Monday, August 10, 2009

inking GameScience dice

My recent visit to Games Plus affords me an opportunity to share with you the method I've developed for inking GameScience dice. Last year I switched exclusively to GameScience as my dice of choice, as explained here. One of the big differences between GameScience and its competition is that the dice come with no pigment in the numbers, so they have to be "inked".

The traditional technique is to rub a crayon repeatedly across the number and then wipe away the considerable excess with a tissue or paper towel. That's why old boxed sets use to come with crayons. There's nothing particularly wrong with doing it the old way, but it could take a while. Also, the GameScience d10's have this circular groove that can catch some of the crayon and be a pain to get out. Like this:

So I developed an alternative to the crayon. I start with washing the dice in some water with just a touch of dish soap.

I wash the dice because they are manufactured using an injection molding technique. Injection molding often requires the spray of a release agent on the inside of the mold before the plastic (or whatever) is squirted in. This helps the finished product separate cleanly from the mold, the way a little butter in a pan helps keep the food you're frying from sticking. Washing the dice gets that agent off of them. At least that is true assuming a release agent is used. I don't really have any information on that point, but serious miniature painters recommend washing your figures for the same reasons.

I pat the dice dry with a paper towel then let them air dry for a few minutes.

Instead of a crayon, I use a Sharpie Ultra Fine Point permanent marker. I've seen them for sale at office supply stores, department stores and even the home office section of my local drugstore. You can get a pack of several colors for a few bucks. I usually use black but sometimes I select a color that contrasts the dice.

The neat thing is that the Ultra Fine Point fits right into the groove of the numbers. Two or three passes through the groove is sufficient to coat the entire recessed surface of the number as well as the walls of the groove. Just trace the number as if you were writing it, reverse direction and write it backward, then write it forward again.

Tip #1 - If after three passes you can still see the color of the dice in the number, you're probably pressing too hard. Ease up a bit and try again. If that doesn't work, you might want to switch to another color, probably black.

Tip #2 - If you color outside the lines, do not panic! Wipe away as much of the stray ink as you can with a paper towel and possibly a little saliva, but don't fret if a smear is left behind. Any ink not in a groove will be gone after only a few sessions of use.

Tip #3 - Do the d20 and d00 last. The smaller numbers require slightly finer manipulation and the practice of doing the bigger numbers first will help you get your technique down. I often do the other dice then take a short break because my left hand (which I hold the die with as I ink) is a little cramped up after the first five dice.


  1. Thanks for the tip! I've been meaning to buy some game science dice, but my local gaming stores only carry Chessex. I'll probably have to order them, but they're definitely worth it!

  2. Yeppers. Gamescience dice are tops on my list too. I use them almost exclusively.

    On the marking tip (err...), looks like you have found your chosen weapon in the Sharpie, but I would also recommend Pilot's ultra-fine black permanent marker as another choice.

    I have tried both and prefer the Pilot version. But that's just my opinion. It seems that the Pilot pen produced a tighter tip allowing for slightly better detail, especially on the d20 and d10 (00-90) dice.

    The Pilot was a recommendation from someone that I bought some un-inked dice from a while back. Pilot also makes the same pen in Red and Blue (IIRC), but I never found those colors locally. I think you can get them online.

    Now, here the killer. I like to ink certain color dice in white, silver or gold. The best pens I found for this use were the paint-pens. I searched far and wide for the finest tip, and never found one as fine as the Pilot black mentioned above. I was informed by someone at a local art store, that they don't make them that fine. The reason he gave me was that the paint doesn't flow good on that fine of a tip, so that every one you find, regardless of the brand, will never be as fine as the Pilot ultra-fine black. Bummer.

    My darker opaque dice and my gem sets still mostly turned out good, inking them with the white, silver, or gold. White looks the best on ruby, emerald, etc, as the silver loses it's luster after a little bit of gaming. The white seems to show brighter longer.

    With the paint pens, sometimes you have to be a bit more careful on mis-marks, as once in a while the paint flows more than you would like, and you get a small puddle of it on the die...ha!

    Either way, with any of the markers or paint pens, make sure they are "permanent" ink/paint. Many markers looks like they will work fine, but they smudge quite easily.

