Since before the incredible itch of trading card games hit me, I have always wanted to design and play my own trading card game (TCG). After the introduction of Pokémon — which I was a casual collector of the cards but never actually played against anyone — I was hooked on the battle card concept. As many card games have come and gone, I’ve started to notice the pattern. I was beginning to understand more about the core mechanics that make up a balanced card game. Mix in chance with strategy and offer a plethora of cards which allow for unimaginable combination and you have a barn burner. It doesn’t hurt to have a popular animated series to tie in the culture and lessons.

After a month of browsing the web for the best tools and resources for creating my own cards, I’ve compiled a short list of the best tools and resources to use when you’re ready to start creating your own Trading Card/Collectible Card game.

So you want to make a trading card game, huh? Well, here’s how…

Desktop tools

Windows or Mac based programs that can help you create that custom TCG you’ve been wanting to build.

  • Deckromancy – (Paid)
    A great program that is both flexible and easy to use. Works on WIN and MAC OS as well as your iOS and Android devices. For the price of the software you get freedom to build and manage your custom decks. Setting up templates, customizing layouts and colours, and adding your own icons makes this one of the best I’ve used. It’s more than worth the price tag. It goes by a few other names online but they are all the same tool.
  • nanDECK – (FREEware)
    Another good tool, nanDECK is very flexible, but that comes at a cost… coding. If you’re more of a visual learner and prefer to drag-n-drop, double click and type your way to a custom deck, then this program is not for you. It’s not to say it’s any harder than the others. Quite the contrary. It’s primary focus is to build decks based on scripts, referencing images, colours and text through lines of code, systematically generating a full deck of cards within mere seconds. nanDECK is great for prototyping (where you don’t require heavy graphic design) and want to generate a functioning deck that can be edited without the time consuming graphical edits. I used it, I love it for prototyping.
  • CCG Maker – (FREEware)
    This tool was the second piece of software I ever tried when I first started my search for desktop card creators. It’s simple and to the point, very customizable, and allows you to save and print your cards. The saved cards can be re-edited if needed but the print resolution JPG is poor for high quality output. It’s primarily for online or digital presentation. You can create and save up to 10 of your own templates for manna symbols, set symbols or cards. The application has a feature which allows you to import or export different symbols. You can add, remove or position your own set symbols to this program.
  • Magic Set Editor – (FREEware)
    This piece of software allows you to design your own cards for popular trading card games. MSE can then generate images of those cards so that you can print or upload them to the internet. One great thing about this tool that the others don’t have is the ability to export it to an HTML file so that you can import it to Apprentice or LackeyCCG and play with your own cards online against others.
  • Adobe CS/CC – (30 day trial / Paid )
    Adobe suite tool provide tons of power for designers and developers. I’ve been using Photoshop since 5.5 so my design instinct is to draft on paper, then create digital version. If you have Photoshop or any other type of graphic editing program that allows you to create, you can build sheets and edit them all in one shot. Set up a print document, set up your measurements and create your template. Then fill in the blanks. Adobe also offers a program called InDesign and Illustrator that gives your more design and layout power, the former of which can use automation to input data to your cards through data merge. All in all, if you’re looking to go right to the visual presentation out of the gate this is the tool for you.
  • GIMP – (FREEware)
    An alternative to the paid Adobe CS tools is GIMP, an all-OS friendly, well respected photo editing tool. For TCG creation it can do everything Photoshop can do. GIMP is freeware tool that boasts great tools that rival such aplications as Photoshop and CorelDraw. Now, keep in mind this is multi-OS freeware so it can do almost all the basic photo editing/manip that the paid tools can do, it supports layers, transparencies, multiple formats for exporting, vector shape and free-hand creation, and much more. If you’re strapped for a full featured photo editor and don’t have access to Adobe or Corel suites, this is your answer.
  • Other digital tools – (FREE / Paid)
    Depending on how technical or creative (or in some cases just bull headed) you are, you can really develop TCG cards with any program you can type and or import artwork to. I’ve seen people using MS Word or OpenOffice Docs, some really good ones have been created in PowerPoint, MS Paint or Paint.NET (both of which are free and default with Windows), Pages (which is a OEM program on Mac OSX), and many others. Snicker if you want, but a veteran MS Excel user could probably wipe develop a macro or two to automate a whole deck in a matter of hours, artwork and all.

The bottom line is if you have some type of digital software that you can draw, erase, type and import you have the tool(s) to create your very own TCG.

Online tools

Websites that provide tools and resources to design and develop your decks.

