This guide aims to be the most exhaustive resource available for documenting alternatives to Google products.
With growing concerns over online privacy and securing personal data, more people than ever are considering alternatives to Google products.
After all, Google’s business model essentially revolves around data collection and advertisements, both of which infringe on your privacy. More data means better (targeted) ads and more revenue. The company pulled in over $116 billion in ad revenue
last year alone – and that number continues to grow.
But the word is getting out. A growing number of people are seeking alternatives to Google products that respect their privacy and data.
So let’s get started. Note: The lists below are not necessarily in rank order. Choose the best products and services based on your own unique needs.
Google search alternatives
When it comes to privacy, using Google search is not a good idea. When you use their search engine, Google is recording your IP address, search terms, user agent, and often a unique identifier, which is stored in cookies.
Here are ten alternatives to Google search:
- Searx – A privacy-friendly and versatile metasearch engine that’s also open source.
- MetaGer – An open source metasearch engine with good features, based in Germany.
- SwissCows – A zero-tracking private search engine based in Switzerland, hosted on secure Swiss infrastructure.
- Qwant – A private search engine based in France.
- DuckDuckGo – A private search engine based in the US.
- Mojeek – The only true search engine (rather than metasearch engine) that has its own crawler and index (based in the UK).
- YaCy – A decentralized, open source, peer-to-peer search engine.
- Givero – Based in Denmark, Givero offers more privacy than Google and combines search with charitable donations.
- Ecosia – Ecosia is based in Germany and donates a part of revenues to planting trees.
*Note: With the exception of Mojeek, all of the private search engines above are technically metasearch engines, since they source their results from other search engines, such as Bing and Google.
is no longer recommended.)
Gmail may be convenient and popular, but there are three major problems:
- Your inbox is used as a data collection tool. (Did you know Google is tracking your purchasing history from the receipts in your inbox?)
- Rather than seeing just emails, your email inbox is also used for ads and marketing.
- The contents of your inbox are being shared with Google and other random third parties.
When you remain logged in to your Gmail account, Google can easily track your activities online as you browse different websites, which may be hosting Google Analytics or Google ads (Adsense).
Here are ten alternatives to Gmail that do well in terms of privacy:
- Tutanota – based in Germany; very secure and private; free accounts up to 1 GB
- Mailfence – based in Belgium; lots of features; free accounts up to 500 MB
- Posteo – based in Germany; €1/mo with 14 day refund window
- StartMail – based in Netherlands; $5.00/mo with 7 day free trial
- Runbox – based in Norway; lots of storage and features; $1.66/mo with 30 day free trial
- Mailbox.org – based in Germany; €1/mo with 30 day free trial
- CounterMail – based in Sweden; $4.00/mo with 7 day free trial
- Kolab Now – based in Switzerland; €4.41/mo with 30 day money-back guarantee
- ProtonMail – based in Switzerland; free accounts up to 500 MB
- Thexyz – based in Canada; $1.95/mo with 30 day refund window
Google Chrome is a popular browser, but it’s also a data collection tool – and many people are taking notice. Just a few days ago, the Washington Post asserted
that “Google’s web browser has become spy software
,” with 11,000 tracker cookies observed in a single week.
Here are seven alternatives for more privacy:
- Firefox browser – Firefox is a very customizable, open-source browser that is popular in privacy circles. There are also many different Firefox modifications and tweaks that will give you more privacy and security. (Also check out Firefox Focus, a privacy-focused version for mobile users.)
- Iridium – Based on open source Chromium, Iridium offers numerous privacy and security enhancements over Chrome, source code here.
- GNU IceCat – A fork of Firefox from the Free Software Foundation.
- Tor browser – A hardened and secured version of Firefox that runs on the Tor network by default. (It also does a good job against browser fingerprinting.)
- Ungoogled Chromium – Just as the name says, this is an open source version of Chromium that has been “ungoogled” and modified for more privacy.
- Brave – Brave is another Chromium-based browser that is rather popular. It blocks trackers and ads by default (except for “approved” ads that are part of the “Brave Ads” network).
- Waterfox – This is a fork of Firefox that is configured for more privacy by default, with Mozilla telemetry stripped out of the code.
Of course, there are other alternatives to Chrome, such as Safari (from Apple), Microsoft Internet ExploreEdge, Opera, and Vivaldi – but these also come with some privacy drawbacks.
Google Drive alternatives
If you’re looking for a secure cloud storage option, you can check out these Google Drive alternatives:
- Tresorit – A user-friendly cloud storage option based in Switzerland.
- ownCloud – An open source and self-hosted cloud platform developed in Germany.
- Nextcloud – Nextcloud is also an open source, self-hosted file sharing and collaboration platform, based in Germany.
- Sync – Based in Canada, Sync offers a secure, encrypted cloud storage solution for businesses and individuals.
- Syncthing – Here we have a decentralized, open source, peer-to-peer cloud storage platform.
Of course, Dropbox is another popular Google drive alternative, but it’s not the best in terms of privacy.
Google Calendar alternative
Here are some Google Calendar alternatives:
- Lightning Calendar is an open source calendar option developed by Mozilla, and it’s compatible with Thunderbird and Seamonkey.
- Etar, an open source, basic calendar option.
