As a reviewer I obviously get asked about cards a lot, usually it's a question like "which deck is best for...." (fill in the blank)
But the question I get the most is the "how does this deck handle?" question. Whomever coined that phrase should have trademarked it - they'd be a millionaire by now. I recently did an article that begun this conversation, but I want to continue it by addressing the other manufactures that are out there besides the United States Playing Card Company.
Yes, it's not an monopoly - other print shops exist that make cards. And for the most part there are two kinds. There are print shops that design and print their own cards - and there are others who only design and distribute but they outsource their printing (typically overseas). And yes, there are a few companies who do both.
So you see a new deck of cards on the market and you think you want to buy it - what should you do? I suggest take a few minutes and do your research. Ask questions:
1. Who is the printer? I am always wary of projects where the designer/creator does not tell you who the printer is.
2. Who is the designer / creator? Have they done this before? Do they have a reputation? What do other people say about them?
3. Who is the distributor? In other words, who is going to pack it into a box and mail it to you?
Sometimes when you purchase from an online magic shop (Ellusionist, Blue Crown, Theory 11) - the designer and the distributor are one in the same.
How do you get answers to these questions? Send an email to the project creator, read the write up (add copy) or just do a few quick online searches.
So, once armed with your answers you are a few steps closer to finding out how they will "handle." If your answers come back that the cards are printed by USPCC - you can refer back to my earlier article.
If the answer comes back that the cards are printed by Cartamundi, Legends, Expert, MPC, Paulson or some other printer - now you have another piece to the puzzle.
Legends & Expert are printed in Taiwan
Paulsons is a Mexico printer
Cartamundi prints in Texas but they still outsource to China on occasion
MPC is based in Hong Kong
But what does all of that tell you? Probably nothing. You're only going to be able to answer the question "how do they handle" if you have samples of cards from each of those printers. Each of those print shops has their own card stock and finish.
What separates good cards from bad? Two things: Paper stock and finish.
Good paper stock is typically 310 GSM and comprised of two sides (a front and a back) and then glued together. Again, ask the designer what paper stock is used. 310 is typically the thin stuff and then anything pushing up to 350 GSM is the Casino grade stock.
Embossing is the "finish" on the surface. A good quality card will use a linen finish. This is an embossing created by metal rollers that creates a waffle pattern on the front and back of the cards. This is what allows the cards to glide over each other smoothly.
Cards that say "printed in China" with no other information, are typically a red flag that you're about to waste your money.
Are there other factors in card handling? Absolutely - more on that later