Where do you start? The custom playing cards market has boomed over the past year, investment in crowd-funded decks has surged and new playing card designs and concepts are pushing the boundaries of the simple constraints of one tuck x four suits x thirteen cards.

No doubt, there are an incredible number of amazing decks out there and each deck is unique In its own way! So, how do you start your collection?  How do you know which decks to use for your stylish cardistry video? How do you impress your poker buddies at the weekly meet-up?

In the first of the Top 12 series, we’ve collated 12 of our favorite custom decks to start you off on this new adventure. The playing cards featured below are readily available and reasonably affordable. As this series progresses, we will cover decks that are slightly harder to get and a little more expensive.

Enjoy the selection below. If you have one that we haven't discovered. Do feel free to share.


12. Republic #2



Republic #2 is the second release in the Republic brand from The Ellusionist Playing Card Co. The clean and simplistic theme & layout draws the eye and makes fan and colour changes stand-out! Everything about Republic #2 has been distilled to deliver a pure experience.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $6.99


11. Bicycle Pluma



Designed and printed by the United States Playing Card Co, the Pluma Deck features a blend of tribal and avian imagery, and is an updated version of a historic plate in the Bicycle archives. Available in blue and brown which plays off each other in an allusion to earth and sky. Original artwork on the tuck, card back and the Ace of Spades.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $3.99


10. Artifice



Another fascinating deck from Ellusionist Playing Card Co, the Artifice deck was developed with the relentless fascination of deception, dexterity and the dark psychology of the word Artifice itself. The  Artifice radiates quality with classy design and commands attention.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $6.99


 9. Fulton's Clip Joint



From the classy guys at Dan and Dave, the Fulton's Clip Joint Playing Cards celebrate our fascination with cinema, history, and the art of the grift. Inspired by vintage Los Angeles and Film Noir, Fulton's captures a time and place where men were men, women were dames, and the next deal could be your last. The playing cards are beautifully encased in a linen box with embossed ornaments and foil stamping.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $6.95


8. Seven Seas



Stunning deck by Brainvessel! This 54 Card deck is about the dichotomy of a life at sea, featuring famous ships, sailors, explorers, pirates, privateers, ghost ships and the dangers and monstrous creatures!

Difficulty: 1
Price: $20.00


7. Black JAQK




A breathtaking masterpiece from Theory11, the JAQK Cellars Black Edition features a gorgeous custom tuck case with imported French paper and metallic black foil. With 52 custom faces and 12 stunning, custom court cards, combining distinctive design with the peerless quality of the USPCC.

Difficulty: 2
Price: $6.95


 6. Virtuoso Spring/Summer 2014




Nothing pushes a deck of playing cards to its limits like card flourishing. That's why the Virts created the Virtuoso deck — the only deck designed for the art of card flourishing. The Virtuoso deck's back design visually amplifies the art from swirling, strobing and connecting according to each individual's movements and displays.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $9.95


5. Artisans



Illustrated by hand in South Africa, Artisans are in a league of their own. A breathtaking mix of elegance, style, and sophistication. Produced by Theory11, these premium, luxury playing cards feature elegant gold foil hot stamped onto ultra-lux black paper derived from sustainable forests.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $6.95


4. Curator



Talented artist Emmanuel Jose has created every element of the Curator Deck entirely by hand. One card a week. No digital software, or pen and ink. Every design was painstakingly crafted out of paper. Known as a "transformation" deck, this style of art has been around for years. The entire deck has a black, white, and red theme, which extends to the striking minimalist tuck box.

Difficulty: 2
Price: $11.95


3. Misc. Goods Co. 3rd Edition




Created and designed byTyler Deeb the 3rd edition deck features new typography, icons and artwork details. Completely custom designed from front to back to be familiar but still completely new.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $15.00


2. Silver Split Spades




A beautiful instalment of the widely collected Split Spade series. The tuck features embossing and silver foil stamping. The cards themselves feature perfectly balanced metallic inks on both sides. Designed uncompromisingly for performance and style, these are one of the best and the most practical deck in the market.

Difficulty: 1
Price: $20.00


1. Silver Certificate 



The Silver Certificate deck is the third deck released in the popular Federal 52 series. Inspired by US Silver Certificate Bank notes of the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Silver Certificate deck features new, hand-drawn renditions of the presidents and other key figures found on US currency. Comes with an individually number holographic seal on the outside of the cellophane wrapper.

