Thursday, September 6, 2012

Review: Large Custom Vinyl Map

Banners Ever want a large printed map you can roll out on your game table? If not, you really did and just didn't know it yet. In any case, I was given the opportunity to review a free printed map from a service that prints custom banners. For those of you who want the bottom line at the top, despite printing errors with my first order, the resulting customer service was fantastic, and the second order was greatly improved; however, the resulting print quality might be adequate only for certain kinds of maps. Read on for more details.

For my review, I chose to print a copy of the hi-res map of Khorvaire from the 4e Eberron Campaign Guide. The dimensions of the image file itself were roughly 30" x 22" in size, but the closest size for the printing template was a 3' x 2' banner.

I put the order in, and emailed my contact to explain the discrepancy, but by the time she received the email, the map had already been printed. I was impressed with how quickly they were fulfilling my order.

First Printing Issues

Unfortunately, when I received my map, I quickly spotted a number of issues.
  1. The printed map was larger than the dimensions of the actual image which resulted in a generally blurry map.
  2. The banner seemed to have shifted during the printing process as there was a ghosting effect where several layers of the printed image were slightly unaligned, making the already blurry map even more difficult to read.
  3. The map seemed to be darker than the image, and the text wasn't legible.

Excellent Customer Service

I took some photos of the map and emailed them to my contact civilly communicating my disappointment with the print quality. I honestly didn't know what to expect for a response, and I was pleased when she apologized for the error and offered an explanation of the problems (the printing did in fact shift). She also offered to print another version and promised to address the size discrepancy as well. She requested I put in another order and instructed me not to worry about shipping back the defective map.

Improved Second Printing

When I received my second printing in the mail, I was skeptical as I pulled the map out of the box in which it was shipped. But as I unrolled the map, I became pleasantly surprised. This map was much more legible than the first, and significantly clearer. With that said, it still wasn't as clear as a map printed on paper. I presume this might be because of the texture of the vinyl surface, but I'm no expert in such matters. Regardless, the map is still useful, and in general, I am pleased with the result. My only real complaint is that the labels for forests or jungles are outlined in black with a very slight shadow behind the text to contrast it with the texture of the trees. The shadowing is very light on the original image, but on the printed vinyl map, it nearly blacked out the text. You can see some of the details in the photo below.

I realized that my choice of map might not have been ideal. I think the format for large vinyl maps would be better suited for tactical maps designed for miniatures combat where fine details aren't as important, but durability is. For that purpose, and based on the customer experience the printer provided, I can comfortably recommend them for battle maps or 2-dimensional terrain for games like Savage Worlds or its Showdown rules.

Price

As I mentioned above, they gave me a free map for the purpose of this review, but I did want to note that their prices are rather affordable. A 2' x 5' full-color map would only cost you $12. A 3' x 8' full-color map costs $28. They have a huge selection of sizes so one can only imagine that varying prices that are available.

Head to their site by clicking the image at the top of the post and see for yourself. If any of you get a battle map printed, post a review on your blog or on Google+. I'd love to see how it turns out.