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PnPG How-To: Format Miniatures in a PDF

The most basic miniature-modding project is formatting a collection of figures onto a single page for printing. You may have accumulated an assortment of miniatures from several sources that you want to print as a set, or perhaps you’ve re-skinned some minis or created your own from scratch, and need to arrange them in a PDF for printing or sharing. In this first PnPG tutorial, I’ll show you how to use the GIMP image-manipulation program to gather your minis, arrange them on a page, and save that page as a PDF.

Project Red-Shirt

full page of red-shirt crewmen
A full page of red-shirt crewmen for Star Trek gaming, compiled using GIMP.

Our project for this how-to is to create a full sheet of expendable red-shirt NPCs for your original-series Star Trek campaign. If you’re an old-school gamer or you like free games, check out Far Trek, C.R. Brandon’s 2015 update of Mike Berkey’s MicroLite20 game, Where No Man Has Gone Before. If you’re looking for the most current licensed Trek RPG, that’s Star Trek Adventures from Modiphius.

We’ll be pulling our red-shirt mooks from two sets of Where No Man Has Gone Before minis by David Okum, which can be downloaded for free from Download the .zip files for the Federation Away Team as well as Set Five: Rerun and unzip them both to your hard drive before beginning the project.

Step 1: Create a Blank Image File

Click File>New to create a new image. In the Create a New Image box, click the Template drop-down menu and select the option for your preferred document format, most likely US-Letter (300ppi) or A4 (300ppi). Then click OK to create the image.

create new image
Select the template for your preferred format in the Create a New Image box.

Step 2: Set Image Margins

Position guides to mark the margins for your document. Placing margin guides 0.5″ or 15mm from the edges of the image will keep the minis safely inside the printable area of modern inkjet printers. To set a horizontal guide, click on the ruler across the top of the image and drag downward. A horizontal line will appear attached to the cursor, indicating the current position of the guide. Releasing the mouse button will place the guide, but you can use the Move tool to reposition the guide if it’s not in quite the right spot.

Once you’ve place the guides for the top and bottom margins, click on the ruler at the left edge of the image to drag vertical guides onto the image. Position vertical guides for the left and right margins.

positioning a guide
To add a horizontal guide, click the ruler and drag down onto the image.

Step 3: Add Guides to Align the Figures

First, set the unit for rulers to millimeters, using the drop-down menu at the lower left hand corner of the image window.

ruler units
Set the ruler units to millimeters.

Add two additional horizontal guides at 80mm and 200mm from the top of the image. These lines will be used to align the bases of the figures we’ll be adding to the page. This is a good time to save and name the file, if you haven’t already. Call it red-shirts.xcf—”red-shirts” for the content, of course, and .xcf because that is the native file format for GIMP. If you’re working in Photoshop, you’ll save a .psd file instead.

blank image file ready for figures
The blank image file ready for figures, with margins and alignment guides.

Step 4: Open the Source PDF

Now you’re ready to bring in the miniatures for positioning. Go to File > Open as Layers, and then select the PDF file that contains the figures you want to include. For this tutorial, start with the file awayteam1_v2.pdf.

In the Import from PDF box, select the specific page of the PDF file that you want to import. Since this file has only one page, that’s the one to select. Next, adjust the Resolution to 300 pixels/inch. Then click the Import button to bring the page into your image file as a new layer.

import from pdf
To import from a PDF, select the page, set pixels/inch to 300, and click Import.

The entire page will appear as a separate layer in the image file, named for the source file (awayteam1_v2.pdf, in this case), just above the background layer. Since page you imported is Letter-size, just like the base image file, it will cover the entire page. That’s ok, for now.

layer imported from pdf
The page imported from the PDF will appear as a new layer, above the Background layer.

Step 5: Copy and Paste the Figures You Want

Your mission in this tutorial is to make a single page full of red-shirt extras, so you’ll want to save just those figures, and eliminate the rest. Begin by using the Rectangle Select Tool to select the four red-shirted crewmen in the bottom row of the awayteam1_v2.pdf layer. Use Cut (Command-X or Ctrl-X) to cut out the selected crewmen from that layer.

select figures
Use the Rectangle Select Tool to select figures for the collection.

