Different Printings Technologies
Cards printed in Japan cover multiple languages, so they are not only Japanese versions.
English, Chinese, Korean and other languages are also printed in Japan but distributed globally. The same holds true for cards printed in Belgium and in the US.
Before 2016, the printing technologies of factories in Belgium, the US and Japan were very similar. During 2016 and 2018 , WotC announced an adjustment on the printing process in Japan.
They specifically pointed out that cards printed with the new technology have a different fluorescence, surface consistency, cutting, as well as rigidity since the paper used is different . Although it has been more than five years since the adjustment of printing technology, many of the above mentioned differences are still not clear to many collectors, players and sellers.
Comparison of two different prints of the same expansion
The print quality can also vary by product: many times, cards found in Fat-Pack Bundles, Prerelease kits or Preconstructed Decks have a lower and different print quality than the regular main set's Booster Boxes. As you can see from the image, the difference is often easily noticeable given the color gradation, ink intensity and print quality.
MTG card weights are different between single-sided and double-sided cards. The same is true for token, Art Series and advertisement cards. There is a major difference in the weights of cards that are printed in Belgium, US and Japan.
A single-sided MTG non-foil card printed in the US and Belgium weighs about 1.78 grams whereas a card printed in Japan weighs about 1.63 grams.
As can be seen from the image, the difference in thickness is clearly visible by combining two packs of cards printed respectively in Belgium and Japan. The production standard differs because in Japan the cards are made with more expensive material to be recyclable (as required by law), so the color and thickness can be different from those printed in the EU and USA.
The weight of the papers can also be affected by "production errors". For example, there have been reports of errors in the production of the double-faced cards of the "Ixalan
" set (printed in several languages) because a different stock was used than usual.
The cards in this set are lighter, the weight of the foil versions is around around 1.35g~1.40g. This difference can lead you to think that you are dealing with proxies, even though the cards are authentic!
It is more complicated to determine the average weight of foil cards as the method by which they are printed has varied over the years. Over time, different types of foiling have been implemented in addition to the classic foil cards (such as etched, full art, galaxy etc ...) which may have multiple printing differences from one country to another. We recommend that you read more in the paragraph "Foil & Surface
" e "Foil Types
Although the fonts and sizes are the same, text on cards printed in Japan have sharper edges with characters that appear thinner than on cards printed in Belgium or the United States.
Magic The Gathering cards are printed in a process called offset printing. In offset printing each of the 4 printing colors (CMYK) are printed separately from one another. Additionally, there’s a 2nd layer of black specifically for the card’s text and borders.
Each color being printed separately gives us room for errors to happen at each color: single or multiple color channels can have the incorrect ink consistency, have something obstruct the channel (like a splotch), or have the rubber rollers not properly cleaned between passes resulting in all sorts of neat misprints.
The differences in making the cards are not only given by the printing machines, but also by the cutting machines.One of the most significant differences is given by the type of corner cut, with which we can recognize if a card was printed in Belgium, the United States or Japan.
Cards printed in Japan in fact have very "rounded" edges: the corners of Japanese cards are perfectly rounded and do not have that slight "squaring" that cards printed in other countries have.
Cards printed in the USA and Belgium, on the other hand, are less consistently cut. The cut is more external, thus making the corners more angular and causing breaks in the curvature.
It is possible that US/Belgian cards have one or two perfectly rounded corners like Japanese cards. However, the remaining corners will be more pointed, and the overall quality of the print will still not be as good as the counterpart printed in Japan.
The corners of the cards printed in the USA are slightly more pointed than those printed in Belgium, but have the same curvature.
In summary, cards printed in Japan have more rounded corners
, those printed in the USA have less rounded corners
, while those printed in Belgium are intermediate
Attention: there are sets (such as Alfa and Beta) in which the edges are universally rounded, less rounded, or clean, regardless of the country where the cards were printed. See chapter how to "recognize versions
Foil e Superficie
There are significant differences in the surface gloss of foil cards printed in Japan, Belgium and the United States. The surface quality of cards printed in Belgium and Japan is generally higher than their counterparts printed in the United States.
