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Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck vs EPCC decks: four key elements

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EndersGame

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I've been researching some of the elements that come into play that affect that quality and handling of a USPCC deck, and a comparison with decks by Legends/Expert Playing Card Company.  This post has had the benefit of extensive input from Don Boyer, whose expertise and insights I gratefully acknowledge.  Hopefully this article will help others who might be wondering about this, and prove a useful resource in the future.

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USPCC Produced Decks

A common question is how the card quality of Ellusionist decks compares with regular Bicycle and other decks from US Playing Card Company, which is generally regarded as the top American producer of quality playing cards.  The short answer is: Very well, thank you!  That's because (with the exception of their mini decks, and their Artifice gaff decks) Ellusionist has their decks printed by USPCC! However there are different options available when having cards printed by the US Playing Card Company:

1. Stock: Bicycle Standard, Bee Casino, or Thin Crush

This refers to the paper used in the printing process, and qualities like its thickness, stiffness, and durability.

The original printings of Ellusionist's Black Tiger decks were on a special "UV 500" stock, which was sensitive to (ultraviolet) black light, but USPCC discontinued using that card-stock when they relocated to Kentucky in 2009.  Since then USPCC only gave two choices of card-stock: Bicycle Standard stock or Bee Casino stock.  More recently they added a third choice, Thin-Crush stock, which is more thin, slippery and quicker-wearing but hence usually preferred only by magicians.  Ellusionist decks are typically printed with the Bee Casino grade stock, which is often (but not always) slightly thicker, stiffer, and more durable than the Bicycle stock, and can require some breaking in. 

There can be variation in paper shipments, so while Bee Casino stock is usually thicker/stiffer than Bicycle Standard stock, this isn't always the case.  According to Don Boyer's post here, as of around 2013 USPCC no longer offers their card stock by weight in grams per square meter.  So you can no longer state that Bicycle stock is 325 gsm, 300 gsm or any such number. From one of USPCC's biggest custom customers Don learned that when offering their two main stocks - Bicycle (lighter) and Bee Casino (heavier) - these are measured by thickness, and the thickness of each stock actually falls within a range of thicknesses, and these two ranges actuall overlap.  So it can sometimes happen that a deck produced with Bicycle stock has paper as thick as some Bee Casino stock decks, while a deck with Bee Casino stock has paper as thin as some Bicycle stock decks.

2. Texture: Smooth, or Embossed

Technically the "finish" of a playing cards refers to its texture, not the coating. 

Aviator decks are well known for having a smooth texture (sometimes called "Ivory"), but most other decks (including Bicycle) use an embossed texture, which simply means the paper has dimples to help reduce the amount of friction on the cards for best handling.  Sometimes this is referred to as an "air cushion".  Cheap quality cards are typically very smooth and don't have an embossed texture, thus handling poorly, whereas Ellusionist and other USPCC produced playing cards are embossed just the same as standard Bicycle decks. The principle is the same as that the dimples on a golf ball, which create little pockets of air to reduce the wind resistance around the ball, allowing it to have more slip and travel further. An optimal dimple pattern in the paper's surface allows for better glide between cards, as well as between cards and a table's surface.

In older decks, the dimples of an embossed card were created not by pressing a metal roller with bumps into the paper, but at the end of the production process by the application of the card's coating using cloth rollers. Many finish names still used today (e.g. linen, cambric, linoid) originated in the fabric used on these cloth rollers, and these names persist even though cloth rollers are no longer used. Standardization in manufacturing and cost-cutting has resulted in companies like USPCC stamping the embossed texture into the paper itself, thus eliminating the cost of replacing cloth rollers, which also had a greater potential for causing problems.

The presence and depth of embossing also has an impact on handling.  An embossed card tends to have a little more "give" to it when you flex it than over an unembossed (smooth) card made of the same paper at the same thickness. This may be a result of the modern embossing process, which presses dimples into the surface of the paper, possibly weakening the structure of the paper a little bit

3. Finish: Magic, or Standard

Technically this is a coating rather than a finish. 

USPCC's default coating on smaller orders of custom decks is the "Magic Finish", which was developed around 2011.  It is slightly more slippery, and makes cards slide more easily.  It's called different things depending on the brand of cards, e.g. what USPCC calls "Magic Finish", Ellusionist calls "Performance Coating", which was USPCC's code name for the coating when they first started experimenting with it.  Ellusionist playing cards typically all have the Magic Finish.  While this finish tends to be a preferred by magicians, others find it to be too slippery, and don't like the "chemical" smell of the cards when they first come out of the pack, which can linger for quite a while. The first deck to use Performance Coating was Ellusionist's Gold Arcane deck, the first deck to use the branded coating was the Bicycle Gargoyles deck, and the first known use on a smooth deck is believed to be CARC's  Ivory version of the black/silver Bee Erdnase deck.

