After looking at different print-on-demand options for Tarocchino Arlecchino, I ordered test decks from two popular US-based companies: Drive Thru Cards and the Game Crafter. I have ordered cards from the Game Crafter before, but Drive Thru Cards was also recommended by some backers so I wanted to give it a shot.
After seeing the samples, I decided to use Game Crafter. However, I wanted to make this post for backers who are interested in this deck, or anyone else who is interested in comparing the two companies, because each has its own advantages. This is just my one experience, but I hope you find it informative.
For the short version, see the table below summarizing who I think “won” on each element I was looking for in the deck. Then read below for more details!
|Physical Feel||Drive Thru Cards|
|Image Quality||The Game Crafter|
|Ease of Use||The Game Crafter|
|Marketplace||The Game Crafter|
|Price||Drive Thru Cards|
|Time||Drive Thru Cards|
The Deck Itself
Let’s start with the most important piece: how the cards actually look and feel. It’s somewhat difficult to capture the textures and colors with my cell-phone in still photos, so I filmed a 5-minute video comparison, which I will summarize below.
Drive Thru Cards impressed me with the physical product. The cards and tuck box have a very pleasant low-gloss coating. The cards slide easily, and have a pearl-like luster rather than a harsh glossy glare. The tuck-box is also neat: it opens on the long edge and has a large inner flap that helps fill some extra space and keep the cards secure.
The Game Crafter deck is by no means bad! Otherwise, I wouldn’t be using them. It has a more typical tuck-box, and the cards are a bit stickier (I opted for no UV coating since I don’t like the glossy look).
The Game Crafter was a clear winner with the image quality: the images are all crisp, with vibrant colors that perfectly match the original digital drawings. In comparison, the Drive Thru Cards version had some pixellated images (in particular, the tuck box) and duller colors.
As I mentioned in the video, the issues with the Drive Thru Cards version could very well have come from my end. That brings us to the next section.
The Website Experience
Ease of Use
While neither is the pinnacle of web design, the Game Crafter’s site is significantly easier to use. In general, it is easier to find things on their website. But the main thing is the experience of preparing files to print. Their site offers templates in a few different formats, then prompts you to upload image files (PNG or JPG) for the card backs and fronts. After uploading, you “proof” each card: it overlays cut lines and the safe area outline over the images you uploaded, and you sign off on each one.
This fit into my usual way of working. I just had to upload the files I had already prepared. I used one of their templates to set up a card layout in the open source image editor GIMP, then used a script to place the images and keywords for each card and export them all as PNGs.
In contrast, the only file upload option Drive Thru Cards offers is Adobe PDF. All your cards must be in a single PDF file, with the back on one page, a card front on the next page, then the card back, then another front, and so on. And, this PDF must meet a standard that, as far as I can tell, is only possible (or at least, easiest) to create with Adobe InDesign or Acrobat. Now, the only involvement I ever want with Adobe is if someone starts a class-action lawsuit for people who have been victimized by their extortionate subscription and cancellation fees. So it took some time and frustration to get the files I had into a format that DTC would even accept. Then, if there was a preview feature, I didn’t see it. The result was disappointing pixellated artwork.
After browsing the two websites, the Game Crafter’s marketplace also seems more advantageous to sellers. Both companies offer different options to browse categories and tags. Both also make it fairly easy to set the markup that you would like. However, the Game Crafter gives more flexibility on shop pages.
On Drive Thru Cards, you can upload a cover image and write a description with basic formatting. You are not allowed to link to anything outside of their own websites. (Incidentally, they also don’t seem to offer guidebook printing, so if you want to make a deck with a guidebook either physical or online you are out of luck here.)
The Game Crafter lets you link your website and contact information on your shop page, and does not limit links in descriptions for games. In addition, you can customize the pages even more, adding cover photos, logos, and “action shots.” Overall, I would say this website feels more conducive to people browsing and getting interested in different listings.
Price and Production Time
The cost and production time at each company were pretty similar. However, Drive Thru Cards came out slightly ahead. Together, the cards and tuck-box were $4 less expensive at Drive Thru Cards. In addition, at least in this case, the Drive Thru Cards set arrived about a week earlier than the Game Crafter one.
For me, this wasn’t a significant enough difference to outweigh my issues with the look of the cards.
So, if you have a stronger graphic design background or work in art (i.e., you have an Adobe subscription and know how to use it), Drive Thru Cards seems like a great option to get high quality cards at a comparatively low cost.
If you are a hobbyist like me, the Game Crafter seems like the better option.