Introduction: Popsicle Stick Playing Cards

About: Community Manager for Instructables and Tinkercad.

A while back, I made Clear Playing Cards. I really liked making them so, since then, I've been trying to plan other alternative playing cards. In this Instructable, I'm going to show you how to wood burn playing card sticks! They are pretty fun to make and are easy to read and hold. I think these can be fun for the novelty of it and fun for kids to play with. As a bonus, you can always easily make new playing card sticks if some break.

Alternatively, if you don't want to wood burn, you can just use sharpie markers to draw on your designs.

This was my first time trying wood burning. I'm pretty happy with how everything turned out :)

Step 1: Supplies

Time to get started! I wanted to try doing this with regular popsicle sticks originally but decided to go with jumbo ones so I would have more space to work with (this is my first woodburning project ever). You can certainly adapt this for regular popsicle sticks if you want.


  • Jumbo Craft Sticks
  • Wood Burner - the bright red one you see in some pictures is the one I started with, but it kept getting too hot to use and I ended up buying a different one that Jessyratfink has (maroon one with black grip)
    • Tips: Dot Tip and Caligraphy Tip - I liked the dot for outlines and calligraphy for filling in letters and shapes, but you can use what works for you.
  • Pencil and Print off of the design you want to use - I've provided the PDF if you just want to use my design, and the Illustrator file if you want to use it as a starting point to do your own designs.
  • Clear Spray (optional)
  • Sharpie (if you don't want to use a wood burner) - if you use Sharpie markers, you can also use black and red to differentiate the suites.

You will also need a good area to work. I worked in my dining room (which is actually my "do crafts in" room) with the window open. I also wore a respirator and, sometimes, goggles because I kept getting close to my work and I didn't like breathing in fumes or getting them in my eyes.

Playing Cups:

  • Washed and dried soup cans (with the label taken off)
  • Cardstock
  • Duct Tape
  • Double Sided Tape (as you'll see later, I used sticky squares and they were a pain because they weren't strong enough to hold paper on a curved surface or the can, double sided tape will work much better)

Step 2: Create Your Designs

Before you get started, you'll need to create a design (unless you use mine).

I played around with a couple formats before deciding to go with a very basic card style (with the number large on top, and the suite slightly smaller below it). To experiment, you can use the jumbo craft stick in the file to figure out what will fit. Try not to get too close to the edges.

When deciding on the design (and the font) I suggest experimenting with "10" as it should take up the most room horizontally of all the numbers and "Queen" or "Seven" (if you are doing words). If you are going to do something long, like words, remember that you don't want it to stick up if you are going to use cans to keep the sticks organized.

After you've decided how the front of the card stick will look, you need to decide on a back design. I went with a celtic knot type image I found and altered. If you use my image, I actually traced down the center of the celtic design. I didn't want to spend a lot of time really altering the symbol in Photoshop, so I worked with it the way it is.

For my Joker, I just did the four suits in a square.

Step 3: Transfer Designs

Before you start transferring your designs, make sure your sticks are good to use. I suggest looking through and finding ones without blemishes or any issues. Any sticks that look different than the others are going to stand out and you are always going to remember what card is on that stick.

Now, to transfer your images from your paper to your sticks.

You can be very free with this, or you can be precise. If you want to have everything lined up perfectly, I suggest starting by drawing a line across a bunch of sticks at a set distance from the top of the stick. Use this as a reference for where to put the card numbers.

Once you have the number on, you can use that as a reference for where the suit will go. Just match up lines.

Now do this for all the cards!

When you are ready to do the design on the back of your card, make sure you put it on the back and on the opposite end of the stick. The goal is, you can look at the decoration on the stick and know that the card number and suit will be on the other end of the stick on the other side of the stick (see the first image for reference).

Step 4: Wood Burn Outlines

Time to wood burn your designs on (or Sharpie if you prefer).

Make sure you are working in a well-ventilated area. Optionally, wear a respirator mask and goggles.

You can use whatever tips work for you, but I liked using the Dot tip (Picture 2) to do outlines (and sometimes I filled in some things) and the Caligraphy tip (Picture 3) to fill in areas when appropriate. The Caligraphy tip worked well for the diamonds and straight line numbers/letters. It also gives you a flatter burn fill in, where if you fill in with the Dot tip, you tend to get inconsistencies in the burn.

I also decided to do all the fronts of the card sticks first, and then did the design on the back when I was done. Make sure the designs are on opposite ends as shown in the first image of the previous step. I managed to only screw up one stick!

Step 5: Spray

When you are done woodburning your sticks, you can call it good, or you can spray them with polyurethane. I did a couple coats on each side. Make sure you let them sit between coats and before you flip them over to do the other side.

Step 6: Cups/Holders

You can certainly just play with these sticks as they are, but having cups to keep things organized for games can be helpful as well. You can use what you want, but here is how I decorated my soup can Playing Card Stick cups.

Reminder of supplies you need

  • Washed and dried soup cans (with the label taken off)
  • Cardstock
  • Duct Tape
  • Double Sided Tape (as you'll see later, I used sticky squares and they were a pain because they weren't strong enough to hold paper on a curved surface or the can, double sided tape will work much better)

You can have fun with this. I kept mine pretty basic.

Before you start, make sure there are no sharp pieces on the can sticking out. You will cover the top with tape, but that won't stop really sharp points. I used a needle nose pliers to pry off any pieces sticking out.

If you (or your kids) want to, I suggest cutting out a piece of paper that will fit wrapped around your can (plus a little for overlap) and decorate those pieces of paper. Once you are ready, carefully tape it to the can. If it won't stay well, use rubber bands to hold the paper on until you get the duct tape on.

Tape around the top of the can and the bottom. For the opening, I left about 2/3 of it hanging off and folded that inside the can. It can be difficult to do this without sticking the tape to itself. I also covered the bottom with the extra tape and put on an extra square of tape to cover any of the can left exposed.

You can also put an extra piece of tape inside the cup just for a little extra niceness.

That's it.

Step 7: Games

Time to play games! Now, these sticks won't work for all games, but there are plenty that should be easy to plan. Some that I thought would work well are: War, Go Fish, and Poker (5 card and Texas Holdem).

Share any games you think would be fun to play with these sticks on the comments below!

Step 8: Just More Pictures :)

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