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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Deck the Halls » » Pictorial Review: The Prism series (Ben Jones) (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

EndersGame
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*** THE FAMOUS PIPMEN OF ELEPHANT PLAYING CARDS ***

What are Pipmen?

Everyone knows what Stickmen are. Those are the stick figures we draw in school. But what are Pipmen? "Pipmen" is a term Ben Jones has coined for the characters on the decks of playing cards he creates.

He explains it like this: Pips + Stickmen = Pipmen! Typical of the decks he designs are "little stickmen figures interacting with the pips to create a unique scene."

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It's a brilliant concept, and Ben has done some terrific work in creating these. Here's a couple of examples:

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I've had a lot of experience with playing cards, and have seen a lot of really nice decks in my time, but the Pipmen decks I'm featuring in this review series just blew me away the first time I ever saw them!

What is Elephant Playing Cards?

The man behind Elephant Playing Cards is creator Ben Jones, who lives in Sydney Australia.

An engineer by day, and a hobbyist designer of playing cards in his spare time, he runs a small company called Elephant Playing Cards. Besides numerous decks featuring Pipmen, he's also produced a trilogy of Prism decks (Night, Day, and Dusk), plus a Renaissance deck with a medieval flavour, all specialized decks of playing cards that can be found the Elephant Playing Cards website. He's got more designs in the works, including a flagship deck that is currently being launched on Kickstarter, and is appropriately called Elephant Playing Cards.

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So let's go check out some of the amazing decks that Ben has created, and see what they look like!


*** THE PRISM DECKS ***

We'll get to the Pipmen decks in just a moment - and they are definitely my favourite, and are an absolute must-see! But I'm going to start with the Prism decks, because the Prism Night deck was Ben's first deck, and for him it remains a sentimental favourite. Furthermore, Ben has recently brought the Prism series to a conclusion with two follow up decks, and these are the ones that were most recently produced and now are available.

So what are the Prism decks? This series of three decks - Prism Night, Prism Dusk, and Prism Day - showcase different settings in which the effect of splitting light through a prism is explored. They were a world first in the way they used UV gloss ink on all the faces, creating a unique experience that is both very visual and tactile.

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== PRISM NIGHT ==

Produced with the help over 500 backers at the end of 2015, the Prism Night deck was Ben's very first contribution to the world of custom playing cards as a designer and publisher.

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The tuck box even has a holographic seal, in keeping with the colourful theme.

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Around this time, the world of publishing was seeing innovative technology that was opening the way for new possibilities in printing cards, particularly the use of UV gloss. Make Playing Cards (MPC) was one of the first companies to introduce UV spot printing, which was featured in their Impressions series (see my review here). This technology adds a secondary printing process in order to add a high gloss to selected areas of the cards, to create a very visible gloss that involves a raised surface that can actually be felt.

Other industry leaders began experimenting with this technology, and Prism Night was the first deck to be produced with this by Legends Playing Card Company. While MPC's use of this technology produces a thick and glossy result almost similar to lacquer, Legends used a different kind of ink, one that is only slightly thicker than the UV printing used on tuck boxes plus adds a touch of irridescence, and the Prism decks were the first to use this.

Here you can see the impact of this technology used for the printing of the tuck box.

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In terms of the graphic design, the rays all emerge from one point. When the tuck box is opened, a similar design immediately becomes very strikingly apparent with bold black rays on white. The same pattern is also present on the shiny foil-like seal in a more subtle fashion.

Ben's concept for using UV gloss was partially inspired by MPC's Impressions series, and he had previously considered capturing the rainbow prismatic refraction of light into a design. Combining the rainbow refraction concept with a glossy layer was a natural fit, in order to maximize the effect of colours and texture.

Even independently of the UV gloss that is a key feature of this deck, the use of rainbow colours on a black background already helps make card flourishes and fans look very pretty.

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The spiral lines on the card-backs here serves to accentuate this colourful effect. These also feature shapes of all four pips, and how they would look if caught in the prismatic light.

