BInformed: Custom Playing Cards

Custom Playing Cards are great for a variety of promotions and events for two major reasons: 
1) People of all ages tend to enjoy playing card games. Gift decks will be kept and used. 
2) Card decks can be fully customized on both the face and backs. In fact, you could have different images or artwork on the face of all cards in the deck.   This provides outstanding promotional opportunities.

Size of Playing Cards

While there are varying sizes of playing cards available, they generally fall into one of the following categories: 
Poker Size Playing Cards – Poker Size Playing Cards, sometimes referred to as “wide” format playing cards are typically 3.5 inches tall by 2.5 inches wide.  Note that the term “Poker” doesn’t necessarily relate to the type of games played with the decks but the size of the card only. In fact, Poker is frequently played using Bridge Size Playing Cards.
Bridge Size Playing Cards – Bridge Size Playing Cards are sometimes referred to as “narrow” format playing cards since they are about ¼ inch narrower than Poker Size Cards. They typically measure about 3.5 inches tall by 2.25 inches wide. Bridge Size Cards are often preferred for games that involve holding larger quantities of cards in player’s hands since the narrower format allows them to be held and seen more easily.
Mini-Size Playing Cards – Mini size playing cards of varying dimensions and shapes are also very common, particularly for Promotional Products. Often, these decks have more limited customization options.
Custom Shape Playing Cards – It’s even possible to develop custom shaped decks of playing cards. These typically require high order quantities and will have higher set up costs associated with custom tooling required as well as longer lead times. Nonetheless, they provide the opportunity to create cards shaped like your logo, product, mascot or other custom design. 
 It’s also important to note that the term “Jumbo Playing Cards” can have dual meanings. Typically, Custom Jumbo Playing Cards refers to the size of the standard imprint on the face of the cards rather than the dimensions of the cards themselves. That said, some manufacturers also use the term to describe oversized playing cards (e.g. 3” x 5”). Similarly, the term “Pinochle Playing Cards” does not refer to the size or dimensions of the cards. Pinochle Cards include only the 9-K and Ace of each suit but include 2 copies of each suit. These cards are used to play the game of Pinochle and some other specific games.

Types of Material

There are two basic materials that playing cards are made from, paper card stock and plastic.
Paper Card Stock – Historically, most card decks have been made from paper card stock. To increase durability, the card stock is typically coasted with a laminate or plastic covering that can extend the life of the decks.
Plastic – There are varying types of plastic card decks available. On one side, novelty logo playing cards are often made from thin plastic sheets. Examples include mini-sized clear and translucent mini-card decks. Newer ultra-premium custom playing card decks are also made from plastic material which appears and feels remarkably similar to traditional card stock decks. The added durability of these premium decks means that the promotional decks will likely have a longer life span than more traditional card stock decks.

Custom Printing Process

When ordering Custom Playing Cards, the manufacturer provides a template that typically includes outlines of each card, front and back. The template identifies the imprint area and bleed areas or set-back margins from the edge of the card. Artwork must be place into the templates in accordance with the instructions provided by the manufacturer. It is important to also understand that Custom Playing Cards are typically printed in full-sheets of stock and then cut to size. 
There are two primary methods of imprinting playing cards, specifically:
Offset Printing – Traditionally, off-set  printing has been used to print playing cards. This printing requires color separation such that one color at a time is printed using special tooling for each color in a manner similar to traditional silkscreening. Offset printing remains available and many believe it offers the highest quality imprint with clear and crisp lines and more vivid colors. Because off-set printing requires color separation, artwork must be provided in vector format and typical digital photos (e.g. jpegs, etc.) cannot be accommodated.
Digital Printing – As an alternative to off-set printing, digital imprinting is becoming increasingly popular. Digital imprinting can apply full-color imprints more economically and without need for custom tooling for each color imprinted. Too, digitally imprinted playing cards can accommodate digital photos and other raster artwork which can result in lower artwork costs. As such, digital imprinted playing cards tend to be available in lower order quantities. Except in the case of higher order quantities, digital imprinted playing cards also tend to be lower priced than traditional off-set printing. 

Custom Imprinting Options

Playing Cards can be customized in a variety of manners depending on the specific product and manufacturer:
Custom Backs – The backs of playing cards can be customized with logos or artwork. It’s important to note that while it is technically feasible to imprint different artwork on each card back, the card backs should always be identical if the intent is for the cards to be usable as playing cards. Customizing the back of cards while retaining standard faces is typically the most cost effective way to customize complete decks of cards. 
 Custom Faces – The faces of each individual playing card can be fully customized. To retain usability as standard decks, it’s important to retain the playing card identification (e.g. K of Hearts, etc.) in the corners of each card. It’s recommended to avoid placing detailed artwork around these areas to maintain usability of the cards.
Custom Faces and Backs – Of course, both sides of playing cards can also be customized as described above.     
Custom Boxes – Many manufacturers also offer custom imprinted boxes to accommodate your custom card decks as an optional product at additional costs.     

