Rapid Design Prototyping for Card Games

When you’re in the early stages of a card game design, changes come fast and furious. There’s no sense taking the time to create beautiful artwork on quality cards that will be thrown away as the game evolves. Paper, however, is too flimsy to play test with. Card stock is expensive and time consuming to cut properly.

A solution I’ve found helpful is to create “guide” cards once and use them over and over. These cards have a grid pattern printed in non-photo blue. Once cut out, the cards are slipped into card sleeves. The clear plastic fronts of the sleeves can be written on with an indelible marker, such as a Sharpie, to create content for the cards using the grid to align everything. The cards don’t have to be cut perfectly as the sleeves form the correct dimensions. The sleeves with the stiff cards inside can be shuffled like any normal deck. The indelible marker on the plastic allows for writing and drawing that won’t wear off during play.

Now here’s the sweet part. The “permanent” writing on the card sleeve can be cleaned off and rewritten at will. The indelible marker is easily removed with a little Isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol. Just dab some on a tissue and rub it on the writing. The markings come cleanly off the plastic. I find that blue and green coloured sharpies are more easily erased than are black and red.

Isopropyl alcohol from a bottle can be messy and inconvenient, but dry erase markers also contain a little alcohol. These are the markers used for writing on white boards. Simply write over top of the indelible lettering with a dry erase marker and wipe it off.

For me, this technique is a great solution for rapid prototyping. You have a guide to assist your drawing, “cards” that are easy to shuffle, and “permanent” marking that can stand up to game play. And the card content can be easily changed, even in the middle of a play test.

Below are links to artwork you can freely use to print your own guide cards. There are eight cards to a page drawn in non-photo blue, along with black cut lines. There’s a version for U.S. letter size as well as European A4 size. I find that 12 pt (260 GSM) card stock coated both sides works well. If you don’t want to use card stock, you can dust off some of your old Magic cards and use those. Print the guide artwork on regular bond paper and slip the cards underneath.

Card drawing guide (letter size)
Card drawing guide (A4 size)

Single card guide (63×88 mm)


The following files place the card guides “nine up” on a sheet. They were generously contributed by Laurie Phillips:

Card drawing guide 9 up (letter size)
Card drawing guide 9 up (A4 size)


More contributions…

From Sen-Foong Lim:
“I use Staedtler Lumocolour Correctable friction dry erase markers for this. These are like dry erase markers that require a greater degree of friction to remove.”

From James M Hewitt:
“I use OHP markers – they’re semi permanent but wipe off with water.”

4 thoughts on “Rapid Design Prototyping for Card Games

  1. Thank you for those prototypes.
    It is a very nice idea for testing.
    Instead of wasting a lot a paper I will be saving a few with your templates !

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