[Repost] Factors That Affect The Handling Of A Deck

This article is excerpted from the article originally published on PlayingCardDecks by EndersGame.

What are the factors that affect the handling of a deck? Let's follow this article to explore!

Most creators of custom playing cards today choose to print their decks with United States Playing Card Company (USPCC), makers of the famous Bicycle brand of playing card. USPCC is a well-known publisher with solid credentials, and has a long history and positive reputation for creating quality playing cards.

In previous articles we have covered the process by which Bicycle playing cards are made, why it’s worth the money to get a Bicycle deck, and what factors affect their handling.

But USPCC doesn’t produce perfect playing cards. Their decks are often printed in high volume on a web press, and one disadvantage of this process is that the print registration can be slightly off, creating slightly misaligned borders. We’ve probably all seen decks like this, and it can be disappointing to receive a deck that has this issue.

The good news is that this issue is typically a rarity when decks are printed on a sheet-fed press, which is the printing method used by most of the competition, which typically produces runs of playing cards in lower volumes.

As a result several reputable publishers like WJPC have emerged in recent years that offer an excellent alternative to the industry giant of USPCC, and many of them have already earned for themselves a solid reputation for producing consistently high quality playing cards.

Factors That Affect The Handling Of A Deck

1. Stock

The stock refers to the paper used to print the playing cards. The WJPC-printed poker-sized decks in my own collection nearly all use German black core paper, with the 300 or 310 gsm thickness. This is fairly comparable to the thickness and handling performance we’ve come to expect from manufacturers like USPCC.

The 310gsm stock doesn’t feel as thin and flexible as USPCC’s thin-crush stock, but is a reasonable equivalent in thickness and feel to a standard Bicycle deck. Comparing the 310gsm stock to a standard Bicycle deck and the 300gsm stock to crushed stock will give you some idea of how the two compare in terms of handling.

Unlike some cheaper playing cards I’ve seen, the cards hold their shape quite well even after heavy shuffling and handling, so there’s a healthy balance between stiffness and flexibility. I’m told that for cardistry style decks, the 305gsm Italian black core paper is a good choice, but I haven’t personally had the chance to try a deck with that card-stock.


2. Texture

The texture refers to the embossed surface of a playing card. While you won’t notice significant differences in embossing with USPCC produced decks, the different “finishes” of LPCC/EPCC produced decks do have different types of embossing, both in terms of the pattern and the depth used.

The Diamond/Master Finish and the Emerald/JN Finish decks are the least-embossed paper stock, and that makes these cards feel somewhat oily and plastic-like. Yet these decks are also their stiffest and longest lasting cards, since these cards have a real spring to them, and prove very hardy and durable.

Their Classic Finish decks have a deeper embossing pattern that the most similar to Bicycle’s “Air Cushion Finish”. As a result, it feels softer, and has an overall feel that is arguably closest to a Bicycle-type deck from USPCC. The deeper the embossing, the softer the cards will feel, so while the Elite/Damask Finish decks use a similar paper stock to the Classic Finish, a different and deeper embossing pattern on these cards makes them feel even softer yet.

In practice, this means that a deck of custom playing cards by USPCC will feel most similar to LPCC/EPCC’s Classic Finish. In contrast, LPCC/EPCC’s Diamond/Master Finish and Emerald/JN Finish deck are noticeably stiffer and also feel more “tacky”, making them more ideal for moves and sleights like springs, cuts, and even double lifts.

thickness 0.31mm black core

3. Coating

WJPC offers several options for the actual finish (or varnish) that is applied to the cards afterwards. Applying a finish to playing cards is standard practice in the playing card world today, and along with the embossing pattern in the paper stock, it ensures good handling and durability.

The “butter finish” is what WJPC typically uses for most of their cards, and it is available either as a glossy varnish for ordinary playing cards, or as a semi-matte varnish for higher end playing cards like those used for casino games, cardistry, and card magic.

Butter varnishing finish

4. Cut

Cut is also important to serious playing card connoisseurs, because it impacts the ability to do faro shuffles. WJPC uses integrated slitter-cutting machines to do this job. So unlike the inferior quality decks that some printers manufacture and cut with lasers, and are thus impossible to faro shuffle, WJPC playing cards faro shuffle reasonably well, although perhaps not quite to the same standard as what you might be used to from a USPCC printed deck.

5. Quality Control

Some publishers also have exceedingly high standards of quality control. Special mention should be made of USPCC, which has different standards of quality control, depending on the deck they are printing. Q1 is their highest standard, and where they check the most closely for the best results in areas like centering, print registration, cutting, colour, and flaws.

Q4 is their lowest standard, and is considered “tolerable” – it means that more margin is given for error. In most cases, this will only affect how the cards look, and not how they handle.

6. Press Type

WJPC uses a sheet-fed press exclusively, which USPCC also uses for smaller print runs. In contrast a web press is preferred by USPCC for the sake of efficiency and speed when doing higher-volume print runs of many thousands. A sheet-fed press gives greater precision in printing and cutting, and a consistently crisp and bold printing registration.

This also enables the use of narrower borders than normal, gives a greater range of options for designers, and also can produce a classier look. In decks printed by USPCC on their web press in high volume, you’ll sometimes notice that the borders are slightly off-centre for this reason, while this problem is rare to non-existent with WJPC decks. However, this will typically only affect the look of the cards, and not their handling.

Self-Publish Using An Offset Press

7. Metallic Foil

High gloss embossed metallic foil stamped onto the back of playing cards adds a real element of bling and visual appeal. But one challenge resulting from this extra bling, due to the materials needed to create these unusual cards, is that they do handle somewhat differently than a standard deck.

The significant amount of foil on the backs does make them feel somewhat slippery, and you will find fanning and spreading a bit more challenging to master with these decks.

8. Spot UV Printing

Another area of innovation in recent years is the use of technology that allows printers to produce embossed and glossy ink via UV spot printing. Basically this adds a secondary printing process where a layer of polymer is applied to create a raised glossy effect on the card faces.

Cards printed in this way are like those of a regular deck, but in addition they have a glossy and raised surface that stands out visibly and can actually be felt. This naturally affects handling, because it can reduce the effect of the normal embossing and coating, since the raised surface that has been subject to UV spot printing becomes the point of friction instead of the entire card.

When this happens, certain cards can become slightly more slippery, making it harder to have completely consistent fans.

9. Deck Condition

Even the best deck will eventually wear out. A good quality deck will still handle and perform consistently over a long period of time. But eventually the coating will wear, and the cards will attract oils and dirt from your skin. When that all happens, your deck will no longer handle as smoothly as it did initially.

A new deck will typically handle like a dream, and depending on its quality, will continue to handle well for a decent amount of time. But its handling performance will eventually be affected by sheer use as it wears, and slowly deteriorates.

10. Skill

A poor workman always blames his tools. No matter how good your deck handles, it is no substitute for skill, practice, and experience in card handling. The more time you spend mastering card flourishes and card fundamentals, the better you’ll get. On the other hand, don’t expect a good quality deck to be a shortcut to mad card skills! It will certainly make difficult card flourishes easier to master, but is no substitute for skill!


Info Box

 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.