A Guide to Publishing Your Own Custom Deck
by BoardGameGeek reviewer EndersGame
We live in a wonderful era of playing card luxury, because the market is flooded with a host of wonderful new designs on a regular basis. With the help of crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter, we can become patrons of the arts, and play a small role in collaborating with designers by supporting them in making their projects become a reality. We are spoilt for choice as far as the available decks are concerned, and for playing card hobbyists the current marketplace is a buyer's dream come true.
But what about if you are a creator yourself, and want to make your own deck? For the modern playing card enthusiast, our current technological climate means that the resources to make your own deck of playing cards are well within reach. Publishing your own custom deck is not nearly as difficult as it sounds, and is much easier than you might think. There was a time where the only channels for producing a custom deck were via the few playing card manufacturers that existed around the world. To get a design successfully into print, you needed to be one of the select few artists that these manufacturers collaborated with. Prior to the age of technology and the Kickstarter revolution, the number of different designs was not nearly the amount we see today.
But today it's a brand new world, and the hobbyist playing card designer now has the ability to turn his personal design into something fantastic, and making it a printed product is far from impossible. Courtesy of technology and of the internet, you don't need to be a highly trained graphic designer to create something truly beautiful, because if you have the right software and artistic skills, you can design something impressive on your home computer. The barrier of entry has dropped significantly, young designers don't have to spend enormous sums of money to be working with powerful graphics programs, and creating innovative designs. There's always a chance that your design could even become the next big thing!
But even if our aim is more realistic and far more modest, at the very least we can find a way to bring our design from our computer screen and turn it into an actually published brick of custom decks. With the help of today's technology, it's really not that difficult to find printers that will produce your playing cards for you. And if you really want, you can even try to harness the power of crowdfunding to get the financial backing needed for a larger print-run, as well as get your deck into the hands of other playing card enthusiasts.
But how do you go about creating your own deck of playing cards, what are some key elements of this process, and what are some of the things you need to know? In this article, we'll help you by giving you an overview of everything involved, and share some of the key things to consider. There are five main steps to be thinking about, which we'll go through one at a time:
1. Concept: Your IdeaBefore you think about the ways that you are going to achieve your dream of printing your own deck, you want to think carefully about what your personal goal is and have a clear idea of what exactly you are aiming for. There's going to be a lot of decisions that you have to make as part of the process of producing your own deck, so it makes sense at the outset to consider carefully the different factors and choices you have.
What will the theme and central idea of your deck be? It's worth doing some research to see what is already out there. Has the concept, or subject matter of your deck been done before? Has the name you have in mind for your deck already been used by an existing project? There's nothing worse than pouring an enormous amount of time or energy into a project, only to discover that someone else has beat you to the punch, or that a very similar product or design already exists. Is your theme just of personal interest, or is it something that you're going to have to bring to the masses? If so, you want to try to find out if it's something that will interest enough people to make your creative efforts worthwhile.
You also have to be careful with projects based on popular music, films, or books. These are typically protected very carefully by laws governing trademarks and copyright, and you'll only be able to use their names or artwork if you get a license to do so. These licensing requirements are typically going to be frightfully expensive and will put such projects well out of reach for the average person.
Further along the road there will be questions you'll need to answer about the kind of card stock to use, and what company to use for printing your deck. You'll also have to answer questions about the artwork, such as: Are you going to have standard faces, expect perhaps for the Jokers and Ace of Spades, or is your deck going to be fully customized? If it is customized, will this primarily be about the court cards, or will you have totally custom pips and indices as well?
How you answer these kinds of questions will usually depend on what you plan to use your deck for:
● For card games and magic: Is your deck primarily going to be used for playing card games or for performing card magic? For example, maybe you're a magician and want a custom deck that says something about your brand or image. If so, then you probably want to make sure it remains that everything about it remains clear and functional, and you don't want to deviate too much from the standard formula, or from traditional courts. Otherwise your deck might unnecessarily draw attention to itself, or even suspicion. At the very least, you don't want spectators or fellow gamers distracted too much by novelty, or have cards that are extremely flashy but where the values and suits are very difficult to distinguish with ease, and that the deck isn't even usable.
