Guide to Card Sleeves
Card protectors, or sleeves, are perhaps the most common accessory for games. There are two main reasons for sleeving your games:
To protect the cards (kinda says so on the tin)
To increase the sense of quality, much like component upgrades
The protection part is especially important if the cards are of high value and/or gets shuffled a lot. Both are true with most collectable card games (CCGs), like Magic The Gathering – and this is why the sizes used for these games has the best selection. Shuffling with sleeved cards feels a lot better than unsleeved, so that affects both point 1 and 2. You can also get them with matte finish, to reduce glare.
Here’s a guide to how you should proceed if you want to sleeve:
First, figure out what kind of sleeves you need. There is an annoying amount of different sizes, and many of them are very similar. Sleeve Your Games is a great website and service, where you can search for games and find out what size and quantity you require.
Next, you need to decide if you want matte or glossy sleeves. I prefer matte, for readability. However, glossy ones make the colours on the cards pop more!
Here I've tried to show the difference in glare between glossy (L) and matte ® sleeves.
«What kind of sleeves should I buy?»
To navigate the jungle of different makers and types, I’ve divided the crop into three quality tiers, and I’ll give my recommendations for each tier. When settling on a tier, the amount of protection ain’t that important, as they’re all good enough. (This isn’t the article for someone wondering how to best protect The Power Nine – this is geared towards «normal» board and card games.) So, it’s about how much you care about the sense of quality and how much money you want to spend. Furthermore, I highly recommend you stick to only one or two kinds of sleeves, so you don’t have to keep track of different types and so you always get to use all the sleeves in a package. If you have several types, you’ll end up with 10 sleeves here and 5 sleeves there from packs you didn’t use all the sleeves.
Tier 1: Cheap and fine
A good indicator for the quality of the sleeve is the thickness, often given in microns (µm). The cheapest are usually around 60 µm, like the regular ones from Sleeve Kings, which is my recommendation here. From time to time, they run Kickstarter campaigns where you can get them even cheaper, but they’re always cheap! They cost about 2.25 ¢ per unit ($2-3 for a 110 pack).
Even the product picture looks cheap.
+Good selection of sizes
−They feel a bit loose or sloppy around the cards
−Not available in matte
Tier 2: Solid
My choice here falls on Gamegenic Prime. They come in at 100 µm and is available in «all» sizes. They sit noticably tighter around the cards, and are available in both matte and clear. They cost about 5.5 ¢ per unit ($2.5-4 for a 50 pack).
+Good middle ground between quality and price
+Good selection of sizes
−A bit slippery
Tier 3: Premium
I do not recommend anyone buying sleeves of this quality and price point for normal games. It’s totally unnecessary, and I love it. «Luckily» for me, the selection in sizes is poor, as these are made for CCGs. So, for me, only one size is relevant: What’s usually referred to as «Standard Card Game». My favourite here is Dragon Shield.
The variant called “Non glare” is slightly better – but sadly discontinued.
They cost about 12 ¢ per unit (😬) (€12 for a 100 pack) – but what makes them so good? First of all, they are 120 µm, so nice and thick.
Dragon Shield (L) and Gamegenic ®.
As you can see on the picture, the Dragon Shields are a bit larger, relative to the card, compared to the Gamegenics. This creates a pleasant frame around the card, in my opinion. Moreover, the cards sit more securely and are lovely to shuffle. My favourite detail, however, is that they have a textured back side, which creates a nice feel and also might contribute to the fact that they don’t slide as much when they are stacked. You can get them in both matte and glossy and in a huge number of colours. The last thing might come in handy if you need to change the backside of the cards for some reason. They also come with a box you can use for storing.
Here you can see how I've used the Dragon Shields boxes to organise Race for the Galaxy.
Think of Dragon Shields like something you splurge on for your favourite games, like Geek Up bits – here represented by tokens for Wingspan.
+Great «hand feel»
+Wonderful to shuffle
+Good colour reproduction while still stopping glare
−The size sometimes makes them not fit in inserts
Negatives to sleeving
Well, it cost money – and a lot of it if you're as stupid as me and get Dragon Shields. Also, it can create troubles for inserts and boxes in general.
The Innovation box used to be the size of the Red7 box, but not after I sleeved...
Arcane Tinmen, Gamegenic, Dragon Shield
On the picture above, I’m trying to show how much taller the stacks get (it’s about 30 cards). Something I noticed, was that the Gamegenics actually made the stack taller than the Dragon Shields. However, I think this is because the latter had been under pressure in the Innovation box. Note that the Spicy cards, on the far left, are foiled. In retrospect, these cards deserve glossy sleeves.
When I press down, you can see that the Dragon Shields are thicker.
I don't recommend Arcane Tinmen. More expensive, but slightly worse, compared to Gamegenic. If it's your only option, though – they're absolutely not terrible. A typical fate for an insert after the cards are sleeved...
To be fair, sleeving most games is a bit over the top – especially with anything more expensive than Gamegenics. But if there are some games you play a lot and the cards get shuffled, I think it’s worth it. Personally, I've gone for Gamegenics for most games, but buying Dragon Shields for games that uses that size and that «deserve it».