The slightly less slippery "Standard Finish" coating is only used on orders of 15,000+ and that have a web press appropriate design.  On differently branded decks, the Standard Finish is sometimes called "Air-Cushion finish" (Bicycle decks), "Linoid finish" (Tally Ho decks), or "Cambric finish" (Bee decks), which in reality are all identical.  These different finish names are legacies from the days when decks did have unique coatings/finishes, which were applied with fabric/cloth-rollers (much like a painter would make a textured wall surface with a cloth-covered paint roller).  Nowadays the texture is no longer in the coating, but crushed into the paper with steel rollers to create an embossed effect, which is identical for all USPC decks that are Embossed rather than Smooth.

To complicate matters, the legal department of USPCC made a peculiar ruling at one stage to designate all decks branded as "Bicycle" with "Air-Cushion finish", regardless of the actual finish. 

4. Cut: Traditional, or Modern

This affects the direction of the bevelled edge of the cards.  A traditional cut is when the cards are cut face to back, while a modern cut is when the cards are cut back to face.  Decks with a modern cut require a breaking-in period before they can do the kinds of shuffles that decks with a traditional cut can do straight out of the box. Generally speaking casinos order decks to be made with a traditional cut, but for most people this difference in cut won't make any difference, unless you are doing weave shuffles, faro shuffles or certain gambling sleights. 

USPCC changed how they cut their cards in the 1980s, and since then the modern cut is their normal way of doing things, and they'll only produce decks with a traditional cut when specifically requested.  The reason for this change is that a modern cut didn't require flipping the stock before feeding it into the die cutter; it was a simpler and more efficient process, thus making production less expensive by a few pennies per deck, which adds up in the long run.   

5. Quality control: Q1 - Q4

USPCC also has different standards of quality control.  Q1 is their highest standard, and where they check closely for the best results in areas like centering, print registration, cutting, colour, and flaws.  Q4 is their lowest standard, and is considered "tolerable" - it basically means that more margin is given for error.  Ellusionist VP Jason Brumbalow explained this in 2010 as follows: "USPC has a quality grade standard for each of their deck runs. This standard is a threshold benchmark for things like centering, registration, cutting, color, flaws, etc. The quality grade ranges from Q1 (best) to Q4 (tolerable).  I’ve long listened to dozens of people talk about how Q1 doesn’t exist, Q1 is only reserved for Chuck Norris’ casino cards etc, etc.  Spoiler Alert: (Straight from the upper deck of USPC) All Ellusionist decks are graded and printed at Q1. All of them. End of story."

Conclusion: In short, this means that the playing cards from Ellusionist are of the highest quality possible.  In fact most decks produced by USPCC are of similar quality, and the differences between certain decks that some people insist on are largely just a matter of different branding, as well as normal variation to be expected in different batches of paper.  Most custom decks feature an embossed texture with a Magic finish, with the only significant difference between them being the paper stock.

Other sources: To learn more about USPCC produced decks, I also recommend the following articles:
- Jason Brumalow's article "Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask" from 2010.
- David Kenney's video from 2014, which has some great info about the different variables that affect the quality of USPCC decks (although at the time USPCC didn't yet have the Thin Crush stock, and David also is of the (mistaken?) opinion that Standard Finish means there is no coating.  See also his three related articles "How does this deck handle", "But what if it isn't a USPCC deck?" and "Other factors in card handling".

LPCC/EPCC Produced Decks

Stock/Texture: Diamond/Master, Classic, Elite/Damask, or other

Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC) and Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC) have a slightly different approach to all this.  They use a single name that doesn't distinguish between their finish and their stock.  So they both offer several different "finishes", which are really different combinations of paper stock and embossing. Their paper stock comes pre-embossed from overseas suppliers, and the main differences between their "finishes" has to do with the type of paper and embossing used. Their stocks not only vary in thickness and firmness, but are also embossed to varying depths, making each unique in terms of how they handle.

Note that the two companies use the same factory in Taiwan and often collaborate, but give their own labels to finishes that are actually identical (apart from a couple of exceptions). The three main finishes that LPCC/EPCC both offer are as follows:
1. Diamond/Master Finish: This is the thinnest and least-embossed paper stock, which makes it feel somewhat oily/plastic-like, but it is also the stiffest and longest lasting finish, being very hardy/durable, and the cards have a real spring to them. The embossing is similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish".
2. Classic Finish: This is a thicker paper stock, which has more of a matte look, feels softer and more papery, and is not as stiff as the Diamond finish. The embossing is also similar to Bicycle's "Air Cushion Finish". Of all the finishes, this has an overall feel that is arguably closest to a Bicycle type deck.
3. Elite/Damask Finish: This uses a similar paper stock to the Classic Finish, but uses a different and deeper embossing pattern on the cards, making them feel even softer yet. It's not as commonly used yet, but reviews I've seen about it have been positive.  (For some discussion on the Damask finish, see this thread)

