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Subject: Side by Side Comparison of Spray Finishes for Cards rss

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Lawrence
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There's been a good amount of discussion on card finishes lately. The entire time, I was hoping someone would chime in with first hand experience and do a handy comparison. It looks like most people only have experience with 1 or maybe even 2 types. This past weekend, I took the opportunity to do a side by side comparison of the three main types of finishes I've seen recommended:

- Clear Acrylic
- Polyurethane
- Lacquer

Clear Acrylic

Brand: Krylon
Link: Amazon | Michaels
MSRP: $8.99
Dry Time: 10 - 15 minutes
Handle Time: 2 hours

Comments: Crystal clear is pretty much acrylic paint without pigment and is the most commonly recommended finish I see. If you've ever felt dried acrylic paint before it's been sealed, you have a general idea of how it might feel.
Handling: Cards are very clumpy and intermittently stick against each other. This makes it awkward to deal cards every so often. Brushing the cards with wool (after the finish has dried) helps to even out the coat and improve this though. Out of the 3 sprays tested, Crystal Clear changes the texture of the paper the least.

Polyurethane

Brand: Krylon
Link: Amazon | Michaels
MSRP: $8.99
Dry Time: 15 minutes
Handle Time: 4 hours

Comments: Minwax is the usual brand I see recommended. But since I was at Michael's for Crystal Clear and had 30% off my entire purchase, I decided to just pick up the Krylon version. The type used is the GLOSS version.
Handling: The cards have much more satin-y / plastic-y feel than the Crystal Clear. Using a light coat, I still feel the texture of the cards, while the glide has improved. However, there is still a slight bit of clump every now and then. Like the Crystal Clear, this improves after break-in.

Lacquer

Brand: Krylon
Link: Amazon | -No listing on Michael's website, but it's available in-store-
MSRP: $6.99
Dry Time: 15 minutes
Handle Time: 4 hours

Comments: Lacquer is what Jake Staines uses in his video, How to Make Playing Cards.
Handling: Lacquer creates a harder coat than Crystal Clear or Polyurethane. As such, it adds a bit of extra snap. After drying, my 40 card deck had only one instance of clumping, which never repeated thereafter. A highlight for me (and possible downside for others) is that it makes the texture of the paper more prominent. Since I use linen paper, the ridges have become much more noticeable. Additionally, the lacquer seems to have a more reflective sheen. I play under home lighting, so this isn't an issue. If you play under bright fluorescent or LED lighting, you may want to consider another option.

Conclusions

After initial spray and testing, I would personally rank the finishes as such:

- Lacquer
- Polyurethane
- Crystal Clear

I will go forward using lacquer, but can see a case for polyurethane if lighting is an issue. If you REALLY want to preserve the papery texture of the cards, Crystal Clear is the better choice. However, you'll need to work them to even out the coat and lessen the clumpiness.

Notes on Spray Finishing Cards

Since I expect that DIY neophytes will eventually stumble onto this page while researching finishes, I wanted to add on a few tips for applying these finishes:

- Start off the page and spray across your work, ending off the page. This ensures full coverage of the edges.
- Spray 8 - 12 inches away for larger area coverage and so the work isn't soaked.
- You only need a LIGHT coat. This will dry faster and lessen uneven buildup.
- Make sure that you finish your cards before gluing. Several finishes have solvents that will react negatively with many glues.
- Allow enough time to fully dry between phases.

Card Making Tutorials
Jake Staines - How to Make Playing Cards [Video]
Nick Hayes - Making Cards: You'll never use your old method again [Text]
Sean Forrester - My Overkill Card-Making Technique [Text]
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Jake Staines
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For the benefit of people in the UK, I can add:

[UK] Halfords/Simoniz Acrylic Lacquer

Brand: Halfords/Simoniz
Link: Halfords @ Halfords | Simoniz @ Halfords
MSRP: £6 / £7.50 for 500ml (Simoniz is available much cheaper and in bulk on eBay)
Dry Time: ~15-30 mins
Total Cure Time: ~2 hours

Comments: I don't know exactly what Lawrence means by 'clumping', but my comments for these would be fairly similar to his comments for 'Lacquer' above. I'd add that if you make the cards as soon as the lacquer is dry, but not yet fully cured, the snap is actually reduced somewhat - the cards feel a bit limp and disappointing. By the time the coating is fully cured, the snap is better than cards which aren't coated.
These two are marketed separately from different companies but I cannot tell any functional difference between them except for price.