Looking at the Full-Art cards (Planeswalker Alternate-art, Borderless or the Extended Art) found in Collector Boosters, the versions printed in Japan show a finer granularity in the foiling, have little reflection and have a smoother surface.
To protect the cards from daily wear, a varnish is applied during printing which is one of the main gloss factors. The coating can vary from country to country, thus resulting in a tactile difference of texture and brightness that are very different from each other.
In the image we can see the difference between an "Oracle of Mul Daya" printed in the United States and one printed in Japan, both coming from the "Double Masters 2022" expansion.
The Japanese version (left) has a smoother surface and more diffuse reflectivity, while the American one (right) has a darker finish, contrasting colors and a direct reflective effect.
JAPANESE print vs AMERICAN print
JAPANESE print vs AMERICAN print
The surface of cards printed in the USA is rougher and this texture can easily be felt with bare hands. In contrast, the surface of cards printed in Japan is smoother and more regular.
In some recent sets (for example "Mystical Archives" or the new basic lands of "Innistrad Midnighthunt and Crimson Vow") you could notice a difference in the "thickness" of the card's details and layout.
For example, the expansion symbol and outline lines of cards printed in Belgium and Japan are well defined and raised over the rest of the paper and foiling.
Cards printed in the United States, on the other hand, they do not have the details embossed, maintaining a homogeneous foiling throughout the card.
JAPANESE foil print vs AMERICAN foil print
This difference in "embossed details" can be found above all in the "Kaladesh Inventions", a further example of the differences between printing houses.
Versions printed in the US are all foil (visibly glossy and smooth), while those printed in Belgium feature only the foil border box (matte and embossed).
Le stampate in Giappone sono simili a quelle europee, con la leggera differenza di avere il foil ancora più opaco e in rilievo, risultando meno riflettenti alla luce.
matte EUROPEAN print vs glossy AMERICAN print
Color of the paper
While you might think there's a production standard, Wizards of the Coast has used different types of paper over the years. Paper quality has improved over time and is fairly consistent nowadays, although there are some exceptions.
This factor affects the weight and color of the paper. There are several sets that may look strange or counterfeit just because they are printed on a different type of paper.
The color of the paper may vary in tone (from white to yellowish, from red to orange) or be lighter/darker based on the country of origin in which they were printed. For example, in Japan the paper is bleached with chemicals compared to most European papers, as the fibers are also different. In fact, the very structure and materials of which the paper is made have a great influence on the final result.
american print vs european print
Magic The Gathering cards are made in layers, with some colored plastic in the core of the card. Most sets printed in the United States have a blue core, while sets printed in Japan have a purple core. It becomes quite easy to recognize them as the edge of Japanese printed cards is darker.
The foiling process adds another variable: in general, the white of which the paper is made determines how it reacts to UV light. Cards made in Japan have a UV protective coating, so they don't react to UV light. As you can see from the image below, when you subject the cards to UV light, you will notice distinct differences in the colors.
JAPANESE print vs AMERICAN print - UV light test
These protective coatings are standard practice in the playing card industry, but weren't adopted until Wotc had to produce cards specifically for the Japanese market, opening a printing house in Japan.
Other printing houses outside Japan do not yet add this coating, probably a cost-saving measure. Also, cards printed in Japan use a different stock because they need to be recyclable* while cards printed in Texas don't, so Wotc doesn't print them on the supposedly more expensive recyclable stock.
(*Japanese laws require cards to be recyclable. Normal cards are not due to the plastic contained in the core and the plastic+metal on foil cards, so it has become necessary to adapt and change some materials).
Japanese and European prints look brighter overall than the images as US prints are darker.
Foil EU vs Foil USA
It can be difficult for those new to Magic The Gathering to distinguish cards from visually very similar editions.