● For collectors: On the other hand, if your deck is geared to be primarily for collectors, then none of this matters too much. Then it is quite fine to have more extensive customization, even if you compromise somewhat on the clarity, because your playing cards aren't intended to be used in performances or games, but rather enjoyed and appreciated as a work of art. You might also want to invest more time and energy, and even cost, into a more glamorous tuck box with embossing and foil, or even a limited edition with a custom numbered seal.
● For cardistry: Something similar regarding the clarity of the indices and pips is true of a deck geared towards card flourishing. A cardistry deck has a very different function than a regular deck, so having clear indices and pips isn't your biggest priority. Instead you want cards that look aesthetically pleasing, especially when the cards are moving or displayed. But even then you have to consider whether you want a design that looks optimal in fans and spreads, or whether you are more concerned with how cards look in motion, in spins and twirls. A different focus and emphasis will lead to a different design. This is one reason why some cardistry decks feature geometric designs, while others feature lavish colours. Even a simple choice like whether or not to have a two-way or one-way design on the card backs can have a big impact on how a deck will look when it's being used for flourishing, and you don't want to make the mistake of only thinking about this for the first time only after your deck is in print.
Another important factor will be how many decks you want to print. If you are planning on producing a relatively high volume, of at least 1000 decks or more, that will give you access to the bigger card manufacturing companies like USPCC, LPCC, and Cartamundi, that typically require a minimum order size in that range.
2. Artwork: Your DesignWhat is your deck going to look like? What will the cards themselves look like, and what about the tuck box? This isn't something you want to rush, because it is going to be the key thing that makes or breaks your deck. A poor design won't look good when it's published, nor will it attract buyers.
The purpose of your deck will steer your direction here. So will your personal taste, which will determine what aesthetics you prefer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even so, there are principles of design that are almost universally applicable. So you should keep in mind and consider some objective criteria, like the material and concepts covered in another of our articles about "What to Look For in a Quality Deck of Cards" [link].
For example, cards with black borders and faces will show signs of wear much more quickly, as the cards wear and the white paper shows underneath. This is a practical reason why most playing cards have white borders. Similarly borderless card backs with a full bleed artwork may look nice on a computer screen during the design process, but they can be impractical for card magic, because the white borders can help disguise reversed cards and certain sleight of hand moves. This is an example where the direction of your artwork will be shaped by the purpose you have in mind.
There are also aesthetic considerations such as aiming for a straight forward overall design on your card back, because something overly busy with too much detail typically won't work well. Experience can play a role here too, because someone who spent a lot of time with playing cards, may be able to give good advice about what works and what doesn't. Colour distinctions between the traditionally red and black pips, and even the arrangement of the pips of the number cards - all of these things involve standards of beauty and excellence, and have implications for functionality and aesthetics.
Once you've got an idea of what you want, you have to decide whether you'll do the artwork yourself, or get an expert in the field to do it for you.
● Self-designing: If you are going to do the artwork and design work yourself, you'll want to start with some standard artwork for the cards, then changing these as you go along. Often the printer you are working with will be able to supply you with a starting point. You will also need to check the kinds of files that your printer accepts, and the requirements they have in terms of bleed areas, dimensions, and more. Some fantastic software is available for doing digital artwork, but if you are interested in doing this, expect to spend a lot of time with your computer, exercising your creativity and getting the details right. On the other hand if all you're designing is a custom card back, then this process might turn out to be quite easy, because you can use standard card faces, and all you have to come up with is a custom design for the back of your deck.
● Freelance artist: You might find a freelance artist online whose work you like, and perhaps even a very specific design that you want to use for your card backs or another aspect of the playing card artwork. Obviously if you get someone else to do the work, you're going to have to find someone that you can work well with, that communicates clearly and promptly, and where you can afford the extra cost. If it's a graphic artist who is coming up with the artwork and designs for you, you will have to pay for this, and that might cost more than you might think. This will also have an impact on ownership of the final designs, because as a creator and collaborator, they own what is fundamentally their work, which they'll be selling to you. Expect a lot of back and forth communication, depending on how much input you want to have as the artwork and design takes shape, unless you prefer to just give your overall concept and let your graphic artist run with it however they please.
