Wednesday, 12 November 2014

How To Design A Rulebook – Black and White

In the previous couple of posts we've looked at three ways to lay out a colourful page in your rulebook – but what about black and white options?

Off the top of my head, I can see only three reasons why you would want to create something in black and white:

1. Print-friendly
You're producing a printable PDF/Word version of your rules and want to save readers' paper and ink when they print it out.

2. Cost
You're having it printed commercially and can't afford the colour price (though this isn't as much of an issue these days thanks to digital printing).

3. Personal Taste
You simply prefer black and white and don't want the distraction of colour.

Let's have a look at how these reasons might be implemented in the layout of your rulebook.

This first example is almost a straight de-saturation of our latter colour example. I have changed our grid somewhat – 20mm borders on all sides except the top edge which has 30mm.

You will notice that I've moved the page numbers to the top of the page (where the extra space is) next to the navigation. The only thing remaining at the bottom of the page is our social media and web links. There is the possibility that these may be lost if the reader's printer has excessive print margins, but it's not the end of the world as they can refer back to the digital document (in fact I'd encourage these links being clickable in the digital document in the first place).

Now the bit that doesn't work as well – images.

I've used grayscale versions of images from our coloured examples and they'll be fine for reasons 2 and 3 above, however they're no use for readers trying to print your document – they're too saturated and (aside from making the paper wet and wrinkled from an inkjet print) they will use an excessive amount of ink/toner.

By using simple line drawings to represent diagrams and filler images (such as this wonderful concept illustration on the right by Heath Foley for Mantic Games) you save the reader some expense and keep your document very legible. Your reader will thank you for it!

Why still bother with images? Because, just like the colour examples, we want to establish our game's brand and/or give our reader some eye candy to stimulate their imagination and get them excited about playing. Just because there's no colour it doesn't mean our document should be boring to look at, hence the re-introduction of an image that breaks out of the grid.

But what could you do to improve things if you have no illustrations and you're just putting something together yourself to stick online for people to look at?

Again, there's no reason why you can't follow the basic principles here.

In this example I've reclaimed some of the border – reduced to 15mm on all sides except the bottom edge which is 20mm. This gives us a bit more text space, so we'll get more on each page. However, this shouldn't mean it's wall-to-wall text, crammed in there. You need to let the text breathe in order for it to be legible and easy to read and take in.

I've maintained as much of the space as I can from previous examples and I've introduced double return spaces before subheadings. Similarly, I've kept the text well away from the top of the diagram box. All the navigation and links have moved down to the bottom, to allow more text space. But remember, it's all about letting the text breathe by adding space.

The 'eyes half-closed' view

If you want to know whether there's enough space on your page you need to look at it with your eyes half-closed.

If your page columns become large grey rectangular shapes then there's not enough space in your page. If you can still identify each section of text (like the image above) then you're on the right lines.

And that's how you design a rulebook!

I'm going to do a final follow-up post to tie up loose ends at some point, but if you have any questions or comments let me know.


  1. I like Black & White rulebooks, but then I'm an old school gamer. When I entered the hobby you were lucky if there was more than two colors on the cover (Black and something else). Although I agree that for a flagship product that color is a necessary evil, I do think there are many examples of it being way over done and driving up the cost unnecessarily.

    1. There is something nostalgic about black and white rulebooks.

  2. I think that (mostly) the genre defines what works best in some cases, as does the style.
    A WW2 rulebook done in a quasi period style with some type writer fonts feels right in B&W.
    On the other hand, SciFi screams for colour to bring the imagery to life
    Many examples which go against that, but just a thought

    1. That's a fair point – it's certainly something to take into consideration when deciding upon your design. Though you do always have the option of breaking away from stereotypes.



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