The following guide, which describes and illustrates the first editions of Magic, is intended to help players recognize the different sets that were not distinguishable by means of symbols or other clear identifying marks.
These cards have black borders and are distinguished mainly by their large, very rounded corners. Alpha deck boxes have a UPC barcode.
Alpha (and Beta) boosters are a solid brown color and are labeled "Magic: the Gathering". The Alpha rules booklet consists of 32 pages; on the cover is the illustration of the Bog Wraith and contains the Worzel's Story written by Richard Garfield
These cards also have black borders and are distinguished mainly by having the corners of the cards less rounded. (All cards printed since Beta have this type of corner). Beta card boxes have a barcode on the bottom (which Alpha boxes lack).
Alpha and Beta booster packs are identical. The 40-page Beta booklet also has the Bog Wraith on the cover, but "Worzel's Story" has been dropped in favor of a game summary, FAQ chapter, and table of contents.
These cards have white borders and can be distinguished from other white-bordered editions by the presence of a drawn "beveled" border. Also, there is a copyright at the foot of the card attributing the illustration to the author.
Boxes and Booster packs are marked "Unlimited Edition". The Unlimited instruction booklet is identical to the Beta
These cards have white borders and can be distinguished from other white-bordered editions by the absence of the drawn"beveled" border. Also, due to a change in printing foils, many Revised cards appear lighter and with less contrast than Unlimited and Fourth Edition cards.
The word "Tap" is replaced by a 45° angled "T" symbol. The boxes and booster packs are labeled "Revised Edition". Revised instruction booklet has a Shivan Dragon on the cover.
FORTH EDITION (IV)
These cards have white borders and can be distinguished from other white-bordered editions by having both a "beveled" border design and the "1995" Wizards of the Coast copyright on the bottom of the card. Also, the symbol appears for the first time in this set.
The boxes and booster packs are labeled "Fourth Edition". The Fourth Edition base decks feature the five mana symbols, and the foil booster packs feature one of the five illustrations from the set. For the first time, the instruction booklet has a color cover.
FIFTH EDITION (V)
Fifth Edition cards are recognizable from Fourth Edition cards by the year (1997) that appears next to the copyright, at the bottom of the card layout. Furthermore, it is easily recognizable and distinguishable due to the much brighter print colors.
Showcase, Borderless, and Alternate Art cards
The cards printed in recent years have often received prints with artwork or alternative layout designed to better bind with each new expansion. However, it often happens to get confused in correctly recognizing and classifying the different types of alternative cards.
In this guide you will find the official classification of the various alternative cards.
"Showcase" cards were introduced starting with "Throne of Eldraine". This term indicates the unique style present in the frame and in the artwork of the card, which varies from expansion to expansion trying to best represent the theme.
"Borderless" cards feature an alternative "full-art" that extends through the full edge of the cards (including the top and sometimes the bottom as well). Part of the illustration can be seen behind the text box. Although they have no borders, they are still tournament legal.
"Extended Art" are cards similar to "Borderless" with the difference that the image of the card is the same as the original print, extending only on the left and right side of the card.
It loses its frame and border only laterally, keeping the rest of the paper outline layout. The text box can be lowered slightly, depending on the amount of text present. This was the initial treatment used for the "Ultimate Masters - Box Toppers", only to be featured in every expansion since "Throne of Eldraine".
To pay homage to the nostalgic layout of the very first Magic: The Gatheing sets, Wizards of the Coast began introducing retro-framed cards in 2021 starting with "Modern Horizons 2".
These new Retro Frame cards feature two types of foil: "Pre-Modern Foil" (classic first type foil, with a shooting star in the lower left corner of the card) and the new "Etched Foil" foil.
If you find it difficult to distinguish the different types of foil, we recommend our dedicated guide that you will find in the next paragraph.
ORIGINAL OLD LAYOUT
(Onslaught Set - Released 2002)
(Modern Horizons 2 - Released 2021)
Throughout MTG's history, the layout of cards has changed a lot. Recently, new types of foils that are unique and very different from each other have arrived in the expansions starting in 2020, although they can still cause confusion in distinguishing them clearly from the classic original foil.