Difficulty: 2
Price: $30.00





Gears. Unique. Metal.

Designer Dale Mathis broke new ground with this unique eye-catching deck of playing cards. Dale has designed a clockwork like contraption that is complete with movable gears and a mechanical card frame to this unique eye-catching tuck case. Stunning!

Inside, the cards are printed by the United States Playing Card on standard Bicycle playing card stock and embossed finish. Only the tuck case, back design and Jokers are of custom design. 

Find awesome decks at JP Playing Cards. Use the code KARDIFY10 during check-out to get 10% off for orders over £50.



Earlier this year, a teaser of LUXX was revealed to the customers of JP Playing Cards and this has generated quite a buzz around the playing cards community. Created by Paul Middleton and designed by the talented Randy Butterfield, their aim was to create a beautiful deck of playing cards which still have some traditional elements - to appeal to as many of JP Playing Cards' customers as possible ranging from magicians and cardists, to collectors and amateur poker and card game players. Finally, LUXX is available as a pre-order from JPPlayingcards.co.uk.

When the first teasers of LUXX were released in March, we reached out to Paul and had a quick chat about his motivation for creating his own deck of playing cards, inspiration behind LUXX, working with Randy and his thoughts on crowd-funding.

From running jpplayingcards.co.uk, one of the fastest growing online playing cards store in Europe to creating your own playing cards. What motivated you to create your own deck of cards? 
I guess it probably started when we first realised that Lawrence (LPCC) was opening up his printing company to work with third parties. His Legends decks have all been extremely popular with the majority of our regular customers and so the motivation became to produce a deck that was practical yet beautiful. An elegant deck of cards that was still something that would be opened and enjoyed. With that in mind the aim has been to go with traditional recoloured courts with a beautiful at of aces and back design. Something we can be proud of as a small family business, and a deck we'd enjoy using ourselves too.

Can you describe the LUXX playing cards and why you’re passionate about it?
The LUXX cards will be elegant, intricate and beautiful whilst remaining practical and fun to use. I've even passionate from the start about seeing these cards be used and enjoyed and the best way we can do that is to make them affordable and accessible, but still with a luxury feel. So we'll do our best to keep the price realistic and we're also planning a potential reprint in the future so we can stock it as a running line in our store. We're working on ways to make the first run special though, so collectors will have something to cherish.


When the teaser image of LUXX was released in January, many were pleasantly surprised to find out that Randy Butterfield created the design. How did you and Randy end up working together?
We had initially agreed to work with a UK based design agency who I was in regular contact with. Shortly before work was due to start I got the feeling that or work was last in the line of a long list of priorities and I began having doubts. I've been talking with Randy of and on since the inception of our company as he's always been very friendly and generous with his time. I can't remember the specific email conversation but I ran the idea past him on the off-chance and he said yes rather unexpectedly. If I'd realised that we would have asked him first! He genuinely is one of our favourite playing card designers.


What role did you play in the art direction and how much time was spent working on the deck?
Realistically - I wanted to give Randy a framework for the deck and the idea and then go with it. I'd told Randy from the very beginning that it was my intention to let him design and to trust his skills and experience. There have been a couple of occasions when I may have had a different opinion to Randy but ultimately I've tried to stay true to my word about trusting his opinion and instincts, after all - we're not designers and Randy is the one with huge successes behind him.

Are you planning to release more decks in the future?
The simple answer is no, we'll see how this goes first of all. Our business has grown at a reasonably fast pace and we don't want to bite off more than we can chew, so to speak. We'd love to produce more decks, but have no plans right now.

Update: Paul pointed out that there are plans for a second LUXX for sure. When and how is up for discussion at this point. That is good news! :D


Do you see the continuous strong growth of playing card projects on Kickstarter as a trend or or fad? Why?
Great question. It's very hard to say to be honest. It's pretty clear that Kickstarter is here to stay in the playing card industry. It's become a big part of the market in recent times with the surge of independent using the crowd funding platform. My own personal opinion is that I'd love to see it being used to actually Kickstart a business rather than be a pre/order process for each and every deck that is created by a company. That being said, it's a risk free no lose situation - who wouldn't be happy with that?

Finally, what are your favourite playing card decks?
As a family - the cards we love the most are Aurum from Encarded, Royal Optik from Uusi, Mana v1 Oracle and Randy's Ornates - but my personal favourite would have to be either the Ornates or Aurum.