    Again, I understand you have chosen the Sharpie, Jeff, but just another option that I have found useful in my dice inking.

    Great post, BTW. Got to looooove the precision-edge dice!

  3. Dude, great tips! Nice pictures too. You make me feel confident about something I would approach normally with great fear and trepidation.

    Do all the GameScience dice come uninked like that?

    1. For a set of seven dice it costs $5 (50% cost increase) to have them inked.

  4. After your previous post and before this latest one I spent 60$ on Gamescience Dice after reading again your The Diceman Cometh post from last year.

    As you can imagine I am greatly appreciative of this personal, if unwitting, service. And by the way I believe you would make an excellent primary school teacher.

  5. I wish my FLGS had Game Science dice, but they just carry the kind of polyhedra that make Col. Zocchi insane.

  6. yoyorobbo - Thanks for the tip on the Pilot markers. I'll give them a try with the next set.

    Olman - If I can ink my own dice this way I'm confident the vast majority of people can. Unless you've got a nervous tic or some other factor, you should be able to totally do this.

    Also, you can get GameScience dice that are inked by hand, but they cost about twice as much. I paid five bucks for my set, but pre-inked they run $9.99 at the one place I know that sells them:

  7. I tried this a few years ago, but even the ultra fine Sharpie wouldn’t fit. So, it’s been back to crayon for me.

    Of course, that was with my original sets of Gamescience dice. I should get some newer ones and try the Sharpie again.

  8. I've also purchased GameScience from, and can recommend them as an online vendor.

    I'm with Jeff on GameScience dice. I have a little semi-serious advert that I do with my group whenever GameScience are mentioned:

    "Gamescience, the only dice endorsed by Zachary. Gamescience, accept no substitute. Gamescience, real dice for real gamers..."

  9. Nice. My line goes something like this "I don't care if the players' dice are skewed a little in their favor, but when I kill 'em I want it to be fair and square. That's why I use Gamescience."

  10. Exact same thing I do. Very easy and quick.

  11. Okay, this may have pushed me over into finally trying GameScience. Well, this and the fact that they're the only company I can find that makes sets of glow-in-the-dark dice. Thanks!

  12. Gamescience is the best, for sure. The roll random and with those shar edges, you don't have to worry much about them rolling off the table.

    About inking the dice, I suggest that one considers marking the d00 and d20 earlier on. That's because I get impatient and don't take a break. My hand starts to get a little twitchy after inking 4 or 5 dice.

  13. I picked up a pack of Gamescience dice at Connecticon this year and am so far underwhelmed.

    Mainly because I am not sure how to remove the bits of sprue flash remaining on the dice without affecting the odds these dice are supposed to properly have.

    Not too fond of having to ink them either.

  14. The flash is taken into account when looking at the tolerance range Gamescience dice have. Casino dice are something like .005" variation, and cost way more. Gamescience is around .002-.006", well ahead of the next RPG dice competitor.

    You can get them pre-inked, of course! :)

  15. Why don't Gamescience mark their own dice?! This is 2009! :-O

  16. They don’t ink their dice for the same reason they never did before: The way to efficiently mass-ink dice is to coat them in paint and then use a tumbler to polish off the excess. Which also creates the rounded corners and creates the imperfections that lead to bias.

    And there are plenty of companies offering those kind of dice if you want them.

    But, you’re right. It’s 2009. So, they do, in fact, sell inked dice today. Pricing & Colors (Well, actually, the retailer, GameStation, does the inking.) Since it has to be done by hand, it costs $$.

  17. On the mold/flash points:

    I have left all of my Gamescience (and other precision edge) dice alone in this regard.

    I have thought about cleaning a few of them up, but have worried about messing them up, along with the "accuracy of the randomness" (that is just too funny to type...ha!).

    From G²Collectibles & Hobbies (g2) listings on these dice sets, I see the following advice:

    "So what’s the trade-off for this precision? Well Gamescience dice are not polished like other manufacturers dice. This gives them a precision edge, but also very commonly leaves behind mold marks ranging from blemishes and bumps where the mold was connected to scratches on the surface of the die. Testing has shown that these marks do not alter the precision of the dice significantly (or at least less significantly than polishing the edges down and the mold marks off). The marks do however alter the appearance. Appearance and precision are possible of course, but understand that the average pair of casino grade D6s start at $30 and can be even more. Thus, Gamescience dice exist, affordable precision dice for gamers."

