In previous articles we've taken a look at some well-known brands and well-known playing card manufacturers. But what about designers? One of the very best of the best is Alex Chin. In this article we'll get acquainted with some of the beautiful decks of playing cards that have been created by this award winning designer.
Who is Alex Chin?Alex Chin's name is well known in playing card circles. Already back in 2011 he established Seasons Playing Cards, which is his global lifestyle brand dedicated to the art of card collecting. He has received a wide range of awards for his accomplishments in playing card design, particularly in the area of innovative packaging. His Magna Carta deck alone won half a dozen different awards, including the coveted Silver A' Design Award Winner for Packaging Design in 2015. As a further testimonial to the respect he enjoys is the fact that he was the keynote speaker for the 52 Plus Joker Playing Card Convention in 2012, and was selected to design their annual deck in 2017.
Alex is also the spearhead behind the Portfolio 52 project, which is the world's largest online playing card database. He singlehandedly arranged for October 17 to be recognized as the National Playing Card Collection Day (NPCCD). And each year since 2016 he has been creating a stunning limited edition deck to commemorate this event. You can learn more about Portfolio52 and the NPCCD decks in our previous articles here and here.
What we're interested in learning about today are the other beautiful decks that Alex Chin has created under his own Seasons Playing Cards label, and to get some sense of his abilities as a designer. Alex's design skills go back to his childhood love for drawing. He majored in architecture in university, but continued to develop his skills at illustrating and design. Today he runs his own design studio, where he can use his diverse skills across different disciplines and markets. Perhaps the best description is the one Alex gives about himself: a visual communications professional who works with companies and clients, and who specializes in interactive package design.
Alex first came to discover custom playing cards as a result of his high-school interest in card magic, which eventually led him to come across decks like Ellusionist's Black Tiger. When the custom playing card industry began expanding with the help of crowdfunding, Alex was well positioned to try publishing some designs of his own. Around 2011 he created his first two decks of Seasons Playing Cards, investing a lot of time in designing the court cards in particular. All his hard work paid off, and the incredible success of these projects was more than what Alex had ever imagined. Since then he's continued to release a steady stream of luxury playing cards of the highest quality in terms of design and packaging. So let's discover some of Alex's beautiful decks for ourselves, and take a look at his work so far.
Seasons decks● Primavera & Seronda (Spring & Fall)
The Seasons Playing Cards series consists of a themed set of four decks, and is a signature series that bears the name of Alex's playing card company. Each deck was illustrated individually to represent a different season, so that the entire series represents a deck that is changing over time, while still having some internal consistency. The series was produced in pairs, the first being Primavera and Seronda (Spring and Fall), which was later followed by Verana and Inverno (Summer and Winter).
The initial two decks representing Spring and Fall focused on the themes of white and black respectively. Like the decks that would follow, the tuck boxes of the Primavera and Seronda decks are complemented with stunning foil platinum accents and stylish embossing, which produces a gorgeous and luxurious look.
In terms of thematic significance and artistic feel, the Primavera deck (Spring) has ideas that emphasize the new beginnings of Spring. The ornate design of the court cards has an immediate appeal, and would quickly become a hallmark of later Alex Chin playing card designs.
The Seronda deck (Fall) on the other hand, has a darker theme that corresponds to the darkening days of the Fall season, while remaining consistent with the flavour of the artwork from the Spring deck. Set against a black backdrop, the artwork has a frosty feel that brings to find the falling temperatures that are typical of the Fall season.
● Verana & Inverno (Summer & Winter)
Representing the two remaining seasons, these decks continue to express ideas like transformation, growth, and change. The tuck boxes again have beautiful foil accents and embossing, and the luxurious look is amplified when they are placed alongside each other. Inside the tuck boxes are some inspirational quotes, an added touch that is a fine example of Alex's commitment to perfection in his art.
The Verana deck (Summer) features white, red, and gold colours, intended to capture the exuberance of a summer in full bloom. The court cards all have a very elegant and royal look, which is a result of a distinctly fresh take on the standard artwork. Alex has tried to create bold figures that are reminiscent of the traditional cards that we are familiar with, but significantly customized with his own style, and further polished with layers of shading and highlights.
A simplified colour scheme works well to accentuate the gold and black which is used on the card backs and faces. The pips are especially noteworthy, and with flowing lines inside them adding a stylish touch of class. Some of the pips have thin gold borders for a further touch of sophistication.
