Last updated on August 15, 2022
One with Nothing | Illustration by Jim Nelson
There isn’t anything that a player don’t want customized when it comes to Magic accessories. From dice to playmats to sleeves, players love expressing themselves in games through each and every one of their chosen products.
Originally created to protect your cards, sleeves have more recently evolved to have a wide arrange of colors, designs, and art for players to choose from. They’ve evolved a lot as a product over the last decade, and we’re finally reaching the point where custom sleeves are in arm’s reach of the average consumer.
Let’s get into it!
Starting off today with what you’ve all come for: the best overall custom sleeve. This award goes to Dragon Shield, a company you’re likely very familiar with, for their matte Sleeve Crafter custom sleeves.
The folks over at Dragon Shield’s R&D department have successfully been able to create a long-lasting matte custom sleeve that doesn’t compromise on the image quality or durability in any way. I’ve ordered a few sets of these and I’m always impressed how they’ve managed to keep that Dragon Shield shuffle feel on a custom background.
Not only that, but these sleeves are completely compatible with conventional KMC Perfect Fit inner sleeves. I’ve always mixed and matched Dragon Shield outers with KMC Perfect Fit inner sleeves, and I was crossing my fingers hoping that I’d be able to continue that trend with these.
As for the design process, Dragon Shield made it extremely simple and intuitive. It’s simple and easy to choose background colors, add text, and adjust what kind of border you want around your art. It also makes the importation process easy to use, allowing you to quickly crop and adjust your image how you see fit.
The only possible downside with Dragon Shield is that you get exactly 100 sleeves. You typically get anywhere between 101 and 105 sleeves because they weigh them to determine quantity. That gives you a little wiggle room for Commander decks with extras, and you don’t get that with a single order of custom sleeves here.
The pricing is also a fairly affordable rate, especially compared to its competitors. A set of 100 sleeves goes for $25, which is about $10 less than the other average custom sleeve options out there. These also ship out from the United States, which means you can expect your order within 15 days anywhere in the continental U.S.
I gladly give my recommendation for Dragon Shield’s Sleeve Crafter custom sleeves. I’ve used their products for nearly my entire Magic career and have yet to be disappointed with their quality, durability, or customer service.
How Much Should Custom Sleeves Cost?
Custom sleeves should obviously cost much more than conventional solid color sleeves. They’re much more complex to make, require rigorous testing and research to create quality images that last, and cost more per sleeve to manufacture. While most regular sleeves cost anywhere between $0.07 and $0.11 per sleeve, custom ones cost you about $0.25 to $0.35 per sleeve.
This is obviously a major jump, but you’re getting a one-of-a-kind product that’s intended to last just as long. These are also a premium product. There are other far cheaper sleeves out there that offer equitable durability ratings without the custom artwork, but that’s what you’re paying the premium for.
The Most Durable
Getting into the individual awards for custom sleeves now, and the most durable once again goes to Dragon Shield. These were the O.G. indestructible sleeves, and they still are to an extent. These sleeves are built to last, taking extreme amounts of force to split, and they protect your cards from dust and debris incredibly well.
Custom sleeves introduce a new metric of durability. This time it’s the art on the back! These Sleeve Crafter sleeves from Dragon Shield have been as durable as their Art Sleeves and regular matte sleeves. The image on the back doesn’t scrape off or chip from shuffling, which presents an incredible amount of friction and wear on the sleeves.
They also don’t stick together any more or less than normal sleeves, which was a big worry I had originally. This is because the art you’ve selected is printed directly onto the sleeves themselves, not layered on and susceptible to splitting or peeling right off.
The Most Affordable
Surprising nobody, Dragon Shield wins most affordable custom sleeves too. The custom sleeve industry is still a relatively new one. There just isn’t that much competition. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything lower considering they already have an incredibly low price of $25 for 100 sleeves.
The best you’ll find if you’re dead set on paying a lower price per sleeve is Alibaba, but you’ll be forced to buy them in quantities in the thousands. While this may be relevant if you, I don’t know, intend to use them for every single deck you have and make a cube, I don’t think I’d recommend that as an option. Nobody needs that many backups!
The Best Design Options and Image Clarity
If you’re looking for the best image quality and clarity I’d recommend you take a look at Playmat World’s custom card sleeves. They’re a little more expensive than Dragon Shield at $35, but you get something a little different. Here you can expect 105 sleeves instead of 100, a nice buffer of backups in the event of future splits as well as a glossy back finish with makes your chosen art much more vibrant.
There’s an extra option that allows for “Premium Editing & Preview,” which is essentially somebody turning up the vibrancy and contrast to make the colors more intense. But I don’t see why you couldn’t just do that yourself.
