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Premise: I live far from the US, and for me, paying U$S20+shipping for Chessex Battle Mats is out of the question (I just spent U$S 114 for a full lineup of DnD Essentials, and this extra expense would be a great way of getting killed by my wife).

I thought that I could make my own battlemats, or having them made locally, buying the material in a hardware store / paper store and either having it etched / permanently colored with grid lines or doing it myself (a nice slow work for a rainy afternoon).

What I want is something

  • durable and persistent: paper sheets work fine, yes, but they're one-use only, and I have to redraw the grid for each new sheet.
  • portable: I think that this solution is a bit less encumbering than a dry-erase board, especially at the sizes I'm thinking: I want something I can carry with a backpack, if possible. With the proper materials, I can just roll the mats into a tube, or maybe have several small enough to carry around in a backpack.
  • cheap: at least, cheaper than what it'd cost me to buy them imported.

So the questions are:

  • What is the best material to build them from? Plastic, probably, but what kind? And it should be opaque, preferably in a non-garish color, possibly grey or brown.
  • What would be the best way to draw the grids on them? I was thinking of either drawing them with permanent marker, or, if the material is plastic, etching the battlemats with a hot knife, perhaps only with a small cross at the corners of the squares like you see in the official printed mats of DnD. Obviously, this would be way harder with hexes, but for starters, I was only planning 1 inch squares.
  • What are the best dimensions for a battle mat, especially thickness? I figured I can start with the 26 * 23 1/2 inches of the standard Chessex battlemat, but advice is welcomed.

Partial resolution Today, I bought

  • a few sheets of cardstock,
  • a con-tact roll,

and got out my sharpies, a pencil and eraser, and a ruler. I penciled crosses on the intersection of each inch square, then re did them with the sharpie, then painted half of the first cardstock sheet with watercolors. I'm not a good painter, so it ended up less neat than I'd like, but I can practice. After it was dry, I laminated it with con-tact. Total cost? less than U$S 4, and a couple of hours well spent. I'm happy.

I might try other suggestions as these first attempts degrade. I just wanted to say that I'm very thankful for the suggestions.

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8 Answers 8

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You can make your own with paper easily.

  • Take a standard sheet of paper and put the grid on it manually. Graph paper will make this step easier.
  • Once you have one page with the proper gridlines, photocopy as many as you need for your mat (I'd estimate somewhere around 15 or 20).
  • Match the gridlines up and tape the pages together.
  • Now get some clear contact paper and place it adhesive side up on a table.
  • Lay down your gridded paper on the contact paper so they make a battlemat of what ever size you desire. For more durability, laminate the back side too.

The clear contact paper works well with wet-erase markers (I've never tried dry-erase markers).

As for size, I personally just use 2 sheets wide by 2 sheets tall (of 8-1/2 X 11 inch paper), so I guess that's something near 17X22.

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I could also use paper in different colors to get the effect I want. Good suggestion! –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 27 '10 at 19:22
    
My local game store carries rolls of gridded paper that might be used for this idea too. I use the paper for pre-drawn battlefield maps. It's very economical, if a bit on the thin side. –  Roxysteve Nov 29 '10 at 19:57
    
Oh, and the clear plastic works well with dry-erase. I wish that were true of my Chessex mat. –  Roxysteve Nov 29 '10 at 19:57
    
@Roxysteve, your Chessex mat doesn't work with both wet and dry erase? Mine (granted, it's about 3 months old) works well with both types... as long as it's within a day or 2. –  Pulsehead Mar 17 '11 at 12:34

Make your own using a variety of options.

Kittrich Corporation Con-Tac® brand

It's almost always 18" or 27" wide.

checkerboards/White
922300 Blue /White
9P2300 Black/White
921300 Yellow/White

hex-grid equivalents
961300 Marigolds on White

Clear
Use for covering some other option…
9993 (18"x9')
999800 (18"x24')

Note also: Kittrich used to make, and still might make, 1" black line square gridded rolls. I can't find a full catalogue online. This would be your best bet, if you can find it. Contact your local hardware or home decorating store.

Drafting Papers

4 to the inch drafting paper such as sold here is sold in rolls of 5yd or longer...