- Fruux, an open source calendar with good features and support for many operating systems.
For those wanting a combined solution for both email and calendar functionality, these providers offer that:
Google Docs / Sheets / Slides alternative
There are many solid Google Docs alternatives available. The largest offline document editing suite is, of course, Microsoft Office. As most people know, however, Microsoft is not the best company for privacy. Nonetheless, there are a few other good Google Docs alternatives:
- CryptPad – CryptPad is a privacy-focused alternative with strong encryption, and it’s free.
- Etherpad – A self-hosted collaborative online editor that’s also open source.
- Mailfence Documents – From the Mailfence team, this is a secure file sharing, storage, and collaboration tool.
- Zoho Docs – This is another good Google Docs alternative with a clean interface and good functionality, although it may not be the best for privacy.
- OnlyOffice – OnlyOffice feels a bit more restricted than some of the other options in terms of features.
- Cryptee – This is a privacy-focused platform for photo and document storage and editing. It’s open source and based in Estonia.
- LibreOffice (offline) – You can use LibreOffice which is free and open source.
- Apache OpenOffice (offline) – Another good open source office suite.
Google Photos alternative
Here are a few good Google Photos alternatives:
- Piwigo – Piwigo is a great option that you can self-host. It is also free and open source.
- Lychee – Lychee is another self-hosted, open source photo management platform.
- Cryptee – Mentioned already above, Cyrptee is also a great option for securely storing photos.
Shoebox was another alternative, but it closed operations
in June 2019.
Unfortunately, YouTube alternatives can really be hit or miss, with most struggling to gain popularity.
: Invidio.us is a great Youtube proxy that allows you to watch any Youtube video without logging in, even if the video is somehow restricted. To do this, simply replace [www.youtube.com]
with [invidio.us] in the URL you want to view.
Google translate alternative
Here are a few Google translate alternatives I have come across:
- DeepL – DeepL is a solid Google Translate alternative that seems to give great results. Like Google Translate, DeepL allows you to post up to 5,000 characters at a time (but the pro version is unlimited). The user interface is good and there is also a built-in dictionary feature.
- Linguee – Linguee does not allow you to post large blocks of text like DeepL. However, Linguee will give you very accurate translations for single words or phrases, along with context examples.
- dict.cc – This Google Translate alternative seems to do a decent job on single-world lookups, but it also feels a bit outdated.
- Swisscows Translate – A good translation service supporting many languages.
If you want to translate blocks of text, check out DeepL
. If you want in-depth translations for single words or phrases, then Linguee
is a good choice.
Google analytics alternative
For website admins, there are many reasons to use an alternative to Google analytics. Aside from privacy concerns, there are also faster and more user-friendly alternatives that also respect your visitors’ privacy.
- Clicky is a great alternative to Google Analytics that truncates and anonymizes visitor IP addresses by default. It is lightweight, user-friendly, and fully compliant with GDPR regulations, while also being certified by Privacy Shield.
- Matomo (formerly Piwik) is an open-source analytics platform that respects the privacy of visitors by anonymizing and truncating visitor IP addresses (if enabled by the website admin). It is also certified to respect user privacy.
- Fathom Analytics is an open source alternative to Google Analytics that’s available on Github here. It’s minimal, fast, and lightweight.
- Get Insights – Another privacy-focused analytics platform, with a full analytics suite. The front-end client is open source and available here.
- AT Internet is a France-based analytics provider that is fully GDPR compliant, with all data stored on French servers, and a good track record going back to 1996.
Many websites host Google Analytics because they run Google Adsense campaigns. Without Google Analytics, tracking performance of these campaigns would be difficult. Nonetheless, there are still better options for privacy.
Google Maps alternative
A map alternative for PCs is OpenStreetMap
A few Google Maps alternatives for mobile devices include:
- OsmAnd is a free and open-source mobile maps app for both Android and iOS (based on OpenStreetMap data).
- Maps (F Droid) uses OpenStreetMap data (offline).
- MapHub is also based on OpenStreeMap data and it does not collect locations or user IP addresses.
Note: Waze is not an “alternative” as it is now owned by Google.
Google Play Store alternative
Currently the best Google Play Store alternative is to use F-Droid
and then go through the Yalp store
. As explained on the official site
, F-Droid is an installable catalog of FOSS (Free and Open Source Software) applications for the Android platform.
After you have installed F-Droid, you can then download the Yalp store APK, which allows you to download apps from the Google Play Store directly as APK files.
📷The Yalp Store is a good alternative to the Google Play Store.
See the F-Droid website
or the official GitHub page
for more info. Other alternatives to the Google Play Store include:
- Aptoide – An independent marketplace for Android apps.
- APKMirror – This is a large library of APK files uploaded by different users (be careful).
- Aurora Store – A fork of the Yalp Store.
Google Chrome OS alternative
Want to ditch the Chromebook and Chrome OS? Here are a few alternatives:
- Linux – Of course, Linux is arguably the best alternative, being a free, open-source operating system with lots of different flavors. With some adjustments, Linux Ubuntu can be run on Chromebooks.
- Tails – Tails is a free, privacy-focused operating system based on Linux that routes all traffic through the Tor network.
