Across the 3D Spectrum

Most of my articles here at Gathering Magic have been about my process for making 3D cards. However, my way is by no means the only way. There are a lot of other 3D alterers out there, and each person's process is unique. I've learned a lot from other alterers, and you can, too!

I recently took some time to talk with a few of them about their 3D work. Mike Fairservice and Lindsay Burley are often seen in the coverage of SCG open events selling their 3D cards. Claudio Torres, Brandon Watson, and Matt have been showing off their work and answering questions on the MTGSalvation forums for a long time.

How did you get into making 3D cards? What drew you to start?

Lindsay Burley: About eighteen months ago, I saw someone making 3D tokens at a local card shop. I thought it looked pretty cool, so I went out that night to buy supplies and taught myself how to do it.

Mike Fairservice: Three months ago, a friend of mine bought a 3D card from Lindsay at a StarCityGames event. He showed me the card, and I thought it was something I could do, so I dug out an old X-acto knife and tried it out. Since then, I've spent a lot of time sitting in my studio and slicing up cards for fun.

Matt: A couple years ago I came across the article on Seishiro Ohkubo from Worlds 2004 and was immediately interested. After digging into his work, I was hooked.

Claudio Torres: Like Matt, I found out about 3D cards by reading about Seishiro Ohkubo. That was in 2008, and I've been making 3D cards ever since.

Brandon Watson: About a year ago, I saw someone on MOTL had listed some counters he had made for trade. When I saw the pictures, I was blown away by how cool they looked. I thought to myself, “I can do this!” The first card I made was Firebreathing from Mirage—a great card for rookies—and it looked like crap. I tried again with Vendetta and loved the result, so I haven't stopped since.

What is your favorite thing about making 3D cards? Why do you do it?

Matt: I enjoy the process and the challenge of making a good 3D. It takes a lot of skill and creativity—not just in the actual cutting of the cards, but in planning how to layer and style the card for the best 3D effect.

Claudio: My favorite part is the challenge. Every card is different, and even if I do the same card twice, it never looks the same. I make both 3D alters and painted alters, and it's because I enjoy creating.

Brandon: I really enjoy searching for cards that would look great in 3D. One of my binders is dedicated to cards waiting to be turned into 3D life counters. I love the fact that I can take totally unplayable cards and make them useful. Making 3D cards is also very fun for me, and I like to be creative with it. I also like upping the ante by doing things with cards I have never seen—like my Autumn Willow dice box and the Pradesh Gypsies with the hidden compartment for holding tokens.

Lindsay: My favorite thing is that they make people happy. I love seeing people's reactions when they see my work; it gives me a great sense of satisfaction and makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Mike: I find it relaxing to just stare at a card, seeing the different levels and figuring out how to bring out details that many people just don't notice. When someone buys one of my cards and says something like, “Hey, I didn't know Merieke Ri Berit was sitting on a pile of skulls,” I know I've done a good job.

What tools and supplies do you use? How has this changed? Why?

Lindsay: The main things I use are an X-acto knife, double-sided foam tape, and a black Sharpie. I've used these from day one. I've experimented with other tools, including a swivel-blade knife, glue, and fake gems, but I have come back to my base set.

Mike: It started with just an X-acto knife—one of the clunky ones from a hardware store where you have to break the blades off a block. Now I use an art X-acto knife, and I'm on the lookout for shaping tools because I've started curling and forming the cards to create new effects.

Matt: Like most others, I use #11 X-Acto blades. I also use Faber Castell Pitt Pens and tweezers. For shaping cards, I use a folding bone and a burnishing tool. The burnishing tool is new to me; I hope it makes my future 3Ds look better than ever.

Claudio: This is the question I’m asked most often! I started out with an X-Acto knife, a metal ruler, some craft glue, and a black Sharpie. I've since added Dritz Dura-Heal self-healing cutting mats and Pigma brush markers. I also use two types of knife blades; X-Acto brand are sharper and so are great for detailed cuts, but they also break easily, so I use off-brand blades for long, straight cuts. For making life counters, I use Dritz needles. If you use Dritz needles, make sure the beads you choose have a hole bigger than 1mm or they won't fit on the needle.

Brandon: A lot of the stuff I use others have already mentioned. Alene's Tacky Glue is my favorite adhesive; Elmers, glue sticks, and spray glues just don't work right. While X-acto blades are the best, Revell is also a good brand. Because some of my creations are more complicated, I use a lot of other tools, too: hole punches, several clamps, a dremel, sandpaper, mini miter box and hand saw, and Super Glue Gel, and wire.

How many copies of each card do you use?

Claudio: I can get creative with as few as three cards, but I would rather use at least ten. The 3D alters I make usually end up with at least ten layers for a normal card and twenty layers if it's an abacus life counter.

Brandon: This varies greatly; I've done counters with only four cards, but I just finished a Frantic Search that used thirty copies. Pradesh Gypsies also took over twenty.

Lindsay: I need at least three copies of a card to give it a 3D effect, but the more copies I have, the more detail I can add. If a customer wants more detail, he or she can provide more cards.

Mike: It really depends on the card in question and how much detail I or the customer wants in the card. I have used as few as three copies and as many as twelve.