    And on Gamescience's info/pricing site (as also noted by Robert Fisher just above in these comments), this nugget is found:

    "All GameScience dice are precision tested and razor-edged with sharp points because they have not been tumbled or sanded. To smooth down the spot on your die that is rough from being broken from the sprue, simply use hobby/automotive sandpaper. These sharp-edged dice are better than the egg-shaped round-edged import dice because they will roll accurately."

    So....not sure if I wish to tweak any more of GS dice or not. With one seller/site saying the molding marks do not alter the precision significantly, yet GS themselves detailing a method of removing them....hhmmnnnn.

    I guess I should go back and watch "the Colonel" (Lou Zocchi) in those infamous vids. They are pretty intense. Still, fun to watch.

    word verifcation: "braco" (as in braco bahma?)

  18. Yoyorobbo: The packaging for this new set I just got has that second blurb right on the back. But I'm not planning on sandpapering my dice any time soon.

  19. Oh man, these are the best when it comes to can flip 'em like a beercap when yer ticked-off at the GM and they stick into meat real well at 15'! Thanks for the killer tips too on the inking. Pretty much what I fell into, but I think adding the washing step is really smart. I have to use mold-release agents almost daily at work, and yet it never occurred to my ignorant ass to WASH the derned things first! Made a big difference on my latest set. Said it once before, say it again: You eat, sleep and drink this stuff!



  21. Anonymous8:14 PM

    I just tried this - initially the numbers looked great, but when I wiped off some of the excess ink using a paper towel, I managed to smear the ink all over the die face. I can't get the ink smears cleaned up. This has happened twice - once right after inking and once on another side about four hours later. I used three passes of of the Sharpie Ultra Fine marker, so I'm hoping I haven't used too much ink.

    Does anyone have any hints on how to clean up smeared Sharpie ink from the die face? Am I just too greedy and need to wait to let natural attrition take care any ink outside of the number on future ink jobs?

  22. Hey Matty-
    Been there,'s what I did when it happened. Take a paper towel and put some 99% isopropyl alcohol on it (you can get it cheap at the drug want less water than the 76% er whatever the amount is on the "blue" bottle) and buff like the dickens. I would avoid any sort of "Goof Off" or chemistry that will scorch the plastic. I had a buddy ruin a die that way. I've heard glass cleaner will work too if you buff like mad, but I haven't tried that yet.

  23. Cripes, Matty! I'm sorry to hear it went so bad for you! That hasn't happened to me at all and I have no explanation why, seeing as how I'm not exactly gifted with the worlds best fine manipulation skills.

  24. Anonymous6:02 PM

    Thanks, all - the alcohol worked (a phrase rarely typed...)

  25. Cool, glad to hear it!

  26. I would actually use a paint pen. Sharpie makes one, as well as Gunze for Gundam, and other brands readily available at the hobby store.

    I just wish gamescience dice were more readily available!

  27. @Captain Rufus, go to your local beaity supply isle at the grocery, and pick up a two-sided salon board. couple of swipes and the sprue mark is gone, then polish it with the fine side.

  28. I second the gold / silver Pilot pen. On crystal Gamescience dice, it looks real purty. Haven't yet used 'em enough to tell how it'll wear, but the inking process was easy.

  29. I am buying my entire gaming group some Gamescience dice with the proceeds from selling some old D&D miniatures (those pre-painted ones). I have been trying to figure out the best way to ink them and the ideas here (Sharpie, Pilot and paint-pens) should do the trick. Thanks! I was NOT looking forward to crayon-ing some 60 dice!

  30. I know this is about a month old, but I thought I should follow up with a little extra info. I wrote the comment on the “molding marks do not alter the precision significantly” on the website. In no way however do I want people to think that this means you cannot file them when they have a sprue sticking out. I have used a hobby knife to trim some of mine and auto body sand paper to work any leftover down. This does take a lot of time to do right, but the reward is worth it. So yes, you definitely can trim them, just be careful. Slow and steady wins the game.