Minimum Order Quantities

The quantity of Custom Playing Card Decks that are ordered will affect both the pricing and what options are available. While Logo Playing Cards are available in as few as 10 decks, these are typically limited to Digitally Imprinted Playing Cards. At the lower quantities, the price per deck can be substantially higher than digital and off-set printed cards at higher order quantities. Offset printing typically requires a much higher minimum order quantity.
Likewise, custom shaped playing cards can have minimum order quantities in the 1000’s of decks. The higher minimum is associated with the tooling and set-up requirements for the level of customization. In essence, factories have determined the minimum quantity that is required for the factory to economically offer the cards given the tooling and set-up requirements as well as the dedication of equipment for a custom order.

Promotional Opportunities

Custom Playing Cards have a wide range of applications from personal to business, including:
Family Reunions – With 52 cards (plus Jokers), there’s plenty of opportunity to include a picture of everyone on a card. Use pictures from bygone days and hand out decks as party favors at the event or take pictures at the reunion and send them out as reminders after. You might even do like we did and combine pictures from the past on one end of each card with more recent pictures of the same people on the opposite end of the card creating a “Then & Now” theme.
 Holiday Business Gifts – Many companies send Logo Playing Cards and Custom Playing Card Sets to employees, customers and prospective customers as holiday gifts. They are a great option that everyone in the recipient’s family can enjoy together.   
Tradeshows – As tradeshow giveaways, Custom Playing Cards are a useful takeaway for booth visitors while featuring your logo and contact information on the backs. You could even include photos from your catalog or examples of your work on the face of the cards as well. In fact, why not come up with your own game that you can play at the booth and give visitors to take home? 

Playing Card Customization Tips & Tricks

Here’s some additional Tips & Tricks that you may find useful. We came up with these through our experience developing Custom Playing Card Decks for a BNoticed team members Family Reunion. Note: These tips are primarily based on our experience creating Custom Digital Playing Cards and not all tips will apply to offset printing.
Basic Photo Placement - The easiest approach to customizing the face of a playing card with a photo is to simply crop the photo to focus on the focal point of the photo and place on the      card. As previously noted, since there can be some slight variation when cards are cut, it is important to stay within the imprint guidelines to leave an adequate set-back from the edge of the card unless the picture is intended to bleed over the edges of the card.
Another option to help avoid the appearance of non-square images on cards is to use photo editing software to apply special effects such as feathering to the edge of the photos, to crop the image to appear as an oval or to slightly tilt the photo to one side or the other.
Text - Text can be added to the face or back of cards in addition to photos, illustrations and images. This can be a great way to identify the theme, people or place associated with each card. Text can also be used as part of the background to both serve as
decoration and identification. In some cases, customers may choose to simply include text on the face of the cards, for example, different quotes on each card, inspirational or funny messages, etc.
It is important to note that when non-digital printing techniques are used, all text must be converted into a vector format (e.g. line format) prior to submitting artwork to the printers.
This End Up - It is important to remember that there is no “top” on playing cards. Playing cards have the card number and suites reversed on each end of the card so that they are readable regardless of which direction the card is held.
While it’s certainly acceptable to include one picture on the card and just recognize that it may be upside down during play, it is also possible to include the same image or graphic facing both directions so that it can be seen either way. An alternate image of the person, product or location could also be used. This actually creates the opportunity to use more images per deck than simply one per card face.
Themes - A great way to leverage the dual “tops” of cards is to utilize a theme so that the upper picture and lower picture are somehow related. For example, using a “Then” and “Now” theme where older pictures are used in one orientation and current pictures are used in the other orientation. Similarly, a “Before” and “After” picture could be used.  
Cut-Out Photos - Since playing cards aren’t as large as most photographs, images can be even smaller when restricted to the center of a card. As such, it’s a good idea to use photos that include larger images of your focal point whenever possible and crop down to the size desired for the cards.
Another way to help draw-out the focus of a picture and avoid distraction from irrelevant items in the background is to use photo editing tools to cut-out the focal point of the picture and remove the background.
Collages - Another way to create an eye-catching imprint while also including more images in your custom playing card project is to use collages. By cutting out images sharing a theme, the various images can be combined on one card. This can be particularly useful to capture pictures from family gatherings, sports activities and simply “people pics” where the background is less relevant to the overall picture.
Suite Shaped Images - A somewhat more advanced technique but one which can allow for multiple images to be used on each card is to use images that are cut-out in the shape of the card suite. This can also make it easier to identify the suite of the cards. Those experienced with Photoshop and other photo-editing software can do this by creating a mask over the desired portion of the photo in the same shape of the suite and then deleting the remainder of the photo. A color image of the suite can be placed behind the photo as a “shadow” or to “frame” the image in the suite’s color.
Combinations - Combining techniques can also help to control time and costs by limiting more labor intensive techniques like cut-outs with more basic techniques such as feathering. The use of combined techniques can also help both images stand out better than they otherwise might.
Cautionary Notes - Keep in mind that you want the cards to be used! Keep illustrations and photos away from the card number/suite so that it’s easy to identify what the card is when playing with them. While it’s possible to change the color and font of the number and suite, it’s suggested to keep them consistent and retain the universal black and red suite colors to avoid frustrating players.
Jokers - Don’t forget that you also get to customize the wild cards or jokers in the deck.
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