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Game Design

How I saved hundreds of dollars by learning the basics of one graphic design program

I’ve been working on my solo game, Relics of Rajavihara, which I plan to bring to Kickstarter later this year. I hired an amazing artist, Tristam Rossin, to develop all the art and graphic design for the cards, board, and box. I normally wouldn’t advise investing in all this to other designers, but I knew that this was a game I wanted to self-publish, and having really attractive art would help to bring in playtesters, along with backers once I launch my campaign. And he uses a really helpful program…

But art and graphic design aren’t cheap. Plus, I knew that some of the levels and cards for my game could change as I did further playtesting and made improvements.

Fortunately, Tristam provided not only the image files but also the Photoshop files, so that I could make minor changes myself, rather than have to take up his time and cost me $50 an hour for updates.

However, I’m far from being an artist or graphic designer. Oh, and I’ve never used Photoshop before. I didn’t even own a copy.

Sometimes you just have to step outside your comfort zone and try something new. Here’s what I did and how it saved me hundreds of dollars (not to mention hours of Tristam’s time).

It doesn’t need to be brand spanking new

When I started to look into Photoshop, I saw there were a number of different versions you could buy. Each step up allowed for more options and features.

But I had no idea which one to buy. I’d never even used it before!

This program can also get quite costly, as it’s now only sold as software as a service (SAAS), meaning there is a monthly fee to use it.

I found a free online version offered by Adobe that just allowed for editing. I thought I’d be all set… Until I tried it and found out that I could not edit any of the files Tristam gave me. The format was not compatible.

I spoke to Tristam about which online version I should get, and his response surprised me.

He said “none of them.”

He was actually using an older version himself that was perfectly capable of everything he needed to do. He suggested I look for the same version on eBay or another site.

The best part about this version was it was only a one-time purchase. So, I did some research and found someone online selling legitimate copies of Photoshop CS6, the same version that Tristam uses. For just 60 bucks (only a little more than an hour of Tristam’s time or about the same as a few months subscription to the online program), I got everything I would need without having to pay an ongoing monthly fee.

Learning curve

As I mentioned, I’ve never used Photoshop before (or any similar program), and I’m no artist or graphic designer.

I opened up the program to try it out. I was able to load up one of the cards and view it.

So far, so good.

But that’s as far as I got. I tried clicking on images on the card to move them around, but no luck. I had no idea what I was doing.

That’s when I realized it was time to phone a friend. Or better yet, visit that friend in person.

You see, I have a friend named Derek who was formerly a graphic designer, and I was already planning to visit him very soon, just to hang out. So, I let him know I needed a bit of help to get started and he was glad to show me the basics.

Derek walked me through the process of viewing the layers, moving icons around, and editing text. Fortunately, that’s all I needed to know. I was just editing existing cards, not creating anything new.

A huge time and money saver

By learning the basics of Photoshop and asking a few questions of Tristam and my friend Derek, I’ve been able to completely revise a number of cards that have changed as a result of feedback from playtesters.

Rather than take up Tristam’s time and have this cost me a lot more money, I was able to do this myself at a minimal cost.

Sure, it was slow at first, and I’m sure Tristam could make the same changes in a fraction of the time that I took, but I can now easily make these changes on the fly, not having to rely on anyone else, and I’ve saved myself a lot of money along the way. I can even create additional cards for new levels I create in very little time now.

We’re always learning

Don’t be afraid of learning a new program or technique. What might be scary and intimidating at first could save you a ton of time, money, and effort.

Two other programs I’d really like to get a handle on are Tabletop Simulator (for creating online versions of board games) and Nandeck (for automating my card creation process).

I know these won’t be too difficult to learn, and there are instructional videos online, plus other people in some of the game design Facebook groups are always glad to help. It’s just a matter of putting in the time upfront to learn these programs.

That’s how we get better at anything we do.

What tool or program have you learned recently that saved you a lot of time or money?

Comment below and let me know. I’d love to hear all about it.

Did you know you can download my 10 Minute Board Game Design Blueprint for free? It’s the fastest way to get your game started and stay focused on your end goal.

Just click HERE to download the blueprint for free.

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    I use CorelDraw Home edition to create all my games before lasercutting, even some print and play games.

    Interesting. I’ve never used CorelDraw. Thanks for sharing this, Mark!

    Since I don’t have a PC, I have always used :

    Index cards
    Large Card board boxes
    Colored pencils
    Black permanent markers
    Graph paper booklets

    I draw my own artwork for all of my games. To me, its the little things of materials that allow me to hone in on my skills for 25 years.

    Nothing wrong with sticking to the usual tools and physical prototypes, Jesse!

    it was very interesting to read and read the learning process, i have a motto for my day to be good, or i learn something or teach something, if you ever need help with photoshop or something else related to design, just say

    Thanks so much, Ricardo! I just might take you up on that one day. 🙂

    Try out Affinity Photo! It’s only $50, no subscription(and is on sale half off now!). I use the latest version of Photoshop for work, so unfortunately I need to have it, but otherwise I’d probably be going with Affinity. It’s nearly got everything Photoshop has. Especially for hobbyist or beginners, it’s really worth trying out! Anyway, I don’t have any affiliation with them or anything lol, I’m just wanting to point people towards them as they’re a great alternative, and are a smaller company that seem to be headed in the right direction 🙂 They also have 2 other softwares which are great for game design as well(Affinity Designer & Publisher–Adobe Illustrator and Indesign equivalents). I use Affinity Publisher to make our rulebooks!

    Thanks for the heads-up, Maura! I’ll have to check out Affinity Photo.