How It's Made: Ceramic Poker Chips
Ceramic poker chips are extremely popular with gaming professionals and those looking for a high-end promotional chip. In this post, I'm going to discuss their composition, how they're printed and show you some photos along the way of the process and some finished pieces.
A blank ceramic poker chip is not actually made of pure ceramic. It's a blend of some composite plastics with a polyester like material. The polyester material is what accepts the ink (more about the printing process later).
The blank chip generally comes in five diameter sizes 39mm, 40mm, 43mm, 46mm, 50.8mm. The 39mm and 40mm sizes are standard poker chip sizes, the 43mm is for those who prefer a slightly larger chip, the 46mm is mostly used for military challenge coins, and the 50.8mm size is used for dealer buttons.
The weight of a 39mm - to 40mm chip is around 10 grams, which is generally lighter than most clay chips, simply because heavier clay chips have a metal core for added weight. Ceramic chips are printed under high heat and if it had a metal core, it could expand and could crack the chip. However there have been some recent advances in chip structure that allow for a metal core, and it's something we are currently experimenting with.
One of the biggest advantages of a ceramic chip is that it starts off completely white. This allows you to have a blank canvas to print almost anything you want from edge to edge on the chip.
With a clay chip, you can only customize the center, and you have to accept the outer molding design for whatever it is.
Furthermore, you can customize the thin edge of the chip (known as the rolling edge, as its the edge you can roll the chip on a flat surface). The rolling edge can be decorated with stripes and even text and symbols, which is a really cool feature.
The Chip Feel
Ceramic gaming chips have a solid ceramic feel. They are durable enough where they will not break during gaming use. However, they can chip if dropped on a hard surface. Ceramic chips stack really well which is another reason poker players really like the chip. The surfaces can come in smooth or even a matte surface which allows for even better stackability. With a matte surface, however, you may see a slight decrease in image crispness as the surface is not completely smooth.
Ceramic chips use a print process called dye sublimation. The ink is pressed into the chip with a heat press using heat around 390 degrees F. This high heat causes the solid ink to turn to a gas and permeate the surface of the chip, in turn, bonding to the polyester material that is part of the chip composition.
Because the ink permeates the chip, it's not on the surface, but actually inside the chip itself. This means the ink will never wear off the chip unless the chip itself becomes worn down, which is something that could take a very long time even with daily play. It's a reason casinos and card rooms prefer ceramics.
The printing process itself is extremely labor intensive and really does border on what would be considered fine art printing. While the images themselves are printed onto transfer paper with a digital printer, everything else in the process is done by hand.
Strict controls over the heat press temperature, pressure and time settings must occur, or the image results can be washed out and color reproduction may not be accurate. The humidity levels in the printing environment must be under control as well.
Because of the difficult printing process, you will pay more for a custom ceramic poker chip than one that is digitally printed or one that has an inlay label. But the fact that the end result is a chip that you can print your design from edge to edge, stacks well, lasts long, and is more difficult to counterfeit because each chip can be made unique, are the reasons to consider a ceramic gaming chip.
I hope you found this article interesting and while there are a lot more details involved in production, I think this should give you a good idea what goes into printing this high-end chip. Please check out our custom ceramic poker chips available to both the home and professional gaming market.