IllustrationFeature

18 stylish custom playing cards

Check out these brilliantly designed and visually inventive custom playing cards designs from a range of top illustrators.

Playing cards have been part of human life for over a millennium, used for everything from children's games to grown-up gambling, as well as being utilised for roles as diverse as the staple magician's tool and advertisers' promotional material.

As only one side of each card - the face - must serve a purpose, the back is a blank canvas for artistic expression. And it is one that designers are jumping on to with glee, so we've dug out 18 of our favourite designs for custom playing cards.

01. Lisa Nemetz

nautical playing cards

German graphic designer Lisa Nemetz specialises in branding, typography and lettering. Here, her nautical playing cards were created using hand-crafted stamps.

Including numbers, shapes and characters, she sticks to the nautical colour scheme of red, white and blue. Effortlessly teaming together the ship-like aspects, these playing cards are some of the prettiest we've ever seen.

02. The Design Deck

Learn about design while you beat your friends at poker

The Design Deck enables you to learn graphic design while playing poker. It's by no means on par with a degree or graphic design experience but it's a fun and simple way to learn the essentials of graphic design, improve your skills as a designer, and understand more about the design you interact with everyday.

Each of the 52 faces has a piece of useful design information, complete with a visual example, combining to create a well-rounded, thorough examination of the subject. They're also printed on thick 310gsm cardstock with a linen texture, so they feel great too!

03. Brosmind

This creation from Barcelona based studio Brosmind is another great example of the playing card reimagined. Founded by Juan and Alejandro Mingarro in 2006, Brosmind's style is fresh and optimistic, combining fantasy and humour and of course, a lot of colour. They are the most published spanish illustrator in Luerzer’s Archive during the last ten years and recently were selected for Luerzer’s Archive Special 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide.

It's easy to see why they've been so successful, with these playing cards perfectly showcasing the pairs playful style and stance on illustration. We love the cute pattern work on the back of the cards too!

04. The Poop Deck Project

playing card designs
A pirate-themed deck for all you mateys out there

Ahoy there mateys! This maritime inspired collection of 54 illustrated playing cards features four unique suits including Pirate Crew, Cursed Pirate Crew, Royal Navy Officers and Mythical Sea Creatures.

Each pack of cards is poker-sized, boxed and shrink-wrapped, with both cards and box finished with a matte overlay. The box artwork was created by the wonderful Brighton-based illustrator James Burlinson.

05. Pedale Design

playing card designs
These beautiful playing cards are made with bee quality coated card stock

Created by Pedale design, this limited edition run of 10,000 decks was funded by a Kickstarter campaign that went on to pass the target by over $140,000. It's easy to see why.

The cards come in a white tuck case, using black ink, embossed with gold and black backs and bee quality coated card stock. The illustrations themselves are incredible, with the team at Pedale design also creating a number of tees to go alongside the playing cards.

06. Dark Suits

playing card designs
Mr. Mead's work focuses on his childhood fear of animals dressed as humans

You could say that Mr. Mead is the Tim Burton of the design world. Creating creepy and hauntingly beautiful characters, his work focuses on dressing animals up as humans - a childhood fear he later embraced in his career.

Here, he has created own edition of playing cards, with each card adorned with one of his 'Bio-Anthropomorphic' characters. The four suits have been adopted by different groups; Birds have adopted the Hearts, Horned Beasts the Diamonds, Foxes the Clubs and Cats the Spades. A beautifully dark set.

07. Hydro74

playing card designs
Hydro74 aims to interact with his viewer through his illustrations

Hydro74 is an Orlando-based designer, otherwise known as Joshua M. Smith. Complexity and a fluid organic approach is what is highly valued in each and every piece of his illustration work.

"An Illustration to me is something that tells a story without words needed. It builds a bond with the viewer who will either get it, or find it horrible, yet, the interaction is what is desired when doing a piece." This set of playing cards does just that.

08. Felix Blommestijn

playing card designs
Designer Felix Blommestijn makes the most of the space

Netherlands based illustrator and designer Felix Blommestijn has created this weird and wonderful set of playing cards that sees a whole host of creepy characters taking centre stage.

Using a monochrome colour scheme, Blommestijn uses the space to his advantage - creating an environment as well as the characters themselves on the small space.

09. The Folio Society

 The Folio Society
These custom playing cards have retro board game appeal

Commissioned by publisher The Folio Society, illustrator Jonathan Burton has designed these custom playing cards in a beautifully nostalgic style. Each card in the 'Odd Bods' deck features a quirky character or amusing illustration that delights each time you see it.