LPCC (only) also offers an Emerald Finish, which is made from thin paper stock with minimal embossing and with a slick coating, giving it a similar feel to the Diamond Finish but with a stiffness falling somewhere between that and the softer Classic Finish. Unlike the other three finishes, this is produced in a factory in China rather than Taiwan, and normally has standard Casino-cut edges rather than the superior Diamond Cut used for the other three finishes.  Recently LPCC has said that this factory now has the ability to use their superior cutting process for the Emerald Finish as well.

EPCC (only) also offers several other finishes:
- Robusto Finish (code-named Iron Stock while in development), which is a stock that results in very thick cards, considerably more so even than the Bee Casino stock used by USPCC.  It makes weave/faro shuffles difficult, and has a high degree of stiffness that takes some breaking in and can make springing difficult, but is extremely durable.
- JN Finish, which they describe as follows: "This represents our constant efforts to duplicate the venerable Jerry's Nugget Casino cards from the '70s. Probably we, nor maybe anyone else, can get closer. These are very similar to the Master Finish cards that are so popular but these are crushed .01mm thinner and you can feel it."
- Stud Finish, which they describe as follows: "Our new Stud Finish. Very soft and pliable. We think they are the softest high quality cards on the market today."
The JN Finish and Stud Finish are new finishes, produced in a Chinese factory.  Early reports on decks produced with the JN Finish (e.g.  Jackson Robinson's Legal Tender deck) have been mixed, with numerous instances of very poor quality decks.  Forthcoming decks to be produced in this finish include Giovanni Meroni's SINS, which will give more information to work with.

Coating: Same for all

LPCC/EPCC uses the same coating for all their card stocks/finishes, which they are constantly experimenting with to improve.  I don't have enough experience with it to comment on how it compares to the Magic Finish or Standard Finish by USPCC.  But this is what LPCC has to say about it: "The feel of the coating depends on the paper stock that is coated, but we feel it has the perfect amount of drag, slip, as well as durability. In my opinion I feel the Magic and Standard finish are too slippery and degrade very quickly. Legends PCC cards have a very specific feel and drag that no other brand (other than our close partners at Expert PCC) possesses, and the wide range of paper choices from soft to stiff will allow nearly any customer to find that perfect feel that suites their use case, whether it be for magicians, poker players, or cardists." (source: email correspondence with LPCC).


Cut: Traditional

LPCC/EPCC decks are all given a "traditional cut" (face to back) rather than the "modern cut" (back to face) used by USPCC.  Their cutting process involves a Diamond Cut technique that produces a much smoother cut than UPSCC, resulting in beautiful clean edges,  which are clearly superior to those of a USPCC deck, and make maneuvers like a perfect faro far easier and smooth.

Printing: Sheet-fed

LPCC/EPCC only uses a sheet-fed press (which USPCC also uses for smaller print runs), while a web press is preferred by USPCC for the sake of efficiency and speed when doing higher-volume print runs of many thousands.  This sheet-fed press gives greater precision in printing and cutting, and a consistently crisp and bold printing registration, and also enables the use of narrower borders than normal.  This gives a greater range of options for designers, and also can produce a classier look.

Overall Comparison

Decks produced by LPCC/EPCC rival those of USPCC in quality, and in many respects (e.g. the cut of the cards) surpass it.  While not everyone likes the thinner/stiffer cards of the Diamond/Master Finish, which have quite a different feel and handling from a standard Bicycle deck that most people are used to, the Classic finish and the Elite/Damask finish used by LPCC/EPCC are good alternatives to a USPCC produced deck.  In terms of durability, there is a report from someone who placed a Legends card and a USPCC card under running tap water for 5 seconds, with no damage resulting to the Legends card, unlike the USPCC produced card. The card-stock of all the Legends cards is also brighter/whiter than USPCC's Bicycle stock, and thus has a cleaner look.

To learn more about LPCC/EPCC produced decks, I also recommend the following articles:
- "Legends Playing Card Company - Legendary playing cards" by EndersGame.  This is a pictorial overview of LPCC and some of their decks.
- "More Legendary Playing Cards - Comparing all four finishes" by EndersGame.  This is a follow-up article with detailed comparison between the four LPCC finishes.
- "What's In An Expert Card? Plenty!" by Don Boyer.  This gives an extensive overview of the manufacture and quality of decks by Expert Playing Card Company.  You can find it in the complimentary issue of CARD CULTURE which is available right here: CardCulture-Special-Issue-2015.pdf (p.14ff)

MPC Produced Decks

Cost & Print Run size: Affordable small print runs

While MPC offers the advantage of good pricing on smaller print run.  While they their products aren't considered as high end as some of the other publishers, they enable creators to produce small print runs as small as a single deck, for a reasonable price.  According to some reports, their cost for producing a single prototype is about a twentieth of what USPCC charges for the same thing. 