● Design agency: Even if you do decide to do most of the designs yourself, if you are inexperienced in this area, you might want to pay a graphic design agency to do the final cleaning up for you. In this case you retain all the rights to the artwork, and they are just polishing your overall design.
● Publisher: You might want to collaborate with someone who has a proven record in publishing custom decks, and is interested in working with you on your project. It is simply a publisher who is working with you, then you'll just be tapping into their expertise in the field, and they'll leave all the actual work of creating the artwork to you, and help walk you through the steps you need to take along the way.
Before getting too heavily invested in a particular graphic design, you are going to have to know which company you'll be printing the decks with. Different playing card manufacturers will have different requirements for the files that you have to submit. Typically they will provide detailed information to you about the kind of files that they accept, including full details about the bleed area, and colour choices.
In this early stage of your project, it's usually a good idea to print a few prototype decks, so that you can check to see how your artwork and designs looks. You may need to use a different company for printing the prototypes, since the larger manufacturers typically won't let you produce only a dozen trial decks. But it is an important step in the process, especially if you are planning a big print run, because that way you can catch any mistakes that might have escaped your notice. It also gives you some decks you can send to reviewers, who will help you spread the word as part of your promotion. You can also use these for making a video trailer and promoptional photos of your deck. You'll need all this for the marketing campaign that is essential as part of a crowdfunding project.
Whatever route you decide to go, this isn't a part of the process that you want to rush. Take your time to get things right, so that you can be happy with the result.
3. Production: Your PrinterOf the different playing card manufacturers out there, who are you going to use to physically print your cards? As mentioned earlier, this is something you'll have to consider before you even start your graphic design work, because it will have an impact on the types of image files you create, and details like the dimensions and colours.
There are a number of large playing card manufacturers, most of which are quite well known, and but there are also some smaller players worth considering. Which you choose is not just a matter of price, but it also depends on your needs, such as the volume of decks you are producing, and the kind of quality and service you are after. Here are the main contenders:
● United States Playing Card Company (USPCC) - This is the industry giant and heavy-weight, which produces the most playing cards in the United States today. It was established in 1894, and was recently acquired by European company Cartamundi. This isn't something you need to worry about too much, however, because USPCC is an established brand, and not likely to stop any of their product line any time soon; if anything they will only get better. The merger with Cartamundi does potentially reduce some of the competition in the industry, since these two companies are arguably the two biggest players out there. But on the other hand, if it means that USPCC can build on its established products and improve them with the benefit of technology and input from Cartamundi, then everyone stands to benefit. One negative to be aware of is that USPCC decks are notorious for having inaccurate registration, which means that occasionally a deck will be printed with inconsistent borders, looking particularly ugly if the design has narrow borders. USPCC also does not do small size orders, so they will only really be an option for you if you are planning on producing at least 1000 decks or more. But they one of the biggest and best, which is why so many projects choose to print with them.
● Cartamundi - Based in Europe, this is another giant manufacturer of playing cards. However it is only in recent years that they have started to become a big player in the custom playing card market. Previously no playing card projects used them for production, but that has changed over the last year or more. Their style of playing cards looks and feels quite different from a standard Bicycle deck from USPCC, and will also handle differently. Overall their playing cards have been very well received and are of excellent quality, but they aren't for everyone given the different feel. In recent times big brands like Ellusionist have been printing more and more of their custom designs with Cartamundi instead of USPCC, and when a large company like Ellusionist is confident enough to do this, it means you can have confidence in Cartamundi as well. Like USPCC, you will need a decent size order, which for Cartamundi is a minimum of 200 decks.
● Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC) - LPCC prints the bulk of their playing cards in a factory in Taiwan, and has been a popular choice for many crowdfunding projects due to the high quality of their playing cards. The card stock is extremely durable, even more so than USPCC playing cards, but it tends to feel stiffer and snappier, resulting in a different feel, which is especially ideal for cuts and cardistry. Fans and spreads can start to clump a little over time, but overall LPCC decks are of a standard that almost matches USPCC decks, and exceeds it in some areas, such as the smooth cut on the sides of the deck. And unlike USPCC printed decks, their printing registration is consistently spot on, so a design with narrow borders is never a problem. In a new development, they are also starting to work with another factory in China, where the quality apparently matches that of the Taiwan factory.
● Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC) - EPCC also prints the majority of their decks in Taiwan, where they share a factory with LPCC. These two playing card manufacturers are typically lumped together, and although they use different terminology to describe their available finishes and card stock options, their final playing card product is practically identical in most cases. EPCC is managed by Bill Kalush in the USA, while LPCC is run by Lawrence Sullivan in Hong Kong (a magician who is a perfectionist at his job, and who is committed to the highest quality possible). Much like USPCC, LPCC and EPCC both require a minimum order size of around 1,000 decks and up.
● Hanson Chien Production Company (HCPC) - While not as big a name as the previously mentioned manufacturers, there has been an increasing number of decks produced with this playing card company. They do offer a decent range of different types of card stocks and other options for printing. The look and feel of their cards is extremely similar to playing cards produced by LPCC/EPCC, and I wouldn't be surprised if they employ similar processes, and the same factory in Taiwan for some of their decks. Their playing cards typically have a long-lasting, firm, and snappy stock with an embossed air cushion finish. Some of their decks feel identical to the Diamond/Master finish from LPCC/EPCC, while others seem the same as the Classic finish from LPCC/EPCC. With their Taiwanese base, their decks do closely match the quality and handling of those from EPCC/LPCC, including a smooth and clean cut that faros nicely, although they haven't produced nearly as many projects as them.
● Taiwan Playing Card Company (TWPCC) - This is another smaller manufacturer based in Taiwan, and is closely linked to their distributor Bomb Magic, which produces magic supplies for the Asian market. Their playing cards are quite similar to the previously mentioned Taiwanese playing card manufacturers, and they also use the same factory and create a similar product. English isn't their first language, however, and in my own experience in corresponding with them, communication can prove to be a challenge.
● Shenzhen Wangjing Printing Co (WJPC) - Based in mainland China, WJPC has a large operation. Creators that have used them in recent years include Elephant Playing Cards and Guru Playing Cards. I'm told by those who have used WJPC personally that they have a comprehensive range of options and competitive prices, are easy to deal with, and good in communicating quickly and respectfully. The quality of their decks won't quite match what you'll get from manufacturers like USPCC, Cartamundi, or Taiwanese-based producers, and decks won't fan or spread as smoothly. But they do have an air cushion finish, are very well priced, and the average person will likely be happy with the outcome.
● MakePlayingCards - Called MPC for short, this company is one of the smaller players in the industry. They do have their own line of playing cards as well, and especially their Impressions series does a good job of showing the kind of potential with UV spot printing, which is a secondary printing process that adds gloss and a tactile element to the surface of the cards in selected areas. MPC is especially a popular choice for smaller print runs, and they have also been used by a lot of creators needing to print prototypes. They're based in Asia, and have a proven track record of success. They do have options for embossed playing cards that are definitely superior to cheaper options elsewhere. Even so the handling of their best playing cards won't quite match that of playing cards produced by bigger players like USPCC, Cartamundi, and LPCC/EPCC. MPC playing cards will tend to clump more quickly, and not fan and spread as smoothly in the long run; nor will they faro easily and readily.
● Shuffled Ink - This company offers a similar service to MakePlayingCards, but is based in Florida. Although they occasionally produce some of their products in China, the majority of their playing cards are printed and produced in the United States, and for some creators this will be an important consideration. From personal experience, the quality is quite similar to that of decks by MakePlayingCards, so these decks won't faro easily, and are the best choice if you want something with top-of-the-line handling qualities. When you are making a custom deck, you will want to produce some prototypes to see how your design will look on a printed deck, and since that isn't offered by larger companies such as USPCC, manufacturers like MPC and Shuffled Ink are perfect for the purpose.