Use Paste (Command-V or Ctrl-V) to put the selected figures back in the image as a Floating Selection (Pasted Layer). Then click the Create a New Layer icon to paste the crewmen on a separate layer of their own.

click create new layer
Click Create a New Layer to convert the Floating Selection to a separate layer.

Now repeat the process to capture the female crew member in red from the top row. (She’s pointing a phaser, so she’s clearly a combatant!) First, click the awayteam1_v2.pdf layer in the Layers box to make that layer the active one.

click to set the active layer
Click awayteam1_v2.pdf to make it the active layer.

Next, use the Rectangle Select Tool to select that one figure from the top row. Use Cut to remove her from the active layer, then Paste to make her a floating selection by herself. Then click the Create a New Layer icon to save the figure to a permanent layer.

select a single figure
Use Rectangle Select Tool to select a single figure from the page.

Step 6: Remove the Unwanted Layer

At this point, your file should have four layers, labeled Background, awayteam1_v2.pdf (the figures we don’t need anymore), Pasted Layer (the four male figures), and Pasted Layer #1 (the single female figure). You can lick the Visibility icon—it looks like an eye—on each layer to toggle them on and off, to see exactly what’s on each layer.

toggle layer visibility
The awayteam layer has been toggled to invisible.

You can delete the awayteam1_v2.pdf layer now. In the Layer box, click that layer to select it, then click the Delete this Layer icon at the lower right corner to delete it. (In Windows, Delete this Layer is a trash can; on a Mac, it’s a paper shredder.) Now you should only have 5 red-shirted figures remaining—four males at the bottom of the image, on Pasted Layer, and one female, on Pasted Layer #1, near the top.

delete a layer
Click the Delete this Layer icon to delete the active layer.

Step 7: Position the Figures

Now you’re ready to position these five figures for printing. In the Tool Box, select the Move tool.

Select the Move tool in the Tool Box.

Next, click on the four figures on the Pasted Layer and drag them up toward the guide we placed at 80mm. Center the red fold line on the 80mm guide.

If you need to enlarge the view, press Shift+Plus (hold the Shift key and press the Plus key) to zoom in. When you’re ready to zoom out again, press the Minus key.

align the figures
Align the figures to the 80mm guide line.

If the figures won’t seem to align precisely, try toggling off Snap to Guides under the View menu.


snap to guides off
Snap to Guides, toggled off.

Once you have the four figures on Pasted Layer positioned, repeat the process with the female figure on Pasted Layer #1. Put her next to the four males, lining up her red fold line with the 80mm guide. When she’s in the right spot, it will look like there’s just one, continuous red fold line.

There are probably two stray black marks next to the female crew member. Those were picked up from the figure next to her in the original PDF. You can remove them now using the Erase tool from the Tool Box. (It looks like an eraser, of course!)

female figure aligned
Female figure, aligned with the four male minis. Use the Eraser tool to remove the two black marks next to her.

Step 8: Consolidate the Layers

At this point, you’ve got your first five red-shirt crew members lined up in a row for easy printing, scoring and folding. It’s a good idea now to put them on the same layer. Right-click on Pasted Layer #1 and click Merge Down on the pop-up menu. This will merge the layer with the female figure into the layer just below it, with the male figures.

The newly-merged layer will still be named Pasted Layer in the Layer box. Double-click that name so you can change it to Top Row, or something similarly descriptive.

Once again, this would be a good time to Save your file again, if you haven’t lately!

Click Merge Down to merge the active layer with the one just below it.

The Story So Far...

Now you’ve got five red-shirts from the Away Team PDF neatly lined up on the page. The file has two layers, Background and Top Row. You could print these five miniatures now, but there’s still room for a couple more figures on the top row, and a whole bottom row to fill. To complete your platoon of expendable extras, you’ll pull more red shirts from the Reruns set.

file with first five miniatures
The image file showing the first five red-shirt miniatures from the Away Team set.

Step 9: Import the Rerun Set

We’ll follow the same procedure to import the Rerun PDF as we did to bring in the Away Team set in Step 4, above.

Go to File > Open as Layers, then select the rerun.pdf file. Select the one page to be imported. Double-check that the Resolution is still set to 300 pixels/inch. Click Import to bring the Rerun file in as a new layer, rerun.pdf.

