Making a deck of throwing cards

    The Widow Maker playing cards are part of a side project I've been slowly working on called Dead Eye Club. My goal is to design and produce products that are fun both to work on and play with.

    It's a side project, so the product release schedule might be slow and sporadic, but I've really enjoyed having Dead Eye Club as a low stakes creative outlet I can mess around with.


    I fell in love with playing cards after I fell down a hole on YouTube. There's a large community of people that produce content about all aspects of playing cards, from how the cards feel in the hand, to how they perform in different situations, to the intricacies of the design, to the history. It's a fascinating subject to look into.

    At some point trying to climb out of that hole, I decided to try and produce a deck.

    Here's some stuff I learned

    • Decks are usually made of high-quality thick paper. These cards are favored by magicians and in cardistry (the word used to describe “performance art” involving cards). They have superior “handling,” but they can deform over time and don’t last forever.
    • Some decks are made of plastic. Plastic cards have some advantages, they last longer, can bend almost completely in half and still hold their shape, can be wiped off if beer or water is spilled on them. They’re more expensive though and don't handle as well in cardistry. (They slide around a lot.)
    • Thin white borders around the backs of the cards make it harder for people to “mark” the cards when they’re playing. Marking cards allows cheaters to spot the mark they made on the card when in an opponents hand.
    • Some cards are marked by design allowing magicians (or cheaters!) to easily see what the card is just by looking at the back. Different cards have different marking systems and some of them are really interesting. My personal favorite is a deck that David Blane produced. Incredibly, the card markings can be read from up to 50 feet away, making it very easy to do some pretty mind blowing magic.
    • The ace of spades is nearly always special, and is a chance for the card designer to really go crazy.
    • The royalty cards are nearly always the same! Sometimes designers mix things up here, or subtly put their own or friends' faces in them.
    • There have been thousands of successful playing card campaigns on kickstarter. It's a very active cateogry! There's a lot of designers that have great ideas for decks and a lot of collectors excitedly ready to buy.
    • Almost all playing cards are manufacturered by the same company. USPCC, AKA the United States Playing Card Company. Their base prices range from $2.90 - $1.33 per deck depending on how many you order (between 1,000 and 10,000 units, respectively!). These prices can go way up if you want to add custom details, such as premium paper upgrades, custom seals, embossing on tuck case, etc.

    Designing process

    I wanted to optimize a deck of cards for throwing.

    I took the "shotgun" approach to finding a manufacturer. After searching for suppliers, I ordered multiple different decks for testing.

    After lots of testing it became clear that PVC plastic cards performed better. Paper cards deformed too quickly and didn't have much weight when thrown. It was possible to chip the edges of the PVC cards if they were thrown at a solid surface, but overall, they're the superior choice for throwing.


    "Research and Development" 😂

    I thought it would be fun to style the deck of cards after a (fake) cigarette brand. I find cigarette brands particularly interesting because they're no longer allowed to do any kind of advertising. The design of the pack has to stand alone and speak for itself on a shelf. It's also pretty On Brand™ for Dead Eye Club.


    I spent some time gathering some inspiration images to show the designer.

    I lucked out and found an amazing card designer. Before starting this project I didn't even know that was a thing, but yes... There are people whose entire job is designing playing cards.

    Nick Vlow designed the Widow Maker deck. Working with him was a blast. If you're interested in creating your own deck of cards, I can't recommend working with him enough. He posts new stuff he does to dribbble and instagram. You should follow him!


    My buddy Thom deserves all of the credit for coming up with the name.

    Once Nick and I had discussed the style of the deck, updates started coming fast. We started off by honing in on "The Royals", and trying to get the expressions and styles of the skeletons right. We went through a few iterations before it was perfect.


    These three were proposed early on in the process.

    In keeping with the throwing theme of the deck, we wanted all of The Royals to be carrying some sort of throwing weapon. There are spears, throwing knives, bows and arrows and slingshots. Some of the queens could be holding targets, or apples in their hands, so that people would have something to shoot at!


    Two subtly different jack concepts.

    We wanted some markings on the backs of the cards that people could use as a guide to track how far the cards penetrated if they were thrown into an object (like an apple or banana).


    Nick started out sketching ideas on paper.

    The final versions of the backs look amazing. I ended up choosing the gold-on-black version on the far right of the picture below. You'll also notice some hidden Dead Eye Club logos, and some small accents taken directly from the Dead Eye Club logo.


    The subtle concentric circles are there to track penitration.

    The Cards

    I sent the design files to the manufacturer and anxiously waited. They sent me a few pictures of the cards being made, but it was impossible to gauge the final print quality until I held them in my hands.

    Production took 23 days, followed by another week for shipping.


    This is what 1,000 decks of uncut playing cards looks like.

    I tried to add lots of little Easter egg details to the cards. Those details include things like...

    • The logo is hidden throughout the deck. Sometimes it's easier to see (like on the backs), but often it's extremely subtle (like the pattern in the clothes of the royal clubs.

    • I have a pet mouse that lives in a skull. I couldn't resist having him hiding in one of the eyes of the royal cards.

    • As a way of saying thanks for coming up with a name, I made sure to include a detail that was inspired by Thom's first tattoo. His first tattoo was origionally inspired by a playing card he found, so it was quite fitting. :)

    • Half of the kings are holding slingshots, which have the exact profile of the slingshot that Dead Eye Club will (hopefully?) be releasing sometime next year.

    The cards themselves turned out amazing. They're made of PVC plastic and they're 0.32mm thick, which doesn't really come across in the pictures, but they're very thick!


    Shuffling with these cards is also very easy. You can just cut the deck, and push them together.


    Very easy!

    They also photograph very well!

    Inspiration for the photoshoot


    ....annnddd some pictures from the actual photoshoot.


    Playing cards are cool. Making a deck of playing cards was fun. If you want you can buy some.


    Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Jon-Paul Wheatley

    Product focused founder. Brit in the USA.

    San Francisco

    Making a deck of throwing cards

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