How to Self Publish Your Own Deck
An Evolving Essay Since 1997, updated January 27th, 2016

Info on printers specializing in Tarot and playing card manufacturing (for self published decks) along with specs & tips on how to prepare for publication.

Print Houses Specializing in Tarot, Oracle, Lenormand and Playing Card Decks:

Quality Playing Cards & Games, Inc.
(Florida), is a green energy company; that we worked with Summer 2013 and again with another full 78 card deck in 2014. A reliable company and quality printer of decks. They offer free card samples and detailed, reasonable quotes, as well as free assistance from their art department (they can help create templates for formatting cards, booklet pages & box; all while working from your favorite digital art program, like Photoshop). And when you are ready; upload completed 'un-flat' files to a secure site. You can then view 'Proofs' on your computer. Their art dept. can further assist with final details or touch-ups. Once you have sent a deposit; QPC can mail hard copy proofs (uncut, flat, paper prints) for your inspection, if requested (a good idea if concerned about precise colors, tones & hues, etc., but adds additional weeks to estimated shipment time + and any changes at this point will cost extra since it is in post production phase.) It is worth noting that they mail an actual hard copy, (post production) sample deck before shipping the entire inventory so you can inspect it carefully before the rest is sent.

While they offer smaller print runs of 500 decks, the price compared to 1000 was only around $1000. less, so didn't seem worthwhile (paying almost as much but losing half potential profit). With QPC you can conceivably get a full color, 78-card deck set made on sturdy '350 GSM, Satin finish' cardstock with rounded corners; correlated in the card order you prefer and cello wrapped; including an (optional) 28-page, full color booklet (lwb), in either a custom (full color) tuck box or a sturdy 2 piece box for around ($7500 - $8000. for 1000 sets) It could cost less if you chose thinner cardstock (such as 300 GSM, standard playing card stock) or didn't need a lwb or box... This is just a round figure to give a general idea of cost. They also offer booklets with 52 ~ 100 pages or can produce soft cover books (instead of paper covers) for a bit more (much nicer presentation). Any version should still fit snugly together in the box with the deck and includes full color options. Also if the number of pages you need for the booklets is different, (but divisible by 4), they should be able to give a quote. They seem flexible if you are patient and follow up with them when needed. (They are juggling a lot of projects so it may be necessary to touch bases often and make sure you are still on the same page & schedule).

They estimate print to shipment time: 6-8 weeks from when they receive your Final Proof approval, but I would generously pad that estimate if you have a strict deadline. Especially during high season or if you slow down the process with any changes, or hard copy proofs. QPC seems to like to take their time and do a thorough job.

Wheel of Change by A. Genetti *Update - regarding 1st print job* Received the advance '1st production' copy of an actual deck set and it looked better than expected! Lovely presentation. The box is sturdy & nicely constructed...with sleek finish & vivid colors. The deck looks & feels great: cards came in order requested and are sturdy yet easy to shuffle and have a soft sheen. 350 gsm cardstock & satin finish were great options. The card (CMYK) colors are beautiful & vibrant. LWB is lovely especially with color card images. The text is easy to read (9 pt. Georgia font). The box, deck & booklet fit snuggly together.

*Over time we have received an occasional complaint that a deck was cropped off center but for the most part, everyone seems happy with this deck and understand it is a heartfelt offering from a self-published source. So we highly recommend this printer for indie artists. It was a positive experience and we have since worked with QPC on other projects (while keeping options open for other possibilities).

*Updated December 17th 2015: The long sought after deck, Wheel of Change Tarot by Alexandra Genetti was recently self-published by QPC with impressive results. The cardstock is nice & thick (350 gsm) with card imagery looking even more vibrant than the original publisher's version. Card back’s now feature a beautiful color wheel & it all comes together in a classy 2-piece sturdy box (See image right: 1 of each suit from Left to Right: Majors, Wands, Cups, Swords & Coins + Card back & 2-piece box).

*Updated January 21st 2016:
Brut Tarot by Uusi, printed by Expert Playing Cards, NYC Expert Playing Card Company
Excited to share this NYC printer especially suited for deck creators with a background in graphic arts, & strong skills in Adobe Illustrator. That is what Expert Printers prefers to create crisp, clean lines and precisely textured, colored imagery with their requested minimum of 1200 dpi (Vector based) art. I came upon them via a Chicago deck design team that did a presentation for the local Tarot Group (shout out to Nicky & Edmund of Second Sunday). The impressive Uusi design team discussed experiences making several playing card decks, (all funded successfully with Kickstarter using a different printer discussed elsewhere). When they ventured into Tarot deck designing however, they went with Expert Playing Card, whom they recommend highly for their great attention to detail and quality, professional craftsmanship. Uusi’s first deck with them was Brut Tarot (see image) which was beautifully produced. Their current project 'Pagan Otherworlds' will be out Fall 2016 and will be even more exquisitely made, featuring luxurious, heavy paper stock for the tuck box and gold foil embossing.

