Poker Chip Buying Guide - Part I - The Basics
If you're looking for a nice poker chip set, we've written the below article to give you some guidance if you have no idea what to get. We discuss chip basics here, and in our following articles, we'll get into more detail when it comes to custom or personalized poker chips.
There are three main classifications of the most popular poker chips available today: Plastic, Clay, Ceramic. Unfortunately it's not that simple, as chips can be mixes of clay and plastics. In many cases, a chip that is mostly plastic with a small amount of clay content can be called clay.
Here's one important fact to know before starting. Chip weight can have nothing to do with chip quality. It's a huge misconception with first time chip buyers. It's intuitive to think that a heavier chip is a higher quality chip, but it's not necessarily true. Chip weight is only a preference. And if you think a heavier chip makes it better, than you should be looking for weighted chips.
A chip is made heavier by producing it with a metal core. 11.5 gram and 14 gram chips get their weight from that metal core. The weights of most casino chips are around 9-10 grams, pretty light in comparison to most chips available to the home gaming market.
So it's ok to want a heavier chip, but buying the heaviest chips doesn't mean your getting the best. Stackability, sharpness of edges, and consistency of thickness from chip to chip is what defines chip quality (and look of course).
Below is our attempt to give you a quick education on poker chips so you can make the most informed buying decision possible:
Supermarket Plastic Chips - Composed entirely of plastic, these are the ones you've probably played with at one time in your life. Dubbed "Supermarket Poker Chips", they're real light, weighing only a few grams, thin, and cheap. Since these can be found in almost any store, we do not carry this grade of poker chip.
Weighted Plastic Chips - composed of a plastic material called ABS (high impact strength plastic). Most ABS plastic chips are molded with a metal core to add weight to the chip. The metal core also gives it the ability to be custom hot stamped. Poker Chip Lounge carries a wide selection of ABS plastic chips.
ABS plastic chips have certain advantages. The first is price. ABS is a less expensive material than clay. So an ABS plastic chip is always going to be lower in price than a chip with actual clay content.
Secondly, ABS plastic chips can yield sharper, more detailed mold designs strike designs than a clay chip can (ABS plastic used in composites is harder than clay, and this hardness creates sharper designs).
ABS plastic chips also have more durability and lifespan. Poker chips with clay content can chip and scuff much faster than ABS plastic chips.
You may hear or have read a variety of complaints about ABS plastic chips. One that we've heard is that it has a metal insert. We really don't see a problem with a metal insert in a poker chip. It gives the chip weight and ability to be hot stamped without cracking as much.
Some players don't like the pinging sound it makes when dropped into a pile of chips, while others actually like the sound. One definite downside to ABS plastic chips is that they tend to be more slippery and not stack as well as a good clay chip.
PLASTIC POKER CHIP SUMMARY - There's nothing like a high end clay compression chip, but if your budget doesn't allow for casino grade clay poker chips, or if you want a nice custom hot stamped chip set, ABS plastics can be a great option. Now onto clays...
Injection Molded Clay Composite Chips -Composed of clay plus some other material. Sometimes a metal core is added for extra weight and hot stamping ability. Like an ABS plastic, manufactured using injection molding.
There is no such thing as 100% pure clay poker chips. A pure clay chip would be so weak and brittle you would be able to snap it in half. That means that any clay chip is a clay composite of some sort, even casino grade chips, except that they're manufactured differently (compression molding discussed later).
The problem is that even if a chip is 5% clay material and 95% ABS plastic it can still be called clay composite. This is why it's important to be careful when choosing a clay chip. You don't want to end up with a mostly ABS plastic when you want clay.
In fact, it gets worse. Some unscrupulous internet retailers refer to an ABS chip as "clay composite", when they know it has no clay content at all. We emailed a company who was calling their chips clay composite, when we knew for a fact the particular line of chips they were selling was ABS, with no clay content whatsoever. Here was their response:
All of our chips are ABS composite (plastic). The word “Clay Composite” was coined by many on the internet years ago for ABS composite (plastic) chips and everybody went along.
Most internet merchants call them clay composite with or without knowing that the chips actually have little of no clay in them. It is just a buzzword that has been created and now everybody wants clay composite, so we are just following along. Hope this explains it.
(name kept anonymous for legal reasons)
This is an example of what's going on out there, so be careful when you see a chip called clay composite! It just may have no clay content at all. If the price is real low, it probably is an ABS chip or a clay composite with low clay content.
Why Clay? Certain players prefer clay content in their chips because the chips have a duller texture and different feel than that of an ABS composite chip. One advantage to the dull surface of a clay composite poker chip is its better stacking ability.
ABS composite chips have a slicker surface, and do not stack on top of each other as well as clay composite does. Based on customer feedback, stacking ability is more of an issue to professional and frequent players than it is to the average player.
Owning a set of clay composite poker chips does have its disadvantages as well. Most importantly is the fact that they simply have less durability than that of ABS composite. A clay composite chip is more fragile than an ABS composite, it can chip and will show scuff marks much easier. Because they are clay composite, real casino chips get beat up quite easily. But for those who really prefer clay, this is accepted and actually adds character to the chip.
Price is another factor when considering a clay composite poker chip set. Clay is a more expensive material than ABS, and the price of the chip will reflect that. Clay chips also have different sound when splashed against the pot than ABS chips. The clay gives it more of a "thud" than the "ping" you get with a composite chip.
Pokerchiplounge.com clearly defines the difference between clay vs. ABS plastic. In other words, if it has clay in it, it will be identified as clay composite.
Now within the clay chip selections, different chips use varying amounts of clay.
We actually separate clays further into two categories, Home & Tournament grade and casino grade clays. Home & tournament clays are moderately priced and are our best selling chips. The 14 Gram AK & Suits and the 13.5 Gram Showdown have a good clay feel to them and both can be custom hot stamped.
Now onto Casino Grade Clays...
Casino Grade Clay Poker Chips Most casino grade clay chips have a high clay content and are produced via compression molding. They have excellent stacking ability and sharp edges.
Paulson is one of the top brand clay chips used in Casinos worldwide. They did at one point have three models of chips they sold via retail. For one reson or another, they discontinued them, and finding a true casino grade clay chip is harder now that it ha been in the past.
Casino grade clays cost more, upward of $1 per chip. Many will move up to a casino grade clay set after owning ABS or injection molded clay sets. They're definitely more expensive but once owned, you have your chips for life.
Pokerchiplounge.com offers a few different Casino grade clay chips and the Great Wall series. The Great Wall series is not quite casino grade, but close enough for most, for a fraction of the price.
Ceramic Poker Chips - While most people are familiar with clay and ABS chips, ceramic poker chips are something new to them. Ceramics have actually been around for some time now, and are becoming increasingly popular.
Ceramic poker chips generally weigh around ten grams. The cool thing about ceramic chips is that the image is not printed on the surface, it's actually embedded inside the chip, under the surface. This means the image can never scratch or peel off unless the chip cracks or breaks.
Ceramic chips are not pure ceramic, so you don't have to worry about them easily cracking when playing. They also contain a polymer which helps give the chip some strength. They can crack if mishandled, but won't break when playing.
Ceramic chips can have a smooth or textured surface. On a smooth surface you will get a better printed image, but chips won;t stack as well as textured. With textured chips, you have an increased surface area so they stack real well, but you'll sacrifice print quality a bit. Ceramics can be customized as well, and are more difficult to counterfeit than an inlay chip. This makes them a very popular choice in the custom chip market.
We hoped this information helps you in deciding the best poker chip for your situation. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us.