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There seem to be a lot of options when it comes to card sleeves. What factors do I need to consider about different sizes, materials, and quality of sleeves when deciding which to purchase?

  • How much larger should the sleeves be compared to the cards?
  • What different materials are available, and how do they effect how well the cards are protected and shuffling?
  • What sleeves seem to be the best quality?
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The most important aspect of sleeves is of course size. If the sleeves are to small then obviously your cards won't fit. But the sleeves being to big can also have a number of negative consequences:

  • sleeves can get in the way during suffling
  • harder to nicely stack the cards

Probably most common are the sizes for the dimensions used in trading card games but there's also an increasing selection for board and cardgames.

Next on the list is thickness and rigidity. While thinner sleeves tend to be cheaper too they will also be a bit harder to shuffle and offer somewhat less protection. If you play on clean tables that's not an issue but rougher surfaces (i.e. outdoor) can wear through the thin sleeves faster.

Finally there are many designs to choose from - especially among the more common sizes used for ccg's. Anything from a clear plastic on both sides, over single colored backs to elaborate patters and themes can be found. Sleeves with simple opaque backs are favored in tournaments because they make it harder to mark cards.

As a small addition I'd like to point out that shuffling with sleeved cards can be very different from what you are used to. Stripping can be difficult because some sleeves tend to cling to each other. Standard riffle shuffle is also harder because the sleeves do not grant the same fine control over the cards. Probably the easiest way to shuffle is by separating the deck in two stacks and pushing the corner of one stack into the side of the other. If the sleeves are sufficiently rigid it will be very easy to slide them together producing the equivalent of an almost perfect riffle shuffle.

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A side note specific to Dominion: Do not use sleeves with opaque backs if you ever plan on getting the Stash card, as it intentionally has a different design on the back. –  Powerlord Dec 14 '10 at 20:32
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What, me, Dominion? :checks his question history: ... :blush: –  keithjgrant Dec 15 '10 at 4:07
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Well. You could simply mark those sleeves... –  Kempeth Dec 15 '10 at 7:41
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I sleeve the cards for my Card Driven Wargames, but be aware they never fit in the box right after that, and shuffling is way different.

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Get polyurethane sleeves, not polypropylene. The former are firm, strong, and have sharp edges that make them easy to shuffle simply by pressing two piles of cards together at their edges. The latter are flimsy, floppy bags with cards inside them, and they're just as easy to manage as it sounds like they would be.

The brand I've used the longest is Ultra Pro, which manufactures card sleeves with opaque solid-color backs that are appropriate for just about any game that doesn't require you to see the backs of your cards (and is handy for those unfortunate CCGs whose card backs have changed over the years). The only downsides to these are that they're not cheap, they tend to split with heavy usage over time (I can't tell if it's a function of age or not, though I bet it is), and every model I've seen has a little holographic dot on the front lower-left corner, which is less than ideal placement for games that use that space.

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