  • Trading Card Creator – (FREEware)
    Originally created as a learning tool for students, this tool provides you with some of the basics for creating a trading cards. The software is very nice and easy to use. I came across this tool sometime after working with 3 other online card generators. It seems to be more of a flip-card generator for educational purposes more so than a TCG card creator, but with a little creativity  and based on your card format, it could work.
  • MTG Cardsmith – (FREEware)
    An online tool for creating your own custom MTG or MTG like trading cards. This is just one of a couple MTG card tools out there. This site requires you to register, as it saves your custom cards and decks and has a community based around it. It has a lot of customization related to the types and styles of existing MTG cards. A definite for the MTG fan or use of the MTG card format.
  • Card Maker – (FREEware)
    The second of a few MTG card makers out there. This tool is actually at it’s core a TCG/CCG creator as it also offers Pokémon and Yu-Gi-Oh formats. This was the second online card maker tool I’d ever used and I loved it. It is restrictive in it’s formatting though . You’re fixed to the placement and sizing of these popular lines of trading cards, but if that’s right up your alley or  you’re not too picky about a customized interface, these tools get the job done.
  • Deckromancy Web – (FREEware)
    Yes, you read correctly. Deckromany also provides on online card design tool so you can create and print your custom TCG cards without the cost. What’s the catch? They watermark all their cards with “Edited online at The online creator is just as robust as the stand alone and it even provides users with pre-designed SKIN files you can load as templates. They even have a HearthStone card generator.
  • WOW Card Creator – (FREEware)
    And speaking of HearthStone, looking to create a CCG/TCG with the World of Warcraft look? Or maybe you designed custom sets that you’d like to play with friends. Welcome to the WOW card creator. All cards are fixed formats of the different types of cards and all you do is modify the Tribe, Class, Vitals, Rarity Text and costs. Plus add your own custom image for that authentic WOW card look and feel. Though it is freeware, the site does take donations and creators should register so that they can save their cards and decks for later access and printing. The presentation is very stylized and professional and but the creators of the card generator are not affiliated with Blizzard.
  • My Pokémon Card Creator – (FREEware)
    Another in a long list of Pokémon card generators available online. They all pretty much provide you with the same style of cards, assuming you’re creating your own pocket monsters for the popular game format or just like their card setup. Great thing about this one, and what makes it standout in the sea of card generators, is that it also supports 5 languages; English, French, Spanish, Polish and Japanese. It watermarks every card with a “-fake card-” in the footer where artists’ credits would normally be found. Also, the quality of the JPG raster image is degraded so that there is no way to fake a custom card that can be used in tournament play.
  • MPC – (Paid)
    The approach for this online tool follows those mentioned above, but this service is provided by an actual playing card printing company. Using their pre-loaded common templates, you can achieve high quality Print on Demand (POD) game cards. Choose from varying colours and styles, or upload your own artwork to be printed. They state their online card maker is arguably the best in the industry for detecting low-res images and positioning. I’ve had playing cards made once for a non-TCG but never used any tools since I used another application to build them. This route would be great for the TCG enthusiast who has an established set of cards or someone who prefers a high quality finish to their printed deck and are not too keen on designing it themselves. Definitely worth a look.

There are a plethora of places to design and generate cards. So much so that it might be beneficial to give 2 or 3 of each option in each category above a read through. Based on what you prefer versus what works best may be a matter of trail and error. If web access is an issue and you’d like to keep your cards save locally, then a decktop program might be best. Just be ready to fork over some cash (depending on your choice). Almost all the online tools are free, but your stuff is saved in the clouds, plus you must consider print resolution and flexibility with some.

Hand-made tools – using pencil and paper, scissors and glue, you too can make and play your own TCG.

There is no real list of tools per say to use that you don’t already know about. Pencils, pens, markers, scissors, glue, tape, sleeves and come creativity are your standard needs. You may, however, not know where to start or require a little inspiration to get the engine roaring. Have no fear, DIY tutes are a plenty on the web. Here is a short list of places to help you get started and even polish the greatness you have brewing inside.

  • Instructables – You can always find amazing tutorials here from other creators. This search turned up many but the first 3 (during the time of the search) are valuable tutes for information and process.
  • YouTube – There are thousands out there. You already know how to use YT to find cat videos and movies, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding tutorials and tips on creating TCGs. Hint – keywords to use are “diy + tcg + trading cards + how to”.
  • wikiHowTo – Another DIY / How To site with great users and easy to follow resources. Make use of this place as well as Instructables. Images and step by step walk throughs may not be for all, but it’s a great place for ideas and contruction.

And as always, Google, BING, Yahoo searches will always get you billions of hits. The purpose of this post is to narrow down some of the more popular (in terms of search results and user feedback) tools and resources to access. That should be it for now, but as always, have fun and stay motivated. The best TCG/CCGs are produced from patience and the love of gaming. Game on, my friends.