I want to thank Paul for his time and sharing about the beautiful LUXX Playing Cards. You can also check out the wide range of playing cards available from JP Playing Cards here!




With the increased interest in crowd-funded playing card projects particularly on Kickstarter, we are publishing a monthly tracking report as part of our popular Analytics series. The goal is to give an analytical insight into the month-on-month performance of projects and how these numbers are tracking cumulatively year-to-date.

July was a relatively slow month, carrying on the momentum from the previous month. Backers continue to be cautious on their spending, with a lower total pledged across all playing card projects this month. The number of successful projects remained largely unchanged. The year-to-date (YTD) numbers continue to surpass 2013 numbers. The chart below describes how 2014 is tracking against the numbers from 2013 as benchmark.



Playing Card Projects 


The number of unsuccessful projects increased slightly to 23% in July while % of successful projects ended close to last months number (31%).

Here is what July looks like in numbers:



Projects launched in July were predominantly in the first half of the month.



Here's a look at how projects performed over the month, largely unchanged from last month.


Funding


A total of $533k was raised by all projects in July, significantly lower from June's number of $765k.



Here is a look at the top 5 most funded playing cards:


The top 5 successful playing cards projects for the month contributed 59% to the overall funding of successful projects!

The average YTD funding goal of successful project remained stable at $10.5k.


Backers 


This month, approximately 13.5k backers were recorded across all projects. The average pledge per backer for successful projects continue to decrease. This month it stands at $43.3.

Line chart below is a month-on-month comparison for 2014 with the 2013 curve used as benchmark. It is interesting to note that there is an uptick in the average spent per backer in July considering that $/backer have softened last month. Backers continue to be conservative in their pledging patterns. This will change slightly when projects by well known designers are scheduled to launch in August, King's Wild Army Deck, JPPlaying Card's LUXX, Alex Chin's Seasons and the exquisite Mana Decks by Erik Mana.



Top 5 funded Projects by backer numbers below:



Launched Projects 


Here are the top 10 most funded projects launched in July:



From the numbers this month, it is obvious that backers are in a holding pattern with the news of the alternative crowd-funding platform, CardLauncher launching in August and some of the major project coming out next month. We expect the numbers to pick up and perform better in August.


Data provider:



Seasons come and go, but two particular “Seasons” never made their way to the light of day, until now. In 2012, Chicago-based designer Alexander Chin introduced the world to his Season’s Playing cards. The 1st two decks released were the Seronda and Primavera decks representing Spring and Fall. The decks received high acclaim from collectors and enthusiast alike. Now, a few years later Alex will be completing the circle by releasing Verano and Inverno, Summer and Winter, on Kickstarter to the anticipation of many.

As designers go, Alex has a style all his own and the elegance and quality of his work is to be admired. At a young age Alex was a bit introverted and found a passion for drawing to help express himself. Along with drawing, Alex found other hobbies to occupy his time, such as swimming and piano and a few not so common hobbies such as contact juggling and later in junior High School, card magic. But of all of these interests, drawing was the one that made Alex feel truly creative.

“It's easy to get lost and flustered when you're at the defining age of social awkwardness, but when I sketched I was absorbed into a world where communication of myself was so easily captured on paper.”





Nearing the end of his junior High School years, Alex’s expression started transferring more and more to magic, specializing in card magic.

“The practicality of impromptu card magic was so much more vast than props. These cards were little pieces of artwork that I would carry around in my pocket. But when I took them out they would delight people everywhere I went. It amazed me and I became infatuated with them. To this day I have not found a simpler or cheaper way to spread joy than to delight someone with surprise. It had turned into an extension of who I was.”

In High School, like many young magicians, Alex came across the release of the Black Tiger deck by Ellusionist. It was the 1st custom deck Alex had seen…

“It opened a Pandora's box to the world of card collecting. I think this happened to a lot of people who were in the magic world at this time.”



Standard Edition


Limited Edition

At 14 Alex was met with an awkward confrontation with his mother at 1AM. What could a 14 year old boy possibly be doing on his computer at that time of the night?

“…my mom is a good hearted person, but she wasn’t born yesterday, so when she sees her teenage son up late at night using the computer she’s going to assume certain things. So Detective Mom storms over to see my screen to verify her worst fears. Instead of tantalizing women looking to hook up in my local area, I had actually stayed up to snipe on a card auction at the last minute for cheap. I was hooked to say the least.”