It's probably worth noting that unlike (as I understand it) the Krylon Crystal Clear that Lawrence links to, this stuff is sold for clear-coating cars. It's expected to hold up to weather, which could explain why it's a good tough formulation. It might be something to look out for in particular. Also in my experience stuff sold for cars is cheaper than stuff sold for craft/models, even when it's exactly the same thing. Maybe because cars are much bigger!

[UK] Baufix Clear Lacquer

Brand: Baufix (Lidl)
Link: Overview on Offersdirect. (Lidl sell only sporadically and don't have a permanent presence for this product.)
MSRP: £2.50 for 400ml
Dry Time: FOREVER
Cure Time: ???

Comments: I've used this on wood before and it cures about as well as any other spray-lacquer for wood and gives a good finish. However, it just doesn't seem to dry on cards - it remained tacky two days later. It could be that it has a bad reaction with the plastic of the toner - that kind of interaction isn't unheard of - and maybe if I used an inkjet it would be fine. But I definitely wouldn't recommend it for laser prints and I'd be wary anyway.
I believe this isn't acrylic based on the descriptions on the can, but I don't know what it is made of.

[UK] Plasti-kote Polyurethane Varnish

Brand: Plasti-kote
Link: Amazon
MSRP: I honestly have no idea but right now Amazon is selling it for £7.39 for 400ml
Dry Time: ~2-4 hours, IIRC
Cure Time: ~4-6 hours, IIRC

Comments: This works for cards, but it's a pain compared to a good acrylic lacquer, because it takes so long to cure. I've used it a couple of times but only when I ran out of the good stuff; as with the Baufix above, it's really aimed more at woodwork or similar. It seems fairly comparable to the Acrylic Lacquer in terms of glossiness, slip, snap etc., but for whatever reason feels a bit softer to the touch.

I'd also add that generally you should prefer gloss to satin for cards - more shine equals less friction, and often the main thing that will distinguish your PnP cards from commercial cards is friction.




mavericklancer wrote:

Comments: Lacquer is what Jake Staines uses in his video, How to Make Playing Cards.


Probably!

The problem is that "acrylic" refers to a particular family of plastics but isn't very specific as to the exact formulation. "Acrylic" runs the whole gamut from super-hard PMMA (Plexiglas/Perspex) that WWII aircraft canopies were made out of right the way down to soft miniature and craft paints that you can tear with a fingernail.

"Lacquer" is even less specific than that! These days it really just means "a protective coat". Maybe "which is thinned with organic solvents and cures to a hard shell", but even that isn't always the case. To a lot of people, "lacquer" means "nitrocellulose paint", which dries super-fast and almost certainly isn't what you're talking about here. To others it means shellac, which is made from insect resin!

The moral of the story is that if you have a recommendation for a specific brand, like Lawrence is giving above, then take it. But you can't necessarily assume that the review is true for all things of the same broad class.
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Lawrence
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Bichatse wrote:
For the benefit of people in the UK, I can add: [...]


Thanks for the additions, Jake!

Quote:
Comments: I don't know exactly what Lawrence means by 'clumping', but my comments for these would be fairly similar to his comments for 'Lacquer' above.


Clumping is really just what happens when you try to deal one card off the top of the deck and end up taking 2 or 3 cards. Another way to describe it would be that the resultant friction of the spray coat is too high or that the slip is bad.

Quote:

"Lacquer" is even less specific than that! These days it really just means "a protective coat". Maybe "which is thinned with organic solvents and cures to a hard shell", but even that isn't always the case. To a lot of people, "lacquer" means "nitrocellulose paint", which dries super-fast and almost certainly isn't what you're talking about here. To others it means shellac, which is made from insect resin!

The moral of the story is that if you have a recommendation for a specific brand, like Lawrence is giving above, then take it. But you can't necessarily assume that the review is true for all things of the same broad class.


Thanks for the clarification. I was pretty confused about this for a good long while. The first time I tried buying a spray coat, I saw varying brands of clear acrylic, lacquer, and varnish (sometimes all three by the same company). It's difficult to tell what you really need until you've tried them.
 
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mavericklancer wrote:
- Make sure that you finish your cards before gluing. Several finishes have solvents that will react negatively with many glues.
I can attest to the necessity of finishing first. With my first go at making cards, I decided after completing the cards, to give the cards one final coat of acrylic. Many of the cards started becoming unglued and I had no choice but to sleeve them. Nice linen paper isn't as nice in sleeves...
 