On CardTrader, cards that have a different version from the classic foiling are clearly marked and easily recognizable thanks to the version shown in the brackets next to the name.
Foil "Etched" cards are slightly dull and a little less shiny in the foil parts. They also have a slightly rougher finish than traditional foils and therefore reflect less light. This particular metallic grainy finish is clearly perceptible to the touch compared to a traditional foil paper which will be smooth in comparison.
On CardTrader, "Etched Foil" cards are distinct and recognizable by having "Etched-Foil" writing on the image, which will distinguish them from the normal version of the same card (non-foil/foil).
Regular Foil vs Etched-Foil
Particular attention should be paid to Strixhaven's "Mystical Archive" set when it comes to etched foil. The set only features this type of foiling in the gold layout (Western-style cards), while etched foils in the Japanese exclusive layout will have this noticeable treatment only in thin outlines and set symbol.
Etched-Foil - JAPANASE Layout
Etched-Foil - WSTERN Layout
(We recommend that you always check the serial number and the symbol that indicates foiling: the "star" will indicate that the card is foil, while the "dot" will indicate that it is not foil.)
First introduced in Streets of New Capenna, "Gilded Foil" is a new type of embossed foil applied only to the gold frame of multi-colored Showcase-style cards.
These cards remain legal for play in Magic: The Gathering sanctioned tournament play, despite this laminate treatment being slightly raised off the surface of the card.
To distinguish it from cards in the traditional foil version, the card must be tilted (as in the photo) to bring out the foiling: if it has raised, shiny and metallic edges, it will be a gilded foil (left image).
It's a great help to always check the serial number: from 361 to 405 the cards will only be gilded foil.
GILDED FOIL (389) - REGUAL FOIL (324)
Introduced with Double Masters 2022, this type of embossed foil has a special pattern that covers the entire surface of the card, from which it takes the name of "Textured" foil.
This treatment is recognizable to the touch, but remember to be careful when distinguishing them from the same normal foil versions.
At a glance, it may not be immediate to see the shiny, textured surface. To avoid making a mistake, we always recommend checking the serial number and checking the cards carefully if they are placed in a protective sleeve.
Foil "Galaxy" cards have a shiny, reflective look, very similar to the holo cards in the Pokémon Card Base Set.
As the name suggests, this new type of foil recalls the galaxy, emphasizing the planets and stars that appear in the card treatment.
This type of foil was recently introduced in the Unfinity set (2022), becoming extremely popular especially for borderless shock lands.
In the photo, a "Steam Vents" galaxy foil compared to the classic foil.
The "Step-and-Compleat" foil is a new treatment that uses the Phyrexian symbol as a stamp layer for the foiling process.
This effect only appears on "Phyrexia: All Will Be One" cards, to highlight that they are " contaminated" by the shimmering Phyrexian oil.
The Step-and-Compleat foil cards will be easily recognizable, they will have serial numbers from 417 to 479. In addition, this foil treatment has been reserved for the five praetors belonging to the previous expansions, reprinted in "Phyrexia:All Will Be One" with an exclusive "Concept Art" version .
OIL SLICK RAISED FOIL
Available only in the "Compleat Edition Bundle" of "Phyrexia: All Will Be One", "Oil Slick Raised" cards are a second type of new foil treatment from the Phyrexian expansion.
These cards give the idea of phyrexian oil contamination thanks to the sheen and depth of the texture visible on the entire surface of the card.
As the name suggests, these papers are in fact embossed and distinguishable by touch from the classic foil, with a clearly visible metallic effect.
Available only for the "Multiverse Legends" cards found exclusively in "March of the Machine" Collector Boosters.
This foil wants to give the idea of the "Halo", the magical substance made of angelic essence which is preventative against Phyrexian contamination.
This treatment is characterized by the presence of linear shiny holographic texture, visible on the entire surface of the card.