I really like making things, I’m not particularly skilled at it but I get immense satisfaction from creating things to improve my games. I also really like alt art cards for games, anything that sets my collection apart from the norm. So, it should come as no surprise that when I saw this, I wanted to give it a try.
First of all I needed to figure out if it was at all possible, based on my very limited skills. The descriptions and tutorials on the above link prove some details on the process, based on US materials and items, and explain most of the process for making the cards but I even so, it seemed a tall task.
The materials required are-
- Magic the Gathering Foil cards
- Printer acetate
- A printer (obviously)
- Spray mounting glue
- Some Photoshop software
- Hi res images of the cards you want
- A rolling pin
- Some kitchen roll/towel
- An old toothbrush
- A ceramic tile or other clean and flat surface
- Low tac masking tape or plumbers tape
- Lots of newspaper to protect your work area
Going through the above list-
Cards– I got my MTG foils from my local game store, they had some in their penny card bin and let me have them for nothing. I had to search for about 20 mins through a few thousand cards but free is free. You can also pick these up on eBay or from any MTG card seller online but, as you are stripping the artwork anyway, get the cheapest you can. The sets you use do seem to matter, for me I’ve found that the cards from Shadows over Innistrad and Eternal Masters work the best.
It’s worth pointing out that not every single card in those sets works, some just don’t for some reason but, in my experience, most do and they certainly work better than any other sets I tried.
Acetone– I got this from eBay. Just search Acetone and buy the purest form you can, likely 99.9% pure. Try to avoid any that is specifically marketed as a nail polish remover as it won’t be strong enough and may have other particulates which dilute the purity. It makes sense to try and look for acetone that is specifically marketed to the scientific community as that is the most likely to be lab grade. I tried a few different types and in the end this is the best I found and it was £7.99 for a litre, posted-
Acetate– I actually had some acetate at home, from another project making stained glass windows for a model base but it wasn’t suitable and my first test print on it didn’t take. I went online, again to eBay as it seemed to be the cheapest source, and and after trying a couple of variants I ended up with a pack of 20 sheets for £7.89 posted.
Make sure you get the right kind for your printer, ink or laser jet (laser seems to be much cheaper) and you are looking for one that has a white strip on one side that indicates the side to print on. The thickness of the acetate also matters as thicker acetate may cause you printer to snag the sheets and smudge the images, I went for 100 mic thick. This is what I got-
Printer– Pretty self-explanatory really. For my initial run I was using a HP Envy 120 and it was perfectly suitable for the job but i’ve recently changed to a HP Envy 5640 and it does appear to make slightly cleaner images.
Spray Mounting Glue– You need to be careful with this, it needs to be one that gives a very light coat without being blotchy or patchy and it needs to be 100% clear. I’m using 3m Photo Mount which I got from Hobby Craft for £10.00-
PhotoShop software– I actually used PhotoShop CC but MS Paint can be used to achieve the same goal. The downside of Paint is that it compresses the image and so it might not print at a high enough resolution.
Hi-Res Images- this was actually by far the most problematic part of the process for me, mainly because the cards I wanted to do, the alt arts of the core set ID’s for Netrunner, are all highly sought after and so people don’t want to scan and release the images in case they get counterfeited and sold online. Since FFG have never released the official images either, this took some work and I only managed to get good enough images when a person who has already been through the process sent them to me.
An alternative method is to find the artist on Deviant Art and find the original art, which will likely be good enough resolution, but then you’ll have to add all the game stats yourself, which is a significant amount of work and almost certainly requires Photoshop or some equivalent. A final option is to make foils of some of the fan made alt arts, like the Wayland one I’ll be showing, as hi res images of these are much more readily available and some of them are absolutely fantastic (just stay away from ‘Sexy Chaos Theory’).
You want the highest quality you can get. At the low end my files are about 600kb and they seem to work fine but the really good ones are around 38mb and that’s what you want if you can find it. Ultimately as long as it prints cleanly at 300dpi you should be good.
All of the other items are things I have in my hobby cupboard and so I didn’t have to go looking for them. Pretty much everything is readily available with the low tac masking tape probably being the least commonly available but, even so, virtually any hardware store should carry it and I got mine from B&Q as it’s used in the painting and decorating trade.
Hi Res Images
First up is obtaining the hi-res images and assuming you’ve done that they need to be loaded into your Photo editing software and resized to the necessary size for the card, in my case 63mm x 88mm, which is the size of a Netrunner card and, fortunately, a MtG card. Then you need to reverse the image so you have a mirror image of the card. This is because you will be printing on the acetate and then reversing it so the ink is protected between the acetate and foil background of the card. When that’s done, test it on paper, and it should look something like this-
As I said above, not how the text on Gabe is slightly blurry, indicating that this isn’t a high enough resolution image.