After completing High School, Alex attended the University of Illinois where he majored in architecture leveraging his passion for illustration and design with his desire to change the world.


“Freshmen usually tend to dream big don't they?”

During his college years Alex found his passion for drawing started creeping back into his life. Becoming more interested in the organic, abstract and kinetic, and with the sudden burden of school work off his plate with graduating college, Alex found himself with a window of opportunity before having to return home and venture out into the world and his career path…

“…before returning home and facing the scary reality of a job that would define the rest of my life. I decided that I would take this time to discover who I was.”







With soul searching at hand, Alex tried to commit himself to working on his art all day, every day. It helped express his emotions and discover the direction he wanted his life to take. He would create something and then abandon it, create some more and repeat, looking for something to click, which was the normal “Spirit” of each day. Of all the projects Alex started, there were two in particular that seemed to break the cycle of abandonment. One was a tea company called Mood Garden, the other was Seasons.

Mood Garden was a tea company that Alex had started with a friend that expanded his interest in package design. Mood Gardens, as Alex puts it, had mild success with two full product lines receiving incredible press both online and on Blogs like TrendHunter. Alex also found himself penning the forward of a book due to the exposure of Mood Gardens.

“ We tried launching a Kickstarter for it and never ended up getting funded. I think there was a culmination of inexperience on both our ends coupled with a fear of commitment to such an investing project having just graduated college with student debt. It sadly never came to fruition.”

With the lessons learned from the Mood Gardens experience, Alex’s other “Itch”, Seasons, started to develop and Alex finally found a concept and design that he was proud of and ready to be introduced to the world. Timing, as they say, is everything. During this time there was a bit of transition in the Playing Card industry, it was expanding and the larger companies, new to all this unexpected success of these pieces of paper, were in for a rude awakening. Like anything that meets unexpected success, the industry started developing a not so earnest approach to their products, delivering very little in terms of time spent truly creating custom decks and just “Marketing” tactics to gain profits. Alex was about to show what a lot of blood sweat and tears could translate to.

“I was lucky enough to have been in the game right when the market was starting to expand. I think I owe a lot of success to the court cards of that deck. It was at the height of when larger custom card companies were being called out for their efforts in deck creation. The biggest differentiators between the little guys and the big guys were the willing time investments into those faces. From there you know the rest. “



Standard Edition

Limited Edition

When asked about his current professional and personal goals Alex expressed how he returned to Seasons after such a long hiatus as well as his interest in running his own design studio specializing in interactive packaging design with a built in brand consulting service.

“For the longest time I was looking for a career which was the main reason why there has been such a gap between the first set of Seasons and now. I was working with a large holding company for about a year and a half designing and managing different brands and product lines for them. Eventually I quit after seeing an absence of creative fulfillment and made the jump to doing Seasons again, shifting my track in life from career to calling. I don't know if I'll do Seasons forever but for now it provides the type of autonomy that gets my creative juices flowing in an arena that I was born and bred in.”

As Alex concentrates and builds on his vision he does find himself missing magic, but is still an avid collector. The collector in him developed as his studies increased during his school days, causing the time he had to practice magic to decrease. Collecting gave Alex a way to stay connected to the world of playing cards without sacrificing his studies; it was a way to achieve a balance between the two. During this time Alex also dabbled in cardistry, but found the same pitfalls he came across with magic, not enough time to practice and as they say, practice makes perfect.


“I had a brief stint back in the heyday of D&D of cardistry but realized that it required a similar amount of practice as magic had with a less satisfying response from audiences. That kind of niche is something you truly have to love to get good at. As of now I am still a collector but I miss magic dearly. I hope that once I've created a stable enough environment that I can start investing some of my time back into learning how to delight people again.”


Verana Tri=Panel

Inverno Tri-Panel


So here we are the new Seasons decks on the horizon. Scheduled for release on Kickstarter on August 27th, the decks will be Black and White featuring an accent color to connect each deck to the Season it represents. The Tuck cases will also undergo some changes to support the more “Holistic” approach Alex is taking with these decks and satisfying both newcomers as well as the existing fans of the Seasons decks. Alex also has a few other playing card projects he’s been investing his time into, taking a more “Thematic” approach to these decks but striving to keep the mystery, intrigue and detail that Seasons supporters have come to expect.

“As a collector myself, it's those timeless decks that keep their spot on the shelves that make my collection complete. In everything this company does, it does with the mindset of raising the bar and changing design.”