You want the rerun.pdf layer below the Top Row layer in the Layer box. If it’s on the top of the stack, click, drag, and drop it down between the Top Row and Background layers. Then toggle off the Top Row‘s Visibility icon off—that layer will just be in the way for the next few steps, so let’s hide it for now.

rerun set imported
Rerun set imported and ready for formatting.

Step 10: Select the Red Shirts

There are seven red-uniformed crew members in the Rerun set, scattered in four separate groups. Applying the procedure in Step 5, above, use the Rectangle Select Tool to select each group of red shirts, Cut them out, and Paste them onto new layers.

When you finish, you’ll have four layers with the new red shirts. Toggle the Visibility of the rerun.pdf layer off. Don’t delete the rerun.pdf layer yet, though—you’ll need its text and logos once the miniatures are positioned.

Red-shirt minis from the Rerun set, saved as layers and ready for positioning.

Step 11: Align the Miniatures

The next step is to align the new miniatures with the guides, as you did in Step 7 above. Toggle the Visibility of the Top Row layer back on, so you don’t overlap the figures you’ve already placed. Use the Move tool to drag the new miniatures into position on the guides.

rerun figures aligned
The new figures aligned with the top and bottom row guides.

The two Tellarites fit neatly on the top row, so drag them to the top guide, and use Merge Down to merge their layer, Pasted Layer, with the Top Row layer.

Line up the remaining figures—the human female, the three Andorians, and the Kzinti—on the bottom guide. Then use Merge Down to merge Pasted Layer #3 and Pasted Layer #2 with Pasted Layer #1. Then double-click Pasted Layer #1 to rename it to Bottom Row.

If you look closely at the thumbnail image for each layer in the Layers box, you can see the figures on the Bottom Row and Top Row layers.

The Layers box, showing the merged Top Row and Bottom Row layers.

Step 12: Putting the Empty Space to Use

You’ve got room for a couple more minis on the Bottom Row layer, but you’re out of red shirts. For now, we’ll pull a couple of gold-shirt personnel from the rerun.pdf layer and put them there. In another tutorial, I’ll show you how to change their uniforms from command gold to cannon fodder red.

rerun layer visible
The Layers box, with Top Row and Bottom Row invisible, and rerun.pdf visible.

Start by toggling the Visibility of the Top Row layer off, and turning the Visibility of  the rerun.pdf layer on. Cut and Paste the gold-shirted crew members from the top row of rerun.pdf onto separate layers. Drag them into alignment with the bottom guide, and merge them into the Bottom Row layer.

gold shirts aligned
Two gold-uniformed crew members, aligned on the Bottom Row.

Step 13: Credit Where Credit Is Due

All your miniatures in place now, but you haven’t credited the artist or the owner of the Star Trek intellectual property. You’ll do that now, by picking up most of the text from the rerun.pdf layer. Toggle the Visibility of the Top and Bottom Rows off again, and turn rerun.pdf back on.

rerun layer visible again
Top and Bottom Rows invisible, and rerun.pdf visible once more.

The rerun.pdf layer has two blocks of text: one at the center of the page that includes the title for the set as well as the Trek logo, and another at the bottom of the page crediting CBS and Paramount. Cut and Paste both of those blocks to new layers. Once that’s done, you’re through with the rerun.pdf layer—go ahead and delete it by selecting it in the Layers box, and clicking the Delete this Layer icon.

delete rerun.pdf layer
Select the rerun.pdf layer, then click Delete this Layer.

Now that the rerun.pdf layer is gone, toggle all the remaining layers except the Background to Visible. (Leaving the Background invisible lets you see the exact dimensions and positions of the other layers.) Pasted Layer #1, with the CBS/Paramount credit text block, is fine where it is, but Pasted Layer, with the title and logo, is covering part of the figures on the Top Row layer. You can fix this by moving the Top Row up the page a bit.

text overlapping top row
Pasted Layer overlaps the miniatures on the Top Row layer.

There’s plenty of space above the Top Row layer, so move it up by 20mm. First, use the Move tool to drag the guide from 80mm to 60mm. Then, still using the Move tool, drag the Top Row layer up to align with the 60mm guide. The miniatures on the Top Row are now clear of the title and logo on Pasted Layer, and are still comfortably within your margin guides.