Cleaning the cards
Next you want to scrub the cards. To do this tape them down to a clean flat surface like a ceramic tile with something like low tac masking tape or plumbers tape. This will make sure you don’t get the acetone onto the edges of the card which will cause pealing and that you don’t end up denting the card when rubbing the ink off.
Then dip an old toothbrush into a pot of your acetone and use it to scrub the visible card clean. The ink should come off nice and easily, as you can see below, and if you need to scrub any more than this then the card probably isn’t suitable. Try not to scrub too hard or you’ll scratch the card and it may become unusable.
Once the middle of the card is clean give it a wipe with a clean piece of kitchen roll and then carefully peel away the tape. If you are gentle and using plumbers tape you can actually reuse it for a number of cards. Then, using a clean piece of kitchen roll, carefully clean away the borders of the card. It’s worth using only outward motions so as to avoid getting any acetone under the edge of the card which can cause the foil to peel away. Again you can see what I mean in the video below-
If you get acetone under the edge of the card and the foil peels away it’ll end up looking like this-
But ideally your stripped card will look like this-
Printing the images
As I said at the start you need to do a do a little prep work in Photoshop. This entails resizing the images to the size of a Netrunner card, reversing them so the writing is backwards and placing them all on the same page so you can print them out in a bulk lot and save wasting acetate. Once you are ready and you have set the files to print at 300dpi then print the sheet and make sure it’s dry before you start the next step.
Putting the Pieces Together
There are probably better ways to do this but this is how I did it. First I printed the images onto acetate, as I mentioned above you can fit a number of cards onto one page and so printing them all at once prevents wasting acetate. Give the page a couple of minutes to dry, just in case, and then CAREFULLY cut out the cards. Don’t bother being exact here, you just need to make sure each car dis on a separate piece of the acetate for the next step and so it’s worth leaving a clear boarder around each.
Once you have separate images cut out then tape one, face down (the writing should be backwards as you look at it and the printed side should be exposed), onto a sheet of paper being sure to not put tape over any part of the image. This will hold it firm while you attach the foil. Next line up a couple of pieces of card with the 2 edges of the image to form a corner boarder. This will help you line the foil up correctly and get a neat final card. Test this by placing the foil against the edges of the card guides like this-
Doing this will make sure that all of the relevant parts of the image will end up on the final card. Once you are happy remove the foil and carefully spray the printed acetate with your spray mount. I found that doing this from a height of 18-24 inches gave me the best final result but you are looking for a clean and even coating on the acetate that looks like a light mist. Any large blobs of glue will ruin the final foil and so the lighter the coating, the better.
Once you’ve applied the glue you need to work quickly. Apply the foil firmly but be careful to make sure it lines up with the guides you’ve put in place as this will make sure it’s straight. Most spray mount won’t allow for re-adjustment after applying the foil so you get one shot, be careful but quick. As soon as you’ve applied the foil then you need to apply pressure very quickly to remove any air from between the layers and reduce the chance of spotting. The easiest way I found to do this is to use a rolling pin. I applied all of my weight to the rolling pin and rolled it over the card in firm motions for a couple of minutes after placing the foil. The quicker you do this after gluing the foil and the more pressure you can add, the better the chance of a clean, spot free, foil.
Hopefully, if you followed the steps, you should end up with a foil that looks something like this-
This was quite a long process for me, I’d say probably 1 in 3 of the correct foils was good enough to use to make a card (you can cover a few small flaws with some cards because of very dark spots on the art, but it’s a bit hit and miss) and it took me several printings to get the art to the correct size and resolution to be good enough to use. From start to finish refining the process took me about 2 weeks, obviously that’s not working all day every day but I did some work on them most days during that period.
Patience was the key for me, something I don’t have in abundance, and the biggest thing I learnt was just how critical the right kind of foil can be. I went from spending over an hour trying to clean the wrong foils, with very limited success, to it taking just a couple of minutes with the right kind and getting a fairly good result most of the time, even if they weren’t all usable.
It was a really fun process though, I enjoyed seeing the evolution from my first attempt with a poor foil stuck down with Pritt-Stick, to the finished versions I have now, which look absolutely stunning. Going forward I’m going to scan a few more of the alt arts I have and see if I can make foils of them and I’m very keen to see if I can make a Scorched Earth that will be usable in a deck (provided it’s not noticeable when sleeved and shuffled in, something I’ve yet to check). Making the foils is quite time consuming and can be fairly costly, especially once you have to buy the base foils, but the overall effect is worth it, at least to me.
I have an alternative to MtG foils that I’m researching at the moment, that will reduce the cost and time per card significantly if it actually works and I’ll update the article if it does to give some further details. All in all making the cards isn’t for everyone but I enjoyed it and playing with a foil as my ID is always a talking point in games.