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How Playing Cards are Made: From the Reels to the Felt

While we do have some ideas as to the origins of playing cards, historians haven't been able to solve the riddle conclusively. Some think that they came to Europe from China, and others think that the Roma people introduced them to the settlements of Europe when they journeyed to perform shows. Since their inception, playing cards have taken many different forms, such as the English Pattern derived from the Rouen design, as well as other European standards like the Denmark, Russia, and Lithuania decks. Even though where playing cards came from originally remains somewhat of a mystery, we do know where they come from now and how they are made.

Designing the playing cards

The first step to making a deck of playing cards is making 57 card designs on a computer. Design teams need to make a front for each of the 52 playing cards, another for design for the backs of the cards, and then four unique joker cards to complete the assortment. The go-to software for making these designs is Adobe Illustrator, which comes as a part of the Adobe Creative Cloud. An alternate option that may appeal to aspirant card deck creators would be Clip Studio Paint, which focuses on usability. Those designs are checked to ensure that all of the cards are present and without design defects through a regular paper print and via a digital proof to further check the final copy. Next, the designs are laser-etched onto the polymer surface of printing plates, which is then slid into the printing press, ready to print the designs onto the cards. Being a large industrial printer, several cans of colored ink are also poured in to enable the mechanism to print all of the cards.

Storing, making, and feeding through the paper

Playing cards aren't simply a piece of card with a design on it, with companies taking extra steps to ensure that the products are durable and opaque. Per run of deck prints, the United States Playing Card Company - the largest manufacturer of playing cards in the world, per RoB - uses two sheets of paper that are 25,000-foot in length each, sticking them together with black glue before rolling them through a laminator nip to create the robust and durable card. That 25,000 feet of card will make around 11,000 decks of cards. The USPCC is world-renowned, being in business since 1885 and producing top-selling playing card decks like the ones in the Bicycle range of products. This method of gluing two sheets of paper together to make cards allowed for the British and American intelligence agencies to team up with Bicycle to print a special range during World War II. As detailed in the Business Insider article, these cards could be pulled apart when wet to reveal a map of the region to help prisoners of war to work their way back to allied territory. Now, some companies have gone as far as adding a plastic coating to the cards, according to Britannica. While awaiting use, paper is stored in a room with industrial humidifiers to ensure that it doesn't warp and remains of high quality.

Printing and cutting the cards

With the designs ready on the printing plates, the printing press filled with ink, and the paper ready to be fed into the machine, the decks can start to take a physical form. Within the printing press, according to the steps of How Products Are Made, the printing plates are first placed onto rotating cylinders. These pass the plate under a roller to get coated with water, with the image area repelling the water, and then an ink roller as the ink will only bind to the non-water-soaked areas. Next, a rubber roller goes over the printing plate to transfer the ink to the roller, which is then rolled over the card to print the color: this process is repeated to print each individual color. The printing press, which takes the form of a web press at the USPPC, can print ten decks per second, printing front and back at once, and cuts the reels of card into sheets of cards. Finally, the cards need to be cut, a process that sees the parent sheets of the cards cut into strips and then fed into a punching machine, which shapes over 300 cards per minute. Alternatively, as detailed by PrintNinja, some companies use a calibrated card trimming machine.

Getting into the hands of the players

After being printed and cut, the decks will be checked at several checkpoints before being packaged, wrapped, and shipped. The most common in Western markets are, of course, the American Standard playing card decks, which are purchased by many stores and professionals to sell on or use, primarily because they're so instantly recognizable. You can see these cards being sold at retailers like Wilko in the UK, as well as with modern and advanced online card games. As they also make use of a game control unit, online streaming, and optical character recognition software, even some live dealer games are able to continue to use the playing cards made through the standard manufacturing process, such as in the game Real Baccarat with Courtney. Some of these online casino games may commission slightly larger playing card decks due to their cameras needing a larger image to scan. Still, they're not the only players that can get unique cards made for them. The services provided by the Legends Playing Cards Company include a custom deck maker so that anyone can design, print, and receive their very own deck - with the help and guidance of an expert from LPCC, of course.

From the massive reels of paper glued together all the way to cards being revealed on the felt, that's how they make playing cards for us to use at home, online, or on the casino floor.


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History of Cards

History of Cards »
A Brief History
Theories of Origin
French Regional Patterns
Rouen Pattern
English Pattern
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