- QubesOS – Recommended by Snowden, free, and also open source.
Of course, the other two big operating system alternatives are Windows and Apple’s operating system for MacBooks – Mac OS. Windows, particularly Windows 10, is a very bad option for privacy. While slightly better, Apple also collects user data and has partnered with the NSA
) for surveillance.
The biggest alternative to Android is iOS from Apple. But we’ll skip over that for reasons already mentioned. Here are a few Android OS alternatives:
- LineageOS – A free and open-source operating system for phones and tablets based on Android.
- Ubuntu Touch – A mobile version of the Ubuntu operating system.
- Plasma Mobile – An open source, Linux-based operating system with active development.
- Sailfish OS – Another open source, Linux-based mobile OS.
- Replicant – A fully free Android distribution with an emphasis on freedom, privacy, and security.
- /e/ – This is another open source project with a focus on privacy and security.
Purism is also working on a privacy-focused mobile phone called the Librem 5
. It is in production, but not yet available (estimated Q3 2019).
Google Hangouts alternatives
Here are some alternatives to Google Hangouts:
- Wire – A great all-around secure messenger, video, and chat app, but somewhat limited on the number of people who can chat together in a group conversation via voice or video.
- Signal – A good secure messenger platform from Open Whisper Systems.
- Telegram – A longtime secure messenger app, formerly based in Russia, now in Dubai.
- Riot – A privacy-focused encrypted chat service that is also open source.
Google Domains alternative
Google Domains is a domain registration service. Here are a few alternatives:
- Namecheap – I like Namecheap because all domain purchases now come with free WhoisGuard protection for life, which protects your contact information from third parties. Namecheap also accepts Bitcoin and offers domain registration, hosting, email, SSL certs, and a variety of other products.
- Njalla – Njalla is a privacy-focused domain registration service based in Nevis. They offer hosting options, too, and also accept cryptocurrency payments.
- OrangeWebsite – OrangeWebsite offers anonymous domain registration services and also accepts cryptocurrency payments, based in Iceland.
Other Google alternatives
Here more alternatives for various Google products: Google forms alternative
is a free online form builder. Google Keep alternative
– Below are a few different Google Keep alternatives:
Google Fonts alternative
- Standard Notes is a great alternative for a note-taking service. It is secure, encrypted, and free with apps for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android (web-based also available).
- Joplin is another great option that is open source and works on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android.
- Zoho Notebook from Zoho, with apps for desktop and mobile devices.
- QOwnNotes is an open source file editor with Nextcloud integration.
– Many websites load Google fonts through Google APIs, but that’s not necessary. One alternative to this is to use Font Squirrel
, which has a large selection of both Google and non-Google fonts which are free to download and use. Google Voice alternative
(both free and paid) G Suite alternative
is probably the best option Google Firebase alternative
(free and open source) Google Blogger alternatives
, and Ghost
are all good options.
NB: I first published this article on another site, but figured there would be enough interest from people on this subreddit to reproduce it here, since it gathers some useful information that may help other playing card enthusiasts. It was originally posted here: https://playingcarddecks.com/blogs/all-in/how-to-create-your-own-deck-of-playing-cards A Guide to Publishing Your Own Custom Deck
Do you want to make your own deck of playing cards? For the modern playing card enthusiast, our current technological climate means that the resources to make your own deck of playing cards are well within reach. Publishing your own custom deck is much easier than you might think. There was a time where the only channels for producing a custom deck were via the few playing card manufacturers that existed around the world. To get a design successfully into print, you needed to be one of the select few artists that these manufacturers collaborated with.
But today it's a brand new world, and the hobbyist playing card designer now has the ability to turn his personal design into something fantastic. Courtesy of technology and of the internet, you don't even need to be a highly trained graphic designer to create something truly beautiful, and if you have the right software and artistic skills, you can design something impressive on your home computer, and get it professionally printed. There's even a chance that your design could even become the next big thing!
Even if your aim is more modest, at the very least you can find a way to bring your design from your computer screen and turn it into an actually published deck. With the help of today's technology, it's really not that difficult to find printers that will produce your playing cards for you. And if you really want, you can even try to harness the power of crowdfunding to get the financial backing needed for a larger print-run, and get your deck into the hands of other playing card enthusiasts.
But how do you go about creating your own deck of playing cards, what are some key elements of this process, and what do you need to know? In this article, we'll help by giving you an overview of everything involved, and share some of the key things to consider. There are five main steps to be thinking about:
1. CONCEPT: Your Idea
Before you think about the ways that you are going to achieve your dream of printing your own deck, you want to think carefully about what your personal goal is and have a clear idea of what exactly you are aiming for. There's going to be a lot of decisions that you have to make as part of the process of producing your own deck, so it makes sense at the outset to consider carefully the different factors and choices you have. Your Theme
What will the theme and central idea of your deck be? It's worth doing some research to see what is already out there. Has the concept of your deck been done before? Has the name you have in mind already been used by an existing project? There's nothing worse than pouring an enormous amount of energy into a project, only to discover that someone else has beat you to the punch, or that a similar product or design already exists. Is your theme just of personal interest, or is it something that you're going to have to bring to the masses? If so, you want to try to find out if it's something that will interest enough people to make your creative efforts worthwhile.