Cut: Laser cut

MakePlayingCards.com (MPC) reduces their printing costs by using a high-speed laser to remove cards from their press sheets instead of the die-cutting used by USPCC and LPCC/EPCC.  The disadvantage of this method is that the laser creates a perfectly flat, 90-degree angle at the cut, with no bevelled edges whatsoever (unlike the modern/traditional cut), and this makes weave/faro shuffles impossible.

Innovation: Embossed UV spot printing

MPC has been working hard to innovate, and one of the areas in which this is the case is their use of technology that allows them to produce embossed and glossy ink via UV spot printing.  For more information about this process, see this article.  This does make cards thicker and can affect the handling, but it does add a unique aspects of touch and feel to playing cards, as well as glossy visuals that aren't possible with the regular printing process.

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Please continue to provide any corrections or updates, and I will edit this post accordingly to ensure its accuracy, in the hope this material will be helpful to other people who may have similar questions.

NB: I've also cross-posted this article at UnitedCardists here, to maximize the number of people who will see this and can contribute corrections.
« Last Edit: August 02, 2017, 10:15:14 PM by EndersGame »

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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #1 on: April 30, 2017, 01:27:16 AM »
 

Don Boyer

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Your conclusions are mostly accurate, but I can provide a little additional information to make them more complete.

In regard to the cut of a deck, traditional versus modern, there are differences beyond those noticed by people performing magic and gambling sleights.  In fact, casinos as a general rule order their decks to be made with a traditional cut rather than a modern cut.

The proper industry terms for these cuts are face-down cut (traditional) and face-up cut (modern).  When an uncut deck sheet is prepared for cutting at USPC, it's cut into horizontal strips, then these strips are fed into a die cutter which individually punches the cards out of the paper.  Every card is cut with the same die, insuring the exact same size and shape through the whole deck.  The face-down and face-up part indicates which direction the card is facing when it's punched out by the die - face-down is facing the die, face-up is facing away from the die.

The beveled edge on a traditionally-cut card is such that shuffling straight out of the box is easier and table shuffles (where the card stacks to be shuffled are sitting on the table and only a corner is raised by the shuffler's thumb to riffle the cards together) can be easily performed face down.  This is especially true of weave and faro shuffles.  A weave shuffle is when the deck is split into halves and the edges aren't riffles but instead are pressed into each other, causing the cards to weave together into a single stack.  A faro shuffle is the "perfect" version of a weave shuffle - the deck is split exactly into two 26-card stacks and the stacks are interwoven together in a precise 1-to-1 alternation to reform the deck and complete the shuffle.  When a deck is face down, weave and faro shuffles can be done from the bottom up on a table only if the deck is traditionally cut or is well broken-in (and if it's too broken in, performing faro shuffles becomes exceptionally difficult because of the degree of precision required).  Otherwise, the deck must either be faced up for a table weave shuffle or weave-shuffled face-down in the shuffler's hands from the top to the bottom.

As a general rule, USPC tried to discourage most custom card order customers from requesting traditionally-cut decks.  They stated that it created a ragged cut for some unknown reason - but this could happen with traditional or modern cuts if the die isn't adequately sharp.  However, I've heard something interesting regarding the new plant at Erlanger.  It seems that occasionally when feeding paper into the die cutter, they sometimes experience a bit of jamming with a new batch.  They've discovered that flipping the paper - which is the crucial difference between a modern cut and a traditional cut - will often alleviate the jamming issue, resulting in a deck being traditionally cut whether it was intended to be or not!

In fact, that's the entire reason why modern cut became their standard - as it didn't require flipping the stock before feeding it into the die cutter, it was a simpler process and more efficient, thus making production less expensive by some pennies per deck.  Make a few million decks and the pennies add up.  Personally, I don't know why they don't simply print the cards "backwards," with the faces on the backs and vice versa, insuring that modern cut results in a face-down cut, but I'm no printer so I can't speak with that level of authority on the topic!  Perhaps I'll have more information after I've attended the upcoming factory tour that's being offered to members of 52 Plus Joker during their annual convention this October!

