[Repost] 10 Top Playing Card Designers #2

This article was originally published on PlayingCardDecks by EndersGame.

Here are continuing with “10 Top Playing Card Designers #1”:

10 Top Playing Card Designers

6. Lorenzo Gaggiotti (Stockholm17 Playing Cards)

Few playing card designers are in as much demand as Stockholm17. Such is his reputation, that his name on a deck almost guarantees its instant success. Originally from Italy, Lorenzo eventually made his home in Stockholm, Sweden, hence the name of his brand.

Already a gifted graphic designer, it was when he discovered the world of custom playing cards that an avenue opened up for him to explore and develop his creativity further.

Virtually all of Stockholm17’s decks are in high demand from collectors. His work started making an appearance around 2014 with a series of successful decks that began with Requiem, Heretic, No.17 series, Ravn, Gemini, House of the Rising Spade, and several more since.

He has a unique style of his own that is instantly recognizable, and his work reflects both artistic creativity and careful thought. This is evidenced by the fact that some of his decks draw on classical themes and even include quotations from ancient Greek poetry.

But talent alone won’t produce success, and Stockholm17 has found a way to match his talent with a pursuit for perfection, an attention to detail, and an ability to understand the market. He’s very active online, and does a good job of interacting with those who enjoy his work.

He was invited to produce 52 Plus Joker’s 2021 Club Deck, which won three of Portfolio21’s awards, including the prestigious 2021 Deck of the Year. It’s not the first award his decks have won, and it won’t be the last.

Stockholm17 has printed several of his decks with WJPC. To learn more, see this article: Diamond Award winner Stockholm17 and his Notorious Gambling Frogs.

Lorenzo Gaggiotti

7. Lotrek (Oath Playing Cards)

If designers like Alex Chin and Stockholm17 are playing card rock stars, then Lotrek is a star among stars. Few designers have won as many awards as he has, including the 2017 “Deck of the Year” Diamond Award for his stunning Golden Oath deck, and four United Cardists / Portfolio52 “Deck of the Year” awards for his decks Icons Imperial (2016), Golden Oath (2017), Silk (2019), and Crypt (2020).

Almost every deck Lotrek produces wins something, and there’s a good reason why. His Golden Oath deck from 2017 stunned the playing card industry with its amazing all foil artwork on all the cards. If there’s anything Lotrek knows how to do well, it is work with foils. His playing cards often feature gorgeous gold and silver foils, and are unrivalled in terms of beauty and design.

These qualities have led Lotrek to become one of the most sought-after and highly regarded playing card designers in the world. When it comes to innovative luxury playing cards, he’s at the top of the game, and he continues to produce masterful works of art on a regular basis.

He regularly pushes the boundaries of what is technically possible, especially with multiple foils, and matches this with an artistic style that is classic in every sense of the word.


8. Lee McKenzie (Kings & Crooks)

Lee McKenzie’s first custom deck designs are probably more well-known than his name. That’s because he started off his career around 2008 as a playing card designer working for Ellusionist. This was right in the middle of when the playing card industry was booming, and when Ellusionist was one of its biggest players.

Lee created their popular Arcane, Artifice, Infinity, and Fathom decks, decks that were largely responsible for getting non-Bicycle branded custom decks entering the mass market, and for helping the Ellusionist brand achieve remarkable success.

Lee’s five-year stint with Ellusionist ended in 2013 when he started his own brand, Kings & Crooks, which debuted his incredibly popular Empire series of playing cards. This was followed by further successes, including Empire Bloodlines, Outlaws, and most recently, the remarkable Royales, which is a classic looking deck oozing with luxury and style.

I’ve corresponded with Lee numerous times, and few playing card designers are as passionate and perfectionist as he is, or as deep. He’s a real philosopher and thinker, and puts a huge amount of thought into every aspect of his designs, and into life generally.

His epic interview has some wonderful insights that are well worth reading and thinking about carefully, and will give you even more appreciation for his work and ethos. Lee’s decks are much like himself: symbols of passion, philosophical thought, and excellence.