You also have to be careful with projects based on popular music, films, or books. These are typically protected very carefully by laws governing trademarks and copyright, and you'll only be able to use their names or artwork if you get a license to do so. These licensing requirements are typically frightfully expensive and will put such projects well out of reach for the average person. Your Purpose
Further along the road there will be questions you'll need to answer about the kind of card stock to use, and what company to use for printing your deck. You'll also have to answer questions about the artwork, such as: Are you going to have standard faces, except perhaps for the Jokers and Ace of Spades, or is your deck going to be fully customized? If so, will it primarily be the court cards, or will you have totally custom pips and indices too?
How you answer these questions will usually depend on what you plan to use your deck for:
● For card games and magic: I
s your deck primarily going to be used for playing card games or for performing card magic? For example, maybe you're a magician and want a custom deck that says something about your brand or image. If so, then you probably want to make sure it remains that everything about it remains clear and functional, and you don't want to deviate too much from the standard formula, or from traditional courts. Otherwise your deck might unnecessarily draw attention to itself, or even suspicion. At the very least, you don't want spectators or fellow gamers distracted too much by novelty, or have cards that are extremely flashy but where the values and suits are very difficult to distinguish with ease, and that the deck isn't even usable.
● For collectors:
On the other hand, if your deck is geared to be primarily for collectors, then none of this matters too much. Then it is quite fine to have more extensive customization, even if you compromise somewhat on the clarity, because your playing cards aren't intended to be used in performances or games, but rather enjoyed and appreciated as a work of art. You might also want to invest more time and energy, and even cost, into a more glamorous tuck box with embossing and foil, or even a limited edition with a custom numbered seal.
● For cardistry:
Something similar regarding the clarity of the indices and pips is true of a deck geared towards card flourishing. A cardistry deck has a very different function than a regular deck, so having clear indices and pips isn't your biggest priority. Instead you want cards that look aesthetically pleasing, especially when the cards are moving or displayed. But even then you have to consider whether you want a design that looks optimal in fans and spreads, or whether you are more concerned with how cards look in motion, in spins and twirls. A different focus and emphasis will lead to a different design. This is one reason why some cardistry decks feature geometric designs, while others feature lavish colours. Even a simple choice like whether or not to have a two-way or one-way design on the card backs can have a big impact on how a deck will look when it's being used for flourishing, and you don't want to make the mistake of only thinking about this for the first time only after your deck is in print.
Another important factor will be how many decks you want to print. If you are planning on producing a relatively high volume, of at least 1000 decks or more, that will give you access to the bigger card manufacturing companies, that typically require a minimum order size in that range. 2. ARTWORK: Your Design
What is your deck going to look like? What will the cards themselves look like, and what about the tuck box? This isn't something you want to rush, because it is going to be the key thing that makes or breaks your deck. A poor design won't look good when it's published, nor will it attract buyers. Your Direction
The purpose of your deck will steer your direction here. So will your personal taste, which will determine what aesthetics you prefer. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Even so, there are principles of design that are almost universally applicable. You should keep in mind some objective criteria, like the concepts covered in my article: What to look for in a quality deck
For example, cards with black borders will show signs of wear much more quickly, as the white paper shows underneath. This is a practical reason why most playing cards have white borders. Similarly borderless card backs with full bleed artwork may look nice on a computer screen during the design process, but they can be impractical for card magic, because white borders can help disguise reversed cards and certain sleight of hand moves. This is an example where the direction of your artwork will be shaped by the purpose you have in mind.
There are also aesthetic considerations such as aiming for a straight forward overall design on your card back, because something overly busy with too much detail typically won't work well. Experience can play a role here too, because someone who spent a lot of time with playing cards, may be able to give good advice about what works and what doesn't. Colour distinctions between the traditionally red and black pips, and even the arrangement of the pips of the number cards - all of these things involve standards of beauty and excellence, and have implications for functionality and aesthetics. Your Artist
Once you've got an idea of what you want, you have to decide whether you'll do the artwork yourself, or get an expert in the field to do it for you.
If you are going to do the artwork and design work yourself, you'll want to start with some standard artwork for the cards, then changing these as you go along. Often the printer you are working with will be able to supply you with a starting point. Also check the kinds of files that your printer accepts, and the requirements they have in terms of bleed areas, dimensions, and more. Some fantastic software is available for doing digital artwork, but if you are interested in doing this, expect to spend a lot of time with your computer, exercising your creativity and getting the details right. On the other hand if all you're designing is a custom card back, then this process might turn out to be quite easy, because you can use standard card faces, and all you have to come up with is a custom design for the back of your deck.
● Freelance artist:
You might find a freelance artist online whose work you like, and perhaps even a very specific design that you want to use for your card backs or another aspect of the playing card artwork. Obviously if you get someone else to do the work, you're going to have to find someone that you can work well with, that communicates clearly and promptly, and where you can afford the extra cost. If it's a graphic artist who is coming up with the artwork and designs for you, you will have to pay for this, and that might cost more than you might think. This will also have an impact on ownership of the final designs, because as a creator and collaborator, they own what is fundamentally their work, which they'll be selling to you. Expect a lot of back and forth communication, depending on how much input you want to have as the design takes shape, unless you prefer to just give your overall concept and let your graphic artist run with it however they please.