I've seen some less-expensive cards from cheaper manufacturers overseas, particularly in India and China, where the cards end up with a "lip" at the edge and a really harsh cut to them.  I've seen video of a low-end manufacturer in China where for the die cutting, they cut the deck sheet into strips, then cut the strips into individual rectangles each containing a card, then FORCE dozens of cards through the die all at once instead of punching them individually - perhaps a half-dozen decks being jammed through the die all at once with a great deal of pressure.  THIS is what creates that lip at the edge of the cards and it's a sign of really cheap, low-grade card manufacturing, typically reserved for the kinds of decks sold in dollar stores throughout the country (if not the continent).  Often, these cards are so poorly cut, you couldn't weave them together if your life depended on it.

Lastly, there's a new "cutting edge" alternative to die-cutting for getting cards out of their press sheets.  MakePlayingCards.com, also known as MPC, uses a high-speed laser to remove their cards from the sheets, saving them money on replacing and sharpening dull cutting dies.  But this presents a unique problem for the card enthusiast.  The laser is set up in such a way that it creates a perfectly flat, 90-degree angle at the cut, with no beveling whatsoever.  It's impossible to weave or faro shuffles these cards together, no matter how much you try breaking them in.  It's one of the many trade-offs one makes when using MPC as their card manufacturer - they're a far sight better than they used to be and they do offer some excellent pricing on very short print runs, but unbeveled cards edges and digital printing rather than using offset presses are what you sacrifice in exchange.  Sometimes, it's worth the tradeoff - it really depends on the kind of deck you're looking to create and the amount you're interested in producing.  If you can only sell a few hundred decks, they're a viable alternative to using a company like USPC, which will demand a print run at the least in the low four figures, with terribly high per-deck prices on such short print runs.

Oh, and regarding the card's texture, the dimples you're talking about aren't for insuring the right amount of friction so much as they are for preventing friction as much as possible!  The principle is exactly the same as that of the dimples on a golf ball - a smooth ball of the exact same size and weight as ball with a dimpled pattern will not travel as far when launched with precisely the same force because the dimples create little pockets of air that reduce the wind resistance around the ball, allowing it to have more slip and travel further.  In fact, certain balls are so well-designed in their dimple patterns, official golf tournaments will disallow their use on the grounds that they create an unfair advantage!

The dimples in the paper's surface allow for better glide between cards as well as between cards and a table's surface.  The felt of a professional card table has a feel to it that's hard in order to allow the air pockets created by the dimpling of cards to have a surface against which to glide but it's soft enough to allow a player to easily grip the edge or corner of a card by pressing just enough into the table's surface to get under the card.  As a table's felt becomes worn and ragged or rough, cards don't glide as easily over it - the ragged surface disrupts the "air cushion" effect created by the dimples.

It's also true that in older decks, the dimples of an embossed card were created not by pressing a roller with bumps into the paper but by the application of the card's coating using cloth rollers.  It's why many of the card finish names still in use originated as fabric names - linen, cambric, "linoid," etc.  Think of a paint roller that you roll over a wall you're painting - if the roller were covered in a linen cloth, you'd have impressions of that linen in the paint you applied to the wall.  Same principle for the card coating.  Sometimes, only one side of a card was embossed in this manner, as is the case with the highly-coveted Jerry's Nugget souvenir decks from 1970.  Over time, however, with standardization and cost cutting in manufacturing, companies like USPC started stamping their embossed surfaces into the paper itself, eliminating the cost of having to frequently replace cloth rollers as they wore out or got too gummed up with the coating solution to provide a properly-embossed finish.

In regard to modern coatings, Ellusionist started calling theirs "Performance Coating" because that was the code name given to it by USPC when they were first experimenting with it.  They simply liked the name better than "Magic Finish."  The first production deck to use the coating doesn't even have either name on it - Ellusionist's Gold Arcane deck was the first to employ Performance Coating, but the tuck box states that it has, if memory serves, an "Air Cushion Finish," the term Ellusionist was using for all of their decks at the time at USPC's behest.  They'd only barely started making decks without the Bicycle brand name on them at the time - now, most of their new releases don't have the Bicycle name, with rare exceptions like the new Legacy editions of their earlier decks such as Shadow Masters, Black Ghost 2nd Edition, etc.  The first deck to use the coating with the branding was the Bicycle Gargoyles deck and the first known use on a smooth-finished deck is believed to be (not verified) the Ivory version of the black and silver Bee Erdnase deck produced by the Conjuring Arts Research Center, before they started getting into the card business themselves with their subsidiary, the Expert Playing Card Company.

On the subject of Expert PCC, they do some very interesting things with card finishes.  They use the same names for their finishes and their stocks.  This is because they not only have stocks of varying thickness and firmness, but their stocks are also embossed to varying depths, making each unique in terms of how they handle.