The main attraction for me is that these custom sleeves can go edge to edge, which Dragon Shield and other competitors in the custom sleeve market don’t really offer. I haven’t personally tested these sleeves for durability like I have the Dragon Shields, and it may be having edge-to-edge art compromises the integrity of the image, whether it be a result of the manufacturing process or with the art itself.
The Best Bulk Custom Sleeves
If you’re looking to buy bulk custom sleeves, Alibaba is your dealer. I’d consider anything more than 1,000 to be bulk, and that’s often the minimum order for a lot of these sellers.
Shenzhen Natural Color Industrial Co. seemed to be the most reputable and experienced seller on the site from what I can tell. I’m not new to buying things off Alibaba and they seem to have the manufacturing process for these figured out.
While I haven’t personally ordered from this company, I’d wager that most of your cheaper outsourced sleeves come from manufacturers like these. Marketplaces like ChannelFireball, TCGPlayer, and Face to Face Games just don’t have the manufacturing capabilities to produce their own custom sleeves and they likely outsource that work to these sellers.
This is your best bet if you’ve used those kinds of sleeves before and aren’t opposed to ordering thousands.
Goblin Guide | Illustration by Filip Burburan
It’s important to understand what makes a good product when looking to buy custom sleeves. Or really sleeves of any kind. Sleeves are first and foremost the protection for your cards. You want a tight-fitting sleeve that gives the card more rigidity, insulates it from dust, debris, and liquid, while also not being too tight. You don’t want the card to fall out of the sleeve, but you don’t want to have to really push it in there either.
Your sleeves also need to be durable. Shuffling cards is a surprisingly destructive process. There’s a lot of friction from edges rubbing against each other, and even careful shuffling can split and tear cheap sleeves then and there. This isn’t a problem if you have hundreds available, but it can be very frustrating.
Following that, a good shuffle feel is important. You basically can’t shuffle non-sleeved cards without bridging them together, which is already one of the worst things you can do. I find that matte sleeves offer the best shuffle feel, allowing the cards to mix together smoothly without sliding all over the place.
Glossy sleeves aren’t bad, but they start off so slippery you can’t keep them together on the table and eventually end up becoming so worn that they stick together tightly. Matte sleeves find a nice middle ground, and stay that way for much longer than glossy sleeves.
When it comes to custom sleeves, the durability of the artwork is the next most important thing. Like I said, shuffling puts a serious toll on your sleeves in the long run. Art that isn’t printed directly onto the sleeve often chips and scrape off just from shuffling. This makes them a complete waste since those sleeves (even if just chipped in a small but noticeable way) become marked and illegal to play with.
Are There Custom Inner Sleeves?
Yes, there are custom inner sleeves! Alter Sleeves is a custom inner sleeve marketplace where you can find custom inner sleeves that help alter or extend the art of just about every Magic card.
I’ve personally used dozens of these for my favorite Commander decks, and they’ve worked great as an inner sleeve. They’re just about as tight a KMC perfect fits and are compatible with Dragon Shield and Ultimate Guard outer sleeves.
How to Make Your Own Custom Sleeves
In case you’re not too tech savvy or want to see the process itself, here’s a quick guide on how to create your own custom sleeves in Dragon Shield’s Sleeve Crafter.
Step 1: Choose a Design
This is as simple yet complex as it sounds. You want to figure out and develop a mental image of what you want your sleeve to look like. Colored with text? A custom image? A photograph or logo? That’s on you to decide.
But once you do, go ahead and click “Customize Your Sleeves” to get started!
Step 2: Choose a Background
Dragon Shield doesn’t give you the option to do edge-to-edge art, likely for concern about chipping and errors in the manufacturing process. You’ll need to select a background color that will be the base color of the sleeve and be apparent on at least the edges.
Step 3: Upload Images or Designs
Here’s where the fun starts. Go ahead and upload your image or design, and then get adjusting! You can alter the scale, rotation, color (or lack thereof), and positioning on the sleeve.
Step 4: Add Optional Text
If you want to put any kind of text on the sleeve, now’s the time to do that!
Step 5: Pick the Frame Type
Like I already mentioned, there aren’t any options for edge-to-edge art here so you need to select which kind of frame you want on your sleeve. Personally I think the blur looks the best. It offers the least intensive change from art to solid color which makes it less apparent and takes the least away from your design.
Finale of Revelation | Illustration by Johann Bodin
That concludes today’s guide on the best custom sleeves in Magic and what you want to look for. I’m proud to have announced Dragon Shield as the best overall pick. I’ve used their products for years and had high expectations for their custom sleeves, which they met.
What do you think of these custom sleeve products? Have you used any of them? Let me know your experiences and thoughts in the comments below or over in the official Draftsim Discord.
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