If you're using playing cards, why not make them custom design playing cards? A part of human leisure time for over a millennium, cards have been used for everything from children's games to grown-up gambling. Talented magicians use them as a staple tool and they are unique promotional material for advertisers, too.
Whether decorating the face of the card with something a bit more special than the standard design, or using the blank canvas of the back, playing cards are ripe for designers to customise. We've found our favourite designs and listed them here for your enjoyment. For more unique design, see this breathtaking paper art roundup.
01. The Art of Playing Cards
This beautiful range of playing cards comes in four separate decks, each one in the style of an iconic artist – Pablo Picasso, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Banksy.
The set contains oodles of facts about the history of each card, which has informed the design as interpreted for the individual artist. For example, did you know the King is known as the Suicide King? It's a fact reflected in the image shown for each King within these extra-special decks. Pictured above are the Warhol and Banksy decks.
02. Future Edition
What will the world look like 100 years from now? Playing Arts asked 229 internationally known artists to design one image each depicting their answer to what the future holds. The result is a vibrant, eclectic mix of art, in a range of bold styles. Currently available for pre-order on Kickstarter, we hope this fundraiser raises the money needed to produce the cards.
This stunning card series is comprised of six separate decks, all dedicated to a different alcohol. From dreamlike Absinthe, to exotic Rebellion Rum and vintage, bootlegged Authentic Moonshine, the card designs are totally immersive and incredibly diverse. The other spirits to be included are icy White Wolf Vodka, warming 52 Proof Whiskey and Disparos Tequila. We want.
The team behind 52Aces has created the third edition of its Original deck, and as before, each individual playing card has been designed by a separate international artist. This limited edition deck is made up of 54 cards and features distinctive, quirky, and sometimes even gruesome illustrations. Provided in a high quality tin can, this set has been awarded the Red Dot Award, so be sure to grab a deck.
05. Edition Three
Playing Arts has a range of sets on its website, all custom created by a troupe of artists, illustrators and designers. We love Edition Three, which is jam-packed full of incredibly diverse illustrations and designs designed by indvidual artists and art studios.
06. The Design Deck
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.
The team behind the Design Deck has also created The Font Deck, which includes font-based trivia and and facts in a beautifully designed format.
07. The Poop Deck Project
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.
08. Pedale Design
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.
09. White Artisan Playing Cards
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 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.
10. The Type Deck
Every one of The Type Deck's 52 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.
11. Joe Douchet
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.
12. 52 Shades of Greed
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."
13. Retro Pixar character cards
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.