News From The Snark: The New Look in Revised Cards

April 9, 1994

Wherein the Snark expounds upon the nature of printing, and why the new cards are lighter than the old ones...

Once upon a time, there was a little company who'd put out some really neat role-playing books, and were working on a card game. This card game had many many cards, and they were all full-color. One person had to sell the cards, one person had to get artwork for the cards, one person had to edit the cards, one person had to schedule the making of the cards, and one person had to get the computer files of the cards actually manufactured. This company had never done anything this big before, and neither had most companies, big or small.

That last person was me, and I can still get printing industry people to look rather stunned when I explain that each print run usually creates a gigabyte of data for the imagesetters. But while I knew enough about printing to make the cards in the first place, I didn't know everything I needed to know. I didn't know about *dot gain.*

If you ask a computer to give you a 20% gray tint, it will cover a piece of paper with black dots that, on the average, cover about 20% of the paper. Laser printers are pretty good about that. The film that we sent to Carta Mundi (our manufacturer) worked the same way: the various patterns of cyan, magenta, yellow, and black needed to create the illusion of full color were exactly what they needed to be.

However, when you print an image onto paper with ink, each tiny little dot will spread out. This is dot gain, because each dot will gain in size, making everything darker. The presses that make Magic cards in particular have a lot of dot gain, and had Carta Mundi used our film as we sent it, we would have had a lot of really dark gloomy cards with dreadfully inaccurate color.

Carta Mundi is pretty smart, and they did some clever stuff when they made the printing plates that lightened everything up. Correcting for dot gain this way isn't very accurate for color, and if our art were photographs, everybody would probably look funny, but it's harder to tell what the original color of artwork was supposed to be, so it all worked out fine. This is why some of the beta cards, such as Channel and Red Elemental Blast, looked so weird and dark. When they replaced the first version with the second version, they didn't do the dot gain trick, and the cards came out way too dark.

Starting with Arabian Nights, the film being shipped to Carta Mundi had all the dots shrunk down, so when the ink spread, it would spread back to the size we wanted in the first place. This is why the Mountain card from Arabian Nights is lighter than the one from the Magic: The Gathering (tm) set; that mountain has had dot gain compensation. Antiquities also has dot gain compensation. The artwork on these cards is much truer to the original, and we can now control the color better.

With the Revised edition of M:tG, we made all new printing plates, and for the first time, our original images have also had dot gain compensation applied. In many cases, this has lightened the image. There are also many cards where you can now see details, especially in dark spots, that you couldn't see before.

Another, more subtle difference in the cards is the "screen density." As mentioned earlier, printing works by laying down a pattern of dots. Laser printers usually can get about 53 variable sized dots per inch, by building them out of the 300 smaller fixed sized dots that they are actually capable of. That 53 figure is called the line screen, and is written 53 lpi. The newer 600dpi laser printers can go up to 85 lpi. Most black and white printing is done at 133 lpi, and most color work at 150 lpi. The original Magic cards were 150 lpi, but we've pushed the screen to 175 lpi on later editions, which is another way of getting the image to be crisper than before.

We continue to work to find ways to improve the appearance of our cards. With Legends, the gray lettering has changed to almost white, which we've found is pretty legible even on white cards. Other improvements are under development, just as we continue to refine the wording, the rules, and anything else with which we're not completely satisfied.

And that's why the new cards look different.

(Rumor control: The paper uses to print the cards has not changed.)

April 11, 1994

>    On the other hand, the tree does look awfully washed out - the leaves
>are all grey-green, which takes a lot of the aesthetic pleasure of the
>heightened definition away. This is, of course, a matter of opinion, but I
>think that when everyone gets Revised cards, they'll agree that they look
>kind of yucky.

Well, people that have both. There are about 50 million Magic cards in print. We'll have shipped some 150+ million Revised by June...

>    To Snark: Is there anyway to get the heightened definition, without
>losing the rich coloring? If you could do that, I would be even more
>impressed by WotC than I am now.

Yes. Now that we're delivering more accurate color, we can tune our early image files to look brighter. Take a look at the Rocket Launcher: lots of vivid orange...

>    As for Snark's statement about the paper the cards are printed on:
>I can believe that the paper is no different, because the problem seems to

I lied. :( We've tracked down the cards on the new stock. It *IS* thinner and more flexible. This might be the new card stock they gave us to try last month that they believed to be *more* durable than the old.

Dave "Snark" Howell

Cyberspace Liaison

Wizards of the Coast, Inc.

April 25, 1994 (David DeLaney) writes:
> (Dave Howell) writes:
>>>    As for Snark's statement about the paper the cards are printed on:
>>>I can believe that the paper is no different, because the problem seems to
>>I lied. :( We've tracked down the cards on the new stock. It *IS* thinner
>Dave "thinner is more durable?? are they making them from plastic now?" DeLaney

Oops. When I said I lied? Well, I lied. We've measured the cards with a microcaliper, and the new cards are the same thickness as the old cards to <1/10,000th of an inch. We don't know why they feel different.

Dave "Snark" Howell

Cyberspace Liaison

Wizards of the Coast, Inc.