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Update:
I recently developed a variation on this method that produces better cards than the method outlined here. You can see the details here. It basically suggests using one sheet of linen cover stock and one sheet of linen paper instead of two sheets of cover stock.
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Minion Games recently asked me to create professional-quality cards for the three games they would be taking to the GAMA trade show. They needed demo versions of their games, but because the final print run from China would arrive too late, they asked a few people from the BGG community to help them out. I accepted the offer. Since I have a few card-making methods up my sleeve that turn out great cards, I wasn’t worried about being unable to fulfill the order.

However, I had been toying with an idea for about a week that I believed would create absolutely stunning cards. This new method, which this tutorial will illustrate, turned out to work so well that I will never use any other method of making cards again.

The cards in the images below come from Those Pesky Humans! (website).

What you will need:

Linen cover stock (67lb)
Spray adhesive
Rolling pin
Craft knife (or rotary cutter)
Metal ruler
Cutting mat
Corner punch
Light table (or reasonable substitute)

Preparation:
Purchase some linen cover stock. No other paper will do.

I bought the box shown above for $14.99 at Staples. It contains 100 sheets of linen cover stock, which works out to about 15 cents a sheet. Linen cover stock has a thickness of 67lbs. Regular cardstock (or index) is 110lbs. Your average copy paper is around 20lbs. One sheet of cardstock is too thin for playing cards, but two sheets of cover stock glued together is perfect. And that’s what we’re going to do.

Since we’ll be gluing two sheets together, you’ll need separate pages for the card fronts and the card backs. Get all of your files in order and take them to the copy store along with your stack of linen cover stock.

Have you images printed on a color laser printer (in my case, the very same Staples) using your linen cover stock. This part is important: the paper has two distinctly different sides. One side is smooth like regular paper and the other is textured. Instruct the person making your prints to print your images on the textured side. If they mistakenly print on the wrong side, don’t accept them. Have them print the cards again on the correct side.

The prints should look something like this:

You’ll notice that the laser printer coupled with the linen cover stock produce a coated surface that is virtually identical to standard playing cards. If you’re like me, you’ll be so impressed with how awesome the prints came out that you’ll be unable to stop looking at them, even while attempting to drive home. Please don’t do this; it’s difficult to explain to the paramedics.


Making the cards

Spray:
Take one page of card backs outside and spray it evenly with a good layer of adhesive. Wave it around a bit on your way back inside to improve the tackiness and strength of the glue. Only spray one sheet at a time. Otherwise, the adhesive will dry up on the other sheets before you can get to them.

Align:

Lay the sheet down on the light table (glue side up!). If you don’t have a light table, a regular lamp under a glass table or sheet of hard plastic works just as well. Take the matching sheet of card fronts and, without letting it touch the adhesive surface of the card backs, line up two prints by matching two corners on one side.
Once you’re certain the two images are lined up, lay down the top page and smooth it out with your hand. Next, take it to the cutting mat and get your rolling pin handy.

Press:

Place a piece of waste paper on top of your card sheet to protect it from the rolling pin. If you have an unusually dirty cutting mat, put one down there, too. Use the rolling pin to
really flatten out the card sheet. Don’t be afraid to put your weight on it, as the harder you press, the better the glue will work. If you don’t have a rolling pin, you can get by with placing the cards under some really heavy books for an hour or so.


Cut:

Once your card sheets are sufficiently pressed, take them to the cutting mat. Using your craft knife and metal ruler (or rotary cutter), cut out the cards. One bit of advice on this step: always cut your cards with the card backs face up. If you line up all your cuts along the card backs, any misalignment you might have from step two will only show up on the front of the card. If you do it the other way around, you might end up with nice looking fronts, but some of your card backs will be marked!


Punch:

Once you’ve cut some cards, take them over to the corner punch. This step isn’t necessary, but sharp edges on cards don’t always look nice. Punch all of your cards using your corner rounder. Hopefully the game you’re building doesn’t call for too many cards. Otherwise you’ll be at this step for a while.


The finished product will be a set of very impressive cards.

Some other thoughts:
If you want to use your home inkjet printer instead of a laser printer, spray the prints with a couple coats of clear acrylic spray before gluing and cutting. This will add that smooth protective finish that all cards should have.

When I originally came up with this idea, I had planned on gluing the two sheets together with Mod Podge. I scrapped the idea however, because I felt it would have made the cards too soft, which would make shuffling them feel really weird.

A laser print on linen cover stock would also make a very professional-looking box wrap. I probably wouldn’t use it for tokens or game boards, because those generally have a smooth texture.

I made my light table for around $25 with one trip to Home Depot. All you need is two small fluorescent lamps, one sheet of glass, one 8-foot length of 2x4, and some wood screws. Make a frame with the 2x4 that will support the glass, mount the lamps inside the frame, and you're done!