EPCC® has cool design options for tuck boxes such as embossing & foil highlights, etc. (examples shown on their site). Although they are more inclined to work with professional publishers and graphic artists that are well versed in Illustrator; while corresponding briefly with Bill Kalush, I learned they would also be open to working with Photoshop clients. They are mainly a custom playing card & tuck box printer who have collected and studied antique playing cards and learned all about card production and design innovation throughout this long evolution. Their primary goal, according to their site, is to create and produce the world’s finest performing playing cards. They have not as yet dealt with including a lwb or booklet in a Tarot deck set but are open to the idea. They tend to use playing card stock (300 gsm) but "have lots of different materials for tuck boxes and have heavier stock for the cards if needed." Brut Tarot has a linen finish + 300 gsm card stock but since the deck is rather small for Tarot cards (4.30 inches L by 2.30 W or 10.9 by 5.8 cm.), and of good quality stock, it doesn't feel flimsy at all and the cards fit nicely in the hand and shuffle smoothly. Another thing many would appreciate about them, aside from being a N.Y. company, is that all orders help a U.S. charity since they are owned by 'Conjuring Arts Research Center'. They are, 'competitive with other deck printers for the quality we produce', but they don’t give quotes until they know project specifics. If we have the opportunity to work with EPCC® on a future project, I look forward to sharing the experience and more details. II-HP from Circus Tarot

*Note* On EPCC® site: 'We also work very closely with Lawrence Sullivan and his Legends Playing Card Company of Hong Kong. Lawrence has been instrumental in finding various resources and factories for cards and accessories and working with him is a great pleasure.'

J.S. McCarthy Printers - Doug Thornsjo, creator of the fantastic Tarot of the Zirkus Mägi recommends working with (and even went back for a 2nd, larger printing). Looking over their online portfolio it says they are environmentally responsible; using recyclables and 100% electricity derived from wind power. So that's cool.

Carta Mundi has a branch in Texas and it seemed important to get a quote from them because they have been in the card printing business for a long time. Years back the host of a collaborative deck I worked on, Artist Inner Vision had decks printed here and Carta Mundi did a great job. Their minimum deck order, however is 2500 decks.

In 2013 they quoted a price for 2500 decks (not including boxes, booklets or shipping), in the card dimensions we requested: $4.80 per deck ($12,000) and $3.56 per deck for 5000 copies ($17,800). This did not include any set up fees, (which the rep warned would be well over a thousand dollars and more likely two). The cards would come collated and cello wrapped with round corners and printed on 320 GSM cardstock. This quote did not include help from their Art Dept. which would charge fees if assistance was needed. And they expect card files to be not only sent to them in layers (background/border, image, text & title un-flattened Tif files in bleed size); which is a reasonable expectation from any genuine deck printer; but they also insist that the text layers be 'outlined' in Adobe Illustrator. Seems a lot more detail work needed to be done ahead of time and that hidden fees lurk if not done correctly and in a standard format. Post production time anticipated to be around 8 weeks.

I sensed that they tend to work with professional publishers and graphic artists so don't want to be bothered dealing with anyone else. And perhaps good deals could be negotiated for large quantities with high quality production but that they have little patience for the indie artist wanting to make an affordable, artfully made small production. I got this not only from the attitude of the sales rep who spoke in rapid-fire printer lingo, but that she flaked on our phone appointments and didn't return calls, e-mails or do follow-up for several days and the quote also took an additional week to arrive and didn't contain all requested details. She was courteous but I could sense her impatience and I wouldn't want to have to deal with a superior attitude when getting something so personal made as an art deck. On the plus side, they use eco-friendly products & materials: green, recycled or biodegradable paper, packaging & foil; vegetal inks and water-based varnish.

Palaimon Cards: in Toronto Canada prints on site. Perhaps they deal more with smaller 100, 300, and 500 deck orders. Possibly they offer artsy cardstocks & boutique style options....? I don't know because after filling out their online form and sending e-mail confirmations, I never received samples promised nor got any follow-up. They did however send a basic quote (in card dimensions requested). Their prices were higher; but again, there may be a practical reason (unbeknown to us).

For a 78 card deck they quoted: $16. each for 100 decks, and $12.50 ea. for 300 decks, $11. ea. for $500 decks and $8. ea. for 1000 (+ a $85. set up fee + P&H). No mention of any booklet options or boxes in their quote or details like; if the decks come cello wrapped with round corners or what type of cardstock options available, etc.

Queen Wands Aiv - Arnell Ando *Update on Palaimon Cards 2014* Have since heard from a deck project host in Canada, planning to work with Palaimon.It seems this printer had gotten good feedback in the past; but may currently be going through economic challenges because they dropped the ball on her large order with months left on the print schedule. They gave no explanations or apology but luckily she had not lost anything (except time) and has since had good results going local.

WinGo Games Printers: Recommended for challenging projects including Round Shaped Decks
Teacher from Down Under, Annie O'Brien, of the self-published, cheerful, round E-motion cards (created for children) enthusiastically recommends WinGo Games. After innitial language hiccups (due to her unique specifics) was able to produce her round deck and booklet, boxed set beautifully. Some of you may be aware, it is especially challenging to have a round deck made but this company was apparently up to the task. So a shout out to those artists in similar situations.

