Playing cards. They're fun to play with, cool to look at, and great to collect, but what does it really take to create a custom deck of playing cards? To get the answer to that question, we've interviewed creator, designer and owner of Midnight Cards Randy Butterfield to help us gain some insight into the world of playing card deck design.
PlayingCardDecks: What made you decide to delve into designing custom playing cards?
Randy: I've always been a night owl, and feel lost if I don't have a side project to work on at night. Before playing cards, I used to create Animated Shorts for fun at night. Almost seven years ago, I came across this site called KickStarter. The first project I saw was a custom deck of playing cards called The Revision 1 Deck. It had a cool blueprint theme, and the designer was an Indianapolis resident, like myself. I thought it an incredible idea to create a custom deck of cards that included 54 pieces of art. I was hooked! I immediately started to work on my own design, which ended up becoming my Ornate decks.
So, is designing playing cards your full-time job then? Or do you also have a day job?
Designing playing cards will always be a night/hobby job for myself. During the day, I'm the Senior Designer for Motive Marketing. We create a lot of In-Store Displays, Gift Packs, and various Point-of-Sale for brands that include Absolut Vodka, Jameson Irish Whiskey, Patron Tequila, Wild Turkey Bourbon and Malibu. It is truly my dream job! It is a very stressful job, with many tight deadlines daily. So designing playing cards at night is my release. It's where I get to have complete creative control, create my own brand standards with each design, and take my time with the overall process.
Design by Randy at his day job at Motive Marketing
Speaking of process, what is your process of creating a set of playing cards: from concept all the way to finished and ready to sell?
The concept is a huge part of designing a deck. I always come up with the concepts for my solo decks, and sometimes for freelance decks. Usually the clients hiring me for a freelance deck already [has] a concept in mind.
Once the concept is figured out, I brainstorm and workout the look of the design in my head. Then I'll start on the designing. Most of my designs are Photoshop based. Sometimes I'll use Illustrator as a starting point (Draconian), other times I'll create elements in Lightwave 3D (Imperial) and right now I'm working on a design that I'm drawing with pencil and pen. It all depends on the theme and intended style.
If the design is for a freelance deck, my part is usually finished after I submit the print files. The company who hired me will then handle overseeing printing and fulfillment duties. If the design is a solo deck, I'll either put it up on KickStarter for pre-orders or self-fund the printing. I'll then oversee the printing and fulfillment. Creating the solo decks entails a lot more work on top of the designing, but it brings with it the freedom of creating exactly what you want to. And that's well worth the extra work!
Going back to the concept part of the design process, when designing cards, do you draw influence from anyone/anything in particular?
That goes back to the brainstorming time of the deck. I'll usually research the style or theme I have in mind for a specific design. For example, when I was getting ready to start on my ROME decks, I looked at a lot of Ancient Roman board games artwork. It helps me see which styles "work" for that theme, and which styles are just "off" for a particular theme.
You mentioned KickStarter above, what's your experience on KickStarter been like so far?
KickStarter has been immensely helpful! Without KickStarter, I definitely wouldn't be designing playing cards. It makes it possible to shoot for a home run with a multi-faceted project, play it safe with a small project, or anywhere in between. For a lot of people, it makes the impossible, possible.
When designing solo decks as you said, you are in control of the printing and fulfillment process. How has your experience been using different printers?
I've had decks printed with Legends, Expert, and USPCC. Working with Legends and Expert is great! Almost all of my designs utilize a borderless or thin border design, so printing with USPCC can be problematic. Because of that (and a few other production reasons), I have yet to print with USPCC for any of my solo designs.
When it's not a solo design, how do you approach collaborations?
Collaborations can be tough to workaround. You have to trust the person you're collaborating with, especially if it's a design that comes with payment only on the backend. Other than that, it's just like working with any other client on a project.
Talk a little about your company, Midnight Cards. How did it come about?
The name Midnight Cards references the time I work on playing card design. Most nights, I work on deck designs from midnight to 1:00-2:00am. It's quite peaceful at that time of night! My wife and kids are sound asleep, no clients calling, and no worries about keeping up with emails.
How do you explain to non-enthusiast about the cards you create?
I have a Midnight Cards booth at around 6-10 Comic Cons, Art Fairs or Holiday Festivals a year, for about the past couple years now. At the shows, I regularly need to explain what I'm selling, and why they're different than the $3.00 deck of cards you can get at the local drug store. The reactions are very positive! It's a great feeling when you meet someone who loves what you have created, even if they wouldn't normally buy a custom deck of playing cards.
With an impressive 57 decks of custom playing cards made, which, if any, is your favorite deck of playing cards you've designed so far?
Definitely my ROME Caesar Deck! I love Ancient Rome and it's my most artistic design yet.
Any upcoming projects you'd like to let us know about?
I'm currently focusing on the 52 Plus Joker Club Deck. It will be printed by Expert Playing Cards, and it's coming along very nicely. After that, I'll get started on a follow-up to the OCULUS Deck and then work on my next fully-custom design, which will be a Wild West: Black Hills theme. I'm actually somehow related to Wild Bill Hickock, on my dad's side of the family, so it's a theme I've wanted to tackle for awhile now!
Here is a link to the Midnight Cards Section here on PlayingCardDecks.com:
Below is the full list of printed decks designed by Randy:
- ORNATE Sapphire Deck
- ORNATE Scarlet Deck
- ORNATE Amethyst Deck
- ORNATE Emerald Deck
- Blue Crown LUXURY Red Deck
- Blue Crown LUXURY Blue Deck
- Blue Crown LUXURY White Deck
- Bicycle United Cardists Deck
- Imperial Red Deck
- Bicycle Imperial Black Deck
- Unbranded White ORNATE Amethyst
- Unbranded White ORNATE Emerald
- Unbranded White ORNATE Sapphire
- Unbranded White ORNATE Scarlet
- Unbranded Obsidian ORNATE
- Bicycle White ORNATE Amethyst
- Bicycle White ORNATE Emerald
- Bicycle White ORNATE Sapphire
- Bicycle White ORNATE Scarlet
- Bicycle Obsidian ORNATE
- Brazil Deck
- LUXX Blue Deck
- LUXX Brown Deck
- Draconian Spitfire Deck
- Draconian Lightening Deck
- Draconian Brimstone Deck
- LUXX V2 Silver Deck
- LUXX V2 Gold Deck
- Bowl-A-Rama Red Deck
- Bowl-A-Rama Black Deck
- Cosmic Lanes Deck
- Never Forgotten Deck
- Honeybee Yellow Deck
- Honeybee Black Deck
- Grinders Copper Deck
- Grinders Blue Deck
- Grinders White Gold Deck
- LUXX Elliptica Red Deck
- LUXX Elliptica Blue Deck
- LUXX Elliptica Green Deck
- LUXX Elliptica Purple Deck
- Imperial Gold Deck
- ROME Antony Deck
- ROME Caesar Deck
- LUXX Redux Red Deck
- Bicycle Inspire Blue Deck
- Bicycle Inspire Red Deck
- Honeybee Yellow Deck V2
- Honeybee Black Deck V2
- Honeybee Metalluxe Deck
- OCULUS Deck
- Rage Knight Deck
- Fury Knight Deck
- Draconian Wildfire Deck
- Draconian Wight Deck
- Midnight Euchre Deck
- Bicycle Emoji Deck