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joel hansen
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What are you gluing with, that it doesn't handle being finished after?

I use 3M super 77 spay adhesive and it handles finishing spray just fine....

I'm wondering if it just has to do with time. I wait 24 hours for the glue to harden before I use finish on the cards.
 
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I cannot recall the glue brand, but it was a spray adhesive. I used the Krylon acrylic pictured in the original post. The cards had been done for days, so it wasn't drying time. Unlike finish coatings one can't apply multiple light layers of glue and I may have been too light with the single coat I applied.
 
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Angela Mcgavisk
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How long did it take for them to become unglued? Want to test a finish on cards that I already glued and cut
 
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Nicolette Tanksley
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Can anyone compare Krylon Triple-thick Clear Glaze to the rest on the list?

 
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Amcgavisk wrote:
How long did it take for them to become unglued? Want to test a finish on cards that I already glued and cut
I can't recall if it happened soon after application or after the finish dried. Regardless, it began happening soon after application.
 
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Michel Velleman
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mavericklancer wrote:
There's been a good amount of discussion on card finishes lately. The entire time, I was hoping someone would chime in with first hand experience and do a handy comparison. It looks like most people only have experience with 1 or maybe even 2 types. This past weekend, I took the opportunity to do a side by side comparison of the three main types of finishes I've seen recommended:

- Clear Acrylic
- Polyurethane
- Lacquer

Clear Acrylic

Brand: Krylon
Link: Amazon | Michaels
MSRP: $8.99
Dry Time: 10 - 15 minutes
Handle Time: 2 hours

Comments: Crystal clear is pretty much acrylic paint without pigment and is the most commonly recommended finish I see. If you've ever felt dried acrylic paint before it's been sealed, you have a general idea of how it might feel.
Handling: Cards are very clumpy and intermittently stick against each other. This makes it awkward to deal cards every so often. Brushing the cards with wool (after the finish has dried) helps to even out the coat and improve this though. Out of the 3 sprays tested, Crystal Clear changes the texture of the paper the least.

Polyurethane

Brand: Krylon
Link: Amazon | Michaels
MSRP: $8.99
Dry Time: 15 minutes
Handle Time: 4 hours

Comments: Minwax is the usual brand I see recommended. But since I was at Michael's for Crystal Clear and had 30% off my entire purchase, I decided to just pick up the Krylon version. The type used is the GLOSS version.
Handling: The cards have much more satin-y / plastic-y feel than the Crystal Clear. Using a light coat, I still feel the texture of the cards, while the glide has improved. However, there is still a slight bit of clump every now and then. Like the Crystal Clear, this improves after break-in.

Lacquer

Brand: Krylon
Link: Amazon | -No listing on Michael's website, but it's available in-store-
MSRP: $6.99
Dry Time: 15 minutes
Handle Time: 4 hours

Comments: Lacquer is what Jake Staines uses in his video, How to Make Playing Cards.
Handling: Lacquer creates a harder coat than Crystal Clear or Polyurethane. As such, it adds a bit of extra snap. After drying, my 40 card deck had only one instance of clumping, which never repeated thereafter. A highlight for me (and possible downside for others) is that it makes the texture of the paper more prominent. Since I use linen paper, the ridges have become much more noticeable. Additionally, the lacquer seems to have a more reflective sheen. I play under home lighting, so this isn't an issue. If you play under bright fluorescent or LED lighting, you may want to consider another option.

Conclusions

After initial spray and testing, I would personally rank the finishes as such:

- Lacquer
- Polyurethane
- Crystal Clear

I will go forward using lacquer, but can see a case for polyurethane if lighting is an issue. If you REALLY want to preserve the papery texture of the cards, Crystal Clear is the better choice. However, you'll need to work them to even out the coat and lessen the clumpiness.

Notes on Spray Finishing Cards

Since I expect that DIY neophytes will eventually stumble onto this page while researching finishes, I wanted to add on a few tips for applying these finishes:

- Start off the page and spray across your work, ending off the page. This ensures full coverage of the edges.
- Spray 8 - 12 inches away for larger area coverage and so the work isn't soaked.
- You only need a LIGHT coat. This will dry faster and lessen uneven buildup.
- Make sure that you finish your cards before gluing. Several finishes have solvents that will react negatively with many glues.
- Allow enough time to fully dry between phases.

