The process used to make poker chips is a trade secret, and varies slightly between manufacturers. One of the key variables is the mixture of the composites that have to be made. Another is the unique features to deter counterfeiters. The biggest difference is the two different types of manufacturing equipment being used, as described below:
On clay chips, the edge spots (or stripes) appear to be painted on, but are actually "inserts" where that part of the clay chip is physically removed and then replaced with clay of a different color. This can be done individually to each chip, or can be done to a block of raw clay before the block is sliced into chips. To create the inlay with the printed graphics, the inlay is attached to the chip, and the chip is then placed in a special mold that heats and compresses the chip at approximately 10,000 psi (pounds per square inch) at 300 °F. During this process, the inlay fuses with the surrounding material and becomes part of the chip. This is why clay chips are called "compression-molded" chips.
Ceramic chips are not really made of a ceramic material. They are comprised of a compound of special plastics. Pure plastic chips are made from various grades of plastic - some higher-grade (such as ABS plastic) and some lower grade. Ceramic and plastic chips are made by injection-molding the materials under heat and pressure. These processes more closely resemble general manufacturing processes.
When people talk about "poker chip manufacturers" they are usually talking about companies that make authentic casino chips for real casinos, or, at the very least, companies that make chips using the same materials, processes, and quality controls.
Although about a dozen different companies have made chips over the last century, only a handful of U.S. companies supply casino chips today. Here is a description of the most popular manufacturers of casino-grade poker chips.
Paulson, a third-generation company founded by Paul Endy Sr., was a pioneer in casino chips and has been making them for over five decades. Paulson clay chips are the highest quality poker chips you can buy, and are used in most of the casinos in Las Vegas. They are made by compression-molding and are identifiable by the colored stripes on the edge and side of the chip. Many Paulson chips are imprinted with the company's "hat and cane" mold.
Historically, Paulson chips were not available to the retail market, but in the past few years the company has become more open to home users. The company was bought by Gaming Partners International (GPI), a leading supplier of gaming equipment.
Atlantic Standard Molding (ASM), a private company owned by Jim Blanchard, makes poker chips for casinos and the home market. Unlike other high-quality clay chip manufacturers, they focus less on the casino market and more on the home poker chip market because their small manufacturing operations, which are based in Maine, are more suited to handle smaller orders.
The Blue Chip Company (BCC) is located in Las Vegas, Nevada and was founded by Charles Endy, the brother of Paul Endy (the founder of Paulson). BCC makes chips for the casinos as well as retail distribution.
Chipco is the leader and pioneer in the ceramic poker chips. They entered the market in 1985 and changed the poker chip industry with their innovative manufacturing processes and colorful chips. They are made using an injection-molded ceramic material and have full-color graphics that extend to the edge of the chip. The company maintains its manufacturing facility and development lab in Yarmouth, Maine. Chipco's high-quality full-color graphics are partially credited with the growth of the chip collector market.
Bud Jones is owned by Gaming Partners International (GPI), the same company that owns Paulson. Bud Jones originally got into the casino equipment business 50 years ago hand-drilling dice for a now-defunct company. Similar to other ceramic manufacturers, Bud Jones uses an injection-mold process. Bud Jones is also well-known for its metal inlay chips, which have a metal coin embedded into the center of the chip. The metal coin is part of the visible design of the chip, and is not a metal slug.
Nevada Jacks was started in 2001. The firm outsourced the manufacturing process of the original Nevada Jacks clay chips. In 2003 Nevada Jacks worked with a plastics firm and created a chip using a sublimation process. Nevada Jacks was acquired by ABC Gifts and Awards and was rebranded and relaunched under the CustomizedPokerChips.com name. The company will retain Nevada Jacks chips as their featured product, but will now also focus more on other poker chips (both customized and pre-designed) in the future. The US-based company makes casino-quality chips for casinos and for the home market.
There are many other companies that manufacture non-professional poker chips, including: Abbiati, A.B.P. Casino Supplies Ltd., BC Wills & Company, Bourgogne et Grasset, Burt Company, California Card Company, California Game Supply Company, Cliff's Accurate Products, Christy & Jones, CJ Sisk, Code & Co., E.M. O'Neil & Company, Ewing Manufacturing Company, Gemaco, George & Company, HC Edwards & Company, H.C. Evans & Company, Hunt and Company, ICON Poker, Jack Todd Company, Jones Brothers, KP Gaming Supplies, Langworthy & Company, Mason & Company, Matsui, Midwest Game Supply Company, Nevada Coin Minting, Nevada Dice Company, Palm Gaming, Portland Card Company, Reliable, RT Plastics, Sunfly, Taylor & Company, TK Specialty Company, Tom Haines & Company, TR King, US Playing Card Company, and White's Club Room Equipment Company.
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