    There are some cases too where the sprue actually breaks off below the surface of the die. I see that a lot on the D12s and D20s. This leaves a small hole in the die surface. I do not have a solution for that one unfortunately.

    And my comment about not affecting precision significantly is based on personal conversations with Lou Zocchi and the things he told me about his dice. Lou was always awesome to talk to when I would call in an order and he would always share stories, business advice, and ideas with me when we spoke. He pointed out to me that Gamescience dice have been tested against the competition and always won out. I know there were once tests done by White Dwarf Magazine where only the D100 was found to be biased. And of course the most recent tests done by Dr. Daniel Murray in Canada were something that Lou was pretty proud of. Rather than repeat that story here you can read about that at if you are interested.

    I also wanted to mention that we stopped using sharpies on these almost immediately. I noticed on my personal dice that the sharpies actually started to bleed out of the number and in to the surrounding plastic so you end up with “ring around the numbers.” I cannot say that always happens, but it definitely did on our first inks (and a couple of my personal sets). Could be as simple as the ink in the first sharpie I used was not well made, but we stopped taking the risk at that point. So now we use artist pens (Faber Castell does a good one and there are a couple of Japanese companies also). Basically the difference between the artist pens and the sharpies are pigment quality. The artist pens seem to work a lot better and so far have never crept out of place in to the surrounding plastic. We also use metallic pens (silver, gold). These can be a pain to get in place, but they dry nicely once you do get them in. And white of course is a nice option on some sets. I’ll also add that if you can get a light that is bright or one you can point right at the die as you ink it, it makes it a little easier to ink well. And one final thing I can think of, I usually ink D20s and 12s partially as I go along. This gives some time for one side to dry while you work on another die.

    Hopefully this is not too late to the game and helps someone out still.

  31. Anonymous9:42 PM

    Great article! For dice that require white paint, I've been using a white Sharpie Paint pen with an extra fine point. I picked one up at my local Jo-Ann crafts store and it works great. It tends to bleed a little, but I found that wiping each face with a cloth and alcohol cleans it up nicely while leaving the paint in the crevice.

  32. Anonymous7:17 PM

    the sharpie extra fine tip or colordeco definitely last the longest. The cool thing about colordeco is that they also make a paint REMOVER pen in case you mess up. Both are available from (just checked) Gamestation is now the exclusive manufacturer of GameScience dice and they are super nice...if you call them they will actually sell you some "factory seconds" to practice your inking on before you try your treasured set. That is how I became a master at it. ;)
    866-600-3684 is there number and I believe customer service is x306.

  33. personally, i didn't know about the crayon method. i got my first set about a year ago and used a sharpie pen. i started getting alot of fading. i doubt its the exact same ink that are in the ultra fine point sharpies. i tried to re-ink once with the same sharpie pen but it was dry. then i tried an ultra fine point sharpie, but the old ink built up on the tip and prevented me from inking properly.

    the crayon worked wonders for these dice :P

    on a side note the crayon can fill in the small 'G' that are on some of the 1's

  34. Anonymous9:46 AM

    I have run through the gauntlet of crayons, inks and paint, and found what worked best for me were the Decocolor Paint Pens suggested by an earlier poster. They come with extrafine points in both metallic and primary colors and costs about $3.49 each from and will ink lots and lots of dice. One black and one white pen and you should be able to handle all the dice you care to ink on your own.

  35. Aergraith10:16 AM

    I have been using a Micron 005 .20mm I picked up at Hobby Lobby to good effect; it fits the grooves perfectly. I use a large lighted hands-free magnifier when I do it.

    I am getting a bit of pooling; the ink starts out in the right place but sort of attracts itself into blobs. I think I may need to try washing them as stated above.

  36. I tried every way I could think of... The way that works perfectly is to put a bunch of mini paint on the number and then wipe it with your finger. Works perfectly 90% of the time. I used Vallejo paints on 5 sets, both opaque and gem. The Gems have a wavy texture on some of the faces which is problematic, but inking with marker or paint pen is both tedious and looks really bad.