How to Design Your Own Foam Core Insert
Author: BrianPublished: March 2, 2017
Updated: November 10, 2021
Building foam core inserts based on some plans or images you found is great – until you want to start tweaking the designs or striking out to create your own. Maybe you can’t find one that is an exact fit for what you want. This is why I started creating my own – not to mention it is just plain fun to come up with my own personalized storage and organization solution. You are in that place too? Great! Let’s get started.
When I create an insert I am not just concerned with storage or even organization within the box. These are most certainly considerations but they need to marry up well with my other goals. A good insert needs to:
- Assist in setup and teardown of the game. Getting it out to play as well as putting it up needs to be as simple and quick as possible.
- Assist in playing the game. It needs to help the components sit on the table in a way that makes game-play easier.
- Utilize box space creatively and efficiently. I want it to look nice as well as use the box space well.
My goal here is to provide you with a basic framework – how to think about your design. I will give you the steps I go through, however, your process will probably end up looking different than mine. It probably should. That is one of the best things about design – how individual it can be.
Another thing. I do not for a second think I have this figured out. This is just one angle on a complex subject. If you have some experience designing inserts I need your help to fill in the gaps. If you leave a comment with your methods or tips this can turn into a great community resource.
First, let me list the steps I take, then I’ll expand on them. Steps in parentheses are most useful if you are going the digital design route in step 3 – Layout/Design.
This step is most useful if you are going the digital design route – see below in the Layout/Design section. If you will be taking the physical design route I would wouldn’t put a ton of effort in here although doing this really familiarizes me with the components of the game.
The first thing I do is measure the box. I need to know how much space I am dealing with. Then I measure all of the (groups of) components. If there is going to be a stack of cards or tiles I measure how much space they will take up (length, width, depth). If there is a group of components like the units in Forbidden Stars I measure the largest of them to know what I need to accommodate in my design. I put all of this into a note in Evernote for future reference.
I begin to logically group components together so that they will come out on the table as set up as possible. I want to be able to hand all of a player’s pieces to them in one tray. I want all of the money in a game to be together. I also want to keep in mind how the components will be used in the game which will inform how I store them.
Will they be put on the table for all players to draw from? Consider building a tray that separates the different kinds and can be put straight on the table – no need for piles.
Will they come straight of the box and onto a board? These might not need a tray (just a secure place in the base box), or you can group them all in one tray that can go back in the box once the components are in their correct place. (See Rebellion Objective and Probe cards or Dead of Winter cards – Both of these end up on the board.)
Do you need to draw random small tiles during setup or the game? Maybe draw bags would better than a foam core component.
There are two ways to approach this step: Physical or Digital.
Physical – Build your base box (if you are going to use one) and start putting the components in it to see how they best fit. Shuffle them around until you are happy with your layout.
Digital – Take the measurements you took earlier in the process and use them to design your insert in SketchUp.
What is SketchUp, you ask? It is a fairly easy-to-learn 3D design program. If you want to learn the basics of how to use SketchUp I highly recommend this video. Go download a copy so you can follow along or just dive into it and play (that’s how I learned). There are plenty of great tutorials on YouTube for the program.
SketchUp allows me a virtual playground to layout my insert and try different ideas before putting glue to foam core. To me, it is the fast iteration I can do in the program that helps me produce some really functional inserts.
Admittedly, this design path takes some time but I think the results are worth it and makes it easy to share with others.
This step is most useful if you are going the digital design route – see above in the Layout/Design section. However, this can be very helpful even when going the physical route to make sure everything fits before you start gluing.
In this step, I put together some of the pieces I designed digitally with just pins to see how they work in the real world. Sometimes they work great, other times this step shows me ways to improve the piece. This is a very important step if you designed digitally. If you skip it you will be rebuilding pieces later that you had to fix for some reason or another.
Once I am happy with (all or part) of a design I will put glue to foam core and assemble it. I say “all or part” because sometimes I will feel like some pieces are ready to go while others need the context of some other pieces before I can know if they are ready.
I will take what I learned from the prototyping and building steps and feed them back into SketchUp. This is so that my final plans that I share will be accurate. I add dimensions to the SketchUp file and create any views of the digital version that I need to create the plans. I have moved to a cuts view and an assembled view for each piece to make it as easy as possible for people to build.
Even if you don’t share your plans, take a few pictures and put them out on the web somewhere. This Geeklist on BGG is a great place for them. And that’s it. Remember that this is probably a good place for you to start but that you will eventually find things that work better for you. Embrace them. I know my process continues to shift and change for each insert I make. But I do hope this helps you get started creating your own foam core inserts. It really can be fun and rewarding.
About the Author:
Brian | Webmaster
There are few things in life that I enjoy more than gathering around a table with people to make new shared memories through the interactions board games create. I have been playing board games my whole life, but I have been focused on them as a hobby for the past 15+ years. Board games offer a unique medium for social interaction and fun. I really look forward to playing these games with my kids as a way to interact and stay connected with them. In the last several years, I have delved into board game design and found something that really satisfies my need to create in a way nothing else has.
- Favorite Games: Star Wars Rebellion, Carcassonne, 4X games, Legacy games
- Favorite Mechanisms: Worker Placement, Resource/Financial Markets, Deck Building
- Childhood Favorites: Clue: The Great Museum Caper, The Omega Virus, Mystery Mansion