● Noir Arts (NPCC) - Also known as the Noir Playing Card Company (NPCC), Noir Arts not only prints playing cards but also offers a fulfilment service for shipping them to your buyers and backers. They are based in the Ukraine, so communication may not always be as smooth as it is with some of the other playing card manufacturers, although they certainly do have English speaking staff. They print a high volume of very cheap decks for local tourism in Europe, but they also have been contributing to the market with custom playing decks, and doing production and fulfilment for some crowdfunding campaigns. Their strength lies in producing outstanding tuck boxes that look fantastic, many of which have full interior printing, embossing, and luxurious foil, with an overall look of quality that exceeds your typical deck from other publishers. While they do offer embossed card stock, their playing cards tend to clump quickly, and do not shuffle very smoothly or consistently, making them poor for faros, fans, and spreads. So the quality and handling of the cards themselves is noticeably less than what you will typically get with a deck printed by USPCC, Cartamundi, or EPCC/LPCC. This makes them less than optimal for cardistry or for magic or card games, and better for decks intended specifically for collectors.
The above list can seem a little overwhelming, so let's narrow down your options a litte. For the best quality possible and with a large print run of at least 1000 decks, consider USPCC, Cartamundi, or LPCC/EPCC. If you're just printing a smaller number of decks, such as prototypes or a small print run for family or friends, try MPC or Shuffled Ink; only serious cardists and dedicated collectors will notice that their cards won't fan quite as smoothly, and the average person will still be impressed with the quality and air cushion style finish. You might consider some of the other manufacturers if you want lower prices, but this comes with an increased risk of a reduction in quality.
What about your tuck boxes? Most playing card manufacturers will take care of this for you, and print these along with your deck, for an added cost. But you don't necessarily need to have the same company produce your playing cards as your tuck box, because there are companies that specialize in producing high end tuck boxes, or perhaps can offer a better rate than big players like USPCC. The one that I've seen mentioned the most and highly praised is Clove St Press, which is based in San Diego, California.
Just be aware that this will add an extra step into the production process, so it means that it is an additional thing that can go wrong, and thus can slow down the overall fulfilment timeline. But if you do want something more exotic or luxurious for your tuck box, this is definitely an option you should consider. In practice it means that you get a company like USPCC to print your deck in a plain white box, and they send the printed cards to the company that is doing the tuck boxes. Working with two different teams gives added potential for issues, but it can also result in a nicer deck overall, depending on what is important to you.
4. Funding: Your FinancesHow are you going to finance your deck? Are you going to get help from a crowdfunding platform, or just bankroll everything yourself? A word of caution here: Don't expect to make money from your first deck of playing cards, even if you use crowdfunding! Even if you're using Kickstarter to get financial backing for your project, printing your deck may still end up costing you money. So it's important to carefully do the math, and be aware of everything involved.
If you have deep pockets, you might want to consider just going ahead and funding the project yourself upfront. But this will typically involve significant costs up front, and there's no guarantee that your decks will sell. Do you really want to be stuck with boxes and boxes of playing cards in your basement that nobody wants? Another disadvantage of bankrolling your own decks is that you'll need to market them afterwards. Crowdfunding projects aren't just about raising money, but they are also function as a pre-order system and advertising campaign rolled into one, so typically your decks already have buyers at the time they are printed.
On the other hand, crowdfunding can involve a lot of headaches and extra work, and it might be important for you to avoid all of that. But going the self-funding route does have a bigger risk, and you need to be prepared for the eventuality of things not turning out how you'd hoped. Established designers and creators who are certain to sell their product will sometimes self-fund their project, but only because they already have a guaranteed market. Even then many will still prefer using Kickstarter, simply because it gives them a good idea of what the demand is, and it takes care of their advertising and promotion at the same time.
