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Playing Card Damage Tests

Here are damage tests on plastic playing cards. I did playing card damage tests on KEM, Copag, Dal Negro, Modiano, Gemaco, Royal, and A-Plus playing cards. I bent the cards and tried to chip them by throwing them against a wall. Every plastic playing card did well on my spill test.

Some of you might think that these tests are bit extreme but anyone who has played poker for a long time knows that playing cards do get damaged during normal play. It is not all that unusual to see a playing card chip or crack when a dealer pitches a card that accidentally hits a player's ring, watch, card cover, poker chip, or other hard object on the poker table. And of course, liquid spills do happen on a poker table.

Bend at the Middle and Touch End-to-end

Slightly bent playing cards
Left to right: A-Plus, Copag, Dal Negro, Gemaco, KEM, Royal
Rank: (least bend) KEM, Copag, Gemaco, A-Plus, Royal, Dal Negro/Modiano (most bend)

I folded the card in half and touched one end to the other end for a moment, I placed almost no pressure on the middle (bend) of the card. I then did this again and held it bent for five seconds. I released the card and laid it on my poker table. I waited 30 seconds and then took the above photo. There was no bend to the KEM and almost no bend to the Copag. The Gemaco, A-Plus, and Royal all had slight bends. The Dal Negro and Modiano had the most bend. Every card eventually straightened to its original flat shape with a little finger manipulation and bending in the opposite direction. The KEM and Copag returned to their original flatness on their own.

Strong Bend at the Middle and Touch End-to-end

Bent playing cards
Left to right: A-Plus, Copag, Dal Negro, Gemaco, KEM, Royal
Rank after bend: (least bend) KEM, Copag, Gemaco, A-Plus, Royal, Dal Negro/Modiano (most bend)
Rank after repair: (least bend) KEM, Copag, Dal Negro/Modiano, Gemaco, A-Plus, Royal (most bend)

I folded the card in half and touched one end to the other for about 10 seconds. I put much more pressure on the middle bend in the card, almost to the point where the card should crease. I released the card, laid it on my table and waited two hours (my camera battery went dead). This photo shows each card 2.5 hours after being bent. There was almost no bend to the KEM and just a slight bend to the Copag. The Gemaco and A-Plus had significant bends. The Royal, Dal Negro and Modiano were bent the worst.

All the cards eventually straightened to their original shape with a lot of finger bending and card manipulation. The Royal card was left with a permanent barely perceptible crease in the middle of the card. There was no break of any kind but it did leave a wrinkle in the card. The A-Plus had a smaller crease, you could just barely feel it. Both cards could never be played with again because the bend in the card would be noticeable. The Gemaco was left with just a touch of a crease that could be felt but not seen. The card was still playable. The Dal Negro and Modiano started out with the worst bend but recovered much better than I thought they would. These cards have the most cardboard-like feel to it but recover nicely with a little bending in the opposite direction. The cards were left with a crease that could just barely be felt but not seen, and was definitely still a playable card. The Copag recovered completely with very little effort and the KEM recovered on its own.

The clear winner in the bending test was the KEM card, it returned to its original flatness on its own with no manipulation. The Copag was almost as good but it took a little finger manipulation to return it to its original flatness. The Dal Negro and Modiano took quite a bit of manipulation to return to their original flatness, but eventually did. The Gemaco had a slight crease but was still playable compared to the A-Plus and Royal which were permanently wrinkled.

Bend a Corner

Bent cards
Left to right: A-Plus, Copag, Dal Negro, Gemaco, KEM, Royal
Rank: (least bend) KEM, Copag, Dal Negro/Modiano, Gemaco, A-Plus, Royal (most bend)

I laid the card on the table and forcefully bent just the corner up several times. All the cards recovered with little problem. I then bent the corner almost all the way back to the point where it was touching the back of the card. I did this ten times and waited 5 minutes. This photo shows the bent corners on the bottom right of each card. The KEM was hardly bent at all. The Copag was only slightly bent. The Dal Negro and Gemaco were bent but had no problem being bent into proper shape. The Royal and A-Plus cards took a bit of repair to get the corner back to their original flat shape and were both left somewhat wrinkled. Take note that I bent the corners up pretty good, more than any player ever should ... a player would have to deliberately try to damage the card like this.

