Automated Card Layouts

Behind the Scenes at Berdandy Studios

I wrote this thread a while back on Twitter. As Twitter is not the best long-term storage medium, I thought it’d be easier for people to find (and for me to reference), if I brought it here. It’s also a bit of a look behind the scenes of tabletop card game production. And now we pull back the curtain…


Thread Warning: I’m going to ramble a bit about Affinity Publisher and Adobe InDesign. I’ve been spending time this morning to recreate PitchFest source files in Affinity Publisher now that I’ve abandoned my Adobe subscription (originally made in InDesign). It went well.


The first step was to recreate the large tuck box graphics. It was the most complex bit, and the part I was most worried about. I had exported from InDesign to PDF for DriveThruCards to actually print the files, so I imported that PDF as a guide into afpub. I was surprised. It just worked.

But, to clarify, afpub imported text, strokes, graphics and everything from the indesign-exported pdf as editable content. There were a couple of weird bits (more on that later), but nothing major. Granted, I would say that PitchFest doesn’t have a complex layout, but a good start.

One of the major issues I needed to fix was that I forgot to change the text on one of the tuck box flaps from “videogame edition” to “film edition”. I was expecting to have to recreate it in text, and use the imported raster as a guide… but it was editable directly. That was a nice surprise!

However, it wasn’t all roses and lollipops. The PDF spec doesn’t allow for text stroke definitions. That means that the association between text and stroke (a close-fitting outline on an was lost on the export-import step. As I used contrasting stroke colours to improve readability on busy backgrounds. That means that if I wanted to edit text with a stroke, I’d definitely have to recreate it. Here’s what happens, if, for example, I wanted to change PitchFest to PitchyFest. The white is a bit hard to see on the light background, but you can see the disassociated stroke not following the text change. Conveniently, I didn’t actually need to change any text that had a stroke, so I just let it be. Though, in a later box redesign, I recreated all the text fields anyways.

The next step was to create the 108-page PDF that DriveThruCards wants for a 54-card deck. I built the document format to DT’s specifications (2.5x3.5, with 1/8” bleed and margins). At first, I made it as separate cards (non-facing layout), but this got to be annoying. I switched to facing-page spreads, with start-left, which gets me this kind of view:

It’s quite a bit easier to see individual cards that way, rather than having to mentally skip every other card back (DriveThruCards needs PDFs with interleaved back-front-back-front.

The more astute of you might notice that “<Secti” text in the screenshot. Affinity has a Field system. It’s not as flexible as InDesign’s Data Merge system, but it does help. What the image crop doesn’t show is that the full text is “<Section Name>”, available in the View>Studio>Fields menu.

This allowed me to define sections in the Section Manager, and give them each a name. Using that Field in the Master Page for the document will replace the <Section Name> field with the section’s name — in the above example, the text “2”. This allows cards to change without having to edit every card.


The central text, “Adorable”, “Monsters”, etc, is another matter. I did have to edit those directly on each card. However, this isn’t the worst. As a point of note, Adobe’s InDesign can’t actually use Data Merge to auto-fit text to a frame without using plugins and third party scripting. You simply have to pick a font size and live with it. In PitchFest, there’s a wide range of text, from “Sad” to “Role Playing Game” — to get a decent look, I often had to edit each card anyways. So, it felt like pretty much the same amount of work.

And now on to exporting tricks. DriveThruCards wants one card per page, back, front, back, front. We have spreads. We got this. In the Export dialogue, simply change the Area to “All Pages” — that’ll break up the spreads into individual pages, and you’ll get exactly what DTCards needs.

You can also adjust the export settings to get multiple cards per page, for self-printing-and-cutting or for printing with services that want that layout. I’ll talk more on that in a future post.

And if you want to see the final results, check out PitchFest at https://gum.co/pitchfest

I hope you’ve enjoyed this trip behind the scenes. The next time I do a technical post, I wil continue with some exporting tricks I used for Mic Drop that are particularly useful for ‘zine style layouts, rapid prototyping and itch.io tabletop game jams.

Feel free to write in your feedback — andy@berdan.ca — let me know what’s working, what’s not, and any ideas you might have to share in the newsletter.