The Manufacturing Process of Playing Cards
The production of a deck of cards involves the three primary steps including printing the pasteboards, cutting the sheets and assembling the deck. While a variety of printing processes may be employed, lithography continues to be used extensively.
Printing the pasteboards
1 Creating the printing plates is the first step in the production of playing cards. This process begins with camera ready artwork, or electronically created images, which contain pictures of each card that will be included in the deck. A plate is also created for the backs of the cards. Using a photographic process a negative of the image is exposed to a flat plate and coated with a light sensitive material. The plate is developed, and the image area is coated with an oily material that will attract ink but repel water. The non-image area is coated with a mixture, which will attract water and repel ink. One plate must be created for each of the different colors that will be printed on the card.
2 To begin printing, the plates are mounted on rotating cylinders in the printing press. When the press is started, the plate is passed under a roller, which coats it with water. The image area on the plate, previously treated with the oily material, repels the water and remains uncoated. An ink roller is next passed over the plate. Since an oil-based ink is used, it adheres to the plate only on the water-resistant sections.
3 A rubber roller is then passed over the printing plate and the ink from the plate is transferred to it. The card paper is passed under the rubber roller and the ink is transferred to it. The paper is then passed to the next roller assembly where another color may be added. The ink is specially formulated so it dries before it enters the next roller assembly. This process of wetting, inking, and printing is continuous through-out the card manufacturing run. After printing, the cards are sorted, stacked, cut, and packaged.
4 When one sheet of paper exits the printing press, it contains an image on both sides. One side has the image of each card in the deck while the other has the card back image. At this point, the sheet may be coated with a special clear polymer mixture that gives it a slick, glossy look and feel. This coating also helps to protect the cards making them longer lasting.
Cutting and stacking
5 After both sides of the pasteboards are printed, they are transported to a card cutting station. Here precision-cutting machines cut the cards out from the printed sheets. The cards are cut such that each card is of identical size. They are then assembled into their respective sets and organized into stacks. At this point, the stack contains all of the cards that will end up in the final packaging.
Further cutting and packaging
6 The stack of cards is next transported via conveyor belt to a corner punching station. When it reaches the platform of this station, the stack is pushed up into the punching device, which rounds off the corners on one side of each card in the stack. During this phase of production, the stack of cards are held tightly in the punching blades so each card is cut identically. The stack is then removed and transported to another punching station. Here the corners of the other side of the stack of cards are rounded off. After the cards are removed from this station, all four corners are rounded and the decks are ready for final packaging.
7 The stack of cards is returned to the main conveyor and transferred to the packaging station. Here a machine feeds formed boxes onto the assembly line. The cards are then inserted into the box. The boxes are closed and sealed with a sticker at the top. The box is then transported to a shrinkwrap machine where it is wrapped in a clear plastic such as cellophane. The finished deck of cards is then placed in a case with other decks, stacked on pallets and shipped on trucks to distributors.