● Design agency:
Even if you do decide to do most of the designs yourself, if you are inexperienced in this area, you might want to pay a graphic design agency to do the final cleaning up for you. In this case you retain all the rights to the artwork, and they are just polishing your overall design.
You might collaborate with someone who has a proven record in publishing custom decks, and is interested in working with you on your project. If a publisher is working with you, you'll just be tapping into their expertise in the field, and they'll leave all the actual work of creating the artwork to you, and help walk you through the steps you need to take along the way.
Before getting too heavily invested in a particular graphic design, you have to know which company you'll be printing the decks with. Different playing card manufacturers will have different requirements for the files you have to submit. Typically they will provide information about the kind of files that they accept, including full details about the bleed area, and colour choices.
In this early stage of your project, it's usually a good idea to print a few prototype decks, so that you can check to see how your artwork and designs looks. You may need to use a different company for printing the prototypes, since the larger manufacturers typically won't let you produce only a dozen trial decks. But it is an important step in the process, especially if you are planning a big print run, because that way you can catch any mistakes that might have escaped your notice. It also gives you some decks you can send to reviewers, who will help you spread the word as part of your promotion. You can also use these for making a video trailer and promotional photos of your deck. You'll need all this for the marketing campaign that is essential as part of a crowdfunding project.
Whatever route you decide to go, this isn't a part of the process that you want to rush. Take your time to get things right, so that you can be happy with the result. 3. PRODUCTION: Your Printer
Of the different playing card manufacturers out there, who are you going to use to physically print your cards? As mentioned, this is something you'll have to consider before you even start your graphic design work, because it will have an impact on the types of image files you create, and details like the dimensions and colours.
There are a number of large playing card manufacturers, most of which are quite well known, and but there are also some smaller players worth considering. Which you choose is not just a matter of price, but it also depends on your needs, such as the volume of decks you are producing, and the kind of quality and service you are after. Here are the main contenders:
● United States Playing Card Company (USPCC)
- This is the industry giant and heavy-weight, which produces the most playing cards in the United States today. It was established in 1894, and was recently acquired by European company Cartamundi. This isn't something you need to worry about too much, however, because USPCC is an established brand, and not likely to stop any of their product line any time soon; if anything they will only get better. The merger with Cartamundi does reduce some of the competition in the industry, but if it means that USPCC can build on its established products and improve them with the benefit of technology and input from Cartamundi, then everyone stands to benefit. One negative to be aware of is that USPCC decks are notorious for having inaccurate registration, which means that occasionally a deck will be printed with inconsistent borders, looking particularly ugly if the design has narrow borders. USPCC also does not do small size orders, so they will only really be an option for you if you are planning on producing at least 1000 deck. But they're one of the biggest and best, which is why so many projects choose to print with them.
- Based in Europe, this is another giant manufacturer of playing cards. However it is only in recent years that they have started to become a big player in the custom playing card market. Previously no playing card projects used them for production, but that has changed over the last year or two. Their style of playing cards looks and feels quite different from a standard Bicycle deck from USPCC, and will also handle differently. Overall their playing cards have been very well received and are of excellent quality, but they aren't for everyone given the different feel. In recent times big brands like Ellusionist have been printing more and more of their custom designs with Cartamundi instead of USPCC, and when a large company like Ellusionist is confident enough to do this, it means you can have confidence in Cartamundi as well. Like USPCC, you will need a decent size order, which for Cartamundi is a minimum of at least 200 decks.
● Legends Playing Card Company (LPCC)
- LPCC prints the bulk of their playing cards in a factory in Taiwan, and has been a popular choice for many crowdfunding projects due to the high quality of their playing cards. The card stock is extremely durable, even more so than USPCC playing cards, but it tends to feel stiffer and snappier, resulting in a different feel, which is especially ideal for cuts and cardistry. Fans and spreads can start to clump a little over time, but overall LPCC decks are of a standard that almost matches USPCC decks, and exceeds it in some areas, such as the smooth cut on the sides of the deck. And unlike USPCC printed decks, their printing registration is consistently spot on, so a design with narrow borders is never a problem. In a new development, they are also starting to work with another factory in China, where the quality apparently matches that of the Taiwan factory.
● Expert Playing Card Company (EPCC)
- EPCC also prints the majority of their decks in Taiwan, where they share a factory with LPCC. These two playing card manufacturers are typically lumped together, and although they use different terminology to describe their available finishes and card stock options, their final playing card product is practically identical in most cases. EPCC is managed by Bill Kalush in the USA, while LPCC is run by Lawrence Sullivan in Hong Kong. Much like USPCC, LPCC and EPCC both require a minimum order size of around 1,000 decks.
● Hanson Chien Production Company (HCPC)
- While not as big a name as the previously mentioned manufacturers, there has been an increasing number of decks produced with HCPC. They offer a decent range of different types of card stocks and other options for printing, with a look and feel extremely similar to playing cards produced by LPCC/EPCC, so I wouldn't be surprised if they employ similar processes, and the same factory in Taiwan for some of their decks. Their playing cards typically have a long-lasting, firm, and snappy stock with an embossed air cushion finish. Their decks closely match the quality and handling of those from EPCC/LPCC, although they haven't produced nearly as many projects.