Office Supplies

Desk Pads/Blotter Pads are often available in both 1/4" grid and in 1" grid.

Easel Pads are often available gridded, such as Post-It® #560, with 1" light blue grid on a 25"x30" pad.

Laminate any of these with clear Con-Tac®, and you have a large supply of durable grid.

Your Printer

Incomptech has a variety of grids available for download; they actually generate the PDF for free. Print out, trim down, match together, and then contact-laminate them.

Fabric Store

You can often find various grid patterns in the fabric shop for a couple dollaras a yard. Hexagons are rre, but hexagonal dot patterns aren't.

While these are not readily markable, stretch them out, and contact paper them, and you have a nice write-on mat.

Wargaming sites Several UK companies make battlemats, too. Look at the minis-gamer sites. most of those will be felt, and often hex-gridded, but drop a sheet of plexiglass over them, and a quick and easy hexmap. But you're going to be over $20 just for the plexi.

Home Improvement/Home Decorating Shop

Expense Warnging: this category isn't cheap, but it's extremely durable. Check for endlot and remnant sales.

Whilst heavy, tile can be acquired in both hexagonal and square tiles. In the right shades, makes an excellent minis surface.

Flooring Vinyl is often available in square grids of various sizes, and some hex grids. So also carpet. Ask about remnants of those patterns.

Check the tablecloths and placemats, too. I had (until my daughters mangled them) some very nice 1/2" grid placemats I used to use with STRPG.

Chicken Wire or other lightweight fencing is often relatively even hexagons. Laying it down properly can allow spray paint to be laid in a really good grid. Likewise, a 2:1 or 1:1 light square grid fencing, or taught chain-link (which when taut and not sagging, is usually a square grid with odd corners) can make a good quick grid. Just make certain the grid is even first. A base coat of one color, then a fencing blocked contrast, and you get a nice grid.

Bottom Line almost all the options run to more than $20, but many of them result in having a half-dozen square meters of result... and being able to pre-draw, then flop down on the table, the various scenes is often useful.

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1  
That Incompetech link is great, thanks! But is this Kittrich Corporation stuff readily available in Europe? That seemed to be the point of this question - not having access to US shops. –  Dave Hallett Nov 27 '10 at 23:29
    
I've no clue, but they've been in business making the stuff for 40+ years. If Con-Tac isn't available, something comparable will be, and having the Kittrich part numbers allows saying to the clerk, "I want something like this!" –  aramis Nov 27 '10 at 23:31
    
I would +2 if I could. that Incompetech was great. Do note that the brand is 'Con-tact', not con-tac, and also 'Incompetech'. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 28 '10 at 12:35
    
This is Chile, not Europe or the US, but Con-tact or something similar is indeed sold in stores, so I can look that up. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 28 '10 at 12:40

Foam board overlaid with lamination. You can use marker to make your squares and dry erase to draw on top of the board. You can leave it in one large piece or cut it into smaller squares and put them down as you need them. Very inexpensive and easy to do.

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1  
There are a couple of articles showing an excellent implementation of this available at TerraGenesis.co.uk. Again with hexes but the same can be done with squares. terragenesis.co.uk/infopages/page255.html terragenesis.co.uk/infopages/page390.html –  Jagged Nov 29 '10 at 10:54

One option to look at (and I have no idea of the availability where you are) is a silicone baking mat or a pastry rolling mat or maybe even a flexible cutting board (the links are to Amazon). They are $5-$25 USD, depending on size and type. And sometimes they come with 1" grid already! You might be able to find a larger one at a restaurant supply store. If you can only find the smaller ones, you could use several put side by side.

My pastry mat rolls up nicely and, as silicone, is intentionally a non-stick surface, so I'd expect wet-erase markers should work fine. I can't seem to find my markers right now to test, though, so I can't say it will certainly work with dry-erase or wet-erase markers. If I can find them later, I'll try them out. It's also not as soft or as comfortable to lean on as the official battlemats I've used.

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Given that it sounds like you are willing to do some work here's another option that I've seen work, but not done myself.

