Well, at least it’s new to me. I’ve printed a whole slew of maps for various games over the years, but I’ve never really felt like I got what you could call a great deal. That’s not to say I’ve never been happy with the Maps that I’ve gotten, just that the happiness has come with a hefty price tag. However, I think those days may finally be behind me.
I got an email recently from Nathan over at BannersOnTheCheap.com and he put me onto the idea of trying a map printed in vinyl as an alternative surface to paper. I was a bit leery of printing on an alternative material, though I could think of several immediate advantages, but since they were looking for someone to review their product and spread the word throughout the RPG community and were willing to comp me a sample map, I saw no reason not to give it a try.
For starters their website is a breeze. It is a very straightforward process to upload your map, choose a banner size, preview your product, and checkout. The whole process took about 2 minutes. I was a little concerned about the shipping time because the free shipping option is 15 days, but the order went out the next day and I had my map in hand in less than a week.
Already impressed with the speed at which I had received my product I opened the box and unrolled the map. I had chosen the largest option, determined to test the limits of what these guys could do, so what I unrolled was a four foot by eight foot full color vinyl map. One thing I had been concerned about was how vivid the colors would be, but as soon as I unrolled it those fears disappeared. It was on first glance nothing short of beautiful. The colors all looked true, there was no distortion, and the detail seemed to be there. I was more even more impressed.
I showed the map to my wife (a non-gamer) and she was impressed with the result. I showed it to a local gaming group and they were floored, both with the quality and with the price point (something I’ll get into below). What struck everyone, my wife included, was the quality of the printing on a durable surface like vinyl. That’s not to say that everything about the maps were flawless though. Here is a breakdown of the good and bad of this method versus traditional paper printing at a place like Staples or Walgreens.
- · The Color
I printed two very different maps on one banner and then had a friend cut the maps apart. The two I used were my Caliburn Map and the Southron Marches map. The two maps, while they are both from the campaign are very different in style and color palette. The Southron Marches map has very high levels of saturation that I didn’t think BannerOnTheCheap would be able to replicate, but they did. Both maps displayed very rich colors true to the digital versions.
- · Durability
One weakness of paper maps is their durability. They can be easily ruined by tearing, folding, or someone just knocking over a drink, but not so with these vinyl maps. They are tough and thick, and are capable of shedding water like a duck. These maps can be reused over and over, and are usable, as far as I can tell, with wet erase markers (don’t use dry erase!).
- · Price
This is a big one. When I showed the gamers the map they all wanted to know how much it cost. A couple of them thought it was a $100 plus product, but the fact is that the price point for this map was under $40. Under forty bucks for a 4x8 map made of durable vinyl is pretty staggering. I have had maps printed in the past and paid about $30 for a color map that was un-laminated, pixelated, and a fraction of the size.
- · Size
Options for larger maps is often limited. Printing large, especially in color, can be a pain. But if you want a huge and epic map, say something in a 3x6 or 4x8, then these guys can accommodate you.
- · Resolution
Though the images I submitted with in printer resolution (300ppi) some of the smaller and more details items, especially the labeling on the Caliburn map, were blurred. With these maps I would avoid anything two minute and would also go with maps of higher contrast as they seem to show up better.
- · The Grain
These maps have a definite grain to them and it affects the final image. It’s difficult to describe it but if you look at one of the close up images you’ll see what I mean.
- · Fraying
There is a slight fraying at the edges, or at least you can see little vinyl fibers on the edge. The map isn’t coming apart by any means, but whether this would become an issue over years of use I’m not sure. I haven’t seen any issues yet, but thought it worth mentioning.
|With the glare on this picture you can see the grain.|
|You can see the fraying I mentioned above.|
As I said above I was compared the map I got, but I would have no hesitation, and indeed have every intention of, using BannerOnTheCheap in the future for printing maps for my games. For battle mats especially, I think these guys produce an ideal product that is durable, customized, and very affordable. Years ago I bought one the Chessex square grid battle mats. I’ve used it for over a decade and have no complaints, but given that I paid $35 dollars for it and it is one third the size of the product I received for basically the same price, I think it stands as a testament to what a great deal you can get. You should really check these guys out. Have one of our free maps printed through them, or print out some of your own stuff. I think you’ll be glad you did.
Note: If you find that you do like the Banners you may also want to check out their sister sites, SignsOnTheCheap and MagnetsOnTheCheap.