The Inverno deck (Winter) abandons the summer gold of Verano, and instead features a darker colour scheme of black, blue, and silver, which is intended to capture the frozen moments of the coldest season of the year. The silver works particularly well in combination with the blue and black that dominates this deck. It's one of the more classy black decks I've seen, particularly with the strong use of silver to complement the other dark colours.
The card-backs of both decks look beautiful when used for shuffling or for card games, with intricate flowing designs that have exquisite and attractive details. Special mention must be made of the Jokers, which feature a stunning looking peacock with intricate line detail, and are absolutely gorgeous.
Magna Carta decks
The Magna Carta series of decks was created to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the famous Magna Carta. The two main decks in the series represent the two factions from this historical era: Royals and Rebels.
Both tuck boxes feature all kinds of luxury, since this is what Alex especially excels at. Striped vertical lines run up and down the front and back of the box, while the opposite corners have lavish decorations in gold foil, to finish an absolutely stunning look. There's full interior printing as well, featuring handwriting from the event.
The tuck boxes are especially clever, and do a good job of displaying Alex's skill in creating interactive packaging. They have part of each suit pip on the front and back, and can be paired perfectly together to create any suit you choose. This is sheer brilliance!
But there's more! The sides of the three different decks in this series can be combined to create a wonderful polyptych mural that celebrates the actual signing of the Magna Carta. It's not hard to see why the packaging helped the Magna Carta decks win awards for packaging design, given the multiple display options, and the use of side-displays as part of this. It really is an innovative work of art!
So far we've just drooled over the tuck box, and we haven't even shown you the cards themselves yet. Both the Rebels deck and the Royals deck have card backs with narrow and precise borders, with a white, gold, and black colour scheme.
The Rebels deck is white, and the various lines on the card backs create regions that symbolize various barons uniting against the king. The Royals deck is black, and represents the King and his empire, with the crowned lion representing the three lion crest of the Angevin Empire.
The simple colours of the card-backs allow the swirling lines and patterns to have all the emphasis, and also look beautiful when fanned or spread. Each card back incorporates a ribbon as an integral part of its design, and these can be joined to create a perfect circle, representing temporary unity and the King's seal. Once again this is extremely clever, and I'm amazed at how much thought Alex has put into all these elements of his design, to reflect different elements of the theme!
The court cards feature portraits typical in style from the time of the Magna Carta, and were inspired by illustrations Alex found of actual people from that time period. This gives the characters a look that is immediately distinguished from standard looking court cards, and results in a fresh take that is still very much within the bounds of traditional courts. Ornate borders in gold also add a lavish touch of detail and sophistication.
The courts from the Royal deck have the same colour scheme of white, gold, and black, with the occasional well-chosen addition of modest amounts of red and blue-purple, which creates a very royal look, completely in keeping with the theme. But seeing these colours on a black background creates a whole different look of luxury and style.
The four different suits suggest different family factions, and are featured on the Aces in exquisite detail, which incorporate partial reveals of the four family crests from the time. Meanwhile the Jokers feature an authentic and attractive recreation of the face and back of King John's seal.
To add to the luxury, a special gilded King John deck was made available in a limited printing of only 500 copies, and which has all kinds of extra features. Since gold is the central idea of this deck, not only is the tuck deck decorated with lavish amounts of gold foil, but the edges of the cards are gilded with gold, for a look of supreme luxury!
A matching silver gilded version of this deck was also released. These really are stunning decks, and worthy of all the accolades they have received.
Apothecary decks● Primavera Ponderings & Inverno Insights (Spring & Winter)
Similar to the original Seasons series, the Apothecary series consists of themed set of decks corresponding to all the seasons. The name Apothecary alludes to Alex's own source of creativity, and is something that represents the craft that creating playing cards requires. It is intended as a homage to that which is hand-crafted, detailed, and inspirational.
The first pair of Apothecary decks that was produced was Primavera Ponderings (Spring) and Inverno Insights (Winter). They continue the visually lush style of the original Seasons series, by capturing unique elements from Spring and Winter. They also have all the luxuries we've come to expect from Alex and Seasons Playing Cards by now: embossed tuck cases, gold and silver foil stamps, and beautiful metallic gold and silver ink.
The Inverno Insights deck (Winter) features a soft green and yellow, with silver accents. The design of the card backs matches the pattern first seen on the extravagant tuck boxes.
