Cyrus Stoller home about consulting

Creating custom playing cards

My family enjoys playing bridge. It’s one of the games we enjoy playing most with my grandmother (she still kicks our butts and can count cards better than us). To celebrate her 101st birthday, I thought it would be fun to make a custom deck of cards to share with family and friends since we couldn’t host an in-person celebration this year due to COVID. In this post, I want to share how I went about creating a small run of playing cards that incorporated some fun family jokes and symbology while being of high enough quality that we would still want to play bridge with them.

How to print a small run of playing cards

YouTube is full of wisdom. I was lucky to stumble upon this video created by Rise Magic where they explained their process to create the prototype for their deck of cards. After watching their video, I had a good sense of the defaults I should use when printing the decks with MakePlayingCards.

Here are some cliff notes when selecting the type of cards to have printed so that they’re of a quality that you’d actually want to play with:

Once I had an idea of logistically how to get the cards printed, I needed some help designing three main elements:

  1. The back design
  2. Tuck case
  3. A custom card face for the Queen of Hearts that featured my grandmother’s face

With my level of Illustrator skills, I was able to handle a few other areas of design:

  1. Jokers in the shape of maple leaves since my grandmother was born in Vancouver.
  2. Ace of Spades that incorporates an outline of San Francisco with a Spade cut out of it.
  3. An “Ad” card where my brother and I added a Haiku. In hindsight, I would have left this out, since we only really needed this for the version that we gave to our grandmother.

Finding a designer

I posted a job listing on three sites: Dribbble, UpWork, and Fiverr.

Here’s what I listed:

Title: Custom tuck case for deck of cards

My grandma is turning 101 at the end of the month. She loves playing bridge and I thought that it’d be fun to celebrate her birthday with a custom deck of cards for her and the rest of our family. I’m looking for some help designing a custom tuck case for the deck of cards.

I’m hoping for some help designing the tuck case (and potentially a custom face of the Queen of hearts).

Here’s the rough concept I have in mind:

  • I would like the tuck case to look similar to the Tally-Ho tuck case
  • Instead of it saying “A Dougherty” across the top I would like it to say “Chez Lopez”
  • Where it says “Tally-Ho” I would like it to say “Takako”
  • Where it says “Linoid Finish” I would like it to say “AKA BUBS”
  • And then instead of saying “No. 9” I would like it to say “No. 101”

If this is something that you’d be interested in helping me create, please reach out. I’d like to get started ASAP.

Between these three sites, I received 35+ replies within 24 hours. I started conversations with 12 designers whose responses indicated that they had read my post. After a little back and forth, I ultimately talked on the phone with 4 designers and then decided to work with Alli Elster, whom I found on Dribbble. Part of what excited me about working with Alli was her past experience with designs involving playing cards.

Given that this brief was pretty concrete, I appreciated that Alli was willing to offer a fixed price quote. Alli did great work and the cards turned out exactly as I had hoped! I’ve started working on another project with her. If you are looking for a talented, personable designer, I highly recommend working with Alli!

Potential gotchas when uploading images

When I uploaded images to MakePlayingCards, I wasn’t sure what resolution would be necessary for the images not to be fuzzy because the previews were pretty small. If you have the option, export the images you want to use at a much higher resolution than you think you need to ensure that everything comes out crisply when it’s printed. I exported images that are 4x larger than required.

The other area where I made a mistake was in uploading the box design. You may want to print out the pdf template with your design on it and try folding it before you finalize your order. I found that I should have rotated one of the face designs 180º from what I had added initially.


I found this process pretty fun. And the cards have gone over well with the family. I hope this blog post can help speed up your learning process if you decide to try something similar.

Category Tutorial