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The direction of the lines on the cards is all very deliberate and thoughtful, and that's where the prism concept comes in. In Ben's words, "The colourful central symbols symbolise the splitting of light through a prism – the light is separated into its different colour components to fan out into a rainbow. Once the light has passed through the prism it reverts back to regular light; symbolised by the continuing gloss lines radiating out to the edges of the card."

As you can see, the court cards - which employ blue and orange as the main colours - also have this subtle radial pattern.

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The black backgrounds of the cards really help the coloured designs pop, but this effect is especially enhanced by the raised gloss layer on the face of the cards, as you can see here with the Aces. In the case of the court cards shown above, the gloss is applied to the radial pattern but also to the entire characters, for a very impressive glossy look.

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Because of the UV gloss that has been applied, when you hold up the cards to the light, the light sparkles off in different angles and colours, in a very eye-catching and satisfying way. This also makes the number cards very stunning, and while these tend to play second fiddle to the court cards in many decks, that's not the case with the Prism deck!

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It's not hard to imagine how amazing this looks in an uncut sheet format!

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Here are the two colourful jokers, which appropriately round out the deck with a full rainbow look, one that even looks more stunning that is apparent here, when these cards are held up to the light!

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As for the impact of the gloss layer on handling, this is a process that has now been tested and used by numerous printers and publishers. Despite the additional layer, the cards still slide over one another in a pleasing and natural way, because they bend without damaging the gloss, and hold up well.

A wise choice has been made to only have the gloss on the face of the cards. The fact that it is not present on the card backs helps ensure good performance and handling when shuffling and fanning, and also ensures that the majority of our attention remains where it belongs, i.e. the card faces.

The quality of the process used by Legends Playing Card Company is considered to be even higher and neater than MPC's Impression series; the MPC technology produces a thicker and more tactile gloss that unfortunately wears quicker. In contrast, the gloss layer applied by Legends appears to be much more hard wearing and long lasting, while still producing a pleasant visual outcome.

== PRISM DAY ==

Following the creation of Prism Night, Ben worked on several Pipmen decks that we'll get to later. After enjoying success with these, he decided to return to the Prism concept in order to make a complete trilogy with the addition of Prism Day and Prism Dusk, to take further advantage of the UV gloss layer that technology now allowed.

The Prism Day deck is a white sister and companion to the Night deck, with the brightness of daylight replacing the black of night. Like the cards themselves, the white tuck box features extensive glossy areas that are accentuated when light falls on them, and draws immediate attention.

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The card backs feature a two-way design that explores a rainbow arrangement of colours, which again creates beautiful fans when the cards are splayed.

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Notice again the presence of prismatic lines on the card faces. But there are differences too - the spiral design of the Night card backs has been replaced with a very different design, but one which still gives prominence to rainbow colours.

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The court cards are also completely custom, with blue and orange again being the focal colours, but creating a very different look against a white backdrop.

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The design of the pips on the number cards also employs rainbow colours, but the pips themselves have darts of sunlight shooting through them, in keeping with the Day theme.

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Once again the glossy surface produces a brighter and more interesting finish that is both visual and tactile. It's hard to convey this accurately in a 2D image, so check out this animated gif to give you a better idea of the stunning impact that this can have when viewed first-hand.

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This deck was produced by Legends Playing Cards in their Diamond finish, and also looks beautiful as an uncut sheet.

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The pair of Jokers finishes off the colourful theme in a unique way, this time depicting converging radials of rainbow light refracting through a prism.

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== PRISM DUSK ==

The third member of the Prism series is the Prism Dusk deck. It has a number of striking elements that make it unique and stand apart from the previous two decks.

First of all, it has a unique styled tuck box made out of shiny iridescent card stock that reflects the light in altogether memorable way.

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One of the most striking features of the cards themselves are the borderless card backs, which have a beautiful full-bleed design of a gorgeous starry sky.

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It's intended to capture the feel of a sunset, with a sun slowly disappearing behind the horizon, and early evening stars beginning to make their appearance in the darkening night sky of dusk.