● Taiwan Playing Card Company (TWPCC)
- This is another smaller manufacturer based in Taiwan, and is closely linked to their distributor Bomb Magic, which produces magic supplies for the Asian market. Their playing cards are quite similar to the previously mentioned Taiwanese playing card manufacturers, and they also use the same factory and create a similar product. English isn't their first language, however, and in my own experience in corresponding with them, communication can prove to be a challenge.
● Shenzhen Wangjing Printing Co (WJPC)
- Based in mainland China, WJPC has a large operation. Creators that have used them in recent years include Elephant Playing Cards and Guru Playing Cards. I'm told by those who have used WJPC personally that they have a comprehensive range of options and competitive prices, are easy to deal with, and good in communicating quickly and respectfully. The quality of their decks won't quite match what you'll get from manufacturers like USPCC, Cartamundi, or Taiwanese-based producers, and decks won't fan or spread as smoothly. But they do have an air cushion finish, are very well priced, and the average person will likely be happy with the outcome.
● MakePlayingCards -
Called MPC for short, this company is one of the smaller players in the industry. They have their own line of playing cards as well, and especially their Impressions series does a good job of showing the kind of potential with UV spot printing, a secondary printing process that adds gloss and a tactile element to the surface of the cards in selected areas. MPC is especially a popular choice for smaller print runs, and they have also been used by a lot of creators needing to print prototypes. They're based in Asia, and have a proven track record of success. Their embossed playing cards are definitely superior to cheaper options elsewhere. Even so the handling of their best playing cards won't match that of playing cards produced by bigger players like USPCC, Cartamundi, and LPCC/EPCC. MPC cards will tend to clump more quickly, and not fan and spread as smoothly in the long run; nor will they faro easily and readily.
● Shuffled Ink
- This company offers a similar service to MPC, but is based in Florida. Although they occasionally produce some of their products in China, the majority of their playing cards are printed and produced in the United States, and for some creators this will be an important consideration. From personal experience, the quality is quite similar to that of decks by MPC. When you are making a custom deck, you will want to produce some prototypes to see how your design will look on a printed deck, and since that isn't offered by larger companies such as USPCC, manufacturers like MPC and Shuffled Ink are perfect for the purpose. Shuffled Ink can produce cards with a high quality embossed (linen) finish, and they also can print in small quantities, unlike some of the bigger companies.
● Noir Arts (NPCC)
- Also known as the Noir Playing Card Company, Noir Arts not only prints playing cards but also offers a fulfilment service for shipping them to your buyers and backers. They are based in the Ukraine, so communication may not always be as smooth as it is with some of the other playing card manufacturers, although they do have English speaking staff. They print a high volume of cheap decks for local tourism in Europe, but also have been printing custom playing decks for project creators, and doing production and fulfilment for some crowdfunding campaigns. Their strength lies in producing outstanding tuck boxes, many of which have a quality level easily exceeds a typical deck from other publishers. They do offer embossed card stock, but their playing cards tend to clump quickly, and do not shuffle smoothly or consistently. So the quality of the cards themselves is noticeably less than what you will typically get with a deck printed by other publishers, making them less than optimal for cardistry, magic, or card games, and better when intended just for collectors.
The above list can seem a little overwhelming, so let's narrow down your options a little. For the best quality possible and with a large print run of at least 1000 decks, consider USPCC, Cartamundi, or LPCC/EPCC. If you're just printing a smaller number of decks, such as prototypes or a small print run for family or friends, try MPC or Shuffled Ink; only serious cardists and dedicated collectors will notice that their cards won't fan quite as smoothly, and the average person will still be impressed with the quality and air cushion style finish. You might consider the other manufacturers if you want lower prices, but this comes with an increased risk of a reduction in quality. Tuck boxes
What about your tuck boxes? Most playing card manufacturers will take care of this for you, and print these along with your deck, for an added cost. There are companies that specialize in producing high end tuck boxes, or perhaps can offer a better rate than big players like USPCC, and the one mentioned the most often with praise is Clove St Press
Just be aware that this will add an extra step into the production process, so it means that it is an additional thing that can go wrong, and thus can slow down the overall fulfilment timeline. But if you do want something more exotic or luxurious for your tuck box, this is an option to consider. 4. FUNDING: Your Finances
How are you going to finance your deck? Are you going to get help from a crowdfunding platform, or just bankroll everything yourself? A word of caution here: Don't expect to make money from your first deck of playing cards, even if you use crowdfunding! Even if you're using Kickstarter to get financial backing for your project, printing your deck may still end up costing you money. So it's important to carefully do the math, and be aware of everything involved. Self-funding
If you have deep pockets, you might want to go ahead and funding the project yourself upfront. But this typically involves significant costs up front, and there's no guarantee that your decks will sell. Do you really want to be stuck with boxes and boxes of playing cards in your basement that nobody wants? Another disadvantage of bankrolling your own decks is that you'll need to market them afterwards. Crowdfunding projects aren't just about raising money, but they are also function as a pre-order system and advertising campaign rolled into one, so typically your decks already have buyers at the time they are printed.
