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robinventa
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Joined: 12/31/1969

Hi

I have been interested to read here and elsewhere how others make cards for games. I am personally not interested in how simply or quickly they can be made – only in the end product. It will take me six hours (or more) to make a three-ply pack of 55 cards. I want them to look like, feel like, shuffle like etc. This is how I do it.

I print oversize cards with a fine line border approximately 2mm bigger all-round than the finished card. I do the artwork in Photoshop – or even Paint for simple stuff. The sheets are inkjet printed (8 cards per sheet) on standard duplicator stock. I cut out the back and front of each card by hand close to, but leaving, the border line. I use the pages from an A4 layout pad (thin, strong, tissue like art paper) for the core. If I want a light barrier I can make the layout sheet black with a permanent marker – I have experimented with this and it works perfectly. Anyway, I use Pritt stick to individually glue the card backs to the core. As you know, when Pritt dries it goes hard – unlike petroleum based adhesives. I compress the glued surface onto the core with a few strokes of a small rubber faced roller (made for inking lino-cuts).

When I’ve done that the card backs are again cut out individually (I use scissors) to leave the border line intact. Now I have backs and fronts cut out to an identical size – with the two-ply backs curled up under drying stresses. I now glue the fronts to the backs (the glue allows for sliding until they marry perfectly). I use the roller on each individual card. As it dries the front forces the curl out of the back to leave the card flat. These competing stresses, and the two layers of hard glue, give the card the ‘snap’ and strength of a playing card. I now use a standard playing card as the template for the finished card - centring the card between the border lines and drawing around it with a pencil. Each card is carefully and accurately cut out by hand, using scissors – so that the corner radii are part of a continuous cut. If any pencil lines show they are erased.

The cards are now boned together. I take two cards and rub them vigorously together between the palms of my hands – one pair of sides, then the other – until the cards slide together like playing cards. When fully dried and boned packs made like this deliver a shuffling and dealing experience close to standard playing cards, and are the same thickness. The one drawback (which, in my experience has proved insignificant) is that the ink is not waterproof.

Yes, it all does take time, and I hate every minute of it (I only enjoy designing) but, for me, having a virtual production quality game at the end makes it all worthwhile.

In the past I have used standard playing cards to make very durable prototype packs – using my card fronts with their backs. I split each card (dry peeling the front off of the back). When my front (oversize) has been stuck onto their back the card is back to its original thickness. The cards are trimmed by hand – the finished card does curl slightly, but the curl is consistent. The cards behave perfectly in every respect – I have ten-year-old packs that have been played with hundreds of times still going strong.

Now, if anybody can give me an easier way to achieve the same thing, I’d like to hear it. I don’t know anything about laminators, hot or cold – can they give a comparable result – or do the cards lack that important ‘snap’? What would be the construction of a card with an original front and back?

Robin

Oracle
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Joined: 06/22/2010
Cards

That sounds like way too much work to make a deck of cards. I wish I had your patience.

Is there any particular reason you work with one card at a time? it seem like one way you can speed up your process is to do a whole sheet at once. Take your front and back inkjet printouts of 8 cards, glue them to the core material as if it were a single large card in your current process, then cut out the 8 cards.

It also seems like a lot of work to colour a sheet of paper black with a marker. I'm not sure exactly what layout paper is, but it's very easy now to buy black paper that's intended for gel pens. Could you use that as a core material instead? If the layout paper is essential, could you go to a 4 ply process?

For cutting out the cards with rounded corners, a die cutter would make things a lot easier. I just haven't been able to find a suitablly sized rectangular die cutter, but it must exist.

My current process for making cards is to print double sided onto 110lb card stock and cut the cards out with a paper trimmer. It takes me about 45 minutes to make a deck of 55 cards, but the quality is not even close to professional. (It is better than cheapass cards though because I get the same card quality as cheapass but in colour).

I used to use inkjet business cards to make cards. With that, you can make a deck of cards as fast as your printer can spit out the sheets and they're all exactly the same size (as I'm sure you know, that's impossible to do when you cut out by hand). The drawbacks are they're too small to feel comfortable, the edges have perforation marks, the cardstock I use now is more opaque, and the business cards cost a lot more.

I hope this helps.

