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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Printing Custom Playing Cards

When I started my research into the history and printing of custom playing cards to answer a query by a close friend, I expected to trace their origins to the 15th century Italian Tarot deck, used for centuries for fortune telling and rife with mystical, religious, and astrological symbolism. In fact, what I did find was a much older origin in 9th century China, in the Tang Dynasty.

The multiple decks I saw in my research presented a vast array of imagery. This was clearly an art form as well as a focus for games of chance, magic tricks, divination, and feats of manual dexterity (cuts, spreads, fanning, etc.). The pictures themselves–from woodcuts to modern lithography—reflected both a long history and an artistic sensibility that caught my interest.

Options for Printing a Deck of Custom Playing Cards

Beyond the four suits, with each ranging from the ace to the 10 plus the three court cards, even modern playing cards present opportunities for unique designs.

One commercial printing vendor for playing cards offers custom faces, custom backs, and specialty decks.

The custom backs provide marketing opportunities. One of the samples promoted a popular film, another advertised a resort hotel, and a third showcased an automobile. In all cases, the designer had assumed that in the course of playing multiple card games, the dealer and other card players would absorb the company’s specific marketing messages. I would assume this to be true, given the repeated exposure. (Just like refrigerator magnets or notepads, a branded deck of custom playing cards reinforces a vendor’s name in the minds of its users.)

The custom faces do essentially the same thing, using the space around the numbers and the patterns of hearts, diamonds, clubs, and spades for images of people (maybe the young man of honor at a bar mitzvah, a series of models for a glamour magazine, or even a product photo).

Specialty decks include everything from educational cards (information on selected topics printed on the backs of each card) to motivational cards (with each containing a positive affirmation for inspiration).

Printing Specifications for Custom Playing Cards

Here’s a short list to consider when specifying playing cards (perhaps as a promotional item for your next convention):

  1. Consider the finish of the card, such as smooth or linen. Playing card printers may offer only limited options.
  2. Consider the color of card. You may want 4-color ink, for example, on the face and back of the card.
  3. Give thought to the packaging. Not all card decks need to come wrapped in cellophane and inserted in a cardboard box. You may want to create a custom wood box, for instance, with a logo screen printed on the wood. Or you may want a custom-designed cardboard box.
  4. Determine the press run. For the more ornate jobs involving screen printing on a wood box and offset printing on the playing cards, keep in mind that the unit cost goes down as the press run goes up. In these cases, you’re paying for complicated make-ready work.
  5. Consider personalization. To what extent do you want the imagery to change on the front and back of each card. For example, will it be different for each card or just different for each suit?
  6. Choose the card size. Standard poker size is 2.5” x 3.5”. That said, you can negotiate larger and smaller sizes with your commercial printing supplier. Just consider how many cards you can get on a single press sheet (ask your printer what size sheet fits his press). If you can keep the layout of all 52 cards on one press sheet, you’ll pay less overall than if you need to print the cards on two press sheets and incur the cost of two press runs.
  7. Consider the stock. For custom playing cards, the stock is usually brilliant white, for contrast with the artwork. Adding a plastic coating for durability is also prudent, since the cards will be handled repeatedly.

Why Should You Print a Deck of Custom Playing Cards?

For an event, in particular, it’s a treat for the participants to walk away with a memento, a way to remember a pleasant experience at a later date. It’s also good for marketing and name recognition. But more than anything it’s just plain fun, since people like to play cards.

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