about 100 cuts. I got them on ebay for $1.99 (a bargain) so no big deal.

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