Jason

robinventa
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Cards

Jason, I think we clearly have different objectives. You have found a way to produce cards that are 'not even close to professional'. I have found a way to produce cards that are close to professional in terms of look, feel and performance. The difference is the time we are prepared to spend on the process.

I'm sure it would be possible to save time doing larger sheets - it's just that using a glue stick (for the reasons I mentioned) is so much harder on large surfaces. And 'sliding' becomes so much more difficult. Nevertheless, you do have a point - and I might try it some time.

Regards

Robin

FastLearner
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Cards

I don't quite follow what you're looking for in terms of "professional". Do you mean identical in almost every way to quality printed playing cards? If so then your method (but changing to a die cutter instead) is going to work.

If you mean "can be shuffled like printed cards and have a nice snap" only then my method -- printed on cardstock, cold laminated using a Xyron laminator, and then either hand cut (with a trimmer and a handheld corner rounder) or die cut (using the playing card die at the local scrapbooking store) works very well and takes about 10% of the time. They don't have a black inner core, though, so if you hold them up to a light you'll see some of the front-side information (but you actually have to hold them up -- you can't see it when players are holding them normally or on the table).

They do shuffle perfectly, though, and have and maintain that "snap".

What is your goal when it comes to "professional" in this case?

phpbbadmin
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double sided woes

FL,

One of the problems I've had with printing on cardstock is getting my double sided allignment consistent. For example, say I have cards with information on the front, and a standard card 'back' design. So I print the fronts of the card, reverse the paper, feed it back into the printer and then print the backs. What I've found is that I never get consistent orientation of the backs. I.E. you can definitely tell which cards were printed together by comparing how off center the backs are.... Also sometimes I print on perforated business card sheets, and it's even more prevalent because sometimes both the front and back of the cards are off center in relation to the perforations. Have you had this problem? Is it because my printer just isn't designed to print that precisely? Do certain printers do a better job at this than others? (Like flat printers verses uprights?).

Also I have been meaning to try this method for printing cards but haven't really had the opportunity yet.

Use full 8'5 X 11" label sheets. Print the fronts of the card on a sheet, print the backs of the cards on another sheet. Next, take a piece of black construction paper and then adhere both the label sheets to it (i.e. the black construction paper would be in the middle of the two label sheets). Then use a paper trimmer to cut out the cards and a corner rounder for the corners. I think this method would give a lot of stiffness to the cards. Of course, you could use a laminate method for slickness afterwords (or before cutting like FL does). The full label sheets are not inexpensive, so thats a problem (perhaps you could get a good deal somewhere online, but at office supply stores expect to pay at least $8 for a tiny box). Also trying to orient the labels onto the construction paper might also be a problem. I'm going to give it a whirl in the very near future to see how it works.

-Darke

jwarrend
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Re: double sided woes

Darkehorse wrote:

One of the problems I've had with printing on cardstock is getting my double sided allignment consistent.

This is indeed a pain, although I've found that with trial and error, you can get it pretty close. I make most of my cards 2" x 3", and I know that for my printer, one side has to have a 0.25" margin and the other has to have a 0.06" margin, and they usually line up pretty well, barring errors in how I load the paper into the loader in the back (it's an Epson Color Stylus 640 ink jet, so it doesn't have a tray; maybe this actually helps towards consistency?)
I have also tried recently to go with back designs that don't extend all the way to the edge of the card, so that if the sides don't line up perfectly, it's not as noticeable.

My bigger problem is actually cutting the cards out on the paper cutter. I use the "swing arm" style cutter (is that the same as the "guillotine"?), and I find that I can never line up my "cut lines" perfectly, so I end up with cards that don't really come out being exactly the same size.

I have recently gone to treating my cards with a fixative spray, which a friend of mine has used to good effect. I must not have used the right amount, because it didn't seem to have much of an effect on the shuffle-ease of the cards. But I find that for the card stock I use, just handling the cards a lot has the effect of "breaking them in" which makes them easy to shuffle in the end. And it's way cheaper than a laminator!