  1. Start with a piece of hard wearing cloth of a suitable colour.
  2. Get a piece of perforated hardboard where the holes are in a triangular pattern.
  3. Using a marker pen draw the hexes of the desired size by linking the holes.
  4. Make an equilateral triangle stamp that fits in the holes of the board.
  5. Place the board onto the cloth.
  6. Dip the stamp in permanent ink and stamp the cloth at every hole where the lines meet. Ideally the corners of the triangle should point in the direction of the lines.
  7. Move the board but position it so you can se one row of triangles through the holes and repeat until done.

Will take a while but will hopefully be cheap. Cheap alternatives are good right? ;)

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Well, for my needs it's squares, not hexes, but your point stands. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 28 '10 at 23:11
    
Ah! Well that's good, square peg board is even easier to acquire. Still this solution is something of a long winter's night project :) –  Jagged Nov 29 '10 at 10:22

One point worth mentioning is that Chessex sell "seconds" - mats where the cut was off a little or the grid was printed on a slight bias - cheaper than for the best quality versions. I own an example of each and other than being slightly shorter the "second" is just as fit for purpose as the full-price version. I bought my "second" at a convention.

Just a thought.

The blank battlemats are thoroughly useful, even for those games that don't require a grid. I've just run a bunch of Savage World games for a small convention and I stuck a mat to the table beforehand so I could write character names in front of the players, quickly sketch situational maps and jot in-game crap down for later use.

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I saw the 'seconds' in chessex's site, but the problem is that their price plus shipping gets "too expensive" real fast. Not many game cons in Chile, sadly. If I ever travel to the US... –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Nov 29 '10 at 20:27

Tru-Grid Graph Material 45" Wide 25 Yards, White With 1" Blue Grid -- A lightweight non-woven printed with 1" graph. Ideal for altering and enlarging patterns. 100% Polyester.

http://www.joann.com/joann/catalog/productdetail.jsp?pageName=search&flag=true&PRODID=prd14647

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A bit expensive at $32... –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 17 '11 at 1:31
    
That's for 25 yards of it. amazon.com/Tru-Grid-Graph-Material-45W-Yard/dp/B001IVDQEM/… its only 2.65 a yard here. –  wax eagle Mar 17 '11 at 11:39
1  
Well yes, but then the question is "do I really need 23 metres of paper all at once?" –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 17 '11 at 12:18
3  
@Adriano Um, I think you can buy one or two yards at a time from Wax Eagle's link... –  AceCalhoon Mar 17 '11 at 16:16
    
True dat. Sorry then. But still, impractical for me. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Mar 17 '11 at 18:08

I've created lots of custom battle mats over the years. The best method I have found to do this quickly, cheaply, and easily while still ending up with a durable and resilient mat is outlined in this YouTube video. This method is nice because it does not require cutting, pasting, adhesives, or lamination.

The basic idea is that you purchase a poster frame with a clear polystyrene plastic sheet on the front which is roughly the desired size of your mat (about $12-$18 USD). The video talks about using graph paper for the grid, but I like my grid squares to have permanently typed (X,Y) coordinates on them so character positions can be easily noted in the event that we have to stop in the middle of a session and still be able to set everyone back up where they were. I actually went into Microsoft Excel (though any spreadsheet software should work) and built a huge grid of 1 inch squares and used the calculation functions to auto-print coordinates at the bottom-right of each square. Then I took my spreadsheet up to my local print-shop and had them print it out on a sheet of heavy off-white paper to match the dimensions of my poster frame for just a few more dollars. All you have to do once you have your grid sheet and the poster frame is slide the sheet into the frame. You can draw on the polystyrene cover with dry-erase markers and wipe it down when you're done with your fingers or paper towels.

You can also make multiple grid sheets, one blank for spontaneously drawn maps and then others for pre-drawn maps that you use all the time and hardly ever change (like for a city, such as Neverwinter) and then just swap them out of the poster frame as needed. I tend to keep my grid sheets rolled up in a piece of PVC pipe. When I need one I just take it out, put the others back in the pipe, and then slide it into the poster frame. If you get a frame with thick black plastic around it, it can help keep dice from rolling off the edges. This is especially helpful if your table isn't big enough to hold both the mat and still leave room around the edges for dice rolls. I wouldn't recommend sitting heavy books or laptops on it though! Heavy books might cause the cover to crack or tear and laptops put out enough heat in most cases that it can seriously weaken the stability of the cover.

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