Laminating can be an option for preserving game cards, however there are several drawbacks to the process such as a foggier image, uneven edges, and the laminate coming apart over time. Laminating cards that are already in sleeves can also ruin a lamination machine and your cards.
In this article, we will go over the best methods for preserving your games so they last long enough to become vintage collectibles.
Why Should Game Cards Be Preserved?
For those of us who frequently play board games or have a collection of cards, we know that life affects the look and feel of those cards. Game cards are not always made of the highest quality of paper and even those that are, are subject to hundreds of games played, snack crumbs, spills, and creases.
When doing research on the best ways to preserve game cards, the answers vary between gamers. The question often gets asked on message boards about whether laminating is a good option for preservation and the response is mixed.
Ultimately your game is your own so how you decide to preserve it is up to you, but this article will outline some of the most popular recommendations for the preservation of your cards so you can keep playing without worry.
Laminating Game Cards Has Some Benefits
There are many reasons why someone would consider laminating their game cards. Though sleeves are an option for many players, some games have uniquely sized cards or cards that are oddly shaped.
For cards that aren’t rectangular, or whose size isn’t available in commercial card sleeves, lamination can be a way to protect the surface of your cards from crumbs, spills, and tears. Many gamers like the feel of laminated cards because they still shuffle and get handled easily, which is not always the case with pre-made card sleeves.
Laminating in the long run can also be a cheaper, and longer lasting alternative to card sleeves. It requires only the purchase of one machine and a few laminate paper refills, but the lamination itself can last much longer than some commercial card sleeves which can stretch or tear.
In this case it might be better to buy a laminating machine once than have to buy several packs of card sleeves or replace the cards when they get damaged should you go sleeveless.
Though it’s not the best option for preservation, laminating cards undeniably has some benefits. Many message boards recommend that if you do decide to laminate, it’s best to use a good quality laminator such as the Xyron 900, the Lamtetur 7-in-1 machine, or the Vsadey Laminator Machine.
But There Are Some Reasons Not to Laminate Your Cards
The answer to the question of, “can I laminate my game cards” is yes, you can, as long as they are not already sleeved. But the answer to “should I laminate my game cards” is a little more complicated.
Most of the reasons not to laminate cards are anecdotal from game players on message boards. However, who better to turn to for advice than those who have made mistakes that you can learn from.
One of the most popular reasons not to laminate your cards is that if any moisture is on the card or the heat of the lamination process is off, it can make the image on your card foggy at best, or moldy at worst, due to moisture being caught in the laminate.
Because laminating cards isn’t like buying pre-fitted sleeves for them, each card you laminate will ultimately have to be cut down to size.
There are a lot of variables that can lead to bad edges on your cards: cutting crooked lines so that your card deck will no longer look uniform, edges peeling apart, or sharp edges are some of the risks of lamination. Laminating already sleeved cards can cause the sleeves to melt, or the lamination machine to break completely.
According to museum paper conservators, jagged edges aren’t the worst outcome that can come about through thermal lamination. Thermal lamination, which is the process most laminators use, can expose the ink or coating of the cards to too much heat which can permanently ruin the image on the cards.
Lamination can also be irreversible due to the adhesive used, so if you make a mistake in the process, it can’t be undone.
Can Any Part of a Game Be Laminated?
Though lamination might not be the best option for playing cards, and for cards in sleeves can be outright dangerous, the technique need not be eliminated completely. The process of lamination is best used for items no thicker than a playing card. This gets rid of the option of laminating game boards for preservation but cards and boards aren’t the only components of many games.
For games that have writing or drafting components, like DnD, Boggle, or any game with a score card, lamination can be a great way to make the game last longer and save paper!
By laminating the paper pieces, players can use dry erase markers to fill them out and erase the marks after the game and use it again.
Rule pages are also a great piece of gaming that benefits from lamination. We all know that one player who is married to the idea of checking the rules after almost every move, so why not give them the gift of an indestructible laminated set of game rules?
Other Ways to Protect Game Cards
The most popular way to protect game cards among players is the tried and true method of buying pre-sized card sleeves. There are very few games these days that don’t print their cards in a size that has sleeves available. And there are plenty of websites that offer card sleeves in bulk in different sizes.
Not everyone likes the feel of handling cards in sleeves though, which is why the question of lamination gets asked so often.
But before shelling out the cash for a lamination machine that could ruin your cards, or cheap sleeves that feel weird in your hand, you can splurge on higher quality sleeves or not use any at all.
Another popular tactic for protecting the quality of your game pieces over time, which might be the least cost effective, is simply to replace any card that gets damaged in game play.
This isn’t always an option for games where the cards are meant to be collected, but for most other card games, replacing damaged stock has proven to be a popular way for gamers to keep their games pristine.
Laminating can be a great way to preserve a lot of items on paper like recipes, posters, and stickers. However, when it comes to board games and card games, there are plenty of other options for keeping your game looking and feeling nice.
We can’t always keep our friends’ hands clean when they are playing our games, and we can’t prevent spills or tears from happening, but there are plenty of ways to protect our cards without turning to lamination.
In general, introducing lamination to your cards, whether they are already in sleeves or sleeveless can cause much more damage and cost much more money than simply buying higher quality sleeves or just replacing cards that get ruined in play.