On the other hand, crowdfunding can involve a lot of headaches and extra work, and it might be important for you to avoid all of that. But going the self-funding route does have a bigger risk, and you need to be prepared for the eventuality of things not turning out how you'd hoped. Established designers and creators who are certain to sell their product will sometimes self-fund their project, but only because they already have a guaranteed market. Even then many will still prefer using Kickstarter, simply because it gives them a good idea of what the demand is, and it takes care of their advertising and promotion at the same time. Publisher-funding
If you're fortunate, you might be able to find a publisher that is willing to buy your design outright, and fund your deck for you. In this case you're basically selling them your design, so this might be the best option for someone whose strength is as a graphic designer or artist, and doesn't want to deal with the marketing, production, and fulfilment at all. Examples of companies that have published decks created by other designers included Ellusionist and Murphy's Magic. Ellusionist tends to have in-house designers, and most of their decks fit within their own vision for their brand, and are shaped by this. In contrast, a publisher like Murphy's Magic is more flexible, and has published many custom decks under their label.
Murphy's Magic has their own design team and production team that specializes in playing cards, so some of their playing cards are produced from start to finish completely in house. But you can also submit playing card designs, which they will then adjust to their standards, and then take care of printing, distributing, and even some marketing. To be successful in getting your deck accepted for publishing by them, however, you will need to have a very good design. They get a lot of submissions, and are only going to be prepared to make an investment in your design if they can be confident that they will actually get a financial return on what they put into printing and publishing it. After receiving your proposed design, they have a thorough testing process to see if it fits what they are looking for, and then their development team takes it over. But the plus side is that you don't need to try to scrape together the money yourself. Creators who have succeeded with this model have reported that even this method won't leave them with much money left over, especially if you're paying a graphic designer or artist to come up with your designs in the first place. Crowd-funding
Although there are other crowdfunding platforms like Indiegogo, Kickstarter has easily emerged as the leading platform of choice for creators of custom decks. The advantages of using a crowdfunding platform are obvious: you get money in the bank before you have to start paying the costs of production. And there is always that slim chance that your custom deck will go viral, become popular, and hit the big time. It's happened before!
But the crowdfunding route also has challenges. In today's crowded marketplace, it's not just a simple as putting your deck out there for funding on Kickstarter, and kicking up your heels while you wait for the money to roll in, as backers arrive and pledge money in support of your deck. If anything, it is harder to have a successful project today than ever before. The playing card industry is somewhat saturated, and with new decks coming out all the time, it is very difficult to stand out from everybody else.
If you are going to get your project successfully funded with crowdfunding, you have to have a realistic target figure, and you're going to have to do a lot of marketing to get funded. I've seen many excellent designs fail to meet their target, simply because the creator didn't put enough effort into marketing. This requires a lot of work, and means you need a lot of connections. You need to connect with influencers and reviewers to help you get the word out. You need to be active on various social network platforms and discussion forums. Much of this work will have to be done in advance, so that you're ready to go with your marketing campaign as soon as the project launches, and often you'll even want to be busy doing promotion in advance. Once the project goes live, you need to engage with your supporters, and perhaps announce different goals or bonus items and add-on products along the way to keep up the momentum. This is hard work, and not everyone is cut out to do it.
There are exceptions, and the main one is if you already have an established brand or following. Popular creators and established designers like Jackson Robinson and Giovanni Meroni nearly always get their projects funded very quickly. But these are in-demand designers who have worked hard to build up a successful brand and a legion of fans. If you're Mr Nobody arriving out of nowhere with your first deck, you won't nearly get the same response.
Sometimes a creator will get cross-over supporters from other arenas in which they have had success. For example, Gentleman Wake is a highly respected video reviewer with a large following on youtube, and his Parlour Playing Cards was a big success due to the supporters he could bring in. Similarly magician Chris Ramsay could produce his 1st Playing Cards largely on the back of his successful youtube channel.
But for the average creator, don't expect crowdfunding to be a magical money machine. It's hard work, and all the hidden costs along the way will often mean that you'll be happy just to cross your target goal, without thinking about making a cent of profit at the other end. Kickstarter itself will take a generous chunk of what you make, and there are a lot of other expenses you might not be counting on. There are some successful Kickstarter stories, but in today's competitive and crowded market, in most cases you should just be glad to break even, and at the end of the day you may even end up making a loss. Despite all the glamour and the big numbers you sometimes see on projects, for most creators crowdfunding is largely a way to help advertise their deck and help get connected with a buying public, not a way of actually making a pile of money. Don't embark on this road to generate a reliable stream of income.
That doesn't mean crowdfunding is a waste of time. It's disappointing if your project fails, but surely that is a better outcome than investing over $10,000 into printing a deck of cards that never sells, and be stuck with boxes of playing cards in your garage for the next few years. Crowdfunding also has the advantage of helping spread the word, so it is a form of advertising at the same time. It even gives you the opportunity to make tweaks to your design to help improve it, based on input you get from backers.
If you do use Kickstarter, be smart about it, and plan the timing of your launch well. Smart creators do a build up (e.g. an email list), so that it can start with a bang. And don't have your launch happen at a time where you're less likely to succeed, such as the holidays, or when several other big projects are making so much noise that yours goes unnoticed.