I've personally noticed as well that with embossing in general, an embossed card tends to have a little more "give" to it when you flex it over a card made of the same paper at the same thickness.  For example, when CARC was still making Erdnase Bee decks, they typically came in Ivory (smooth) and Cambric (embossed) versions - the Ivory versions were exceptionally stiff, very hard to bend and flex, compared with the Cambric versions.  I believe this is because the modern embossing process, because of how it presses the dimples into the surface of the paper, weakens the structure of the paper just a little bit, in much the same way that a sheet of thin metal is easier to bend if you punch or drill a pattern of holes in it than if you try to bend it while the structure is completely intact and without holes.

I recall you started this article with a note about Ellusionist making their decks with USPC.  There's two notable exceptions to this.  First, their mini decks - USPC no longer makes mini decks.  They sell them in their own brands, but these are made for them by a third-party printer in China somewhere.  Ellusionist is either hiring USPC to make them, who then hires their sub-contractor, or they're making them elsewhere (permissible only with the brands they created, not with their Bicycle-branded decks).

The other exception is their gaff deck for the Artifice decks.  USPC felt that one of the gaff cards was too close to infringing on another company's copyrighted/trademarked design, so they refused to print the deck with that card in it, while Ellusionist wanted that gaff and felt that USPC's lawyers were being just a little too conservative in their application of trademark and copyright law.  In the end, they went with an unknown printer other than USPC.  The quality of the decks is very close to that of USPC-made Artifice decks - it's not easy to tell the difference other than the fact that all the non-USPC decks consist of gaffed, non-standard cards.
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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #2 on: May 01, 2017, 07:58:12 PM »
 

EndersGame

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Don, that is an absolutely terrific post, thank you so much for all this additional material, and clarification!

While I'm the person who started the discussion here, I'm confident that I'm not the only one who appreciates the insights you have provided here, but that many other readers on this forum will benefit from what you've posted as well.

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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2017, 12:39:41 PM »
 

ecNate

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Don, great response, thanks!  I had heard much of it in places here and there, but having it all in one place is awesome.  Enders, you should consider upgrading your original entry with the corrections and details from Don.  This would then make a great addition to the 101 section.

The most interesting new thing I learned was about MPC using laser cut and the problems that creates.  I wasn't aware they used that method, but that explains the slight handling issues and well explained!
 

Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2017, 12:46:31 AM »
 

Don Boyer

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Don, great response, thanks!  I had heard much of it in places here and there, but having it all in one place is awesome.  Enders, you should consider upgrading your original entry with the corrections and details from Don.  This would then make a great addition to the 101 section.

The most interesting new thing I learned was about MPC using laser cut and the problems that creates.  I wasn't aware they used that method, but that explains the slight handling issues and well explained!

Glad you appreciate the info, both of you.  I'll move the topic to the "101" board.
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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2017, 05:14:14 AM »
 

EndersGame

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Don, great response, thanks!  I had heard much of it in places here and there, but having it all in one place is awesome.  Enders, you should consider upgrading your original entry with the corrections and details from Don.  This would then make a great addition to the 101 section.

Good suggestion ecNate.  I've now made extensive edits, with the benefit of excellent and authoritative information provided by Don. 

I've also added a whole new section with an analysis/comparison of LPCC/EPCC decks, based on my own research.  By all means look this over and suggest changes to this as well.  I'd welcome any further improvements/refinements.

I am willing to consider a more fleshed out additional section on MPC as well, if it's considered worthwhile, and if there are other details that should be included there.

Thanks Don for adding this to the 101 section.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2017, 05:22:46 AM by EndersGame »

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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #6 on: May 06, 2017, 01:23:52 AM »
 

Don Boyer

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Don, great response, thanks!  I had heard much of it in places here and there, but having it all in one place is awesome.  Enders, you should consider upgrading your original entry with the corrections and details from Don.  This would then make a great addition to the 101 section.

Good suggestion ecNate.  I've now made extensive edits, with the benefit of excellent and authoritative information provided by Don. 

I've also added a whole new section with an analysis/comparison of LPCC/EPCC decks, based on my own research.  By all means look this over and suggest changes to this as well.  I'd welcome any further improvements/refinements.

I am willing to consider a more fleshed out additional section on MPC as well, if it's considered worthwhile, and if there are other details that should be included there.

Thanks Don for adding this to the 101 section.

MPC is certainly a major player in the playing card making business.  While they're not the most high-end company, they definitely fill a niche and serve a certain community.  Plus there's no denying that they're working to innovate, though some might argue the merits of some of the innovations, such as laser-cut cards and "UV Ink" three-dimensional laminates.  You know how I feel about the laser cutting, and while the UV ink applied in thick layers is cool to look at, it's horrible to handle and makes the cards significantly thicker and is applied in such thick "blob-like" lines that they really take away from the card art, in my opinion.

