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Custom Card Sleeves Alternatives for Extra Theme

I love when my games are decked out in thematic trappings, and my sleeve choices are no different. There are some pretty cool art sleeves out there, but none that really scratched the itch. I delved into the madness that was custom card sleeves, and I found them all to be prohibitively expensive. So I looked for an alternative.

Back when I played Legend of the Five Rings, from AEG, several prominent artists sold what were known as deck backers. Basically they were small art prints designed to be sleeved behind your cards to give you the illusion of art sleeves. This is the approach I decided to go with.

Setting up your workspace

Canvas setup for our custom card sleeve alternative

We know Marvel Champions cards are a bit smaller than 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches, but we’re going to go with that size because we want our deck backers to be a bit bigger. Also, the printer I used only allows half-inch increments, so this works out perfectly. In my article about getting Ronan printed, I talked about the concept of bleed when having things printed. This is basically some extra art you include so that there’s room for variance when they’re cutting. To that end, we’re going to make our project 2.75 inches by 3.75 inches, which is our final size, plus 0.125 inches on each side.

Adding a Background

Background color

Using the Rectangle Tool (M on your keyboard), just create a rectangle from one corner to the opposite. Adobe Illustrator should help you snap to those corner intersections, just make sure your dimensions match. Set the color to #911b1d if you’re trying to replicate my design exactly. You’ll also want to make sure you have no border.

Placing the Emblem

Adding the emblem

Starting with the SVG file of the Hydra emblem, I opened it up in Illustrator. By default, it opened in a different workspace. I just had to select all of it, copy, and paste it into my project. Make sure to put it on its own layer! With everything still selected, I scaled it down and rotated it a bit. This is all just personal preference. Really think about what you’re looking for in your custom card sleeves. I went very basic, but you can make them as involved as you want.

Scuffing the Emblem Up

Scuffing up our emblem

This is the most involved part of the process, as we’re getting into some actual image magic. The first thing we’re going to need is our scratched up texture. If you google, you can find a ton of good ones. I like this one, from Logos by Nick. After downloading it, in Illustrator, go File > Place and insert the image. After it’s in there, you want to cut the image (Ctrl + X), which seems counterintuitive, I know! Next, select your emblem, or whatever you want to scuff up. Group it all together (Ctrl + G) if it isn’t already.

With your emblem selected, navigate to the transparency menu (Window > Transparency). In the menu, select “Make Opacity Mask”. Your emblem will vanish, but don’t panic. In the menu, you should see two thumbnails, one containing your image, and one that is blank. Select the blank one, and paste your image (Ctrl + V). You should now see your emblem again, with the scuffed up pattern applied. At this point, you can manipulate the placement by clicking and dragging on your canvas until you get it to a place you’re happy with. Then, just click back to the other thumbnail to finish up.

Trimming the Art

Finished custom card sleeve alternative.

Now we just have some excess emblem on the sides. Create another rectangle over the whole canvas. It’s fill should be black, and the border transparent. Select everything and apply a mask (Object > Clipping Mask > Make). All done! Just export it as an image at 300 DPI and we can move on. If you want my exact file, here it is.

Getting our Custom Card Sleeve Backers Printed

For this, I used UPrinting. It was super easy to order my image printed at 2.5 inches by 3.5 inches. I used 100 lb. Gloss for my paper choice, but that’s a matter of preference. For sleeving with these, I used Dragon Shield sleeves, in matte clear and they worked perfectly. There’s a link below if you want to get the exact sleeves I used. Lastly, if you’re interested in a set of your own pseudo custom card sleeves, I have limited quantities available on Etsy.


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