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The court cards are a similar style to the Day deck, but the blue and orange make an even more striking appearance against the backdrop of dusk's sunset colours.

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Here's a closer look at the effect of the UV gloss, and how it creates a raised surface and affects the light. Isn't that stunning?

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The face of the cards features the same design of a darkening sky at dusk, which is borrowed from the card backs. The pips themselves contribute to the stars that emerge from the growing darkness.

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And doesn't this uncut sheet look absolutely hypnotic!

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Prism Dusk is truly a stunning deck, and probably my favourite of the lot!

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== PRISM SPECTRUM ==

Didn't we say there were three decks in the Prism series? Well, yes, but there can always be a bonus item!

The Prism Spectrum deck was a limited edition version of the Prism deck. Only 100 copies were printed by Make Playing Cards, and these have a thicker gloss ink than the decks produced by Legends PCC.

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The style is similar to the other decks, but in other respects - colours, gloss, and feel - it is quite different.

The Prism Spectrum originated with the inversion of the Day deck design, and is one of Ben Jones' personal favourites.

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Given the extreme rarity of these decks, this deck is considered a true collectors item!

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*** CONCLUSIONS ***

What do I think?

Innovative Prisms: Ben Jones isn't afraid to be on the cutting edge of technology, as is clearly the case with his Prism series, which were the first ever decks to employ a new UV gloss print to both sides of the cards, thereby adding a tactile and visual element that is simply not possible with standard printing. Combining this with a "prism" theme of rainbow colours, and an inspired graphic design that takes full advantage of this effect, and you end up with a very creative and beautiful looking custom deck, that has elements of beauty hitherto impossible. Of the people I've shown the above decks to, the Prism Night deck is a common favourite. Laymen are typically blown away by the impact of the gloss and colours of the cards, and many people who have looked at my Prism Night deck consider it the best custom deck they've ever seen, which is high praise indeed. I love it too, and it's just a pleasure to admire the cards and angle them in the light, watching the changing visuals produced by the gloss layer. I can't recommend these highly enough.

Unique Pipmen: As much as I appreciate the innovative looks of the Prism decks, as far as artwork goes I especially love the creativity behind the Pipmen concept. The detailed artwork on each card can be admired and enjoyed, and is sure to create some real talking points! I love how the stickmen/pipmen interact with everything, and even while playing card games the detail is fun to look at and appreciate during moments of down-time - the whole concept is very creative. Ben has done some very imaginative and brilliant work here, and I can't say enough about how amazing each card looks. This also gives these decks a very unique feel, making them stand apart from other custom playing cards. Certainly the world of custom playing cards has seen a lot of different ideas, but the idea of Pipmen is something that most people have never seen before.

Pipmen World: While the artwork on the individual cards of the Pipmen decks is already fantastic, what really takes this to the next level is how these individual cards combine to make a single larger picture in the Pipmen World decks. This is an outstanding idea, and it definitely has the feel of being a single whole, without feeling like being a cobbled-together collection of disconnected pieces. It's proven to be a fun exercise to assemble the cards to make that single image, especially if you've never seen the deck before and don't know what the overall image looks like. You can use the Pipmen World deck as a fun puzzle challenge: we've enjoyed giving it to friends, and watching them solve it. It's not as easy as it sounds, and typically takes around 20 minutes! Combining individual Pipmen cards with a complete puzzle is something that makes this deck an instant attention-getter, and you'll have people around you clamouring to see it.

Functional design: Even while Ben Jones' Prism and Pipmen decks are very creative works of art, it would be a shame to consign them to pure collector's items, especially since they are very usable. I've seen amazing artwork on decks of cards before, but it was purely cosmetic, and the decks themselves weren't functional because the artwork interfered with the clarity of the symbols. Fortunately, that's not the case with the decks from Elephant Playing Cards. The indices of each card clearly state what the card is, with the number and suit, so playability is always a factor in the design. As a result, the Prism decks and the Pipmen decks are actually decks you can use!

