The standard 52-card deck is a thing of beauty. Whether you’re a poker fiend or a passive player, unwrapping a fresh deck is almost its own ritual. It is unquestionably the design that makes them so attractive. The mathematical composition, colors, symbols, illustration, symmetry—these elements make every deck an almost mystical artifact.
Playing cards were first introduced to Europe in the 14th century, with many variations, but the cards we know today originated in France. They traditionally included the same elements (club, diamond, heart, spade, jack, queen, king), but the actual designs varied by region—particularly impressive when you consider that the designs were created by woodcut. But as decks became more standardized over time, the designs moved toward the style we’re used to seeing in casinos and corner stores today, mostly fancy filigree and royal iconography.
While that classic look is fine for your grandmother’s deck, we love to see traditional design get a fresh remix, which is why we’re suckers for modern playing cards. Designers worldwide are constantly coming up with fresh takes, for fun or fandom (think Star Wars or Game of Thrones), and we can’t get enough. Here are five decks we discovered that are so cool, we’d almost rather frame them than play with them.
Most card decks are impressive for their elaborate illustration. This minimalist-meets-art-deco pack takes the simpler route. The muted blues and golds, line-art illustration, and stylized symbols combine to create the classiest pack you’ll ever see.
Cards are heavy in symbolism already, so there are endless opportunities to inject that into the design. This pack takes a cue from sea mythology, recreating classic creatures and tying in the nautical theme in the most minute details. (Note that the Joker is a sailor—the one who usually tells tall tales about what he’s seen at sea.)
Cards is about luck—and probability. This pack gives a nod to its mathematical roots, depicting various math constants for number nerds everywhere to enjoy.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, these geometric playing cards use the most simple shapes in the most elegant way. The primary color palette gives them schoolyard style, and the square, triangle, and pentagon designs seem simple enough but become more subtly complex. (Notice that the face cards feature 3D versions of the shapes.)
You hear “psychedelic” and think of cheesy dorm room posters, but these cards are something quite different. The bright palette and imagery is part Salvador Dali, part Alice in Wonderland. The splashes of color are especially tantalizing when the card is face down.
Want more card design?
- Take a look at this deck, created by 52 artists
- See the 52 Shades of Greed deck, featuring the most detrimental players in the economic crisis
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