Crack a Corner

Bent cards
A-Plus, Copag, Dal Negro, Gemaco, KEM, Royal
Rank: (least damage) Copag, Dal Negro/Modiano, Gemaco, A-Plus + Royal, KEM (most damage)

Cracked card I folded each corner over until it was bent completely back, flat against the back of the card. The KEM card cracked every time I bent a corner. It was the only card to do this and I tried it on multiple corners. The corner would just crack and break off as in the image to the left. The Copag had the least amount of damage. You could see a wrinkle in the card but it could hardly be felt and the card seemed as strong as before. The Dal Negro, Modiano, Gemaco, and WPT cards also took the damage very well. The Royal and A-Plus cards were left with very visible creases and it felt like the corner was less structurally sound.

Spills

All the plastic cards performed the same during the spill tests. I left several drops of beer and several drops of Coca-Cola on the cards overnight. The beer evaporated completely but the Coca-Cola left a bit of a muddy puddle. Both liquids wiped off the cards with no problem and left no marks whatsoever on the cards. Neither liquid soaked into the card.

I tried performing the same tests on a Bee paper card. The liquids dispersed and soaked into the paper within three minutes and left a permanent stain and ripples in the card. The card was no longer flat, the wet spot left little hills and valleys in the paper. In addition, the card bowed down the center length-wise like a canoe. If I spilled a liquid on a paper card and wiped it off within a couple seconds, it was usually fine but if the liquid stayed on the paper card for longer than five seconds, the card was ruined.

Throw Card Against the Wall

Rank: Dal Negro/Modiano/Gemaco (never cracked), Copag, KEM, Royal, A-Plus (easily cracked)

I stood a sheet of plywood against one side of my poker table and started throwing cards at the plywood from about 2.5 feet away. I used a Frisbee motion (tennis backhand) and deliberately tried to strike a corner of the card against the plywood. I used three different throwing strengths ...

Normal Throw was about three times as hard as a typical poker player might fling his cards back at the dealer in disgust. This throw would be at about 1/4 of my arm strength. The A-Plus chipped and cracked after 3 throws. The KEM chipped after 13 throws. The Royal chipped after 16 throws. None of the other cards cracked after 40 throws at this throwing strength.

Strong Throw was done at about 2/3 of my total arm strength. I only threw the cards that had not already chipped or cracked - Copag, Dal Negro and Gemaco. None of the cards showed any damage after 20 throws at this strength.

Maximum Throw was a full-strength Frisbee throw (a tennis backhand) with a release point about 12 inches from the plywood. I purposely tried to fling a corner of the card against the plywood as hard as my arm could throw from a standing position. I first tried the cards that had not yet chipped or cracked. The Copag finally chipped after 7 throws but the Dal Negro and Gemaco never chipped or cracked after 30 full-strength throws. The A-Plus chipped and/or cracked on every throw. The KEM chipped after four throws and the Royal chipped after twenty full-strength throws.

The Final Damage

Cracked cards This image show the damage done to four cards. The Dal Negro and Gemaco were not chipped or cracked by any of my throws. Clockwise from the top left: the Copag is chipped in the bottom right corner; the A-Plus is chipped and cracked on the top and bottom left; the KEM is chipped on the bottom left; and the Royal is chipped on the top right and bottom left.

The Copag card sustained one small chip after 67 throws at a wall. It was undamaged by any of the first 60 throws but finally chipped after 7 throws at full strength. The corners of the card recovered nicely from all those throws and you can hardly tell it was abused. After 24 hours, the wrinkle in the center, from being bent in half, is completely gone. This is one strong card - the strongest that I tested.

