Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask.

September 10th, 2010 | Jason Brumbalow | Filed Under General

Hey guys,

There seems to be a lot of rumors about USPC and playing cards here at E — how they’re manufactured, the stock and how it affects finish, Q1 manufacturing levels, our UV500 finish. You guys deserve to hear it from the horse’s mouth rather than a myriad of second hand speculation and rumors.

I thought I’d offer some of the facts, given what I know, who I speak with on a daily basis, and the fact that I’ve spent a lot of time at the actual USPC presses.  In fact, I’ve had the actual metal plates pulled off of the web press after the run was completed and handed to me as a gift —- the plates reside on my wall inside my Ellusionist office. Remember that Ellusionist is the first to have innovated custom decks like the ones you’ve seen in the last 5-6 years, and we have over 10 lines of playing cards with many more on the way. We’ve earned the inside track on what goes on at USPC.

First, I personally apologize for all the change ups over the past year. I too was an Ellusionist customer and fell in love with the cards for the same reasons you all have. However, USPC has shaken the card world up quite a bit, and many feel it was not for the better.

UV500 Stock:

Our beloved UV500 (UV florescent stock) is no longer available at USPC. The only person to use it was Ellusionist. We were in love with it to the very core. USPC calls us up about 14 months ago and asks If we want to commit to an unearthly amount of decks to subsidize their purchase of an entire roll of our UV500 stock from the mill. They told me the number of decks the needed a commitment of and after I jump started my heart and regained consciousness, I asked, “Why would you ask this of us?” They replied that our type of UV paper had tippled in cost directly from the mill. God only knows why, maybe deforestation and textile production cost increases. Who knows. But as you can guess, we had to opt out of that commitment. There is no way we were going to sell 8X our normal deck sales in under 1 year. It begs the question, why didn’t all of the prices on all the stocks go up? I can’t speak for the mills. All I know that it wasn’t cost effective to keep the UV500 stock any longer.

So, the solution was to go with USPC’s finest stock they had on the shelf, that is the Bee Casino grade stock. If USPC gets a better stock on the shelf, we will be the first to know and will be using it.

The UV500 was essentially the same as the Bee casino without the UV embedding. Are there going to be some differences? Sure. I don’t expect it to be the same molecule for molecule. It’s paper made of fiber and paste.  It’s most assuredly not going to match under a microscope. The most striking difference between the Bee Casino grade stock and the UV 500 stock is that the UV500 stock fluoresced under UV light.  That’s about it. As far as the fiber weave, embossing, finishing and crushing of layers is concerned, the Bee Casino stock is as close as it gets to the same.

Our criteria is the same for all of our card stock:

Does it stand up to heat? (Let’s be realistic. Please, someone don’t say that they left their Bee casino deck in their hot car and it warped. Of course it will. However some stock will start to warp at 90 degrees and the better ones wont as much)
Does it stand up to cold? (realistically)
Does it have good elasticity, snap or stiffness?
Does it have a good thickness?
(Yes, we are known for thicker cards)
Can it take a bend without creasing?
Does it hold up to moisture well?
How much hand oil can get on it before it starts to drag when fanned?
Can it cut an aluminum can, etc etc

Here’s the bad part when it comes to stock and paper. The quality fluctuates constantly from the mills. And you’ll see that even more clearly in about another 10 years. (25 years ago 70% of furniture was ‘hardwood’, now 20% of it is. Most everything now is pressed composites, or a lighter density wood (pine etc)) They’re dealing with the same thing in the paper industry. The fibers they use are becoming less and less pure. This was right from the pressmen at USPC. Apparently it’s one of his biggest pet peeves.

USPC has to CONSTANTLY retest the quality or re-ordered stock rolls because the quality fluctuates. So , yes, EVERY stock at USPC is going to fluctuate in quality. Our best method of combating this is to constantly re-test it and make sure the standards match or original decks.

The Placebo effect – People have complained that they do not like the ‘feel’ of the Air-Cushion decks. All things being equal, there isn’t much of a difference. It begs the question, if we had introduced the UV500 stock AFTER the Bee casino with Air-Cushion finish, would it be under the same questioning?  What if all that has changed was the text on the box? Would your mind automatically engage in thinking there was a difference? This is human nature and we are all resistant to change. However it’s our mission to bring you the best product in the industry. So if there is a better stock and finish that USPC uses, rest assured, we will be bringing it to you.