If you're fortunate, you might be able to find a publisher that is willing to buy your design outright, and fund your deck for you. In this case you're basically selling them your design, so this might be the best option for someone whose strength is as a graphic designer or artist, and doesn't want to deal with the marketing, production, and fulfilment at all. Examples of companies that have published decks created by other designers included Ellusionist and Murphy's Magic. Ellusionist tends to have in-house designers, and most of their decks fit within their own vision for their brand, and are shaped by this. In constrast, a publisher like Murphy's Magic is much more flexible, and has published many more custom decks under their label.
Murphy's Magic has their own design team and production team that specializes in playing cards, so some of their playing cards are produced from start to finish completely in house. But you can also submit playing card designs, which they will then adjust to their standards, and then take care of printing, distributing, and even some marketing. To be successful in getting your deck accepted for publishing by them, however, you will need to have a very good design. They get a lot of submissions, and are only going to be prepared to make an investment in your design if they can be very confident that they will actually get a financial return on what they put into printing and publishing it. After receiving your proposed design, they have a thorough testing process to see if it fits what they are looking for, and then their development team takes it over. But the plus side is that you don't need to try to scrape together the money yourself. Creators who have succeeded with this model have reported that even this method won't leave them with much money left over, especially if you're paying a graphic designer or artist to come up with your designs in the first place.
Although there are other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, Kickstarter has easily emerged as the leading platform of choice for creators of custom playing cards. The advantages of using a crowdfunding platform like Kickstarter are obvious: you get money in the bank before you have to start paying the costs of production. And there is always that slim chance that your custom deck will go viral, prove incredibly popular, and hit the big time. It's happened before!
But the crowdfunding route is also fraught with challenges. In today's crowded marketplace, it's not just a simple as putting your deck out there for funding on Kickstarter, and kicking up your heels while you wait for the money to roll in, as backers arrive and pledging money in support of your deck. If anything, it is harder to have a successful project today than ever before. The playing card industry is somewhat saturated, and with new decks coming out all the time, it is very difficult to stand out from everybody else.
If you are going to get your project successfully funded with crowdfunding, you have to have a realistic target figure, and to get the funds needed for that, you're going to have to do a lot of marketing. I've seen many excellent designs fail to meet their target, simply because the creator didn't put enough effort into their marketing. This requires a lot of work, and means you need a lot of connections. You'll need to connect with influencers and reviewers, to help you get the word out. You'll need to be active on various social network platforms and discussion forums. Much of this work will have to be done in advance, so that you're ready to go with your marketing campaign as soon as the project launches, and often you'll even want to be busy doing promotion in advance. Once the project goes live, you'll need to engage with your supporters, and perhaps announce different goals or bonus items and add-on products like coins, magnets, or stickers, along the way to keep up the momentum. This is hard work, and not everyone is cut out to do it.
There are exceptions, and the main one is if you already have an established brand or following. Popular creators and established designers like Jackson Robinson, Jody Eklund, and Giovanni Meroni nearly always get their projects funded very quickly. But these are in-demand designers who have worked hard to build up a successful brand and a legion of fans. If you're Mr Nobody arriving out of nowhere with your first deck, you won't nearly get the same response.
Sometimes a creator will get cross-over supporters from other arenas in which they have had success. For example, Gentleman Wake is a highly respected video reviewer with a large following on youtube, and his Parlour Playing Cards was a big success due to the supporters he could bring in from his youtube channel. Similarly magician Chris Ramsay could produce his 1st Playing Cards largely on the back of his successful youtube channel.
But for the average creator, don't expect crowdfunding to be a magical money machine. It's hard work, and all the hidden and extra costs along the way will often mean that you'll be happy just to cross your target goal, without even thinking about making a cent of profit at the other end. Kickstarter itself will take a generous chunk of what you make, and there are a lot of other expenses you might not be counting on. There are some successful Kickstarter stories, but in today's competitive and crowded market, in most cases you should just be happy to break even, and at the end of the day you may even end up making a loss. Despite all the glamour and the big numbers you sometimes see on Kickstarter projects, for most of us crowdfunding is largely a way to help advertise our deck and help get connected with a buying public, not a way of actually making a pile of money. So this isn't a road you should be embarking on if you plan on trying to generate a reliable stream of income.