Seasons Playing Cards have always been synonymous with quality and artistic design, I know I’m in the majority when I say I can’t wait to add the new Season decks to my collection and I’m also very excited to find out that there are new projects with new directions and concepts that we can all wait for with great anticipation. It was my complete pleasure to collaborate with a fellow Chicagoan, great designer and fantastic person on this piece, I strongly urge everyone to mark their calendars for August 27th so you don’t miss out on a sure to be amazing project. Alex was nice enough to give us some of his time during his busy schedule and was also nice enough to answer a few final questions.

What has been occupying your time and interest since the release of Primavera and Seronda?

My biggest current interest is this little social experiment I saw online called the 100 Days of Happy. I don't participate through social media but the gist is that once a day you call out something that you are grateful for and makes you happy. Over time it's proven to change your outlook on life. I took it to a physical medium and every day I'll do a 15 minute sketch of something. Over time this book has become a record of mundane little experiences that just make me grin like a child. It's one of the best things I've done for my personal well-being besides daily exercise. I'm also into branding books. Lots of them. A nerdy amount.


I’m sure you’ve seen the explosion in the industry, what are your thoughts on the recent boom?

I remember being on the UC forums before the renovation of the site and talking about this. It was during a time where the Brimstone had already come out and the Vortex was an upcoming Kickstarter I believe. At the time I think there was only 1 deck a month and the average for decks were around 25K. I predicted that with this social proof of success, there would be a large bubble in the market that would eventually burst causing people to choose and leaving only the good designers in the arena. I figured the increased competition would be good for the art.
Looking at the market now I think I was on the right track but the bubble grew much faster than I would have ever thought. I didn't anticipate the crossover of artists from other fields to begin participating. What also surprised me was the change in behavior of collectors. I had assumed the increased competition would force choice but instead I'm noticing that people will still usually back a project but just reduce quantity. It makes absolute sense for those trying to diversify their collections, but for me I'm usually a brick or two kind of guy which sets the investment a little higher.
The increased competition has made it near mandatory for court cards to be custom now (something that's even seen in the big companies today too). I'm glad for that. Competition pushes us to do better. I have a hall in my apartment that is full of uncut sheets by other companies. A lot of people ask why I don't display my own. Seeing my own work creates complacency of having done something while seeing the work of others make me feel motivated to do just as good, if not better.
There is an increased competition for crowdfunding decks now but I do anticipate a similar amount of deck projects in the next couple years before any drop. With the introduction of new production facilities that require a lower startup cost, having a successful deck funded isn't hard which will probably feed the momentum the next few years.

You’re a talented designer, do you have any projects, past, present or future, outside of the playing card industry that you’re proud of and enjoyed working on?

I mentioned Mood Garden earlier and I have a few international branding projects that I was pretty thrilled to create while under employment at my previous gig. I really do enjoy working on interactive package design and hope to start pursuing some new personal projects in the field of alcoholic beverage packaging soon.

Do you have any final thoughts or comments you would like to share?

Your interview was absolutely enjoyable. It got me to do a lot more self-evaluation than I'm used to which is a good thing! I hope to launch another deck soon to get an excuse to talk with you again haha. It was an honor to be here on Kardify.


I can’t thank Alex enough for his time and collaboration. Be sure to check out the NEW Seasons Kickstarter project launching on August 27th for Verano and Inverno, the next chapter in the Seasons decks. You can also keep up with any developments from Alex and Season’s playing cards on their Facebook Page and you can also visit the Seasons Playing Card website for products and information.


This exclusive 1-on-1 is written by Anthony Ingrassia for kardify. No part of this article can be reproduced without written permission from the author. You can check out Anthony's awesome collection on his Facebook Page Sparkz Collector.






Updated: The Coat of Arms Playing Cards project is now LIVE on Kickstarter.

Justin Froyd launched the original Coat of Arms Playing Cards on June 2014, and unfortunately he didn’t quite reach his funding goal. He spent the last 2 months enhancing the deck and project, and he will be relaunching very soon .

For the relaunch, the funding goal has been lowered to $16k and like the first project, will feature both the Standard Edition Coat of Arms deck and the Limited Edition Dark Ages deck.



The popular Dark Ages Deck will be limited to 1,000 decks and will be printed by EPCC. The prices for add-ons such as uncut sheets and the aluminium playing card case have been reduced. Justin has included some early early early bird pledge level.

Don't miss out!

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