The court cards are absolutely exquisite, with a very nostalgic feel. The use of ornate borders also helps set this design apart from some of Alex's other creations. I'm also smitten by the stylish pips, which have points and curves that make them look elegant and classy. The Aces are given special treatment as well, with gorgeous and extensive artwork.
The Primavera Ponderings deck (Spring) uses similar artwork to its companion.
However in this case there are jet black cards instead of cards with white-borders, and they feature soft red and blue colours, with gold accents. It's remarkable how a totally unique look can be produced by changing the backdrop from white to black, and how this deck evokes a completely different atmosphere from its lighter Winter counterpart.
The Apothecary decks gave Alex opportunity to stretch boundaries and enter new territory with the White Label edition, which highlights his special skills in innovative packaging. What's especially unique about this remarkable edition is that it features a colour changing box design. The tuck box uses heat-sensitive technology to literally respond to touch! See a visual demonstration of this here and here. This fits perfectly with the theme of the Apothecary series, which is designed to create a tactile experience that goes beyond what the digital age can provide, and encourages us to explore our curiosities.
To add to the luxury, these amazing White Label decks have beautiful gilded edges, with silver for the Inverno Insights deck, and metallic gold rose for the Primavera Ponderings deck shown in the picture below.
● Seronda Sentiments & Verana Virtues (Fall & Summer)
The next two Apothecary decks in the series - Seronda Sentiments (Fall) and Verana Virtues (Summer) - continued to explore the idea of transforming intangible concepts into things that can be touched, felt, and held. In a world that is going more and more in a digital direction, Alex wants us to travel in the opposite direction, by making things more physical. By having these decks in our hands, he wants us to feel something real in our hands.
Once again these decks demonstrate Alex's love for visual and tangible luxury, with an extravagant production to please the senses of sight and touch. Even the standard versions of these decks have tuck cases with linen-textured card-stock and sculptured embossing, along with all the trimmings, including stylish silver and gold foil on the cover.
The Seronda Sentiments deck (Fall) features silver accents on an ornate design with shades of soft purple, maroon, and yellow/orange. The cards themselves are finished with metallic gold ink to enhance the sense of luxury and class.
Jet-black is used as the main colour for both the front and back, and there are exquisite court cards that are immediately indicative of Alex's style, complete with stylishly shaped pips, ornate borders, and classic artwork.
The Verana Virtues deck (Summer) on the other hand features a more earthy brown/red with orange/yellow, and with gold accents.
The artwork is similar to the companion Seronda deck, but the cards have white faces and backs instead of black.
Once again it is especially with the White Label edition of these two decks that Alex's creativity and innovation in packaging really shines, courtesy of another colour-changing box design. Using heat-sensitive technology that responds to touch, the Seronda box changes in colour from anthracite to blush, and the Virtue box from apricot orange to yellow. See a visual demonstration of this here and here.
The colour changing White Label editions are also capped with a lovely white sleeve, hand engraved in metallic ink. This sleeve is also hand signed, numbered, dated, and handwrapped by Alex himself, for an extra touch of uniqueness and style. Added luxury comes in the form of stunning gilded edges, in lavender (Seronda) and ruby (Verana).
The White Label decks best exemplify what the Apothecary series is all about, namely adding a tactile dimension in addition to the obvious visual appeal, thus providing an experience that the digital age cannot mimic.
The final deck of the Apothecary series is the Midnight Engraved Elixir deck. Rather than cover another season, it covers another time of day: night. Its design combines elements from all the four previous Apothecary decks.
The cards are printed with a jet black, giving the impression of the canvas of night, and on this backdrop the printed text and artwork has the effect of shimmering moonlight. The artwork style continues Alex's tribute to the old world seen already in the previous decks of the series.
Other decksNational Playing Card Collection Day decks
The National Playing Card Collection Day decks have already been covered in a separate article, but deserve brief mention again here, simply because it is hard to think of decks that are more superlative examples of innovative packaging and design. They are arguably the very best decks that Alex has ever created, and any collector that owns an NPCCD deck will give it an honoured place in his collection.
The first of these decks was created in 2016 to raise awareness about collecting cards, and with the dual purpose of raising funds for another of Alex's projects: Portfolio52. This is a free service that enables collectors to manage their personal card collection, and Alex has poured lots of his passion and time into it. To celebrate the launch of this incredible online tool, and to help generate financial support for it to continue, Alex came up with the idea of creating an annual deck which supporters could receive in return for backing his Portfolio52 project. Each year since then he's been producing a brand new deck of the very highest calibre for the occasion.