The Dal Negro and Modiano took surprisingly little damage. Despite their papery feel and more cardboard-like construction, they held up very well to abuse. They never chipped or cracked after about 75 throws. I threw these cards point blank at a piece of plywood 12 inches away and they never sustained any damage. There was a slight ripple in one corner of the card that was easily repaired. These cards did not bend as well as Copag or KEM, there is a slight wrinkle where the card was bent in half. You can't see the wrinkle but you can barely feel it when you run your finger across it. The card is still playable after all this abuse.

The Gemaco card never chipped or cracked and was probably the toughest card in this regard but it did not bend as well as the Copag or KEM. There is a wrinkle where the card was bent in half. The wrinkle can't be seen but you can feel it. I have not been able to remove the wrinkle after 24 hours. The card is still playable. It appears that the plastic that gives this card its great protection, also makes it susceptible to being permanently bent and wrinkled. Remember that when I bent the card, I almost folded it in half from end-to-end and this should never happen in a home game.

The KEM card chipped at the corner after 13 throws. I could get the card to chip every 10 to 20 throws. The KEM was, however, the best card at recovering from a severe bend. It returned to its flat shape almost immediately and much faster than any other card. There was absolutely no wrinkle from being folded almost in half. My KEM cards do bow at the middle over time. I have to keep a cut card and weight on top of my unused cards to keep them from warping upward. The joker that I used for these tests began to bow after only a couple days of abuse. No other card bowed like this.

The WPT plastic playing card withstood the first 30 throws without any damage. It did chip in a corner after 20 throws at full strength. This is fairly consistent with the performance of the KEM cards, also manufactured by the USPC, although these cards are made in Spain. The WPT plastic cards are stiffer and thicker than the USPC KEM's so they did not bend back to shape as easily as the KEM's. They did back into proper shape after some hand manipulation. In this respect, they are more like the Modiano/Dal Negro cards. Unlike the Modiano/Dal Negro, they did crack at a corner after 20 hard throws.

The Royal card chipped at opposing corners and bent at the middle fairly badly. This card was fairly tough during the throwing competition, it chipped after 16 throws and then did not chip again for another 50 throws. Only when I heaved it at full-strength did it chip for the second time. This card did not bend well and it was left with a permanent wrinkle where it was nearly folded in half. The wrinkle can be seen and the card could not be used for play. The card also did not bend at the corner too well. It took a bit of repair to get the corner back to a flat shape.

The A-Plus card chipped and/or cracked on the first 4 out 5 throws at the lowest strength. It did not bend very well, leaving a visible wrinkle that made the card unplayable.

New USPC KEM Playing Cards

In June 2005 I received a double-set of the new United States Playing Card Co. KEM Playing cards and tested a new Arrow bridge size Arrow playing card. Putting the new card through the same damage tests reveal that the new cards appear to be stronger and more damage resistant than the old KEM cards.

Bending the new cards resulted in the exact same non-damage as the old cards - the cards returned to their original shape with little or no hand manipulation. I threw the cards against a plywood wall 35 times at normal strength and there was no damage. I then threw the card 35 times at full strength and again there was no damage. This is much better than the old KEM card that chipped after 13 normal strength throws. I then fully bent back a corner of the new KEM card but it did not crack like the old KEM did in the image shown above. The bend did leave a wrinkle similar to that of the Copag card. I rate the new KEM's at a much better damage test score than the old KEM cards and they now rank at the top with Copag cards.

Modiano Playing Cards

In July 2005 I received three decks of Modiano playing cards and tested the Bike Trophy style. Putting this card through the same damage tests reveal that these cards fair as well as the Dal Negro playing cards. This is not surprising since everything else about these two brands of cards is very similar.

Bending the Modiano cards resulted in the exact same damage as the Dal Negro cards - the cards returned to their original shape with a bit of hand manipulation. The severe bend left a bit of a crease in the card, again similar to the Dal Negro. I threw the cards against a plywood wall 35 times at normal strength and there was no damage. I then threw the card 35 times at full strength and again there was no damage. I rate the Modiano playing cards at the same damage test score as the Dal Negro.