So, it's kind of low tech, but the advantage is that it's super-quick and super-cheap to make changes to the game. In fact, at my playtest session the other night, I was concerned I had forgotten one of my decks of cards (12 cards). My plan was to run home (5 minutes away), print and cut the cards, and return to the playtest session in time for its scheduled start 20 minutes later. Happily, I found the misplaced deck, but if I hadn't, it would have been trivial to replace it. And it's also easy for me to tweak relative values of parameters on the cards, either by hand (if I feel lazy) or by just printing new cards. So I think this method is clearly a lower-sophistication approach from Robin's, but I think it's much better in terms of functionality, at least in the early stages of design. When you're ready to try to sell it, though, sure, having a professional quality prototype might be worth all that time.

Oracle
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Re: double sided woes

Darkehorse wrote:
One of the problems I've had with printing on cardstock is getting my double sided allignment consistent.

Does your printer driver have a setting for something like "fit to page"? If it's turned on, it will shift the size of what you're printing, when you print the other side with the page upside down, it makes the shift in the opposite direction. I had a problem with this for a while, but when I turned off fit to page, it started lining up well.

Jason

FastLearner
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Re: double sided woes

Darkehorse wrote:
One of the problems I've had with printing on cardstock is getting my double sided allignment consistent.

Aye, it's a problem. I do a couple of things.

First I ensure that in my dtp design the top of one side is the bottom of the other. That way when the paper goes in the first time the "top" edge of the paper feeds in. When it goes through the second time I feed the now-bottom edge in first. This fixes left-right alignment issues.

The other thing I do is just what someone above mentioned: I figured out how much the front edge/trailing edge difference is (pretty closely) and then modify my dtp layout to suit. In my case I lower the backs of the cards by 3 points.

(On left-right alignment I tried previously to widen the paper guides just a hair and slide the paper to one side to get it a bit more centered but the results proved inconsistent on my printer.)

FastLearner
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Re: double sided woes

jwarrend wrote:
My bigger problem is actually cutting the cards out on the paper cutter. I use the "swing arm" style cutter (is that the same as the "guillotine"?), and I find that I can never line up my "cut lines" perfectly, so I end up with cards that don't really come out being exactly the same size.

You probably already know this but a rotary cutter like this one is a ton more accurate. It's the single best game prototyping purchase I've ever made and can be purchased at most office supply stores (at least here in the US). (Sometimes swing-arm style cutters are called guillotines, but sometimes guillotines refer to professional hydraulic-type cutters so the word is a bit funny.)

Quote:
So, it's kind of low tech, but the advantage is that it's super-quick and super-cheap to make changes to the game.

I just wanted to note that I don't use my Xyron-coated cards for early playtests because there will just be too many changes and it's not worth the time nor the lamination. I just print them on the same cardstock and then slip them into MtG-style card protectors (and use 2.5 x 3.5 inch cards so they fit perfectly). That way I can write on the cards if needed and replace them at will.

Oracle
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Re: double sided woes

FastLearner wrote:
You probably already know this but a rotary cutter like this one is a ton more accurate.

I made the mistake of buying the 12" portable cutter on the same page you linked to. It's surprisingly good for making accurate cuts, but the blade is only good for about 100 cuts before it starts leaving rough edges. At $2.50/blade that makes cutting out the cards my greatest prototyping expense.

I'm probably going get the rotary cutter you linked to when I run out of the blades I already bought, in the long run, it will be a lot cheaper. It's only about $20 at costco.

FastLearner
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Cards

Ah yes, Costco, that's right! Last time I saw it there it also came with several additional blades.

And excellent point about the personal cutter: I've tried 3 different "personal" cutters now (that one from Fiskars and two from X-acto) and they all sucked badly.

jwarrend
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Re: double sided woes

FastLearner wrote:

You probably already know this but a rotary cutter like this one is a ton more accurate. It's the single best game prototyping purchase I've ever made and can be purchased at most office supply stores (at least here in the US).

Thanks for the info! I've used one of those once before for something unrelated to game prototyping, and found it to be completely unacceptable for what I was trying to do. The blade was a plastic wheel, I think, and it just wouldn't cut cleanly. That said, I think I was trying to do a stack of paper; maybe doing a single piece of cardstock would be easier for the thing to handle. And perhaps the blade was also getting dull...

Anyway, thanks for the note, it's definitely worth looking into the rotary cutter!

-Jeff

phpbbadmin
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plastic wheel?

