Games such as Founding Fathers and Italian Rails offer an ArtsCow option for the printing of their cards. But what does this mean?
ArtsCow is a US-based site that enables personalized photo gifts. Photos can be placed on over five hundred different types of items; for games purposes we take advantage of the playing cards option.
How it works
The game publisher creates cards in JPEG format using any appropriate tools and uploads them to the ArtsCow site, free. These cards are collected into groupings called albums. When the publisher updates a setting to make an album public it is visible to anyone visiting the site and it is possible to make a direct link to each album.
Those desiring a copy of the cards follow the link to the ArtsCow site, register if this is the first time, and purchase one or more copies of the cards using PayPal (preferred to avoid international credit card charges) or a credit card. All of this money goes to ArtsCow, none of it to the publisher.
The materials quality is quite good, being about those of medium playing cards one would buy for Bridge or Poker. Colors are vibrant and faithfully rendered. Usually the cards come in a glossy, green cardboard tuckbox.
Considering that formerly printers didn't even want to turn on their machines unless you were printing at least ten thousand copies, the price is amazingly good. In addition, coupons or gift certificates tend to be available quite often these days and you can look for them on ArtsCow's promotional page (where at the moment I see 54 designs card decks priced of $7.99 per deck with free shipping and single design decks priced at $6.99). If you see no discounts on cards there, you might also try googling for "artscow coupon". I try to announce sales on Twitter as well, so sign up to follow.
Printing and shipment occurs in Hong Kong. Usually this happens relatively quickly, taking anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks, even to the US, though there are some times of the year such as the Lunar New Year (in either late January or early February) when it often takes longer.
For more information, see the ArtsCow FAQ.