Air-Flow Finish:

USPC’s legal team deemed it necessary to include themselves on each design on decks that get approved. Since then, you will see nothing but “Air-Cushion” finish on any deck that ‘mentions’ a finish. To them EVERYTHING is called Air-Cushion no matter what the finishing method used. That’s why you will probably stop seeing any mention of a finish printed on the sides of most decks. So, we’ve had to comply. Now, our decks also say Air-Cushion as well.

Here’s the skinny on the finish at USPC. There are 2 presses at The Erlanger, KY plant. The first is what they call the “Sheet Fed Press”, and the second is called the “Web Press”. The Sheet fed press deals with cards that are line art with few color gradients and halftones. This press is used for smaller runs of cards and does not produce as quality of a finish as the web press. This finish does not tend to hold up to hand oil or moisture like the Web press finish. Now, the “Web press” is the superior press and is used for large runs of decks. This press by far supersedes the Sheet press in terms of finish and embossing the air pockets of the deck. This, in turn, effectuates the smooth, butter like ‘glide’ of the deck we have all come to love.

The Air-Cushion finish name is the finish that USPC placed on the Sheet Fed press (which was the original press). When they made the web press available with a superior finish, we printed our decks on it back in 2004 and called it “Air-Flow”. Now USPC is calling ALL of their finishes, whether Web or Sheet fed, “Air-Cushion”. And we have to comply.

Technically the finish still is “Air-Flow”, but thanks to the legal department at USPC, they require us to call it “Air-Cushion.”

So, in the end our finish on the decks will be the finish that the superior Web Press places on the decks when they are embossed and coated.

Afterthought: My favorite USPC gag reel of all time has to be the Linoid finish of the Tally’s. Just a small tweak to the coating mix and now it’s Linoid! Viola! Much the same as adding an extra sesame seed to the bun and calling it a “Deluxe Burger”.

The Web Press

No one in the magic industry has actually been on the press floor while a deck was being run, except me. I have smelled the urethane coming off of the rollers and have actually caught the sheets flying out of the Web Press finishing machine. I’ve heard some on our forums say that the Web press is only reserved for the most upper class of Casinos. No sir.

Ellusionist uses the  Web Press at EVERY opportunity.

This was a video from the Arcane release last year noting that the Arcane decks were run on the Web press

YouTube Preview Image

If there is anyone in the world who can testify to intimate experience with the Web Press, you’re talking to him.

The Web is our default press. So, we’ll close the book on this one.

The Elusive Q1

USPC has a quality grade standard for each of their deck runs. This standard is a threshold benchmark for things like centering, registration, cutting, color, flaws, etc. The quality grade ranges from Q1 (best) to Q4 (tolerable)

I’ve long listened to dozens of people talk about how Q1 doesn’t exist, Q1 is only reserved for Chuck Norris’ casino cards etc, etc.

Spoiler Alert: (Straight from the upper deck of USPC) All Ellusionist decks are graded and printed at Q1. All of them. End of story.

So, everything you get here at E is going to be graded like the SAT’s. Standards are high and always will be. Here is our work ticket from yesterday morning.

As a side note, we are in transition from the last of the UV500 stock. Tigers, ShadowMasters, Arcanes (Black & White), Gaffs, Black Ghost 2nds, white Ghosts are all labeled Air-Cushion now and are printed on the Bee Casino grade stock.

Red / Blue Masters and Blue 1800’s are UV 500 stock  and Air-Flow finish still.

In closing, we have been working closer with USPC than ever and it seems that there have is a break in the clouds. They are doing their best to take care of their customers and listen to everyone’s needs as of late. This is a welcomed turn and we’ll see if time will tell.

I hope this helps set the record straight and clear out and confusion or misconceptions. We work tirelessly to make sure that what we offer you is second to none at all times.

In good faith,

– JBone

Jason Brumbalow  |  VP   Ellusionist.com


  1. Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask. http://bit.ly/9MOppU

  2. RT @Ellusionist: Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask. http://bit.ly/9MOppU

  3. Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask.: Hey guys,

    There seems to be a… http://bit.ly/d3E5Rw

  4. RT @ellusionist: Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask. http://bit.ly/drWOUA

  5. Whoa, those are some to-the-point answers that have eluded us card geeks for quite some time. Thanks JBone! It’ll be interesting to see this saga continue to unfold.