Quote:

Thanks for the info! I've used one of those once before for something unrelated to game prototyping, and found it to be completely unacceptable for what I was trying to do. The blade was a plastic wheel, I think, and it just wouldn't cut cleanly.

Well the fiskars rotary trimmer definitely does NOT use a plastic wheel. You could actually perform surgery with that thing. It is VERY sharp. The only problem I have with it is the way they ruled off the guides... It takes a lot of practice with it before you're able to accurately guage where the cut is going to be made on your paper stock.

-Darke

robinventa
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Cards

Fastlearner, as I said, I dont know anything about laminators. Is the finished card you like covered both sides?

You must have envisaged making numerous packs of cards for numerous prototypes to invest in your impressive equipment. I have only made about six packs in my entire life - and found a way to get the result I wanted by hand - a result that means the prototype game playing experience is not diminished by less than perfect components.

Of course, others using the same method would not achieve the same result as I do if they don't have craft skills.

Naturally, I am not advocating anybody do anything the way I do it - I have a different approach to game design (and clearly prototype production too) than others here.

jwarrend
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Cards

robinventa wrote:

I have only made about six packs in my entire life - and found a way to get the result I wanted by hand - a result that means the prototype game playing experience is not diminished by less than perfect components.

I can only speak for my group, but I'd like to think that people who are playtesting recognize that the components aren't going to be production quality, and are generally pretty forgiving on that front. I'm sure I could improve my cards in "playability" a bit, but they still would be far below production standards, because the graphics are functional but contain little beyond clip art, etc. And again, that also is to be expected.

To me, the most important time expense is in the game design itself. That said, I usually do spend a fair bit of time laying out the cards, choosing an appropriate font, color scheme, etc, because I want the cards to contribute to the experience, and to make the game easy to play. And I tend to use counters and bits from other already-published games, so at least those components are production quality. But the cards, I just have to think that the time and money investment in getting production-quality cards in a prototype is wasted if you need to make one little change to each card, and you have to do the whole thing again. And more importantly, I think a group that complained about the poor quality of my cards would probably not be a group that I'd want to playtest with anyway. I want to playtest with people who want to talk about the game, who want to learn how to play and understand the game systems. People who nitpick about the low production quality of the cards are putting emphasis in a place that is completely useless to me (because I already know the cards aren't "production quality"). But in general, the vast majority of people who've playtested my games have been happy with the quality of the game, or at least, with the visual appeal. (which is ironic, because I have zero art skills and make everything with a pretty cheesy "draw" application.) And not too many have (openly, anyway) complained about the cards not handling the same as professional playing cards.

It is clear that we have different philosophies, indeed. But given the ease that my approach gives to making changes, even sweeping changes, to my cards, I can't see ever adopting your philosophical approach, at least not for an early-stage prototype. Maybe if I was to create a higher-quality prototype to send out for blind tests or to publishers, it would be worth using your method. Or if the game was ever "done" such that I wanted to make a really nice deck of cards for myself. In those cases, I'm glad you posted your method! But for just basic, run-of-the-mill playtesting, spending 5-6 hours to physically make a playtest deck that I know I'll likely need to make again and again prior to each session just seems like too much effort for too little benefit.

FastLearner
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Cards

robinventa wrote:
Fastlearner, as I said, I dont know anything about laminators. Is the finished card you like covered both sides?

Yes, it covers both sides and can be trimmed anywhere you like (it doesn't have to have sealed edges). http://www.xyron.com

Quote:
You must have envisaged making numerous packs of cards for numerous prototypes to invest in your impressive equipment. I have only made about six packs in my entire life - and found a way to get the result I wanted by hand - a result that means the prototype game playing experience is not diminished by less than perfect components.

Well, the laminator was $60 on sale and the laminate runs about 50 cents per full letter-sized sheet (both using the weekly Michaels 40% off coupon one item that runs in the Sunday paper). The rotary triimmer was about $25 at Costco. And it takes me at most 60 minutes to make a full deck of cards instead of 6 hours. For me that means that the equipment paid for itself in one deck.

Quote:
Naturally, I am not advocating anybody do anything the way I do it - I have a different approach to game design (and clearly prototype production too) than others here.

