Playing cards has been a traditional pastime for hundreds of years. However, many people don’t realize that over the past century or so, the design of playing cards has diversified. Players now have a wide variety of options when selecting the deck they use. It’s worth it to look into what’s out there instead of just settling on the first cheap pack of cards you see at the grocery store.Since card games first became popular, playing cards have been printed on paper. Originally, this was nothing more than heavy paper stock, sometimes with the corners rounded to prevent damage. Around the turn of the twentieth century, manufacturers began applying plastic coatings to their cards to lengthen their life. The plastic also provides a slick surface, making them easier to shuffle and deal. To further enhance the feel of the cards, some manufacturers send them through a process to impress a linen finish into their surface.Even with plastic coatings, paper cards still have several shortcomings due to their porous nature. A drink spill, of course, will totally ruin a deck of cards. Natural skin oils from players’ hands gradually leach into the cards over time, making them sticky and difficult to deal. Paper cards are easy to bend and tear, as well. Unscrupulous players can mark paper cards simply by pressing a fingernail into the surface in a particular location.To solve the problems inherent to paper cards, manufacturers began offering cards printed on plastic stock. These cards are plastic through and through, with no cardstock core. Because of that, they are non-porous and washable. If someone spills a beverage on plastic cards, you can simply dry them off with a paper towel. You can easily wash sticky cards with soap and water.The major downside to plastic cards is that they can cost significantly more than paper cards. However, the extra expense is justified by the long lifespan of plastic cards. Paper cards are usually the better option only if the cards are to be used once and discarded afterward.Playing cards come in two standard sizes: poker size and bridge size. Poker-size cards are about 63 millimeters wide, while bridge-size cards are only 56 millimeters wide. Both sizes have the same length, 88 millimeters.Which width is better for you depends largely on the game you’re playing. The narrower width of bridge-size cards makes them a better choice in games where players have to hold a lot of cards, like Bridge and Hearts. When it comes down to it, though, the choice of size is mostly personal preference. Some people find bridge-size cards easier to shuffle and deal. You can even find bridge-size cards in use in games of Texas hold’em, where players only have two cards in their hand!Originally, playing cards didn’t have any text on them to identify the rank and suit of each card. Around the end of the nineteenth century, manufacturers began adding a label in the corner of each card to make it easier for players to identify cards when they’re held in a fan. This label is called the index.Not all indices are made alike. Indices come in two major sizes. The smaller size is called standard index, which can be read comfortably from a player’s hand. The larger index size is called jumbo index, which, in most cases, is large enough to be read from across the table. Jumbo index cards are best for games where players have to look at cards from a distance, such as Texas hold’em. In games where players have to hold a lot of cards in their hands, standard-index cards work better, as players do not have to fan them as widely to see the contents of their hand.There is one other index size, called magnum index. Magnum-index cards have indices that take up the vast majority of the card’s face, leaving little room for the other artwork you’d expect to find on a card. Magnum indices are really only useful for those with vision problems requiring large print. Otherwise, it’s a good idea to stick with standard or jumbo-index cards.Now that you know about the different options available to you, all that’s left to do is to choose a deck! Experiment with the different material, size, and index options to find a combination that works well with what you’re playing and who you’re playing with. A well-chosen deck of cards can help make a good game night great.