Simply put, if a creator is struggling to get a deck made or only wants a very, very short print run, MPC is a viable alternative.  Additionally, I know many artists who use them frequently for creating prototype decks because of their willingness to make a print run as short as just one deck without charging a king's ransom for it.  They charge, last time I heard price quotes, about a twentieth of what USPC charges for a single prototype.  There is room in the playing card world for companies like MPC, especially as they have strived to improve their print quality and have made noteworthy improvements in that regard.
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EndersGame

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That's very helpful and appreciated Don.  I've updated the section on MPC above, to incorporate a number of the things you mentioned.

One question in relation to some of the info you gave about USPCC, specifically the terms they use to describe the finishes on their brand name decks.  It's been extremely helpful to learn how USPCC's terms (e.g. "air cushion finish", "cambric finish", "linoid finish") all hark back to the time when cloth rollers were used, but now that the production process has been made more efficient with embossing happening with steel rollers as part of the paper production, these have actually been standardized and are identical. 

My query is about the "Linoid finish" used to describe the Tally Ho decks - are you certain this is no different from the Air Cushion finish of Bicycle Riderbacks and Cambric finish of Bees?  Is it possible, for example, that even if the embossing/texture is identical for some reason USPCC uses their Magic Finish on the Tally Ho cards rather than their Standard Finish, even though they are mass produced? 

As I posted in another thread, I find it odd that card flourishers seem to insist that the Tally Ho decks with the Linoid finish are better for card flourishing.  But if they actually have the same embossing and coating, then wouldn't you expect the handling to be identical?  Unless of course the handling difference is more imagined than real, and just happens to be the case as a result of different batches of paper, with which there is always going to be some variety and fluctuation in quality.

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That's very helpful and appreciated Don.  I've updated the section on MPC above, to incorporate a number of the things you mentioned.

One question in relation to some of the info you gave about USPCC, specifically the terms they use to describe the finishes on their brand name decks.  It's been extremely helpful to learn how USPCC's terms (e.g. "air cushion finish", "cambric finish", "linoid finish") all hark back to the time when cloth rollers were used, but now that the production process has been made more efficient with embossing happening with steel rollers as part of the paper production, these have actually been standardized and are identical. 

My query is about the "Linoid finish" used to describe the Tally Ho decks - are you certain this is no different from the Air Cushion finish of Bicycle Riderbacks and Cambric finish of Bees?  Is it possible, for example, that even if the embossing/texture is identical for some reason USPCC uses their Magic Finish on the Tally Ho cards rather than their Standard Finish, even though they are mass produced? 

As I posted in another thread, I find it odd that card flourishers seem to insist that the Tally Ho decks with the Linoid finish are better for card flourishing.  But if they actually have the same embossing and coating, then wouldn't you expect the handling to be identical?  Unless of course the handling difference is more imagined than real, and just happens to be the case as a result of different batches of paper, with which there is always going to be some variety and fluctuation in quality.

While USPC does press the layers of paper together to create their pasteboard cardstock as well as embossing and coating it, the paper itself is sourced from other companies, providing them only limited control over the quality and properties of any given batch.

To my knowledge, standard finish is just that, their standard finish, used on all their standard production decks.  You can get it for a custom deck, but only by request - the default for custom decks is "Magic Finish."  And again, we're not even properly talking about finish but about coating.  The finish is the texture, which for most decks is embossed and for a few is smooth, regardless of the trademarked names applied.

Now, is it possible that they're still somehow making a special stock for the off-the-rack Tally Ho decks?  Sure - anything's possible, really.  But based on the little information they release, it would appear that the company's only offering three stocks at this point.  Bee Casino is their thickest and stiffest, Bicycle is the next down in the thick/stiff rating, and there's the new "Thin Crush" stock, which I haven't sampled just yet but it seems to be their thinnest and most pliable based on the reports of others.  I can't speak to its durability, but it stands to reason that their thinnest stock will likely be their least durable.

I think that most cardists preferred the old Tally Ho stock, so they preferred the old Tally Ho decks.  But it's been a handful of years now since USPC has made that stock, so maybe they're sticking with the brand out of customer loyalty?  I know that there is variances in the thickness of the Bicycle and Bee Casino stocks - in fact, they're offered in a "range" that overlaps, so a thick Bicycle stock can be thicker than a thin Bee stock!

I think to sum it up, while there is a chance that Tally Ho today has some quality or performance edge/difference over Bicycle or Bee, I honestly can't see any difference based on the information that USPC's made available.  That's not saying a lot, though, as USPC is very tight-lipped about these matters.
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EndersGame

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I honestly can't see any difference based on the information that USPC's made available.  That's not saying a lot, though, as USPC is very tight-lipped about these matters.

Yep, I've emailed them (I even sent several messages to several different email addresses listed on their website), and have asked them a number of different questions about this, but until now haven't received any response.  I'll definitely post here if I get any kind of official answers that offer further clarification of any sort.