I'm just curious: I got the impression from your first post that you were curious about other ways to do it that might save you time, but I've received the impression since that you're not really interested in doing it any other way and instead more just wanted to explain how you do it. You seem pretty happy with what you're doing now... is that the case?

FastLearner
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Re: double sided woes

jwarrend wrote:
Thanks for the info! I've used one of those once before for something unrelated to game prototyping, and found it to be completely unacceptable for what I was trying to do. The blade was a plastic wheel, I think, and it just wouldn't cut cleanly.

As Darke pointed out this is a very sharp steel wheel. It cuts on a self-healing hard plastic strip. I've had good success cutting 5 sheets of cardstock at once (takes two passes but the machine holds the paper in place very firmly). I also have great luck cutting my tiles which consist of two layers of chip board, two layers of cardstock, and two layers of laminate, all glued together. This takes one or two passes depending on the length of the cut and results in very clean edges (perfectly clean, as if cut by a very skilled person using an x-acto knife and steel ruler and a full minute of slicing).

robinventa
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Fastlearner - from posts I have read here and elsewhere I got the impression that nobody was able to produce a pack of cards for a prototype that performed like the real thing. People explained that the finished cards they were making fell short in one way or another. I could see that nobody was making cards the way I was. It appeared that I was spending more time on doing it, but was getting a better finished result.

So, what I did in the original post was to simply explain how I got this result – admitting that it did take time to achieve. I then asked if anybody could produce the same result in a better way.

One reply suggested that I glue entire sheets rather than individual cards – I explained my reservations but agreed that it was a good point and worth trying.

Your posts have been the most intriguing because you use equipment I am not familiar with. I take you point about the cost – I thought this stuff was much more expensive than that. From how I understand it you can use your laminator and cutter to produce near production quality cards. This must mean that you print both sides of a thin card stock and cover both sides with clear film – and the final cards are all consistently flat and playing card thickness – and have the characteristic ‘snap’.

As I have told you, I have no experience of laminators, but I have uses self-adhesive film of course. I thought laminators did the same job in a sophisticated way using different film. I didn’t think using a laminator would provide a card of the right thickness – or with ‘snap’. I also couldn’t see how they would shuffle or deal – expecting that two plastic surfaces would, to some extent, stick together – and the card edges would be prone to fluffing or splitting (I assume you can split a card down the middle very easily). So, because I was making so few cards anyway, the laminator route was dismissed.

From what you have posted you have re-kindled an interest. After cutting the cards do you round of the corners with scissors?

FastLearner
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Cards

A couple of quick notes:

The cards don't split down the middle. You could force them to if you tried very hard but most of the time you'd be tearing the paper surface away from itself, not tearing the laminate from the paper. They don't get frayed during play. For the first few shuffles they do stick together a bit but after that they don't at all. They fan and shuffle like regular cards. They are slightly thinner than regular cards but it doesn't cause any kinds of problems during play.

I round the corners using a corner-rounder punch. You can pick one up for about $5 at a craft store. Some corner-rounders have too big a radius for my taste, bigger than normal playing cards, but some have the right radius (or very close). This results in identical corners for every corner of the card, very clean and neat.

I'm quite pleased with the results. They don't look like regular playing cards because they're shinier. They don't feel like regular playing cards when you run your finger across them because they're slicker. But they play just like regular playing cards, shuffling normally with a nice snap and no tendency to bend (in fact they're less susceptible to picking up a curve than regular cards by quite a bit). They're also nicely water resistant (though if they sit in water it will of course soak into the edges), to the extent that the normal small amounts of sweat from players' hands don't affect them at all.

To remove any stickiness I used to put a little talc on the whole set and then brush it off but I've learned that this step is unnecessary if I just spend about 5 minutes shuffling them.

Hope that helps.

Anonymous
Cards

I just found this:

http://www.save-on-crafts.com/cornerrounder.html

it contains "good deals"(?) on some of the products mentioned in this thread ... I don't know if they have good prices, service, etc. so don't hold me responsible ;)

I was trying to find out what a corner-round punch is like

- Henddher

Oracle
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Cards

Henddher wrote:
I just found this:

I've been looking for punches suitable for playing cards (about 2.5x3.5") for a while. The site you linked to has one that comes closer than anything I've seen yet. They have a 2.5" rectangle, but that's 2.5" in "diameter" so it's probably along the diagonal. That's too small for a card.

