Upcycle Final Report 2020: Laser Cut Cards


Magic the Gathering has been a hobby of mine that I’ve rediscovered in the past year. However, a side effect of printing cards that are “rare” is that there is an order of magnitude more cards that are worth almost nothing and are never used. However these cards still have breathtaking art commissioned from distinguished fantasy artists. My vision was to recycle these cards and therefore bring their art into the limelight. This combined art takes multiple cards and cuts parts of their “art box” such that when stacked on top of each other important aspects of each card are visible, and hopefully complement each other. Functionally, these combined cards wouldn’t be playable in a deck, as they are much thicker and easily discernible from normal cards, therefore they are mostly be art pieces. However, there is a format of play in Magic that uses a “commander” that does not go in your deck, so these cards could also serve as bedazzled commanders in play.

The main inspiration for this project was the “augmented art” corner of the Magic community. Sometimes artists will paint over cards to individualize them and sell them to players. This painstaking work done on very tiny cards is crazy, and while I’m no artist this is a way to be a part of that scene.

Design Process

When my idea first struck it excited me. It combined art, my hobby, and laser cutting all in one. However, I had never laser cut anything, at all. Aside from gimp, I had never done any vector graphics, and I didn’t quite have an eye for color in art. Because of this most of my time was spent on the left hand side of the learning curve. Because I was learning Inkscape from scratch, I had a first batch of cuts that turned out badly. My design process went through several iterations of: get cards, make cuts, fail. A lot of the time I didn’t know what a cut would look like until I had finished a template and put it through the cutter, so improvement would be gated to when I had access to the cutter. Ultimately I figured out my dumb mistakes and made some decent cuts to show today.

Fabrication Process

Once I have an idea for a cut, most of the fabrication process occurs inside Inkscape. I have to find an image of the card that is high resolution enough to make an accurate stencil, and then trace the part of the image that I want to use.

Final Product

Achievements vs Goals

Artistically I think I fell a bit shy of the mark.  By the end of the project my tracing was getting good, but I still need to do some work on integrating color into my cards. A difficulty of combined art if that usually art exists in a context. For me this usually meant a character that was in a bright light, or a colorful atmosphere. When literally cut out of that context, the reflections of the light look like errors I made in the tracing. Look above at “Krenko, mob boss”, there are pitch black parts of his crown that stand out like a sore thumb based on the background. Do I omit these parts from the trace because they look more correct, or do I change the background? I still don’t know. To summarize, each art box has many elements that complement each other. When I’m picking and choosing elements to combine, I have to be mindful that these new elements also compliment each other. It’s hard.

Another thing you might notice is that all but two of these cards are only two layers thick. I wanted to combine several different cards in each creation, but the limited size and focus of the art boxes made this hard in a lot of cases. Given more time I would like to have had more of these thicker, more complex cards.

Functionally I think I got most of the way there. That is to say that I now have the means to make cool combined cards, but I don’t have many examples to show you. Tracing accurately is time consuming, and by the end of this project I wasn’t able to come up with many good designs. I also wasn’t able to obtain one cards, so I just cut my design on a proxy above. Some of these cards will also be playable in the “commander” format as a player’s commander, so the functionality is met there.

Next Steps

Most of my time was spent learning how to make these cuts, and less on execution. Not all the cards I wanted to work on got finished, so I want to keep going and complete them. I currently have a card with art on both sides that I want to make into a thick doubled sided combined art card for play with one of my decks. I also want to experiment with Inkscape and laser cutting. I’ve been meaning to work with the cutter and 3d printer since I was a freshman, so the idea of working with non-cards is also appealing.

Works Cited

theartiste83 (2009). “altered Art Banefire mtg” [Painting]. https://www.deviantart.com/theartiste83/art/altered-Art-Banefire-mtg-127767273

brunoprataaltermtg (2016). “MTG Altered Art – Marath customized” [Painting] https://www.deviantart.com/brunoprataaltermtg/art/MTG-Altered-Art-Marath-customized-608943608

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6 Comments. Leave new

  • Kyle,
    I like how you incorporated your experience growing up playing magic the gathering to your presentation, it made the presentation more relate-able. I also liked how you used the slides as a visual tool; the heavy use of photos and minimal text paired well with your verbal presentation.
    I also liked how you talked about your lessons learned.
    The neutral questions I asked were:
    -How did you make the stencils?
    -How did you determine which background you would use with each card?

  • Kyle –

    I like your choice in upcycled material, very different than other material selected, and has a very nice nostalgic and novel feel to it. I think your cards turned out quite nicely and even though it seemed quite a simple idea, there seemed to be a great deal of complexity behind your cards, especially in the making of the stencils. I appreciate the amount of learning you took away from this project, as opposed to sticking things together and calling it a technical project. In particular, the six layered card represents your vision quite well, in forming a new aesthetic.

    With questions of the aesthetic itself – do you think there would be a chance that this type of aesthetic could potentially be profitable? How would you imagine this type of aesthetic be applicable to other types of your future works?

    With questions of your design process – what was the biggest learning curve you took away from the project? And, if had anything to help aid you in this process in retrospect, what would it have been, and why?

    Overall, your project was very well done. I would have liked to see more documentation on your design process, mainly in terms of your documentation on creating the stencils in inkspace: perhaps screenshots of the software and your hand-drawn technical sketching and maybe pictures /videos of the laser cutting being done, as that type of laser cutting would be very satisfying to see.

  • Justin Engbrecht
    February 17, 2020 11:22 am

    I really like how each combination of cards here is likely unique, considering the vast permutations of existing MtG cards, and not even taking into account the possible ways to laser cut each card. Because of this, I feel like an artist can really have their vision shine through with their decisions of which cards to combine and how precisely to cut them.

  • I am super impressed with the quality of laser cutting that you were able to accomplish with this project. I have only ever laser cut things on a roughly one foot scale, so seeing something this small come out so clean is really cool.

  • Davis Robertson
    February 17, 2020 11:21 am

    The detail in each one of these cards is very impressive. The cards that have more than 2 layers really pop out and make the design more unique. How did you decide which cards to use as background and middle ground? All in all I think this is an awesome product and I’m excited to see if you decide to extend it to more cards.

  • I really like how the lazer cutting allows a 3D effect; I think that this was a unique idea. One thing that I would critique is the functionality of your final product. Do you think you can still use these in the card game? How will you make improvements later on?


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