And lastly, thanks to Minion Games for giving me the chance to build some amazing cards for their demo. If you happen to see them at GAMA this March in Las Vegas, I’d love to hear how you liked my cards.
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Rob Freeman
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Just in response, I am a lucky owner of one of his cards and they are great. I can't shuffle just one card but it is very sturdy. I wish I had this tutorial before I started making Wiz War.
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Lovely!

Adding linen paper to my wishlist now.
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Thanks Nick! Very nice tutorial. I liked the "wave the sheet around as you bring it inside" advice!
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Ron Parker
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In my experience, dense patches of laser toner have a habit of flaking off of cardstock when you bend it. For example, the StarCraft tuckboxes I printed on my HP 2600n color laser are now covered with white flecks where the toner has decided to part ways with the cardstock. How well do your cards hold up to vigorous shuffling?


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Judit Szepessy
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An excellent article, thanks!
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Cristiano Cozzolino
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Really interesting. Do you think that sticking the linen sheet to a standard sheet or cardstock (something similar in weight to the linen) in order to have one side textured and one smooth is possible?.... even maybe using the back of the linen?

Have you tried printing with laser or inkjet with an home printer?
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Nick Hayes
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robdizzledeets wrote:
Just in response, I am a lucky owner of one of his cards and they are great. I can't shuffle just one card but it is very sturdy. I wish I had this tutorial before I started making Wiz War.

Actually Rob, you have one of the cards from my old method. This new style is much, much better.
parkrrrr wrote:
In my experience, dense patches of laser toner have a habit of flaking off of cardstock when you bend it. For example, the StarCraft tuckboxes I printed on my HP 2600n color laser are now covered with white flecks where the toner has decided to part ways with the cardstock. How well do your cards hold up to vigorous shuffling?

You're right, the black edges are susceptible to damage. What I would probably do is repair the edges with a black marker. But before that I would design my cards with white borders. Alternatively, and I haven't tried this yet, you could spray the cards with a clear coat before cutting them. That might work, too.
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Nick Hayes
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Elianto wrote:
Really interesting. Do you think that sticking the linen sheet to a standard sheet or cardstock (something similar in weight to the linen) in order to have one side textured and one smooth is possible?.... even maybe using the back of the linen?

Yes, it's possible. You could really change the thickness of the cards doing it this way. I thought about printing one side on the linen cover stock and the other side on label paper. But I don't like the idea of only getting the texture on one side.
Elianto wrote:
Have you tried printing with laser or inkjet with an home printer?

I haven't printed at home yet, but I will be trying it today on my inkjet. I'll let you know how it turns out.
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Weaving Geek
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Nice! I have some linen stock left from printing my master's thesis... was wondering what I was going to do with it.
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historysteph wrote:
Nice! I have some linen stock left from printing my master's thesis... was wondering what I was going to do with it.

One thing to note: make sure you use linen cover stock. Regular linen paper is not thick enough to make cards.
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Rob Freeman
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I wanna throw out my useless 110# cardstock that makes awful cards. And sorry to all for lying saying I had one of these cards but even the old method is an amazing card!
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Cristiano Cozzolino
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Black Canyon wrote:
Elianto wrote:
Really interesting. Do you think that sticking the linen sheet to a standard sheet or cardstock (something similar in weight to the linen) in order to have one side textured and one smooth is possible?.... even maybe using the back of the linen?

Yes, it's possible. You could really change the thickness of the cards doing it this way. I thought about printing one side on the linen cover stock and the other side on label paper. But I don't like the idea of only getting the texture on one side.
Elianto wrote:
Have you tried printing with laser or inkjet with an home printer?

I haven't printed at home yet, but I will be trying it today on my inkjet. I'll let you know how it turns out.


I didn't think about using label sheet and linen, it could be a way to avoid also the spray.

About the linen I've to see if and how it is available here in italy, but I see that it's produced in various colors too. Usefull if you don't want to print the back or if you want to aviod printing too much dark colors.
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Matthew Holley
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Those are indeed some good looking cards, but...

Can you put a cost on it? 'Coz it seems to me that twelve pieces of linen cardstock plus paying Staples to print twelve pages is already gonna run close to what you'd pay for an Artscow deck with a coupon! Then you have to add in tools and time and the high probability that you'll screw something up the first time...

I spend a lot of time, effort, and money assembling PnP games and 'pimping out' my storebought games, but help me understand why I wouldn't go the Artscow route here?
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Thank you for sharing! It was enlightening :)
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Patrick Kruse
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stjase wrote:
Those are indeed some good looking cards, but...

Can you put a cost on it? 'Coz it seems to me that twelve pieces of linen cardstock plus paying Staples to print twelve pages is already gonna run close to what you'd pay for an Artscow deck with a coupon! Then you have to add in tools and time and the high probability that you'll screw something up the first time...

I spend a lot of time, effort, and money assembling PnP games and 'pimping out' my storebought games, but help me understand why I wouldn't go the Artscow route here?