52 Plus Joker deck 2017 Club deck
52 Plus Joker is the prestigious American Playing Card Collectors club which has been in operation since 1985. To be selected to produce their annual deck is a great honour, and Alex was chosen to produce the 52 Plus Joker 2017 Club deck, which was released at their annual convention held that year in Erlanger, Kentucky.
The tuck box makes an immediate impression with luxurious and intricate gold foiling on the front. But even more intriguing are the other three sides of this deck, which feature Mulberry tree bark, with an intentional pulpwood look. The theme of this deck is the paper making process, and the look was carefully chosen in view of the need to strip bark from trees in order to produce the paper that is the main ingredient of a deck of playing cards.
The face cards are completely customized, but have the signature Seasons Playing Cards look that immediately suggests Alex Chin as the designer. The Ace of Spades has a mulberry leaf, while the court cards have a rich green that continues to tell the story of how we get our playing cards from a paper-making process that begins with trees. Meanwhile the luxurious gold lattice-work design on the front of the tuck box is reprised on the stylish card backs, which were printed with an impressive looking two-colour foil.
ImpressionsSo what can you expect from a deck of playing cards created by Alex Chin?
Award-winning: There is good reason that Alex Chin won design awards for his creative packaging, and he knows how to make decks incredibly stylish right from the outset. His decks have all the luxury you can expect: not just the embossing and gold/silver foil accents that we often come to expect of high end decks nowadays, but also a very elegant style, often with innovative wrap-around artwork that is incredibly beautiful. It's obvious from the moment that you look at the packaging of any of his decks that Alex is a pro at what he does.
Innovative: Alex likes pushing boundaries and doing things differently. Not only has he really done something special with his wrap-around packaging concept, but he's shown innovation in other ways as well - a colour changing deck, for example, which adds a whole new element to a tactile experience. He likes to create and experiment, and that immediately makes his decks very unusual and unique.
Artistic: The artistic designs of these decks are terrific. That begins with the tuck cases, of course, but it is also evident on the card backs and the court cards, which are very stylish and stunning to look at. Everything feels beautifully balanced, and the colour schemes work well to enhance these delightful visual aesthetics.
Elegant: Everything about Alex Chin's decks screams elegance and class: the packaging, the artwork, the colours, and the design. Alex really has what it takes to produce an absolutely classy product in every way. Even his Seasons Playing Cards website is an outstanding example of elegant design!
Luxurious: I own quite a number of decks of playing cards, but Alex Chin's decks are easily among the most luxurious in my collection. Everything contributes to an experience of complete class and luxury, with refined and beautiful artwork, gold foil accents, and high quality tuck cases.
Final ThoughtsIt's not hard to tell that I'm very impressed with the high calibre of Alex Chin's work, especially his creativity and ability to explore new territory in the world of custom playing cards. There are many custom playing cards on the market today that are artistic and beautiful, but Alex's decks stand out by virtue of their innovation in areas like interactive packaging.
Alex also employs his superb skills in graphic design to good effect, with precise and perfect attention to the details that matter. It's this expertise that enables him to take things to the next level when adding the small touches of luxury that make all the difference, such as exquisite gold embossing and gilding. It's hard to imagine his playing cards being any better!
The playing card industry needs significant contributors like Alex Chin, and he needs every encouragement to continue the fine contributions he has already made. Here's hoping that the future will continue to bring more good things from Seasons Playing Cards!
Where to get them? A selection of Alex Chin's decks is available on PlayingCardDecks:
● Apothecary series: Inverno Insights & Primavera Ponderings, Seronda Sentiments & Verana Virtues
● National Playing Card Collection Day: 2018 NPCCD decks, 2019 NPCCD decks
Want to learn more? Check out these links:
● Alex Chin interviews by PlayingCardDecks: Portfolio52, and The National Playing Card Collection Day decks
● Alex Chin's official websites: Seasons Playing Cards, National Card Collection Day, and Portfolio52
● Seasons Playing Cards on social media: Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
About the writer: EndersGame is a well-known and respected reviewer of board games and playing cards. He loves card games, card magic, cardistry, and card collecting, and has reviewed several hundred boardgames and hundreds of different decks of playing cards. You can see a complete list of his game reviews here, and his playing card reviews here. He is considered an authority on playing cards and has written extensively about their design, history, and function, and has many contacts within the playing card and board game industries. You can view his previous articles about playing cards here. In his spare time he also volunteers with local youth to teach them the art of cardistry and card magic.