We love the brilliant mix of surrealism, twists on the traditional icons, and chucklesome juxtapositions in this deck, but feel that these custom playing cards could be too distracting for a quick game of 'Snap!'.

 The Folio Society
Jonathan Burton's quirky custom playing cards are a delight

10. White Artisan Playing Cards

 White Artisan Playing Cards
The gold foil and white embossing is beautiful and durable

Illustrated by Simon Frouws in South Africa, Artisan Playing Cards: The White Edition is a heavily stylized pack of custom playing cards featuring gold foil hot-stamped onto ultra-lux FSC-certified white paper derived from sustainable forests and using vegetable-based inks and starch-based laminates.

The White Edition was unveiled this year to complement to the original Black Edition produced in December 2012. Veteran US magician David Copperfield called them "the best playing cards ever produced" - high praise indeed.

11. The Type Deck

 The Type Deck
Each card has a custom font and is therefore unique

Every one of The Type Deck's 52 custom playing cards is a uniquely designed piece of custom typography design. With each of these cards being one of a kind, each deck has the potential to be a true collector's item.

The Type Deck will be produced on a limited edition run thanks to a successful crowd funding spell on Kickstarter.

12. Joe Douchet

 Joe Douchet
How much can you strip back playing cards before they're unplayable-with?

Sometimes, less is more. That's the concept behind these beautiful custom playing cards by designer Joe Douchet. Using simple geometric shapes, Douchet left just enough visual information on each card for players to still be able to use them.

Titled IOTA, the design uses circles, a diamond and triangles to represent both spades and hearts and a single diagonal line on the reverse of each card.

13. CMYK

 CMYK cards
All traditional aspects of playing cards have been removed for this CMYK series

Brilliantly stripping away all the heritage and history of good playing card design, the team at Hundred Million have removed everything they could to make custom playing cards fit for a creative.

The suits have been swapped for the printer's choice of ink: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, and the design on the back created from the kind of utilitiarian registration marks and checks usually never seen by the public.

Clever, simple and as easy as ever to use - the cards are coloured by different opacities of ink, creating an amazing gradient when fanned out in your hand during that tense poker game. Priced at only $14 (£9) we think these cards are a creative steal.

14. 52 Shades of Greed

 52 Shades of Greed
The project started small but soon ballooned as more and more illustrators got involved

Illustrator Marc Scheff was contacted by a member of alternative banking group Occupy Wall St, who wanted a few illustrations for a deck of informative custom playing cards. Thus began a huge illustration project aimed to educate people about the current US recession through a deck of cards.

Within a few days, the project snowballed into a massive collaborative undertaking involving 28 artists from around the world. The deck grew to 56 cards (52 in the deck, plus four bonus cards). "All of the illustrators came in with incredible excitement and ideas for this collaboration," says Scheff. "I’m thrilled to say that it is a huge success."

15. Best Made Co.

 Best Made Co
Oversized numbers and symbols feature on Best Made's all-US cards

These custom playing cards are designed by Best Made in New York, and printed in Erlanger, Kentucky by the United States Playing Card Company (legendary makers of the Bicycle and Bee brands).

Best Made explains the design: "We enlarged the numbers and symbols, streamlined the face cards to geometric bliss, added some lightning bolts or two, and above all we gave our cards the much needed whitespace and breathing room for your eyes (so you can play by the glow of a campfire)."

16. Ridley's Kaleidoscope

 Ridley's Kaleidoscope
Classic playing card style turned up to 11

Ridley's Kaleidoscope is a wildly colourful range of traditional games, toys and jokes, all enclosed in 1960s inspired colourful vintage style packaging. While the packaging design of this set of custom playing cards is true to retro toymaker Ridley's original style, London's Wild & Wolf has ensured that there is a modern edge to the classic brand.

17. Retro Pixar character cards

 Pixar
Box features the legendary Pixar anglepoise

Another set of custom playing cards that blends the old and new is the 'Deluxe Playing Cards Pixar' set from UK-based graphic designer and illustrator Chris Anderson. Anderson has used a colour palette based on vintage board games to create cards which feature Pixar characters including Woody, Nemo and Mr Incredible.

 Pixar
Pixar characters' cheeky faces peer at you, ruining your poker face

18. Game of Thrones

 game of thrones designs
Paul Nojima created this Jim Tuckwell inspired card set

A while back, Jim Tuckwell started a project where he illustrated a few playing cards as a fan tribute to Game of Thrones. Like everyone else, Etsy user Paul Nojima was floored by his work and loved the idea. As Tuckwell was unable to create a full pack, Nojima decided to create this inspired deck.

Which playing card designs would you 'twist', and which make you 'stick'? Let us know in the comment box below!

Words: Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart is managing editor of Creative Bloq.

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