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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #10 on: June 02, 2017, 09:57:26 AM »
 

EndersGame

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Lastly, there's a new "cutting edge" alternative to die-cutting for getting cards out of their press sheets.  MakePlayingCards.com, also known as MPC, uses a high-speed laser to remove their cards from the sheets, saving them money on replacing and sharpening dull cutting dies.  But this presents a unique problem for the card enthusiast.  The laser is set up in such a way that it creates a perfectly flat, 90-degree angle at the cut, with no beveling whatsoever.  It's impossible to weave or faro shuffles these cards together, no matter how much you try breaking them in.  It's one of the many trade-offs one makes when using MPC as their card manufacturer.
Don, I'd like to query the above comment about the cutting method that MPC.  When did they start using the laser cutting technology that results in un-bevelled edges to the cards?

I recently acquired two decks, one produced by MPC in 2015, and the other by MPC in 2016.  With both decks, doing a faro shuffle with them was possible straight out of the box, no problem at all.  Both decks were produced with their high quality 310gsm linen/embossed stock and had a traditional cut, so there was some bevelling that made it possible to weave the cards in the same way as a USPCC deck.

How would you account for this, or has this laser cutting method which you mention only been in operation this year perhaps?

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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #11 on: June 08, 2017, 01:07:41 AM »
 

Don Boyer

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Lastly, there's a new "cutting edge" alternative to die-cutting for getting cards out of their press sheets.  MakePlayingCards.com, also known as MPC, uses a high-speed laser to remove their cards from the sheets, saving them money on replacing and sharpening dull cutting dies.  But this presents a unique problem for the card enthusiast.  The laser is set up in such a way that it creates a perfectly flat, 90-degree angle at the cut, with no beveling whatsoever.  It's impossible to weave or faro shuffles these cards together, no matter how much you try breaking them in.  It's one of the many trade-offs one makes when using MPC as their card manufacturer.
Don, I'd like to query the above comment about the cutting method that MPC.  When did they start using the laser cutting technology that results in un-bevelled edges to the cards?

I recently acquired two decks, one produced by MPC in 2015, and the other by MPC in 2016.  With both decks, doing a faro shuffle with them was possible straight out of the box, no problem at all.  Both decks were produced with their high quality 310gsm linen/embossed stock and had a traditional cut, so there was some bevelling that made it possible to weave the cards in the same way as a USPCC deck.

How would you account for this, or has this laser cutting method which you mention only been in operation this year perhaps?

I don't know precisely when they started laser-cutting their cards, but it's possible it was within the past 12 months, if not less.
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Re: Analysing the quality/handling of a USPCC deck: four key elements
« Reply #12 on: June 08, 2017, 02:59:02 AM »
 

EndersGame

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I don't know precisely when they started laser-cutting their cards, but it's possible it was within the past 12 months, if not less.

Thanks Don.  I should be getting another MPC produced deck via Kickstarter in the next couple of months, and I'll try to remember to report back here about whether or not it has laser cut edges that prohibits doing a nice faro.

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I have updated the original article at the start of this thread, to reflect the fact that EPCC now offers a JN Finish and Stud Finish, produced in a Chinese factory.

I have recently had opportunity to have a closer look at decks produced with the Elite (=Damask) and Emerald Finishes from Legends Playing Card Company.  As a result of this, I have posted a follow-up article with a detailed comparison between all four LPCC finishes, which you'll find here:

More Legendary Playing Cards - Comparing all four finishes

As part of this, there is a series of reviews of decks in all four finishes - see that article for links to that review series.

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I have just posted a new series of four reviews on decks from Legends Playing Card Company.  The more I use their decks and compare them with USPCC decks, the more I am becoming convinced that Legends PCC is superior in virtually every respect: tuck cases, durability, handling, print registration, cut, and more. 

In addition, I have learned that the Emerald Finish from Legends is now going to be called the JN Finish, and matches the finish of that name used by Expert PCC.   The JN Finish and Stud Finish are two relatively new finishes that Legends PCC and Expert PCC will be offering customers.

See the links below for a comprehensive coverage of more decks, and detailed conclusions about ways in which Legends decks are of a higher quality than USPCC decks.

Legends PCC: More Legendary Playing Cards - Something For Everyone

Part 1: Novelty - for the Collector (Glitch, Soundboards)
http://www.playingcardforum.com/index.php?topic=10974

Part 2: Style - for the Connoisseur (Tough Luck, Teliad Alfrin)
http://www.playingcardforum.com/index.php?topic=10976

Part 3: Secrets - for the Magician (Cadenza, Sharps)
http://www.playingcardforum.com/index.php?topic=10978

Part 4: Accessories - for Everyone (Card Clip, Card Wallet)
http://www.playingcardforum.com/index.php?topic=10980


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