One of the most important lessons of the modern card-collecting landscape is to learn that you cannot collect everything and, by extension, which specific sets are your thing and which ones are not. Panini’s current crop of unlicensed logoless sets? Very much not my thing. Diamond Kings’ with their photos that have been altered to look like paintings and crazy colored backgrounds? Also not my thing. And that’s not even getting into the way that these checklists are like 100 cards.
Still, I’ve been seeing lots of people opening packs and boxes and posting their hits and despite not feeling any compulsion to buy this product, I’ve noticed some extremely interesting things going on with the way it’s been produced. The paper looks to have a texture and the finish is not the usual gloss UV coating. While I don’t need a pack, I recognized that I’d probably end up acquiring a common or two so as to investigate how they were made.
Enter Joey/@DubMentality who, in addition to being one of the most generous guys on card twitter with regard to sending cards to people, has a personal blog dedicated to the junk wax glory days and also pops up on other sites writing about newer sets. I especially like his series on Beckett where he interviews card shop proprietors. Anyway I’d responded to his review of Diamond Kings with a few comments/questions about the production and he popped a plain white envelope full of Giants in the mail for me so I could answer them myself.
Said PWE arrived yesterday so in addition to now feeling like part of the club to have received a mailday from Joey, I’m happy to add some Giants cards I never intended to buy to the binders and geek out on some printing and production.
First impressions? Interesting. I’m still not a fan of the general design with the photoshopped painting effect that couldn’t even fix McCutchen’s jersey to have orange highlights and not be obviously the Pirates, but these work a lot better in person than they do in photos. The whole effect—paper finish, Photoshop filter, color palette—shows a lot more consideration than the autopilot design process that many of Topps’s sets seem to display. That said, it’s pretty clear that the smoke/unpainted portion of the cards is exactly the same card-to-card so there’s still a lot of templating going on in ways that undermine the intended effect.
Printproductionwise though these are super interesting. The cardboard itself is indeed textured. Looking at all the photos everyone else was posting I thought it was like a linen uncoated stock.* In person I can see it’s actually coated stock which feels closer to the cambric texture on casino-quality playing cards.** The coating allows for much more vibrant colors*** and Panini has wisely decided to varnish the cards rather than UV coat them so as to not bury the texture beneath a layer of plastic.
*The framed “hit” cards appear to use an uncoated laid stock for the frame and the pair of textures works surprisingly well for me. Also getting images of paper textures online is surprisingly hard to find. However Wikipedia’s Laid article isn’t bad. The Linenizing one on the otherhand…
**Typically the Bee brand. Cambric is a more fabric-looking texture as opposed to the more-familar air-cushion texture on Bicycle cards.
***I was half-expecting something less contrasty like 1996 or 1997 Fleer.
The result is cards that don’t have that distinctive UV coated smell that bursts out of most packs and which, because of the paper texture, actually sort of look like paintings. I was surprised to see that I didn’t mind the logolessness with these. Something about the painting effect means that small details don’t have to be there.
Where the base cards don’t grab me, the Orlando Cepeda Gallery of Stars card is wonderful and captures some of the old-school Diamond Kings appeal. Yes it’s not actually a painting but something about this—whether it’s the pose or the cropping—feels more like what this style is supposed to look like.
While not something I’d want a huge set of, as an insert or insert set it’s massively successful. It’s not supposed to look like a regular baseball card, it’s supposed to look like a Diamond King. And it does. The cambric texture isn’t necessary but it’s a fantastic level of detail which seals the deal.
On feEling and handling
When I was scanning these cards for the post, because of the texture and the way it made me think of playing cards, instead of immediately returning these to the penny sleeves that Joey sent them in I gathered up the four cards into a stack and quickly thumbed them from one hand to the other in the way I’d look at my hand in Hearts or Bridge. They feel great. No sticking like a lot of the UV coated sets. No constant awareness of the surface of the card the way a lot of junk wax (but even Heritage) feels. These just glide from hand-to-hand in a way that makes me want to continue to handle them.
It’s massively appealing in a tactile way that I’ve never encountered before with baseball cards. There’s a certain joy in ripping open a pack and shuffling through your brand new stack; the way the cards feel against each other is such a key component of that sensation. A fresh pack of Diamond Kings must feel amazing.
So now I kind of want a set of cards which is designed to be held and sorted and resorted rather than hermetically sealed aside from the brief moment between opening the packs and paging the pile.