Card Making Tutorials
Jake Staines - How to Make Playing Cards [Video]
Nick Hayes - Making Cards: You'll never use your old method again [Text]
Sean Forrester - My Overkill Card-Making Technique [Text]


Would a side by side pictorial be a possibility? Your writing is quite clear and evocative but I'm still curious about the overall look of each product.
Also, having just discovered this possibility, how do coated cards fare in regards to side damage (splitting, nicks and tare, etc.)?

Thanks!

 
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Well, it appears I'm going to go through each of the finished Lawrence listed. shake

I was using the Crystal Clear based on multiple positive mentions in various threads around here. It works well enough, but it does clump, and it stinks for quite a while.

I just got some of the Minwax gloss Polyurethane and am in the process of building my first deck using that. I can already see the difference--there is definitely a better, more plasticky (in a good way) feel to the surface. It seems slicker and like the finished cards will slide easier. It also does not smell nearly so much, and what smell there is is more of new furniture than oily. Also, the Minwax spray nozzle is far better & makes it easier to more quickly get the even, light coat down.

Of course, I now see that where I was thinking "Polyurethane is what they said to use" was really "Polyurethane is choice #2, you need Lacquer" shake So, once I use up the Minwax, I'll swing by the Lowes again & pick up the Valspar high-gloss. Bonus: I'ts half as much as the other options.
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Meric68 wrote:

Would a side by side pictorial be a possibility? Your writing is quite clear and evocative but I'm still curious about the overall look of each product.
Also, having just discovered this possibility, how do coated cards fare in regards to side damage (splitting, nicks and tare, etc.)?


The problem with a pictorial is that all three dry clear and don't yellow... so the difference mostly comes down to feel rather than look. I haven't played with any of my PNP's enough to notice any nicks or cracking, so I also can't help with that.
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Tom McThorn
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I used Wal-Mart brand clear spray on my PnP games. Gave a nice matte finish but I did have to wipe them down with a cloth to get the dust from the spray off.
 
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Thank you for posting! I'm going to try the laquer the next time I make a custom board.
 
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Michel Velleman
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mavericklancer wrote:
Meric68 wrote:

Would a side by side pictorial be a possibility? Your writing is quite clear and evocative but I'm still curious about the overall look of each product.
Also, having just discovered this possibility, how do coated cards fare in regards to side damage (splitting, nicks and tare, etc.)?


The problem with a pictorial is that all three dry clear and don't yellow... so the difference mostly comes down to feel rather than look. I haven't played with any of my PNP's enough to notice any nicks or cracking, so I also can't help with that.


Well, at kestrel you have played them, so if splitting or other issues were quick to manifest you would have noticed, so your words are good enough for me!
 
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Got my first decks using the Minwax Polyurethane coating done. What a huge improvement over the Krylon Crystal Clear. No stink--the new furniture odor fades completely almost by the time the cards are cut out. No clumping/sticking at all. The final finish is darn close to professional plastic-coated cards. Better yet, it's easily available at my local hardware store and cheaper than hobby/craft/art store prices for the Krylon.

I'll track down and try lacquer later, but the Minwax does indeed work quite well.
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Andy Leedy

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claudermilk wrote:
Got my first decks using the Minwax Polyurethane coating done. What a huge improvement over the Krylon Crystal Clear. No stink--the new furniture odor fades completely almost by the time the cards are cut out. No clumping/sticking at all. The final finish is darn close to professional plastic-coated cards. Better yet, it's easily available at my local hardware store and cheaper than hobby/craft/art store prices for the Krylon.

I'll track down and try lacquer later, but the Minwax does indeed work quite well.


Is this the one you used? Or was it the gold can?

 
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bkahuna wrote:
claudermilk wrote:
Got my first decks using the Minwax Polyurethane coating done. What a huge improvement over the Krylon Crystal Clear. No stink--the new furniture odor fades completely almost by the time the cards are cut out. No clumping/sticking at all. The final finish is darn close to professional plastic-coated cards. Better yet, it's easily available at my local hardware store and cheaper than hobby/craft/art store prices for the Krylon.

I'll track down and try lacquer later, but the Minwax does indeed work quite well.


Is this the one you used? Or was it the gold can?


Yep! That is the exact can. If you have a Home Depot near you, look for it there--that's where I found it. Double-checking my source, the gold can is the satin finish, the grey can is the gloss.
 
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Great. I'll pick up a can tomorrow and give it a try.
 
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