That doesn't mean crowdfunding is a waste of time. If your project fails, it's incredibly disappointing and frustrating. But surely that is a better outcome than investing more than $10,000 into printing a deck of cards that never sells, and be stuck with boxes and boxes of playing cards in your garage for the next few years. Crowdfunding also has the advantage of helping spread the word about your product, so it is a form of advertising at the same time, by making people aware of what you are doing. It even gives you the opportunity to make tweaks to your design to help improve it, based on input you might get from your backers.
If you do use Kickstarter, be smart about it, and plan the timing of your launch well. Smart creators will do a build up to this point, perhaps by creating an email list for people interested in the deck, so that it can start with a bang. And you don't want your launch to coincide with a time in the market where you're less likely to have success, such as the holidays, or when several other big projects are already making so much noise that yours will go unnoticed. You'll find some other great tips in this article: How To Use Kickstarter As Your Secret Weapon.
So there are plenty of good reasons to go use Kickstarter to finance your deck. If you are going to go the crowdfunding route, just make sure you do your homework and research, know what you are doing, and are well prepared for everything this involves. Do all your homework in advance, including most of your decisions about production and fulfilment. You can expect a lot of questions about the quality of your playing cards, and shipping costs, so you want to make sure you have all these details handy at the time your project launches. You want your pricing is accurate, and that you are ready to answer whatever comments and queries come your way. If all this sounds like it's a bit too much for you, you might just want to finder a publisher or experienced creator team who knows what they are doing, and can partner with you to help with this.
5. Fulfillment: Your ShippingOnce your decks are printed and produced, how are they going to get to your buyers? Are you going to do all this yourself, or are you going to get a company that specializes in this to do it for you?
A big advantage of organizing the shipping of your playing cards yourself, is that you can make sure that your buyers get the very best in service. But that is only if you're prepared to put in the effort required, and that may prove more than you think. It will be another enormous commitment of time and resources, and you will need to know what you are doing, or at least quickly learn how to do it.
How much is your time worth to you? Perhaps you're willing and keen to learn what the logistics involves, and will do a terrific job with this. Just be prepared for some real headaches along the way. You will almost certainly have to be involved in untangling cases where a deck doesn't arrive despite you shipping it, goes to an outdated address, or arrives damaged, and problems of that nature.
Going with a company that takes care of fulfilment for you avoids all these headaches, of course. But you'll want to make sure that it is a company that is reliable, with a proven track record of success, and a good reputation. If they don't do their job properly, you can't just hang them out to dry, because your buyers and backers will be blaming you as the front man, not the company you're getting to do this job for you. So this is something you want to think through carefully, and not jump on board a company rashly just because they seem to promise much at a cheap rate.
There are companies that will partner with you for the entire process, or even just for part of it, such as the production and fulfilment, and here are a few examples you could look into using.
● Gambler's Warehouse: One of the most popular companies used for fulfilment is Gambler's Warehouse, and they seem to be the leading choice for Kickstarter project creators. They are very experienced in providing fulfilment for crowdfunded projects, and have been the company of choice for many creators over the last couple of years.
● Noir Arts (NPCC): We've already discussed this company in the section dealing with production. Not only will they print your cards for you, but they will also take care of the fulfilment if you wish. While they do offer fulfilment for crowdfunded projects, since they are a company that also manufactures playing cards, I'm quite certain their fulfillment service only applies to decks they have printed themselves. As mentioned previously, the quality of their decks makes them more suited to collectors, so if you're wanting a deck that handles smoothly and consistently, then this probably won't be a good option for you, even if they do offer an attractive price that includes fulfilment.
● Art of Play: This is the brand of Dan and Dave Buck, and this is the label under which they produce their own playing cards and run a successful online store. But they also have an arm that specializes in fulfilment services for crowdfunding projects, even if they weren't involved in the production itself. But they will then handle all the logistics and the hard work of getting your decks into the hands of your buyers and backers.