Well, the linen cover stock (as stated above) is fifteen cents a page. A quick check of the Staples website says that they charge about 44 cents per page, color prints. Two sheets and two print jobs per sheet of nine cards is about $1.18 per sheet, or about 13.1 cents per card.

Artscow (without a coupon) charges $10.99 per 54 custom cards - or about 20.4 cents per card. Add shipping on top of that, unless you have a coupon.

I don't know the quality of the custom Artscow cards, so I don't know if it is a fair comparison or not.
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Nick Hayes
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pakruse wrote:
stjase wrote:
Those are indeed some good looking cards, but...

Can you put a cost on it? 'Coz it seems to me that twelve pieces of linen cardstock plus paying Staples to print twelve pages is already gonna run close to what you'd pay for an Artscow deck with a coupon! Then you have to add in tools and time and the high probability that you'll screw something up the first time...

I spend a lot of time, effort, and money assembling PnP games and 'pimping out' my storebought games, but help me understand why I wouldn't go the Artscow route here?


Well, the linen cover stock (as stated above) is fifteen cents a page. A quick check of the Staples website says that they charge about 44 cents per page, color prints. Two sheets and two print jobs per sheet of nine cards is about $1.18 per sheet, or about 13.1 cents per card.

Artscow (without a coupon) charges $10.99 per 54 custom cards - or about 20.4 cents per card. Add shipping on top of that, unless you have a coupon.

I don't know the quality of the custom Artscow cards, so I don't know if it is a fair comparison or not.

So this is a good point.

Actually, my costs worked out to 75 cents per sheet (60 cents for the print and 15 cents for the paper) which would be $1.50 for nine cards or 16.66 cents per card. If you calculate adhesive, which I haven't done, and labor, then an Artscow deck with coupon would probably be cheaper. But the quality will be far inferior.

A lot of the complaints about Artscow cards mention how thin the cardstock is. Cards made from linen cover stock are a bit thicker than Magic cards and have a great texture. Another common complaint from Artscow is misprinted or badly cut cards. This usually has more to do with the user's familiarity with the Silverlight software, but it can be a problem. If you make your cards by hand, you can control the cutting.

I don't think this method should replace Artscow. You can get a deck of very playable cards from them for a very low price without any work. I prefer making my cards this way because the final product is of a much higher quality.
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If you don't need full-sized cards, you could cut down the cost by squeezing a few more cards on the page (maybe 12 or 16).

Tom
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What spray adhesive do you use? I've previously tried gluing two sheets of thick A4 paper together and that just ended up in a horrible mess. =( The sheets stuck together too hard, making alignment and repositioning impossible.
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Celina
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Part of making your own cards/tiles/boards, at least for me, is the "I must have this NOW" feeling.

I priced linen cover stock at Office Depot today, it was $14.99 for 100 sheets in white.
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the best Spray adhesive I have found is Super 77 - it is also the priciest but worth it. Very strong so it is not forgiving so be careful when layering the pieces together.
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How do they shuffle?
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Phreedh wrote:
What spray adhesive do you use? I've previously tried gluing two sheets of thick A4 paper together and that just ended up in a horrible mess. =( The sheets stuck together too hard, making alignment and repositioning impossible.


The advice that I got, and what has worked for me, is to "book" your sheets before you glue them. That is, take the two sheets that you plan to glue together and tape them along one edge so that they open like a book with your images on the outside (cover) of the book. Make sure that when the book is closed, the images line up correctly. If they don't, you can line up the images, trim along one edge, and then use that trimmed edge as the spine of your "book". Now you apply your adhesive and close your book. The alignment should be correct without needing to adjust. Proceed with the rolling pin, etc. All this assumes that there is enough blank margin on your sheets that the taped portion will be cut off when you make your cards.
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Roland Wagner
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Outstanding tutorial! Thank you for sharing!

The idea with the light table for aligning is great, it never occured to me before.
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Nick Hayes
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Phreedh wrote:
What spray adhesive do you use? I've previously tried gluing two sheets of thick A4 paper together and that just ended up in a horrible mess. =( The sheets stuck together too hard, making alignment and repositioning impossible.

Well, I was using Krylon brand, but that ran out. So I picked up some 3M Super 77. It doesn't really matter what brand you use as long as you don't ever use anything that contains the words "repositionable" or "photo mount."
WonderCinz wrote:
...and what has worked for me, is to "book" your sheets before you glue them

This is really good advice if you don't want to use a light table. This is how I've done it in the past and it works just great.
ejcarter wrote:
How do they shuffle?

The linen paper lacks the springiness of regular playing cards, so they feel a little soft when you shuffle them. That's the only thing I don't like about these cards so far. I've been thinking of ways to fix this, like inserting a layer of acetate in the middle, but I haven't done any testing yet. One thing I have tried that makes the cards stiffer is coating them with a gloss acrylic spray. That has produced the best cards so far.
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