Today we wanted to announce something particularly exciting – our new $50 million web printing press machine is up and running, producing more exquisitely custom crafted card decks than ever before!
Then we realized people would probably have some questions, like, “Your what?” and, “Wait, how are playing cards made, anyway?” We should probably take a step back and first explain why this is important, how a web press works, and just what we’re doing with it. If you’ve ever wondered how to make playing cards, we’ll give a behind-the-scenes look into just how the process works.
The Web Press Printing Process
All playing cards are printed used specialized equipment – printing press made specifically to deal with the detailed requirements and stock paper used to create cards. A web press is a printing machine designed to print large amounts of playing cards quickly, while still maintaining high levels of accuracy. It’s often called “offset printing” or lithography, which is just a fancy way of saying that it’s a certain kind of printing method using detailed plates. Here’s how it works.
First, the card stock is chosen and shipped (some companies choose to create their own stock as well). Playing card stock can come in a variety of sizes and qualities: High-quality stock is needed to get that smooth, perfectly bendable feel that a deck of cards has, but sometimes creators prefer slightly stiffer or even more flexible cards, which calls for different stock. When the stock arrives, it’s usually in a giant roll to the front of the web press where it can be unspooled continuously – a bit like how the classic receipt machine paper rolls work, except far larger!
While the playing card manufacturer makes decisions about stock paper, the artists are also hard at work creating intricate designs for each card in the deck and other artwork in the packaging. As you’ve no doubt seen, these designs can be incredibly elaborate and beautiful, and artists take a lot of time to include the right themes and elements based on the overall goal of the deck. These designs are carefully saved as serious of digital files.
The digital files of the card designs are now used with advanced laser etching equipment to carve the design of each card on durable metal plates. That’s the advantage of the lithography process – each metal plate can be incredible detailed and used over and over again to create the same images. These plates are usually tested to make sure they are working flawlessly, and then loaded into the web press.
When everything is ready, the press is turned on and the stock is fed from the giant roll into the press. Special inks designed to dry fast and avoid smears are automatically applied to the design plates, which are then quite literally pressed against the stock to form the cards, one deck at a time. The cards are then quickly cycled through a heat tunnel that immediately cures the ink and ensure the designs is there to stay. The stock roll can be continuously fed through the web press, which can work as long as possible.
But wait, there’s another important step! All playing cards have a finish, which is what makes them slick and easy to move around. There are different kinds of finishes depending on how the cards are supposed to feel, if they’re going to be used for magic tricks, and so on. After the ink dries, these finishes are applied as a special coating, which is immediately cured as well. This also helps the cards resist water and staining.
Now the cards are fed into cutting machines that precisely cut the stock into what’s called “uncut sheets.” One sheet is simply a full deck of cards that hasn’t been separated yet but is much easier to transport. These sheets can be collectibles in their own right! However, most sheets are then taken to different machines that punch out each card separately and assembles them into boxes for sealing.
The Advantages of the Web Press Printing Method
The biggest advantage to large web presses like the model we are using is that they excel at speedy printing for particularly large orders. Generally, a web press uses very large stock rolls that are meant for high-volume printing of more than 15,000 units. This is a big advantage for speedily creating playing card decks that are made for widespread distribution. Seeing the web press in action is truly impressive – when everything goes right, it can print around 8 decks a second!
Our web press also offers another important advantage: It can work easily with “caliper” card stock. This is a more delicate, thinner type of stock that’s highly compatible with the web press and produces thinner, more flexible cards. Cards printed this way are said to be “thin crushed.” Because they are easier to manipulate than more standard types of stock, thin crushed cards are very popular among cardistry practitioners, magicians, and others practicing similar crafts.
But what happens to smaller orders or decks that aren’t printed on a web press? The alternative is called a sheet-fed press. Instead of using large stock rolls, a sheet-fed press uses, well, sheets that are already pre-cut and can be carefully fed into the printing machine, each at a time. This is much, much slower than a web press, but sheet-fed printing does have advantages of its own. It’s a great process for very special small runs where only a couple hundred decks may be printed for a specific event. The process also allows for some extremely detailed designs and special printing techniques that may not be possible on a web press.
The Cards We’re Printing with Our Latest Web Press Equipment
If you’re interested in taking a closer look at some thin-crushed cards, there are several lines that we’ve printed with our web press, and they’re perfect for tricks or practicing. Check them out!
- Tally Ho Playing Cards (Fan Back): Made by an arrangement between our company and the United State Playing Card Company, these cards are the perfect example of thin-crushed, heat-cured cards that are designed for cardistry feats and perfect for professionals. The backs feature an intricate and traditional fan-based design.
- Tally Ho Playing Cards (Circle Back): These custom playing cards feature the same high quality, but offer a mesmerizing circle design as an alternative to the fan art.
- Jerrys Nuggets Playing Cards: This thin-crushed series focuses on replicating the famous 1970s Jerrys run that have become a byword for magicians. These cards were created via an exclusive license with Jerry’s Nuggets Casino and are perfect for card trick professionals.