Medieval modernism: Besides the Prism and Pipmen decks, the Medieval deck seems like the odd child in the Elephant Playing Cards family. It lacks the innovative UV gloss of the colourful Prism decks, and it doesn't have the same inspired creativity of the Pipmen decks. To be fair, it's hard for any deck to match the level of creativity and innovation of the Prism and Pipmen decks. And the Medieval deck does have a different character also because it was not designed by Ben Jones himself, but by another artist. Even so, it does have many modern touches that make it special, starting with the stylish seal on the tuck box, the sturdy parchment-like looks and feel of the tuck box and cards, and a stylish pen-and-ink line drawing design with obvious influences from heraldry and legendary knights, which all adds up to a package that still makes it very unique and appealing.

Elephant ambassadors: My family has always loved elephants, and elephants are the all-time favourite animal for one of my children, who has been collecting elephant paraphernalia for years. So the Elephant Playing Cards brand was always going to be a hit for us. But that's especially going to be true of the new Elephant Playing Cards deck, that is currently getting funded on Kickstarter. If you're a fan of elephants, or if you like the looks of the EPC brand, this new deck is something you'll want to check out and consider supporting.

Quality printing: All of these decks are printed by Legends Playing Card Company, a proven market leader in playing card manufacturing. While they have a range of finishes, all of them are a quality product that is durable, as well as providing very smooth handling. I've previously done some detailed reviews of decks by Legends Playing Card Company here, and have covered comprehensively the different major finishes they offer in a follow-up review here, and I can only speak highly of their products. Even the tuck boxes are high quality, in most cases using casino-grade tuck paper with embossing and foil accents, and often featuring interior printing as well. Most of these decks use their Diamond quality finish, which features very precise printing, and a cardstock that is more sturdy and durable than normal, with an embossed finish that handles well for shuffling and spreads.

Ongoing projects: Ben Jones is a long way from hanging up his design boots, and has several more designs in the pipeline. He's also making a real effort to bring the designs of Elephant Playing Cards to an international audience that hasn't yet seen it. All this means that we can expect to continue seeing new designs from Ben, and I look forward to seeing the decks that he'll be producing from here on in. His current project for a signature Elephant Playing Cards deck looks terrific, although the style is quite different from what we're used to with Prisms and Pipmen! If his work interests you, then definitely consider staying in touch with his upcoming projects by following him on social media, to get the latest news and updates.

Amazon specials: Ben has just launched a couple of the Pipmen decks on Amazon, in order to expand the reach of his designs to a wider market. This is good news for buyers, because not only does it mean that these decks are readily available in an easy way from a big online retailer, but they are also currently at a very attractive price point as well. Currently you can get the Pipmen Standard deck for under $12 here, and the Pipmen World deck for under $14 here - which are remarkable deals that won't last!

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RECOMMENDATION

So are the decks from Elephant Playing Cards for you? Clearly these projects are a labour of love for Ben Jones. He's a dedicated publisher, and in the friendly correspondence I've had with him, he's also proven to be a real gentleman. These decks are produced with high quality, and they feature unique, amusing, and creative artwork that has all the marks of creativity and innovation.

Every collector who enjoys playing cards should have at least one Pipmen deck in his collection, and they make gifts for others as well. And every gamer should own at least one set of playing cards, and if you are going to own only one deck, I'd make it a beautiful custom one like these!

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Want to learn more?
Elephant Playing Cards: www.elephantplayingcards.com
Kickstarter Project: www.kickstarter.com/profile/585926215/created

Follow Elephant Playing cards on social media for news of upcoming projects: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

Direct links for the decks featured in this review series:
- Prism Playing Cards: Prism Night, Prism Day, Prism Dusk, Prism Spectrum
- Pipmen Playing Cards: Red Edition, Black Edition, Shadow Edition, Collectors Edition
- Pipmen World Playing Cards: Pipmen World, Full Art Edition
- Medieval Playing Cards: Medieval Silver Edition
- Elephant Playing Cards: Kickstarter Project

Direct links for Amazon.com:
- $11.97 Pipmen Standard deck: purchase on Amazon
- $13.97 Pipmen World deck: purchase on Amazon

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