So there are plenty of good reasons to go use Kickstarter to finance your deck. If you are going to go the crowdfunding route, just do your research, know what you are doing, and be well prepared for everything this involves. Do all your homework in advance, including most of your decisions about production and fulfilment. You can expect a lot of questions about the quality of your playing cards, and shipping costs, so you want to make sure you have all these details handy at the time your project launches. You want your pricing to be accurate, and that you are ready to answer whatever queries come your way. If all this sounds like it's a bit too much, you might just want to find a publisher or experienced creator team who knows what they are doing, and can partner with you to help. 5. FULFILLMENT: Your Shipping
Once your decks are printed and produced, how are they going to get to your buyers? Are you going to do all this yourself, or are you going to get a company that specializes in this to do it for you? Self-shipping
A big advantage of organizing the shipping of your playing cards yourself, is that you can make sure that your buyers get the very best in service. But that is only if you're prepared to put in the effort required, and that may prove more than you think. It will be another enormous commitment of time and resources, and you will need to know what you are doing, or at least quickly learn how to do it.
How much is your time worth to you? Perhaps you're willing and keen to learn what the logistics involves, and will do a terrific job with this. Just be prepared for some real headaches along the way. You will almost certainly have to be involved in untangling cases where a deck doesn't arrive despite you shipping it, goes to an outdated address, or arrives damaged, and problems of that nature. Fulfilment company
Going with a company that takes care of fulfilment for you avoids all these headaches. But you'll want to make sure that it is a reliable company with a proven track record of success, and a good reputation. If they don't do their job properly, you can't just hang them out to dry, because your backers will blame you as the front man, not the company you're getting to do this job for you. So this is something you want to think through carefully, and not jump on board a company rashly just because they seem to promise much at a cheap rate.
There are companies that will partner with you for the entire process, or even just for part of it, such as the production and fulfilment, and here are a few you could look into using.
● Gambler's Warehouse
: One of the most popular companies used for fulfilment is Gambler's Warehouse, and they seem to be the leading choice for Kickstarter project creators. They are very experienced in providing fulfilment for crowdfunded projects, and have been the company of choice for many creators over the last couple of years.
● Noir Arts (NPCC)
: Not only will they print your cards for you, but they also take care of the fulfilment of crowdfunded projects if you wish. But I'm quite certain their fulfillment service only applies to decks they have printed themselves, and as mentioned earlier, the quality of their decks is mostly suited to collectors. If you want a deck that handles smoothly and consistently, this probably won't be a good option, even if they offer an attractive price that includes fulfilment.
● Art of Play
: This is the brand of Dan & Dave Buck, and this is the label under which they produce their own playing cards and run a successful online store. They also have an arm that specializes in fulfilment services for crowdfunding projects, even if they weren't involved in the production itself. They then handle all the logistics and the work of getting your decks into the hands of your buyers and backers.
● Murphy's Magic:
Another option is to use a company like Murphy's Magic. But first you need to submit a successful design to them, and convince them it's good enough to buy and publish. If you are fortunate enough to come up with something they like, their development team takes over your design, and they take care of printing and distributing it, getting it into the hands of suppliers. Murphy's Magic doesn't sell directly to the general public, so they usually sell decks to retailers who will then market it. Of course you might decide to buy a large stash from them at a wholesale price to sell them yourself. But at least with this method they'll take care of getting the majority of your decks to retailers, and from there they become available to the general public, meaning you don't have to worry about shipping and fulfilment at all. FINAL THOUGHTS
As you can see, there's a lot to think about, and you want to research your options carefully before embarking on a road towards printing your own custom deck. But don't let the diversity of options scare you either, because it's not hard to get overwhelmed, thinking that the process is much more complicated than what it actually is.
In most cases your choices will become obvious after taking into consideration what you have in mind with your custom deck in the first place. Printing a small number of decks for family and friends, based on a design you've whipped up together on your PC, immediately rules out the industry giants, all of which have a large minimum order size. That leaves you choosing between companies like MPC or Shuffled Ink, and you won't have to worry about organizing shipping and fulfilment either. But if you're more ambitious and are serious about bringing a large scale project to the playing card market, then you'll have to think things through a little more carefully, and going with an established playing card manufacturer like USPCC, Cartamundi, or EPCC/LPCC will make good sense. Either way, your options narrow as you plug in the considerations important for you.
Once you've got some direction, one of the biggest questions you'll have to decide is whether you can manage everything yourself, or whether you need help from someone with experience in the field. Perhaps you're brave enough to navigate the crowdfunding scene on your own, and are prepared to do all the hard work this involves. But for many people, it might be a better idea to partner with other experienced individuals along the way, either by collaborating with a publisher who can do some of the work for you, or by leaving parts of the work to experienced and proven experts, such as a graphic artist, or a company experienced in shipping and fulfilment. One option is to use the services and expertise of a professional consultant, like Max Playing Cards
or Don Boyer
Whatever you decide, this article should make you appreciate all the more the effort it took to bring you the playing cards that are displayed on your shelf or desk right now. And perhaps it might just give you the tools you need to contribute a creation of your own, and bring it to my desk or to the shelves of other playing card enthusiasts around the world!