It also looks difficult to line that punch up to cut pre-printed cards out of a sheet.

Do you know of any punches with larger rectangles? I'd prefer not to be just a die for an expensive machine.

Thanks
Jason

FastLearner
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I've been searching quite a lot and have only found one die for a fairly expensive machine. It, however, is 2.5 by 3.5 with nice tightly-rounded corners. The machine (an Ellison one) , IIRC, is about $300 and the die is another $40 or something. Just not within my budget of reason.

--Matthew

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FastLearner wrote:
A couple of quick notes:
To remove any stickiness I used to put a little talc on the whole set and then brush it off but I've learned that this step is unnecessary if I just spend about 5 minutes shuffling them.

FL, just curious... Have you ever tried to run your cards through one of those automatic card shuffling machines for playing cards? Just curious if they were 'compatible' with such a machine.

-Darke

FastLearner
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I don't have one so I've never tried it. I don't see any reason why they wouldn't, however.

-- Matthew

robinventa
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Fastlearner, your cards sound better than mine. I can only assume that the film used by a laminator has virtually no thickness for the finished result to be thinner than a professional produced card. I assume you could use a thicker card to get the thickness virtually the same.

Thanks for the info - very interesting.

slam
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I've used those corner rounders. They're available at your better crafts stores. There are also battery powered ones. They're good for prototypes and do help shuffling, but consider:

For a deck with 50 cards, you'll have to punch out corners 200 times. If you try to double or triple up, it becomes hard to do consistently.

FastLearner
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The (manual, hand-punch style) corner-rounders are indeed very tiring to use. One full deck of cards and my thumbs are aching for a day or two.

Anonymous
Cards

I found a manual corner-rounder at Michael's ~$9 :( Marvy Corner Punch ... The cut is ~1/4 inch radius ... seems to be too big but when I compared the round corner with a corner of a small card, they almost match ... I haven't even opened it yet 'cause I'm not yet convinced it's the right one ... but it seems to be ok

FastLearner
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Henddher wrote:
I found a manual corner-rounder at Michael's ~$9 :( Marvy Corner Punch ... The cut is ~1/4 inch radius ... seems to be too big but when I compared the round corner with a corner of a small card, they almost match ... I haven't even opened it yet 'cause I'm not yet convinced it's the right one ... but it seems to be ok

That's the smallest one I've been able to find. Regular playing cards seem to have a 1/8" radius but I haven't seen a handheld punch that has such a tight corner (there are desktop rounders that you can get in that radius but they're quite pricey). The 1/4" punch looks pretty good IMO and there are definitely professionally-produced games that use that radius.

One quick warning: if you punch a lot of stuff that's been glued (or worse yet cold laminated) it will get gummed up eventually and -- assuming it's the punch I'm thinking of -- there's no way to dissemble it to clean it so once it's gummed to the point where it won't pop back up again it's just a fishing weight.

Caparica
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FastLearner wrote:
One quick warning: if you punch a lot of stuff that's been glued (or worse yet cold laminated) it will get gummed up eventually and -- assuming it's the punch I'm thinking of -- there's no way to dissemble it to clean it so once it's gummed to the point where it won't pop back up again it's just a fishing weight.

Cutters like this:

http://www.abcoffice.com/carl6a.htm

I have one that is similar, an it can bo disassembled but it is not easy.
You have to be very carefull because it can break in the process.

phpbbadmin
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Possible Solution

FastLearner wrote:

One quick warning: if you punch a lot of stuff that's been glued (or worse yet cold laminated) it will get gummed up eventually and -- assuming it's the punch I'm thinking of -- there's no way to dissemble it to clean it so once it's gummed to the point where it won't pop back up again it's just a fishing weight.

Have you tried using any chemical products to eat the gum? I have a spray bottle at home, I think it's called Goo Be Gone that works well in these situations. Basically it eats adhesives away... The other thing you might want to try is to just soak it in a bleach solution overnight (*warning* always observe safety precautions when using solvents like Bleach!). Also soaking the punch in boiling water for a few minutes might aid in it's recovery.

-Darke

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