PART I: Karen's Guide to Board Printing
What is board printing?
Board printing is getting a large printed piece of artwork on (in this case) a foam core board. Foam core board is a flat piece of foam core with varying thickness sandwiched and strengthen between two piece of paper cardboard. It’s light, very sturdy, and easy to cut and work with. The artwork is usually printed from an oversized printer or plotter onto a big piece of paper, then that piece of paper is mounted onto the foam core board with adhesive. So the printing doesn’t happen directly onto the board. Depending on your desired size, you can always buy a blank foam core board separately and mounting yourself but know that the bigger the size, the more margin of error when DIYing.
1. Sizing prep work
Before jumping into the printing action, best to do all of your homework first. Most importantly, figure out what size you want. Go dig up that measuring tape and determine the overall dimensions of the board you want. Since print shops only offer a few standard sizes, find out which of the standard sizes fit your needs. In general, working with the 24”x36” or 20’x28” sizes works for me (and still under the spirit of runDisney’s costume safety rules). 36”x48” might look appealing if you have a “go big or go home” attitude like me, but trust me, it is TOO big.
2. Basic image prep work
I won’t try to get too nitty gritty about the technical specs, but if you want to get a specific image printed, make sure what you’re working with is a large, high resolution file. Ever zoomed into a photo and it starts becoming fuzzy squares? That will happen when you’re taking a small image and blowing it up: the image will not retain definition. If you’re using Google image search, filter results by clicking on TOOLS which will then prompt the size filter. Select “Large.” Choose the image you like that has the largest dimensions.
Optional advanced nitty gritty
Standard web resolution is 72dpi, images for print should be at least 150dpi, and the ideal is 300dpi. Now, it’s hard to find images on a search engine that’s *that* high in resolution. So you might want to vectorize or even illustrate in vector the image you want so that it can scale without losing definition. I tend to run everything through Photoshop and manually tweak colors, spacing, and legibility. Some of the stuff I do include: increase saturation, update lighting curves and contrast, overlay a layer of the same image under High Pass, and getting rid of watermarks and/or touch ups.
At this point, if you have an image and have decided what size you need it to be, and that you are not at all tech or print savvy about any of this, then you can head over to the print shop and get some in-person help. Most places will layout the image in the most efficient way for printing to get the your achieved size, and effect. But if you want to do it yourself for full control, read on ahead.
I like to be super prepared and give the print shop the exact layout and resized file (PDF) for them, rather than have them do it. I use Photoshop or Illustrator, but you can use PowerPoint as well. Set the dimensions to the actual board dimensions (example: 2’x3’ at 150dpi) and plop your image in, resize to desired size. I hate cutting or trimming foam core, so I tend to use the board’s straight edges as the ends of my image. Save your file as a PDF, and it should be print ready. Doing your own layout is best if you have a lot of smaller things that need to be printed and you can place them efficiently into one layout to print one board, versus spending money printing multiple boards with wasted space.
4. Going to the print shop
I have only used FedEx Office (formerly known as Kinkos). Now, I am not local to Anaheim or Orlando, the two places I go to the most for costume races, so I can never pack and fly with a board costume with me. Instead, I order online via FedEx Office where they offer local delivery to the hotel I’m staying. So most of the time, my boards are there when I check in. If you don’t need delivery, then you can go to a local print or sign shop, Costco, or big office supply stores like Office Depot or Staples that offer printing services. It usually takes a business day or two for the finished project.
Hope this little explanation helped! But now that you have a board, what to do next? Read on: