How Board Game Plastic Manufacturing Works – 10 Expert Questions

For over a decade, board games have been dominating Kickstarter. But making them isn’t easy, especially when you need to find someone to handle complex plastic manufacturing for you!

So how do you find a company that can manufacture all those beautiful plastic minis? What’s the difference between PVC and HIPS sprue and resin?

To be honest with you, I don’t know the answers to those questions.

But Billy Long at Unicool Game Manufacturing does! That’s why I’ve asked him a bunch of questions about the board game plastic manufacturing business.

What follows is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for clarity and brevity.

10 Questions About Board Game Plastic Manufacturing, Answered by an Expert

1. What does Unicool Game Manufacturing specialize in? 

Unicool Game Manufacturing is a premium board game manufacturer based in Shenzhen, China. We have printing and miniature manufacturing equipment in-house. We also have strong technical and sourcing abilities for quality game accessories such as dice, neoprene playmats, coins, customized wooden and metal pieces, and custom plastics.

2. What games has Unicool made? 

We began as a plastic manufacturer of action figures, toys, and miniatures earlier. From there, we did some behind-the-scenes work for larger board game companies.

We have made lots of super nice miniatures for a host of big projects (such as Joan of Arc, Blood Rage, etc.). You won’t often find our name on boxes since we’re a parts manufacturer, but these days, more and more clients are happy to promote us and even proudly print our logo on the box (such as Eldfall Chronicles). We’re very grateful for that!

3. Creating plastic components is notoriously expensive in small batches. Why is it that?

I think one of the biggest impediments that many game designers/developers run into is the high upfront tooling costs. This makes the overall cost per unit steep in small runs once high molding costs are factored in.

But we’ve changed the game and started producing small batches in a way that is no longer cost-prohibitive and intimidating-proudly. We call it Unicool Plastic! It doesn’t require tooling and the plastic material we’re using isn’t as brittle as normal resins, while still maintaining the delicate detail seen in resins.

4. How does plastic manufacturing work?

There are 11 steps in the process.

  1. The client provides us with their 3-D design in a common format such as STL or ZTL.
  2. We check the files and see if they need to be resculpted prior to mass production. Sometimes we can even recommend changes to help clients save money later in the process.
  3. If resculpting is needed, we provide advice on how to do it.
  4. We print a high-resolution model with a 3-D printer.
  5. We then make a tooling master with high-detail resin. 
  6. From there, we will make polyurethane resin miniatures for preproduction copies.
  7. The client is given a chance to review the preproduction copies and see if they like them.
  8. We create the mold for mass production of plastics.
  9. We then inject plastic into the mold.
  10. When parts are completed, we do any necessary gluing and assembly.
  11. Then we pack boxes and the game is complete!

5. What’s the difference between PVC, HIPS Sprue, and Resin when it comes to manufacturing minis?

Yes, this one can be tricky and bemusing.

In a nutshell, PVC and HIPS minis will need a metal mold, which is substantially more expensive than the silicone mold for resin.

PVC and HIPS minis often come preassembled while resin models usually come unassembled. Resin can capture a higher level of detail but may break easily.

Then, of course, there’s Unicool Plastic, where we balance quality, flexibility, and fragility so we can have the best qualities of PVC, HIPS, and resin minis.

6. What’s the most cost-effective way to manufacture a game that has dozens and dozens of plastic miniatures?

The easiest way is to find a professional plastics manufacturer and ask for their help early in the process. They can help you perfect your 3-D models and find cost-efficient materials.

Unicool is a good option here, but any expert advice early in the process will help a lot.

7. What should first-time publishers know about plastic manufacturing for games that isn’t common knowledge?

What looks amazing in a computer-generated 3-D model can be really problematic in the physical model.

A lot of our job involves helping publishers fix 3-D models that won’t work in physical manufacturing. If you’re going to be manufacturing custom plastics, plan to spend at least some time revising your initial ideas. Build that into your project timeline.

8. What are the most unusual components that Unicool has ever manufactured for a client?

We keep mentioning it, but Unicool Plastic is definitely our most unusual component. It’s tough to create your own raw materials, but we’ve done so in order to give publishers more options for high-quality, cost-efficient miniatures.

Unicool Plastic raises the bar for the quality of materials and the level of detail, delivering top-quality models that fit every painter – even the most demanding for breathtaking details! We push the limits of possibility and make sure all your intricate features are wonderfully defined and elevated to create an incredible painting experience for you and your customers.

9. Does Unicool manufacture for crowdfunding campaigns?

Yes, we surely do.

We’ve finished a whole host of crowdfunding projects and we’re happy to provide added value and serve as a guiding hand to help you go from zero to hero along the ride.

10. Where can people find Unicool Game Manufacturing online?

You can find out more about us on our website as well as our YouTube Channel.

Need help turning your board game dream into a reality? Contact Unicool for a quote today.

You’ve done everything by the book. Your Kickstarter campaign is almost ready to launch.

You made a great product. Built an audience. Set up a campaign page.

But how do you ship it?

We put this checklist together to help you get started. It's free.