CARDS WITH TOUCH

The Concept

Let me warn you - I'm going to get all touchy and feely in this review. And if you get these incredible playing cards so will you! These decks from MPC add something revolutionary to card design and printing: touch.

MakePlayingCards.com (MPC) is a company that professionally prints and manufactures custom playing cards, and has been doing so for a long time. They'll make custom game cards, with the face and backs of your choice. Run by QP Group, a printing and production company that has been around since 1982, MPC has been producing board games for over 30 years.

But in the last few years they have continued to develop in new directions. In 2012 they released their online playing cards making website, which has been a huge success, and has grown rapidly. This enables them to collaborate with consumers to produce high quality decks of cards, and currently they produce custom print playing cards for thousands of customers every month. One thing that does set them apart from some other printing companies, is that they are willing to fulfil smaller sized orders, and don't require a minimum order of 600 or more decks, making them ideal for the average person who has a smaller project.

But not only do they make playing cards for others, they have developed their own branded playing cards. In 2014, after receiving many requests that they produce their own brand of cards, they launched their own range of playing cards called MPC Playing Cards. These are similar to a standard deck, but redrawn and redesigned.



That's all well and good, but in itself not incredibly noteworthy. But what is noteworthy is what MPC did next! They followed this up by launching a new range of playing cards called the MPC Impressions series. And that's what this review is about. Because this is no ordinary deck.

The line of decks they've made is called "Impressions" for a very good reason. That's because they have introduced a whole new concept to playing cards: they use special printing techniques to add a sense of actual touch to the artwork!

Look carefully at the picture below to see how this works:



Basically they've added a secondary process printing where they apply a layer of polymer to create a raised glossy effect on the card faces. It's really quite remarkable!

Here's another example, this time from their Impressions Cardinal edition, which is a gorgeous red, white and black:



Yep, this is really quite amazing! These cards have all the characteristics of a regular deck, but in addition they have a glossy and raised surface that stands out visibly and can actually be felt! It's like Braille - but for people with sight.

The entire printing and production process of a regular deck had to be changed to make this work, but the result is a deck of cards that has a special raised embossed gloss effect on all the cards, which can be touched and felt, as well as having very visible high gloss on the raised surface, to make it stand out and catch your attention as well.



The Technology

The state of the art technology used to accomplish this is very interesting. It's also very expensive, and rare in the printing industry, but MPC took the plunge despite this investment risk. It seems to have paid off, given the popularity of the Impressions series.

The technology involves applying embossed UV with pinpoint accuracy to certain areas of the images only. You can see this secondary printing process being applied in a video here.



This gives those areas a raised gloss embossed effect called "virko". As a result of this raised gloss effect, selected areas of colour on the cards will visually stand out much more than normally. But more importantly, this adds a tactile experience, which you can feel when touching the cards! The highest level of gloss is used to make the artwork really stand out. Apparently the height is 100 times what you'd get with selective varnish, as the company explains: "This high gloss is very different from traditional spot UV as this revolutionary technology can achieve up to 250 microns (braille effect) in polymer height which is 100 times higher than selective varnish. We can also control the density of polymer applied ranging from 1-100%. The gloss applied is rated at 99 Gloss Units which is the highest there is for printed materials, meaning that the artwork really stands out and looks very impressive." This process was also applied to the tuck boxes, which consequently feature the same kind of tactile and glossy raised surfaces.

Of course, the cards had to remain playable after this process, which they are. So these are cards that can be touched, felt, and admired - adding a tactile element to the visual aesthetic. Suddenly an ordinary deck of cards is no longer ordinary - at least, not when it's part of MPC's Impressions series!



The Impressions Range

Several decks now exist in the Impressions line-up. The first four decks in the series were funded by a very successful Kickstarter campaign in late 2014, which had a modest goal of $5,000, but went on to reach over $80,000. The original four Impressions decks are the following:

Impressions Standard Edition - MPC's primary and original deck in the series
Impressions Court Edition - has extended court cards
Impressions Stealth Edition - a black themed deck
Impressions Phantom Edition - a white themed deck



More recently, over the last couple of years, further projects have been run to produce even more stylish versions, with extra features such as foil backs, and striking colour combinations:

Impressions Foil Edition - metallic foil decks in green, red, and blue
Impressions Foil Femme Edition - metallic foil decks in pink and mint



Impressions Cardinal Edition - features blood red and white on a black background
Impressions Racing Edition - features blood red and white/yellow on a green background



I'll now take you in more detail through the entire range of Impressions cards, to tell you a bit more about them, and show you what they look like.

