[Repost] 10 Top Playing Card Designers #1

Together with us here at WJPC, prepared to be inspired as you delve into the stories and designs of these top playing card designers, whose artistry continues to captivate and elevate the humble deck of cards into something truly extraordinary.

Let’s take a look at ten top playing card designers.

I should explain what I mean by a “Top 10 list”, so that this doesn’t cause anyone to shoot flames across the internet in my direction. I’m not suggesting that this list represents the absolute best ten.

It’s hard to narrow down a strong field down to just ten names, and it is not my intention to suggest that any name not included isn’t as good as the ones that are included. This list simply represents ten top candidates, while recognizing that there are others that could be mentioned alongside them.

Hopefully what we can all agree on is that if we are going to have a discussion about the best, these ten names belong in that discussion. So here are ten top playing card designers, listed in alphabetical order by their last name.

10 Top Playing Card Designers

1. Randy Butterfield (Midnight Cards)

Randy Butterfield might be one of the lesser known names on this list, but in terms of the sheer volumes of cards he’s produced, he is also one of the most prolific playing card designers of today. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there are literally hundreds of thousands of decks that have been produced with his designs.

Some of these are under his own brand, Midnight Cards. This name refers to the fact that while he works as a packaging designer by day, at night he burns the midnight oil designing playing cards.

Other designs he’s made have been under other brand names, and some have even hit the mass market in large numbers. His first deck, Ornate, was for the House of Playing Cards in 2012. One of my favourite designs from Randy is his Draconian series, which features incredible borderless card backs that convey the sense of a spiral of dragon scales.

Maybe you’re familiar with the beautiful Honeybee decks from Penguin Magic? Also Randy’s work. The gorgeous LUXX decks produced for JP Playing Cards were his designs too. He’s also produced several exquisite decks themed on ancient Rome. And much more.

There’s no doubt that Randy is an extremely versatile designer who has his own unique style, and has the ability to produce a wide range of diverse and well-themed playing cards. If you’re a serious card collector, there’s a good chance you have one of Randy’s decks.

Randy Butterfield

2. Paul Carpenter (Encarded Playing Card Co)

Paul Carpenter isn’t the kind of designer you’ll see pushing out one Kickstarter after another, quite simply because he doesn’t need to. The deck that made him famous was called Tendril, and was an eye-catching design featuring luminescent colours and flowing lines. At the time in 2012, it was the highest funding playing card project ever.

Since then, Paul has acquired a steady following of fans, and releases high-end playing cards in extremely limited editions to the collectors willing to pay their premium price tags. Many of his designs have sold out and become prized items for collectors. So while crowdfunding gave him his initial success, today he no longer has to rely on it, because the market for his limited edition decks is already well established.

Some of the decks that Paul has produced under his Encarded label include Aurum, Deco, Zenith, Chancellor, Celestial and more. These are classy playing cards that are in high demand and sell out quickly. If you find his style appealing, you’ll have to stay closely informed about his newest releases in order to get your hands on them.

Paul Carpenter

3. Alexander Chin (Seasons Playing Cards)

If playing card designers were musicians, then Alex Chin would be a rock star. In fact, if they wanted to do a Super-bowl half-time show with one of the all-time greats, he would be one of the first names on the list.

Alex describes himself as a visual communications professional who specializes in interactive package design. And there’s no question that he brings a wealth of expertise in illustration and design to his playing cards, because when it comes to innovation, especially in the area of package design, nobody does it better than Alex Chin.

He’s one of the few designers whose playing cards have won multiple awards in general design competitions, competing alongside non-playing card related products.

Seasons Playing Cards is Alex’s brand, and his gorgeous series of Seasons Playing Cards marked his debut as a designer, with separate decks representing different seasons. He applied a similar concept to later designs, such as his Apothecary series, which includes a limited edition colour-changing tuck box that responds to heat and touch.

His Magna Carta series features a gorgeous panoramic polyptych on the tuck cases. Alex is a true artist, whose designs are all about elegance, luxury, and innovation.

Alex is also very involved in the community. He pioneered the National Playing Card Collection Day, which is a global event that runs in the middle of October each year. For many years he’s also produced a very special and limited edition deck – much coveted by collectors – in honour of the day.

He is also the man behind Portfolio52, the internet’s free online database that lets you help keep track of your collection. He’s a fixture at playing card conventions, and almost every year either he or his decks are nominated for Deck of the Year and Artist of the Year awards.

Alexander Chin

4. Elettra Deganello

Elettra Deganello is one of the up-and-coming designers on this list, and her contributions are more recent than most of the other names that appear here. Besides working as a visual designer and illustrator, she also teaches classes on illustration and graphic design at the International School of Comics in Florence, Italy.

Elettra only discovered the world of custom playing cards around 2017, but her first design (Pinnochio), which appeared under the Passione Playing Cards label in 2018, was a Silver Design Award winner in the Toy, Games and Hobby Products category at the prestigious 2018-19 A’Design Awards & Competition.

After her Florentia deck (2020), Elettra produced the amazing Blue Jay Dentistry decks, which in my opinion are the most beautiful of all her designs, and which take full advantage of beautiful cold foil technology. Her Bold deck recently won Portfolio52’s Deck of the Year award for Best Graphic Deck.

She’s currently finalizing more beautiful designs, which include the Genoese Tarot, a huge deck which draws on the traditions of tarot deck; the Rx Almanac, a light-hearted but clever deck featuring fictional advertisements for imagined pharmaceutical products; and Once Upon a Fly, which promises to be an incredibly creative transformation deck. We certainly haven’t heard the last of this very talented lady.

Elettra Deganello

5. Jody Eklund (Black Ink Playing Cards)

The name of Jody Eklund’s company, Black Ink Playing Cards, describes well his favourite modus operandi. Jody has a real eye for clean artistic design, which he creates with a pen and ink look, accomplished through a process of digital design, in an instantly recognizable style of his own.

But what makes Jody’s work stand out isn’t merely his attention to visual aesthetics, but his attention to historical detail. His decks typically tell the story of a unique era of history, and depict the individuals that populated it.

His success as a playing card designer began with his Golden Spike deck in 2014, and numerous Kickstarter projects followed, which covered a range of fascinating themes and individuals from innovators and inventors, to business tycoons and flying aces.

It’s obvious that Jody immerses himself in the historical background behind the characters and stories that his decks depict, and much research goes into each project.

This also makes the end result all the more rewarding for those prepared to pay close attention to the detail he has incorporated into his playing cards. Over time, he has developed a solid base of supporters. Fans of history and science will particularly enjoy his work.

This article was originally published on PlayingCardDecks by EndersGame.

Jody Eklund
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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.