With several decades of experience between us in running our own businesses, we still knew that while working in uncharted territory we’d likely learn many new things. While we’d both dealt with printers and manufacturers before, neither of us had ever tried to create card games. We were prepared to learn, and likely, to be surprised.

We’ve got a few articles almost ready to go with in depth looks at various aspects of what we’ve experience so far in trying to get a custom card game created. Since some of those topics are still in flux, even once we get them up, they will likely be revised over the following months as needed. Still, we thought it might be a good idea to just drop a short list of some of the more interesting tidbits we’ve learned in the past six months so that folks who might have similar ideas can be prepared.

  • There is a difference between promotional card decks and custom card decks, and not all companies clearly tell you which they produce. Almost all of these companies do promotional decks, which consist of the standard 56 card set (52 playing cards, 2 jokers and 2 ad cards). Some only brand the backs while others allow custom faces. Only a few of these companies will create completely custom cards for you.
  • Cards are printed 56 to a sheet (which explains the 52+2+2 just mentioned). So, you’re generally paying for cards by the sheet. The cost of a 57 card deck and a 112 card deck is often the same. Mostly. OK, not really. See the next bullet point.
  • A number of card manufacturers are not set up for custom-count decks and have to charge you more if you can’t use all the cards on a sheet. Its easy to print, cut and cello wrap a single sheet. If you use only a part of a sheet, since the blank portion is cut as well, you can end up with a bunch of dummy cards, which someone then has to remove by hand, incurring labor charges. These charges apparently go way down if you have the cards printed in China.
  • You can often order uncut sheets as framable poster art if you want to hang them on your office walls or give them as gifts to contributors (but again, if your deck is larger than 56 cards, be prepared to order more than one sheet or only deliver part of a deck).
  • Only one manufacturer that we could find, Cartamundi, makes custom plastic cards in the U.S., Well, except for Kem’s wicked expensive but very high quality Cellulose Acetate cards which can run you $30 for two standard decks (or, one deck of our cards), and limited to colors they have in-house. Also maybe, possibly, Gemaco, who MIGHT do a custom run for you, but they don’t do it on the promotional side, and getting hold of them is tough and the price quote for our 87 card custom deck was $18 per set and also very limited in color choices. Everyone else manufacturers them abroad. Mostly in China.
  • While the minimum run for plastic playing cards from China seems to start at 500 decks, the minimum for printing in the U.S. seems to be 5000.
  • Most card manufacturers take packaging as a necessary evil and are happy to sell you simple, cardboard tuck boxes that they can print your artwork onto. Custom packaging options are limited, and if you have something specific in mind, you’re pretty much on your own to find it. Fortunately, cards automatically come cello wrapped, and they will ship them to you without a tuck box, ready to drop into whatever custom package you can provide.
  • It turns out that one of the reasons the packaging options are so limited is because of the influence of big box stores and how they want to present products on their shelves and walls. If you’re hoping to get into Walmart, Target and the like, you might have to consider going with the flow on packaging.
  • Playing cards, both paper and plastic, come in a variety of weights, sizes and textures. A few of the companies sent individual cards as samples, which was only somewhat helpful. Others sent entire sample decks which were a huge help. It’s one thing to read the description, another to be able to hold a card, and entirely another to sit down at the table with folks, feeling the card quality, size and texture as you shuffle, deal and play.
  • The two most popular sizes (generally referred to as ‘playing card sizes’) are Poker and Bridge. They are both 3 1/2 inches tall. Poker cards are 2 1/2 inches wide, while Bridge cards are 2 1/4 inches wide.
  • Many, if not most, of the larger Poker championship competitions play with bridge sized cards these day.
  • Full color bleeds on cards might be problematic. Some manufacturers simply won’t print bleeds on their plastic cards. On paper cards, as the decks are shuffled, the ink starts to crack and pit, making brand new cards look aged almost immediately.