How to manufacture your game domestically, sustainably, and ethically

We at The TESA Collective have spent more than 10 years working to produce our board and card games in the United States, using primarily sustainable manufacturing practices (including printing with vegetable based ink, using recycled paper, and minimizing or eliminating plastic pieces). We have also fostered relationships with many union and worker-owned businesses over the years, collaborating with them to expand their capacity to produce board games and card games for mass production.

This is important for a number of reasons. First, many games are produced overseas in unfortunate working conditions, while also using production practices that are harmful for the environment. While we want to manufacture our games as close to home as possible, we also feel as though it’s critical to manufacture the games as ethically and sustainably as possible – for both the people and the planet.

Can we eliminate every bad thing that comes out from manufacturing a game? No. Sustainable manufacturing will considerably lessen the environmental impact of making games, but it won’t totally eliminate the footprint – at least not with current technology. In addition, we still depend on companies, products, and procedures that aren’t sustainable or ethical (for example: the computer this post is being typed on).

What we can do, however, is work to build a new path forward to allow us to prioritize putting our money towards companies that are as close to home as possible, that benefit the people who are are doing the labor to manufacture the games, and leave as little of an environmental footprint as possible.

All in all, over our past decade of manufacturing games, we have moved more than $150,000 to primarily domestic, sustainability-oriented, and worker-owned as well as unionized shops. So we wanted with others how to manufacture games in this way. There’s been a lot of trial and error – and believe us, there was a lot of error – but we believe the opportunity is now ripe for more people and game publishers to move towards this model.

However, one important thing to note is that it may not be possible to manufacture every single one of your games completely ethically or sustainably. That’s okay. Do the best that you can. We can’t change the world on our own, but if there’s enough people working to manufacture their games in this way, we can build a domestic and ethical production ecosystem that becomes increasingly viable and has more options at its disposal.

While we’ve worked with a wide-range of different companies to produce our games, for this resource we’ve chosen to narrow the options for you so as not to provide an overwhelming list of possibilities.

Below are three United States based manufacturers you can work with to manufacture your game, as well as notes about where they fall on the sustainable, ethical, and price scale.

1) Community Printers

Quick information:

  • Unionized and owned cooperatively by all workers
  • Based in Santa Cruz, California
  • Specializes in sustainable manufacturing practices
  • Manufacturing industrial scale products since 1977
  • Incredibly reliable, collaborative, and communicative
  • Turn around time for board game production depends on quantity and time of year, but often 1 – 3 months (which is 3 – 4 months shorter than similar overseas turn around times)
  • Board game production experience: medium

Community Printers is a unionized and worker owned cooperative printer based in California. They are a sustainable, industrial-scale shop owned and run by the employees. TESA has been collaborating with them for four years to manufacture our games as well as to help them build out their board game manufacturing services.

Community Printers’ practices are as sustainable as we understand board game manufacturing can be: they use recycled materials, print with vegetable based ink, minimize plastic use, and much more.

Together, TESA and Community Printers have produced nearly 15,000 game units together, and we have enjoyed our experience working with them over the past four years.

The downside, of course, is that they are a little pricier than standard game production – but that comes with the territory. They also currently can’t do chipboard components (like for boards or punch-outs); so you would need to find alternate solutions when working with them to produce these type of components. (They are happy to work with you on this – for example, printing a board on double layered 48 point card stock). Alternatively, Community Printers can send the chipboard components out to another shop in California they work with that does that kind of printing, though that increases the cost a bit.

If you have pieces like meeples, cubes, dice, and so forth in your game – unfortunately you have to coordinate with another supplier and have those sent to Community Printers, as they do not currently supply these on their own. TESA has done this in the past with them and it’s not too much work, but it’s definitely a little extra.

Their entire team is made up of great people who we enjoy working with. We cannot speak highly enough of their collaborative process. We have worked with a number of printers, some good and some bad, and we have never worked with a team that is more communicative, engaged, and ready to work with you to figure out solutions and ideas. From start to finish, Community Printers will work with you in helping you understand your options, prices, ways forward, and so on.

In addition, their turn around time is fantastic: on average, 3 – 4 months shorter than we’ve seen comparable overseas turn around times.

Community Printers has no production minimum, though prices really start dropping around 2,000 – 3,000 units and smaller runs are expensive.

And while working with them comes with an extra price tage when compared to traditional publishing, some of those costs are offset by not having to ship your final product overseas.

Out of our options in this resource, Community Printers is the most sustainable and ethical board game manufacturing option available.

Here’s a behind the scenes video about our experience working with Community Printers on one of our previous games (video credit to Molly McLeod):

2) Delano Services

Quick information:

  • Based in Michigan
  • Offers sustainable printing options
  • Relatively and comparatively affordable
  • Specialized in board game manufacturing
  • Very communicative
  • Turn around time for board game production depends on quantity and time of year, but often 2 – 4 months
  • Board game production experience: high

Delano Services is another option if you need a printer who specifically specializes in board game manufacturing, and who can take care of every aspect of the production process in house – including chipboard and game parts. They are based in Michigan. While Delano doesn’t have all of the same sustainable business practices and standards as Community Printers, they offer a considerable amount higher than others in the industry.

Delano has always been easy to communicate with and they are happy to go over options with you. Their prices are maybe a bit more expensive than having your game produced overseas, but overall the costs are very reasonable for domestic printing solutions – again, especially when you factor in not having to ship your final product over the ocean. Delano does have a minimum print run of 2,000 units, and you don’t see a significant price break until you start printing around 3,000 or more units.

Their turn around time is often 2 – 4 months, depending on factors such as number of units, product complexity, and time of year.

Delano can supply components like meeples, dice, and other game components themselves – though they do tack on a bit of an upcharge with these. However, with them, you also have the option to source these parts from other supplies if you want to put in the work yourself but pay less. That flexibility is great.

Delano also provides a collection of existing die lines they’ve used for other board game productions that you can re-use, which can save you a considerable amount of upfront costs (hundreds to thousands of dollars, depending on your project).

Delano offers a range of components and qualities, and they are able to do some really high quality production.

3) LudoFact USA

Quick information:

  • Based in Indiana
  • USA division of German company, but this plant prints in Indiana
  • Relatively and comparatively affordable for much higher volume print jobs
  • Specializes in large scale board game manufacturing

LudoFact USA is another option for domestic printing. They are a German owned company that has opened a plant in Indiana.

TESA is unaware if LudoFact claims to offer sustainable manufacturing at all, but they have a domestic plant, which generally speaking is a more ecologically friendly option than printing overseas.

LudoFact might be an option for you if you are looking for a very large print run. Their minimum is 2,000 units, but their prices become much more competitive when you are looking at 5,000 or more units.

Like Delano, they can offer all typical board game production services in house: chipboard, meeples, dice, etc. Unlike Delano, however, they require that all components be manufactured with them.

However, one BIG WARNING: we have not had the best experience with communicating with them. Perhaps it’s because we are, comparatively, a relatively small fish in their pond. Generally speaking, we’d recommend reaching out to them if you are just looking to explore options or have a very large print order in mind.

You are welcome to reach out to each of these companies on your own; or drop us a line and we are happy to put you in touch with our contacts there or discuss our experience working with them.

While we recognize this type of production may not be for everyone, when more people begin using sustainable, domestic, and ethical business practices, we can work together to change the board game industry for the better.

Support Our Work

TESA is proud to lead the development of games, tools, and programs for social change. You can support our work while having fun: buy our games about changing the world. TESA can also work with you to build a game, program, or tool for your cause!