Matt: Typically, I like to have eight to ten copies on hand to make sure I have enough, though I sometimes use as few as six. On cards I do for myself that are complicated, I tend to have a lot of copies so I can experiment heavily. I read an article about Ohkubo in which he said he would throw out any layers he didn't like and redo them until it was perfect. I think that's great advice if you're working on an inexpensive card.

Have you considered making 3D cards for games besides Magic?

Matt: I've never really thought about it. Most of the other cards games I can think of have very simple artwork. Magic is unique in that few cards are a single object. More often than not, the art depicts detailed landscapes, epic battlefields, and dynamic action shots—all of which are great for making 3D cards.

Claudio: I'm open to trying other games, and I almost made a 3D World of Warcraft card for someone. I also am interested in applying my experience to other areas. For example, when my wife and I were in New York recently, we saw some street artists who had taken photos of Times Square and assembled them to essentially make a 3D photo. I'd like to do something like that with the bajillion pictures we took as tourists there.

What are some of your favorite cards that you've made?

Lindsay: I really like this Kemba, Kha Regent and Azami, Lady of Scrolls.

Mike: Wall of Vapor, my latest Numot, the Devastator, and my twenty-seven-layer Aladdin’s Ring.

Matt: Wall of Vapor is probably my favorite card to date, though I also like Red Elemental Blast, Carrion Ants, and Barbarian Bully. I'm currently working on Tsunami, and I think it will be among my favorites.

Claudio: I recently made a 3D of the pack insert with Barony Vampire's art because I wanted to do something outside the norm. I also really like the Wort, the Raidmother I made as a commission—the face is made up of thirteen different pieces.

Brandon: I have a lot of favorites: Brass Man, Red and Blue Elemental Blast, Lesser Werewolf, Arcum’s Whistle, and Frantic Search.

Richard Thomas's art style is great for making 3D cards—I'm not surprised to see multiple people list cards by him, such as Wall of Vapor and the Elemental Blasts. Quinton Hoover's older cards look similar. The clean outlines around each object make cutting and layering easier to do and look better in the end.

Are you scheduled to attend future events where people can meet you?

Mike: I have three confirmed events coming up: SCG Richmond on February 4 and 5, Memphis on February 25 and 26, and the Invitational in Baltimore. I'm from Ontario, Canada but I'm willing to drive a long way to go to events!

Lindsay: I try to follow the SCG circuit to sell my cards. Like Mike, I'll be in Richmond on February 4 and 5. I'll also be at SCG Cincinnati February 11 and 12 and Charlotte on February 18 and 19.

How much do you charge for a 3D card? If it varies, what makes it vary?

Lindsay: For a basic commission over the Internet, I charge $10 plus the cards. I make 3D tokens for $5 each. The full-art cards I make are $35 each.

Mike: Tokens are $12-$15, while life counters and Commanders are $20 plus the cost of the cards, so they can vary quite a bit. For example, I'll soon be making a 3D Vendilion Clique for OMG Games in Ontario. It will take at least seven copies to make, so it will cost around $200. When I take a commission, if my estimate for the number of cards needed is too low, I will buy the extra copies to make the best possible alter.

Matt: At the moment, I charge $40 plus the cost of the cards, which includes shipping in the United States. If you're outside the country, it's $50 because of higher shipping costs.

Claudio: For stuff I make on a whim, I charge $30. Commissions start at $35. High complexity or numbers of layers make the price go up, but I try to keep to the $35 mark.

Brandon: Normally, it starts at $20 and goes up depending on variables like complexity, whether it is an abacus, who provides the cards, and so on. I'm not willing to sell many of my showcase pieces because I put so much time into them (the Autumn Willow took over ten hours) that they're worth more to me than most people are willing to pay.

Where should people go to see other pictures of your 3D cards?

Lindsay: My Facebook fan page or my website.

Mike: My Facebook group, Tumblr account, or DeviantArt page.

Matt: I have a forum post on MTG Salvation with a gallery of my cards. In the future, I will add tutorials and walkthroughs for those interested in learning more about my process.

Claudio: I upload all of my artwork to Photobucket. My 3D alters are here, but if you dig around, you can find my painted alters and some of my other art as well.

Brandon: All my counters are featured on my DeviantArt page.

How should people contact you to buy cards or book you for an event?

Lindsay: I can be reached on Facebook or at 3Dalters at gmail dot com.

Mike: People can reach me through my Facebook group or by e-mailing me at mfairservice at gmail dot com.

Matt: I can be contacted through PMs on MTGSalvation (username: d.g) or through e-mail at dg.3dcards at gmail dot com.

Claudio: The best way to contact me is at serrot_29 at yahoo dot com.

Brandon: You can contact me through my DeviantArt page, e-mail (CardboardCreationism at gmail dot com), or on MOTL or MTGSalvation (username: AGO).

Thank you all so much for taking the time to share your experience with the GatheringMagic community!

So, what about you? What's your story? Share it in the comments below or head over to the 3D alters thread in the forums to share some of your work!

Drew Sitte
AlteredCity at gmail dot com
@AlteredCity on Twitter
alteredcity.blogspot.com