  6. Since you’re doing a tell-all, care to share what the Aurora stock was? Was that just a UV stock from a different supplier? That stuff felt great (or maybe it’s just the placebo effect like you mentioned?)

  7. I wonder if my unopened uv500 finish air flow Black tigers will sell on ebay for like, $20 now?

  8. RT @ellusionist: Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask. http://bit.ly/drWOUA what do you think?

  9. RT @aaronfishercard: RT @ellusionist: Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask. http://bit.ly/drWOUA what do you think?

  10. Jason Brumbalow on:

    Ed, yes, that was a special UV stock that we had brought in just for the Arcanes. That stock has also been discontinued and the Arcane’s are also running on the Bee Casino grade stock.

    (However. there are some developments int he works to put the Arcanes on a new stock with a double coat of finish for an even better glide.)

    Will keep you all posted.


  11. So if you’re on a 5- or 6-color press why not just hit a duplicate black plate with gloss varnish? It would add to the glide and add an interesting “pop” to the black.

  12. Ray,

    That’s exactly what we do on all of our black decks already.

  13. I’d like to make a note in this to give a tremendous thank you to everyone at the Ellusionist team and everyone at USPC for this information.. this will go very well in my patter from now on (Adds to mentalism). I was very happy to read about the materials used in making cards as to the fact that when I purchase cards, I like to get cards that hold well in the worst of conditions.. and serve majestically in the best. I personally would pay to good bit of money to be able to check out that web press and have the honor of watching a deck of cards be born.
    The only things I wonder when it comes to those cards, are the reasons – good and bad – Why Bicycle never put a finish coat of plastic over the sides of the deck after it’s cut and finished.. I’m not 100% on this next statement (cause it’s not been done), but wouldn’t adding an extra coat around the edges on the cards… possibly allow for a better life on the card, and possiblly stopping at least 80% of water, humidity, and oils from your hands, from entering the card? I’m not sure how it would hold in shuffling standards.. but I don’t believe that it would do any hard to the cards…
    I’ve also noticed that Bicycle has a set called Prestige. Now these are solid plastic cards with a different back design than normal… they’re great for learning hod to do one handle cuts and shuffles. But the finish on them sucks… I’m sorry to be harsh.. but they have 0 give for flourishing of any kind unless your just doing cut style flourishing (Etc. a Sybil). Now I do mention to everyone who reads this that the blue versions of these will fand at least 3 times nicely the first time you open them and use them.. but after a shuffle or 2 the lag. The red ones have a completely diffferent feel than the blue ones, they feel more like rough paper matche. the blue ones have a glide like feel at first.. red ones don’t. now im not trying to give a huge review on them .. but my question would be why don’t they give these wonderful cards the same finish as a regular deck? or try a casino finish? I mean the worst thing I could think of is if they did, you could buy a single deck of cards.. and as long as you took care of them – you’d never have to buy another one. Yeah.. might hurt business a bit.. but not by much.. theres still TNR effects.. :)
    Well in closing this, I was extremely impressed and honored to get to see the invoice from the Q1 stock.. thank you for showing that.. it’s cool that you went out of your way to prove you quality.. I have high respect for that in a business.. it’s rare to find these days.. I also once again thank you for the review and the answers that i’ve not been to afraid to ask.. maybe too lazy lol. But its good to know precisely how important, and of what quality.. the playing cards I purchase are. I’m happy to have the knowledge I have know.

    I would say keep up the awesome work. But I don’t need to.. Both of your companys know you both Rock!

  14. why not go 100% plastic??

  15. I looked at the purchase pages for both the 1800 deck and the masters edition… and neither said anything about still being UV500. If I order one of these, how do I know if it will have the old finish or not…. as mentioned near the end of this blog post:

    “Red / Blue Masters and Blue 1800’s are UV 500 stock and Air-Flow finish still.”

  16. Jason Brumbalow on:

    Hey Jason,

    We have about 6 months of stock in of those finishes. If you order within 6 months, you’ll get the UV500 stock.

  17. RT @Ellusionist: Everything you wanted to know about USPC & Ellusionist, but were afraid to ask. http://bit.ly/9MOppU

  18. Technically the finish still is “Air-Flow”, but thanks to the legal department at USPC, they require us to call it “Air-Cushion.”


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