Lee McKenzie

9. Giovanni Meroni (Thirdway Industries)

You can instantly tell when you see a playing card designed by Giovanni Meroni and his brand Thirdway Industries. He’s very active as a playing card designer, with constant projects on the go, and has developed an inimitable and distinctive style of his own that is immediately recognizable.

Based in Italy, Giovanni brings an enormous wealth of experience as a freelance designer and art director to the table, along with a real depth of substance. His first deck already appeared in 2014, but it was with his series of Omnia and Dedalo decks from 2015 onwards that he really came into his own, showcasing his unique approach to playing cards.

Not only did these decks feature a visual aesthetic different from your run-of-the-mill playing cards, but Giovanni also drew heavily on mythology, literature, and art in their creation and design, with the artwork hinting at huge background stories and mythology behind them. Many decks would follow these, all featuring his modern and sharp vector style.

Unlike some creators today, Giovanni does not stoop to lazy designs or simple recolours as a way of producing more decks. His playing cards are all about full customization, and every creation has had the benefit of much thought and work.

What you can expect from a Thirdway Industries deck is a sophisticated style of artwork with a Mediterranean and classic feel, accompanied by a thematic depth that is closely woven with his artistic vision. His playing cards aren’t just pretty faces, but have depth of personality and character.

Giovanni Meroni~2

10. Jackson Robinson (Kings Wild Project)

Jackson Robinson represents a very rare breed: he’s one of the few people around the world that makes a full-time living as a designer of custom playing cards. When he first announced his arrival in the playing card industry, he was just a one-man operation.

Today he runs a business with around 20 employees, who help him produce an ever-growing number of playing card designs and accessories, and send them to collectors around the world.

The deck that launched his career in 2013 was Federal 52, a wildly successful project that was cleverly inspired by paper currency. It featured a graphic design that borrowed elements of style from the traditional engraving designs of banknotes.

A follow-up project similarly proved to be an even bigger hit, and was one of the most successful crowdfunding projects of its time. Jackson continued building on this formula with further successes, including a Reserve Note deck and a Silver Certificate deck.

One of the reasons for Jackson’s continued success is that he creates limited edition decks on a subscription basis, which command premium prices and are highly desired by collectors. These include his Kings Wild Shorts and his Table Players subscription decks.

His output is enormous, and his decks showcase a range of styles and subject material, and reflect versatility and quality. It was no surprise that he took out the 2020 Diamond Award for 52 Plus Joker’s Artist of the Year.

And despite the constant stream of new decks coming out from Kings Wild Project, the quality is rarely diluted, and the impressive range of associated brand name products like clothing and even coffee only continues to grow.

Jackson Robinson

Final Thoughts

As mentioned at the outset, this isn’t an exhaustive list. There are certainly other strong contenders that deserve to be considered for an official Top 10 list, such: big names such as Steve Minty, Jocu, Uusi, and Montenzi. Each of these also represents top designer talent in the world of custom playing cards.

But there’s no doubt that the ten designers on the above list are among the elite playing card designers around today. If you look at the Deck of the Year award winners and Artist of the Year award winners from 52 Plus Joker’s annual Diamond Awards, as well as winners of similar awards from United Cardists (now Portfolio52) and Kardify, you’ll see their names feature prominently, as nominees and winners, and in many cases even as repeat winners.

These aren’t playing card designers who produce a one-trick pony, but all of them have made numerous and strong contributions of supreme quality, and rightly deserve to be regarded as among the very best in the industry.

Some collectors focus on specific brands, and that’s a legitimate approach to collecting playing cards. But another approach is to focus on collecting playing cards from specific playing card designers like these.

Many of these creators have their own brand, although Randy Butterfield is an example of a designer who has also published a significant amount of work under a variety of different labels. Whatever your preferences in custom playing cards may be, these are names that represent high-quality work that you absolutely should be familiar with and check out.

We are certainly privileged to live in a golden era of playing cards, where creative individuals like these are sharing their talents with us, and where we can even own a piece of their artistry in a small box that we call a deck of playing cards.

If you are also a talented designer, why not work with WJPC Playing Cards, and turn your artwork into reality?


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.