WPT Plastic Playing Cards

In September 2005 I received two decks of bridge size WPT (World Poker Tour) playing cards. Putting these cards through the same damage tests reveal that they perform about the same as the new KEM cards but are a bit thicker and therefore do not bend back quite as easily. They still do bend back, but it takes a little longer and some hand manipulation is required. The 'bendability' of these cards was halfway between the new KEM's and the Modiano/Dal Negro cards. The severe bend left a bit of a crease in the card, again similar to the Modiano/Dal Negro.

I threw the cards against a plywood wall 35 times at normal strength and there was no damage. I then threw the card 20 times at full strength and the card chipped at the corner. This is fairly consistent with the KEM cards.

Final Results & Ranking

1. Copag  (least damage)
1. New KEM
2. Dal Negro + Modiano
3. Gemaco
4. Old KEM
5. Royal
6. A-Plus (most damage)

The winner of the playing cards damage tests is ... Copag cards! The Copag and KEM cards were the best at recovery after being bent, they straightened out to a flat shape with little effort, much better than the Dal Negro and Gemaco cards. The Copag also survived about 75 hard throws at a wall. It then took seven throws at full strength before I could get the card to chip. Only the Dal Negro/Modiano/Gemaco cards did better here. The combination of good recovery from bends and lack of damage make Copag cards the winner of my damage tests. Except for one little chip off the corner, this card is still completely playable. Other cards ( Dal Negro & Gemaco) did not chip, but they did not recover from being severely bent as well as the Copag did.

The new KEM cards manufactured by the United States Playing Card Co. performed better than the old KEM cards did. The new card did not chip or bend after 80 throws and the corners did not crack when bent fully back. It recovers as well as the old card does but seems much more durable.

A close second place goes to Dal Negro and Modiano playing cards. They never chipped, cracked or bent even after about 75 throws at a piece of plywood. No matter how hard I threw these cards, they were not damaged. The corners hardly even bent back a little, let alone chip. The card was completely playable after all my damage tests. There was a slight bend in one corner that could be felt but not seen and there was also a slight wrinkle in the middle from being folded in half. The wrinkle could not be seen. If it were not for this wrinkle, these cards would have finished in first place rather than second place. These cards have a papery, almost cardboard, feel to them. When they are bent, they take a little bit of 'repair' to get them back to a flat shape. They do not recover with almost no physical effort, like a KEM or Copag card. They do return to their original flat shape but you must work at it a bit - bend it in the opposite direction, roll it in your fingers, etc. I was pleasantly surprised at how tough these cards are. They have a completely different feel than any other plastic card and I thought that their papery texture would be more susceptible to being damaged, but I was wrong.

Gemaco cards are similar to Dal Negro in that they did not get damaged during the throwing competition but do not bend as well. There is a slight wrinkle in the middle of the card that can be felt but not seen. The card is still playable. Bends in the card must be worked at to repair to a flat condition. It does not recover as effortlessly as a KEM card but is much stronger overall.

The KEM cards were the best at recovering from a severe bend. Bending a corner or folding the card in half left almost no tell-tale signs a couple seconds later. Cards such as the Copag and Dal Negro eventually recovered just as well, but it took a little finger massaging to repair it. The corner of the KEM card chipped every 10 or 20 throws and they were rather easy and predictable to chip.

The Royal card did not bend well and did not do all that well in the throwing competition, it chipped after 16 throws. Folding the card nearly in half resulted in a crease that could be felt and seen and the made the card unplayable. Severely bending a corner of the card resulted in a permanent bend in the card.

The A-Plus card chipped and/or cracked with almost every throw. Big chunks of the card would chip off with even the lightest throw. It also did not bend well, leaving a visible crease in the middle of the card. Severely bending the card in the corner resulted in a permanent bend.

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