● Murphy's Magic: Another option is to use a company like Murphy's Magic, which we also covered in the section dealing with funding. First you need to submit a successful design to them, and you'll have to convince them that it's good enough for them to buy and to publish. But if you are fortunate enough to come up with something that they like, their development team will then take over your design, and they'll take care of printing and distributing it, getting it into the hands of retailers and suppliers. Murphy's Magic doesn't sell directly to the general public, so in this case they'll usually sell decks to playing card retailers who will then market it. Of course you might decide to buy from them a large stash of decks at a wholesale price in order to sell them yourself. But at least with this method they'll take care of getting the majority of your decks produced into the hands of retailers, and from there they become available to the general public, meaning that you don't have to worry about shipping and fulfilment at all.
As you can see, there's a lot to think about, and you want to research your options carefully before embarking on a road towards printing your own custom deck. But don't let the diversity of options scare you either, because it's not hard to get overwhelmed, thinking that the process is much more complicated than what it actually is.
It doesn't have to be as difficult as it seems, and here is why. While there is a wide number of options, in most cases the choices will become obvious after taking into consideration what you have in mind with your custom deck in the first place. For example, if you just want to produce a small number of decks for family and friends, based on a design you've whipped up together on your PC, then that immediately rules out the industry giants like USPCC, Cartamundi, and EPCC/LPCC, all of which have a minimum order size of at least 1,000 decks. Then you're instantly left with choosing between a company like Make Playing Cards or Shuffled Ink, and you won't have to worry about organizing shipping and fulfilment either. If you want a deck that shuffles cleanly and consistently, and is optimal for card flourishing, then the quality of those options won't cut it, and you'll have to be thinking about aiming for a bigger print run with one of the bigger printers. If you're more ambitious and are serious about bringing a large scale project to the playing card market, then you'll have to think things through a little more carefully, and going with an established playing card manufacturer like USPCC, Cartamundi, or EPCC/LPCC will make good sense. Either way, your options will narrow as you plug in the considerations important for you.
Ekat On Creating Her Custom Deck
Once you've got some direction, one of the biggest questions you'll have to decide on is whether you can manage everything yourself, or whether you need help from someone with experience in the field. Perhaps you're brave enough to navigate the crowdfunding scene on your own, and are prepared to do all the hard work this involves. But for many people, it might be a better idea to partner with other experienced individuals along the way, either by collaborating with a publisher who can do some of the work for you, or by leaving parts of the work to experienced and proven experts, such as a graphic artist, or a company experienced in shipping and fulfilment. One option is to use the services and expertise of a professional consultant, like Max Playing Cards or Don Boyer.
Whatever you decide, this article should make you appreciate all the more the effort it took to bring you the playing cards that are displayed on your shelf or desk right now. And perhaps it might just give you the tools you need to contribute a creation of your own, and bring it to my desk or to the shelves of other playing card enthusiasts around the world!
Here at PlayingCardDecks, we've worked hard to provide you with great resources that give you all the latest information about the playing card industry, including detailed coverage of some of the big players in the world of playing cards. The following articles will give you many more details on some of the playing card manufacturers discussed above, as well as other important aspects relating to the design and production of a custom deck.
Design & Production
● What to look for in a quality deck of playing cards
● Playing card manufacturer: United States Playing Card Company (USPCC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Cartamundi
● Playing card manufacturer: Make Playing Cards (MPC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Shuffled Ink
● Playing card manufacturer: Noir Arts (NPCC)
● Playing card manufacturer: Hanson Chien Production Company (HCPC) [article forthcoming]
● Playing card manufacturer: Taiwan Playing Card Company (TWPCC) [article forthcoming]
● Factors that affect handling: USPCC decks
● Factors that affect handling: LPCC decks
● Factors that affect handling: Cartamundi decks
Funding & Fulfilment
● A life-changing Kickstarter success story
● Interview with playing card wholesaler Murphy's Magic
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.