OVERVIEW OF EDITIONS AVAILABLE

The Standard edition

The Impressions Standard Edition is MPC's main and original deck with the glossy embossed effect applied to it.



When viewed normally, the cards seem fairly ordinary, although they do have custom artwork on the court cards, and also the Aces. And of course all the printing on the cards has an embossed glossy look.



The Court edition

The Impressions Court Edition has extended court cards.



This means that the graphics of the court cards are enlarged, to enable the artwork to be admired in more detail.

The image below shows a comparison with the Standard deck. On the left is a card from the Standard edition, while on the right is a card from the Court edition.



The Stealth edition

The Impressions Stealth Edition is a black themed deck.



All the cards have an intensely black background.



This is a very classy looking deck - although it might prove to be a challenging one to use at times!



The Phantom edition

The Impressions Phantom Edition is a white themed deck.



You're definitely going to be relying on the gloss and feel with this deck as well! Holding up the cards to the light at the right angle certainly helps make these easier to discern.



See a good video here to see what the Stealth and Phantom cards look like first-hand.

The Foil edition

The Impressions Foil Edition was created in early 2015, and enhances the card-backs with the addition of metallic foil.



These are available in blue, red, and green.



Even the tuck boxes were also given an enhanced foil design.



The Foil Femme edition

The Impressions Foil Femme Edition was created in late 2015 as a special version of the Foil edition, but in softer and more feminine colours: pink and mint.



This is a deck inspired by femininity. It uses the same high gloss, touch and feel printing technology, but is designed to meet a perceived need for a deck with softer tones, since very few decks use pastel style colours.

In the words of the publisher, it is "inspired by beauty, femininity, love and romance. We finalized on pink and mint colors which were chosen carefully from research of reports of popular colors which could represent this concept."



That doesn't mean that the Femme deck is a "women-only" deck, because the femininity colours will have a broader appeal. But it does certainly have a very unique vibe, because of the soft colours it uses.



The foil version certainly adds a touch of class that would be absent in a standard printing. See a video here to see what these cards look like first-hand.

The Cardinal edition

The Impressions Cardinal Edition is the most recent version that continues the Impressions series, and features blood red and white on a black background.

The decision to use this particular combination of colours for the artwork was made as a result of customer feedback.



As can be seen from the picture below, the card backs are also black, with the tree-inspired back design in white.



The red and black combination looks beautiful and classy, and yet using red and white still ensures that the suits are clearly distinguished, and the cards are playable.



See a video here to see what these cards look like first-hand.

The Racing edition

The Impressions Racing Edition is similar to the Cardinal edition, but uses a blood red and white on a green background.

This deck was released together with the Cardinal edition, as a result of overfunding, and is themed in a British racing green colour. As with the others in the Impressions series, it also has an embossed tuck box.



The cards have green backs with white borders, and the white tree-inspired design.



Unlike the Cardinal edition, the court cards don't just have a single colour (red or white), but have other colours as well (e.g. yellow) that make them look like more traditional court cards.



This is certainly a very eye-catching and sporty looking deck! Like the other decks in the series, the glossy embossed printing is quite evident when it catches the light.



See a video here to see what these cards look like first-hand.

CONCLUSIONS

Back Design

For all the cards in the "Impressions" line, MPC took a traditional design that was in the public domain, and redrew all the faces. They came up with a symmetrical design using a tree as focal point.



The inspiration behind this is that playing cards are made of paper, which in turn originates from trees. Trees are needed in order to make playing cards. It's with this in mind that MPC has chosen a tree design, to remind themselves of their roots and values.

The tree also reflects their commitment to be a responsible paper product manufacturer and print company, which includes encouraging efforts and use of recycling where possible.