Now that both text layers are in position, merge them into a single layer, and rename that layer Text.

top row moved from underneath title layer
The Top Row has been moved up to a guide at 60mm, so that the title layer no longer overlaps it.

There are a couple of changes you should to make to the title text block, though. First, you need to change the name of the set from “Set Five: Rerun” to something like “Supplemental Set: Red Shirts.” And second, since the URL for the Microlite 20 supplement, Where No Man Has Gone Before, is no longer in service, you should simply remove it.

Begin by selecting the Text layer in the Layer box, then click the New Layer icon to create a new, blank layer on top of Text.

With the Text layer active, click Create a New Layer to add a blank layer on top of the Text layer.

Using the Rectangle Select Tool, select an area around the subtitle, “Set Five: Rerun”. Set the Foreground Color to white, and use the Fill tool to fill the box, hiding the subtitle. Repeat the process to hide the obsolete URL, rectangle-selecting it, then filling the selection with white.

Once both lines of text have been covered with white, it is safe to merge the new layer, Layer, onto the Text layer.

subtitle selected for removal
Here, the area around the subtitle has been selected, so that it can be filled with white.
bad URL selected for removal
Here, the subtitle is already covered with white, and the URL is selected to be covered next.

Use the Text tool to add a subtitle describing the new set. Depending on the font you choose, the text should be set to something between 48 and 60 pixels in height. When you’re satisfied with the look of the subtitle, you can merge it down onto the Text layer.

new subtitle text
A new subtitle has been added using the Text tool.

Step 14: Finishing the File

You’re almost done now. To see the page as it will look printed out, toggle the Background back to Visible. Zoom in to closely inspect the image, and use the Erase or Paint tool to remove any stray marks. Then it’s safe to flatten the image to a single layer by clicking Image > Flatten Image, and save the file in .xcf format one last time.

final image before flattening
One last look, just before flattening the image. Everything looks good!

The best way to actually print the miniatures is to export the file as a PDF, and use Acrobat Reader DC to make the print. To make a PDF, click File > Export As… to open the Export Image box. In the Name field at the top of the box, change the file extension from its default—probably .png—to .pdf. Then click the Export button at the lower right corner of the box.

export box
To export a PDF, change the file extension in the Name field to .pdf, then click Export.

When the Export Image as PDF box appears, you can leave all three checkboxes unchecked, and click the Export button. GIMP will then create a PDF file of your red shirt platoon, ready to open and print in Acrobat Reader. Open it up like every other PDF, and print away!

export as pdf box
Leave the checkboxes unchecked, and click Export to create a PDF.

Next Steps

finished red shirt pdf
The finished Red Shirts pdf, with a couple of gold-shirted tag-alongs.

This project is now complete—you’ve made a finished, printable PDF file that contains fourteen Star Trek-compatible cardstock miniatures. Feel free to print out a set or two, and put them together.

Of course, only twelve of the fourteen figures are actually wearing red shirts—the last two are still in command gold. In my next mini-modding tutorial, I’ll show you how to re-color those uniforms from gold to red. Once you learn that technique, you’ll be able to quickly and easily re-color any cardstock miniature you have.

Until then, keep on printing, and keep on playing!

6 thoughts on “PnPG How-To: Format Miniatures in a PDF”

  1. I was sharing your blog link to my D&D Group. Thank you for writing great stuff like this.

    from Indonesia

    1. Thanks, Dennis! Sorry for the delay in replying–I’ve been overwhelmed with real life for the last couple of months. However, I’ve got lots of great new content coming in the next few weeks, so please tell your D&D gang to drop by again soon!

  2. This is awesomely detailed and yet easy to follow. Thanks for this! This is why I make sure my sets are not security locked so they can be modded. That’s half the fun!

    1. Thanks, David! Your cardstock minis were the first ones I found, through Darkfast Dungeons, and they’re still among my very favorite. I love that they–and you!–are so friendly to modding. Your figures are a big part of the color-coded warbands I’m working on for Frostgrave. I can’t wait to get those guys on the table! (Blog spoiler alert!)

  3. Kevin Stanley

    Don’t normally do anything like this, so easy to follow and I was able to get some of David Okum’s aliens on one sheet, thank you so much

    1. Glad I could help! GIMP can be kind of unfriendly, but it’s not hard to work with once you get the hang of it. Keep on moddin’!

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