I see a lot of game designers showing their prototypes in progress. Sometimes they even share photos of them making those prototypes. And what I came to realize is that my crafting experience (I’ve been a paper craft and knitting instructor before) might be helpful for my gaming friends! So I’m going to create a short series on crafting tools that could be helpful for game designers in their prototyping efforts.
To kick this series off, let’s talk about cutting tools.
Designers cut a lot of things for prototypes but the thing I most often see cut are cards. With that in mind, this post is focused on tools you can use to cut straight edges (i.e. cards.) There’s a wide variety of options beyond scissors and many are more efficient and easier than that good old reliable.
There are 3 basic kinds of straight edge cutting “machine” tools:
Guillotines are the old school paper cutter that you remember in the teacher’s lounge in elementary school. You line up your paper along the base edge and swing the cutting arm down. They are easy to use but don’t do well with thicker material or a stack of material (you’ll see fanning when you try to cut multiple sheets.) That said, I love my guillotine cutter. It makes quick easy clean cuts of single sheets of material (I use it on paper, cardstock, and laminated sheets) and I find it’s easier to line up cuts by aligning to the top and bottom of the base metal edge than it is with other cutters.
Slide cutters are often smaller and lighter weight. A sharp blade beneath the grip slices the material. One potential issue is that if the rails aren’t rigid, your cuts can wobble a wee bit. But the feature I really appreciate about slide cutters is that you can stop mid-cut, reposition, and continue. It might take a bit of practice, but the ability to stop, with some measure of precision, mid-page is handy. Another feature I really like of a slider is that there are scoring blades available. These will perforate or crease your material for easy separation or folding. It’s really helpful.
Rotary cutters are the most versatile cutter and I highly recommend, if you only get one, this style be it. Using a rotary cutter you can cut through multiple layers of paper or cardstock or even through thicker material. It may take a couple of passes with the blade, but if you hold your material firmly, you’ll see minimal fanning or jaggedness. Like the slider you can get multiple blades to cut, perforate etc. (But it can be clunky to switch them out.) But a rotary cutter’s ease of use, ability to cut through multiple pages, and its versatility means for prototypers, it’s the must-have cutting machine.
Of course, many people use a simple straight blade (like an xacto or box knife) and a ruler to cut cards or other straight edges.
These are great for many things but I often find it less efficient to use a straight blade than the cutters discussed above. That said, these are knives people often already have in the house so they’re convenient…and compared to the price of a high quality rotary cutter, they’re inexpensive. Find a knife you like and go for it! That said, here are a few tips…
- Always use a metal straight edge to cut against. Plastic and wood rulers will get knicks over time. And when you cause those knicks, that means your blade is getting caught up in the guide…if you’re not careful, this can make you jump or jerk the blade risking miscuts of the material and ouch cuts on your finger!
- Keep your blades fresh. Having a sharp blade makes your edges sharper, it makes the blade easier to slide and that will reduce the stress and wear on your hands as you pull the blade.
- And here’s a special tip. Many people have a self-healing mat they use to cut on. And these work great! I have many of them myself. BUT – if you have a lot of cuts to make (or shaped cuts of any kind,) consider using a GLASS mat. Yup – you heard me right. Glass won’t be damaged by the blade and the slicker surface makes it easier to drag your blade. This makes for cleaner cuts and reduces wear on your hand! You don’t have to get all fancy… you can buy a cheap frame at a craft store (which often have discount coupons online), take the glass out of it, wrap the edges with painters tape and voila!
You find them in the quilting section but they work great on paper. If you use this kind of cutter, use the self-healing mat. These are way easier on the hands because they don’t drag and they’re much faster. The disadvantage is that they’re not good at precision starts and stops. So if you have to cut only partway through something then hand held rotary cutters aren’t ideal. But for long straight cuts (say…cutting sheets of cards) then a handheld rotary cutter is second only to a rotary machine.
And, of course – there’s the good old reliable scissors.
Scissors are great at cutting non-straight shapes but for almost everything else, I don’t recommend them. They work your hand muscles and can wear your hand out and because you’re not stabilizing the materials at all, it risks wonky cuts. As with all the previously mentioned cutting implements, keep your scissors sharp. If you’re a crafter you already know this but keep separate scissors for different materials. For example, fabric scissors should never be used on paper.
So what’s right for you? Some considerations to take into account…
- How often are you going to be cutting?
- Do you have to make straight or curved/shaped cuts?
- Where will you be cutting?
- What maximum length cut will you need to make?
- What’s your budget?
- Find the one that works for you ergonomically.
- Table height matters. A little body weight (i.e. standing at a desk vs sitting) can make cutting a lot easier.
- Make sure you’re cutting on a sturdy stable surface.
- Work in a well lit room. You can’t cut what you can’t see! (Well, you can – but it won’t go well.)
- Take breaks…don’t let your hands/arms wear down and get cramped. Pace yourself and stretch them out.
- Keep your blades sharp! Almost all the options listed above offer refill blades of some sort. These are inexpensive relative to the use and everything about cutting will be easier and better with a sharp blade.
- Be careful!!! These things are sharp.
I hope you found the information in this post helpful! Remember, the faster you can prototype the sooner I get new snazzy games to play. So if you’re using old school straight blades or scissors to prototype, consider some of the options and advice offered here.
Feel free to reach out with any questions you have on this information… if you want a quick reply the best way to get a hold of me is on Twitter! @425suzanne