Playability

It's fine and well to produce a delightful deck that looks and feels great, but are the Impressions decks still true to their original purpose, which is to play games with them?

As far as the quality of the cards is concerned, premium playing card material has been used (the specs are 310gsm German linen air card stock). The embossing adds a slight amount of height/thickness to the cards, which potentially could affect their performance in shuffling and fanning. But as a result of improved technology, the outcome still handles well and doesn't seem to have any negative impact on playability or handling. The cards can even bend just like normal card without becoming damaged.



Uncut Sheets

One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of special editions like this is via an uncut sheet. For those not familiar with this concept, an uncut sheet is basically a complete sheet of playing cards pulled off the factory press, after printing and before the cards are cut and boxed. They make great art pieces, especially when framed.

Here's what the entire Cardinal edition looks like as an uncut sheet:



Here's a look at the entire Racing edition:



Recommendation

Beautiful: The first thing to say about these decks is to note the sheer beauty of them, and the way the light falls on the gloss. Some might consider it a distraction, but let's face it, when you are making high end cards like these, the whole point of an innovation like this is to add that special something to the look of the cards. There's no point in spending money on revolutionary technology if it barely changes the result. In this case, I'm pleased to say that the effect of the glossy embossing is immediately evident when you look at the cards, and will quickly cause that "wow" reaction from the people that see it. I also like the colour combinations used with some of the decks, especially the Cardinal deck, as well as the foil decks that have that extra element of bling.

Tactile: The raised surface on the cards not only affects the visual aesthetics of how the card looks, but also creates a fascinating feel. You can feel the shape of the pips, the illustrations, and values of the cards. Whether this will actually help vision impaired people, I doubt it, but that's not really the point either - it's intended to just add a tactile dimension to the game that is otherwise not present in a normal deck of playing cards. It helps the deck become a more fully sensory experience - and serious gamers who love components will appreciate this.

Innovative: MPC was apparently responsible for introducing this new technology to the gaming world in 2014, and this method has since been used by other companies in other games. It will be interesting to see what kind of application this will have. In this case, the "Braille" effect is primarily about improving aesthetics, but perhaps other publishers will think of ways to incorporate this in a meaningful and functional way in a card game, as part of the game. It's certainly an innovative concept, and a fascinating one, and I look forward to see where the combination of technology and creativity will take this in years to come for gaming in general.

Playable: I haven't seen a copy of the Stealth or Phantom decks, and I wonder how difficult those decks will be to play, given that they are largely monochrome. But in all the other decks, including the ones I have, the suits are very clearly distinguished. What's more, the special embossing doesn't seem to get in the way of shuffling, fanning, dealing, or bending the cards - as far as I can tell, it's been well-tested, is robust, and doesn't affect playability.

Variety: MPC has quite a line-up of different Impressions decks. This is a testament to the obvious success of the series, but it also means that if you don't yet have one of these decks and are looking to get one, there is quite a range to choose from, and there should be at least one deck here to suit everyone's preference.

Unique: Despite all the different decks of playing cards available nowadays, there is a common element to them all: they typically consist of 52 cards in four suits, and the main point of departure is the artwork and the graphic design on the back of the cards. Artistic differences aside, custom playing cards still usually follow that basic formula in production and approach. But with the Impressions series we get a completely new point of difference as a result of this glossy embossed layer that's added to the cards. That makes these decks very unique, and they are sure to become a talking point with almost anybody who sees them.

I really appreciate the creativity and looks of these decks. Sure, I'm a bit of a "touch-feely" type of person, but it is this touch-and-feel dimension of this deck that is truly remarkable, combined with the beautiful visual element that this adds to the playing cards. In addition, there's some lovely colour combinations available in the Impressions line-up, and I'm especially partial to the Cardinal deck and the foil ones. MPC is definitely on to a winner here, and I look forward to seeing what they come up with next!

The Impressions decks are available from MPC's site here and here.


BoardGameGeek reviewer

For more of my reviews on custom playing cards, subscribe to this list: Pictorial Reviews of Playing Cards by EndersGame



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