CT Printing Limited is a UK based company with strong ties to China. It was recommended by a self-published Tarot artist friend living in England. This company was able to offer her the best price to suit her individual needs for a unique, customized (adorable!) box for her deck and book set. And such a lovely, full color, soft cover book. The deck quality is excellent and the price competitive with other deck publishers.

Getting Your Cards Ready for Print
Some of the above printers don't mention Tarot cards in their online portfolios, but understand the specific requirements. You can request sample cards and quotes (keep in mind English may be a 2nd language).

You may be requested to fill out an online form stating your specs for the project such as; the number of decks and number of cards per deck (i.e. 80 cards with title & signature cards), the actual card size, and any cardstock preferences (finish: satin or linen & thickness such as: 300, 320 or 350 gsm), and if you want common borders, or a background color to bleed to the edges, rounded corners, correlated (in a certain order) and cello wrap, and any booklets, LWB or boxes. You can ask for a price breakdown on different quantities and see what custom options are available.

If using a digital art program like Photoshop, save cards in layer files (i.e. image, background/border layer, and text & title layers) and in the recommended file format (i.e. CMYK, 'Tif'). Keep in mind CMYK colors may look different from RGB when printed; blue/green and red/orange hues most noticeably. Also remember the printer will crop the cards, so send artwork files in 'bleed size'. Typically the 'bleed' area (outside of the card's 'cut' size) needs to be a total of 0.125" (so: 0.0625" on left, 0.0625" on right, 0.0625" above & 0.0625 inches below). It is not recommended to have anything important (such as a signature or keywords) too close to the 'cut' borders (could get cropped off).

Begin with a high enough resolution (at least 300 dpi). If you are an artist creating artwork presently, you might consider making it twice as big as your desired deck size (with room for card titles). That way, when shrinking the image to 300 dpi, it will be higher resolution quality. On the other hand, some deck designers (especially playing card artists) such as Peter Dunham & Linnea Gits of UUSI don't recommend making your artwork too large because of a tendency to get too detailed, (with a large 'canvas') and then not having enough ‘negative space’ or the image looking overly crowded or busy. If imagery gets too detailed, a lot can get lost or muddy when shrunken to a much smaller size.

If your deck is standard size you can ask printers if they have a template to work from; with outline crop marks, (may be easier to work within crop lines while formatting cards in prep for print). Our most recent deck projects were not standard size, so the printer gave card measurements for us to create a perfect sized template in Photoshop. Once the template was made, it was methodical transferring every card image (previously cropped & saved in correct card size) into the template set up; and at the same time, paste in card titles, and save (as un-flat CMYK Tiff Files) in a computer folder. If for example, your deck has 80 cards, it is best to save all card files with a 2 digit preface in the order you want them printed/correlated. (Please keep in mind computers count in sequence so all file names will need a 2 digit preface to insure they arrive packaged in order). When completed, the entire folder of card images was sent as a Zip File to the printer's secure site (took about 3 hours to upload 80 unflat files).

Several self published artists have created amazing decks in recent years, (too numerous to mention) and some have gone on to become published mainstream. Links to a few favorite indie artists who self-published are listed on my Tarot Fav Links page (which sadly I don't update as much as I'd like.)

By the way, if you are an artist needing an artsy website or help with production aspects of getting your deck self-published, feel free to contact me and for a reasonable fee, I can take care of all or specific aspects of the process for you or with you.

Arnell's 4 of Wands for Tarot Collector's Forum Collab Deck Quick, Short Run, 'On Demand' Style Decks
This alternative to the above professional deck printers may make sense when you want just a few copies printed (for family, friends, a Tarot group or special limited edition or to mark an occasion, etc.) You can make a handful or a hundred and be done with it in less time, with little hassle or simply order/sell as needed. The quality is not as good as a professional deck printer, but if you are not particular and mainly want to have the artwork on cards to share or sell, then this may be a better option. It is well over double the cost per deck to produce but also much less investment (less profit, if you plan to sell them; unless you charge much more per deck). No need to send un-flat files or mess with such techy details. They don't tend to offer custom boxes, or deck and booklet sets so most likely you will need to combine print jobs if that is a goal.

Printer Studio offers smaller card sizes with playing card symbols already printed on them, but last I checked, is limited to only a standard 2.75 x 4.75 inch blank deck template/Tarot card size. This is a thinner quality cardstock (300 gsm for a silk finish or 320 gsm for a slightly thicker, more costly, textured 'linen' finish.) Just don't expect your cards to receive personal adjustments or attention to details  (art or text) on the printer's end.

Here is a bit of math for a general idea of costs with Printer Studio (from 2013): $15. each for 1 - 15 decks (thinner 300 gsm cardstock), or $17. for each Tarot deck (for slightly thicker, bumpy textured 'linen' finish). The card price goes down if more are printed at once. For an 80 card deck in the thinner 300 gsm cardstock; they charge around $12.00 per deck for 151 - 299 copies. The price goes down again at 300 decks and once more for 500 decks: $11.03 each for 500 decks = $5515. plus shipping (perhaps another $500). Books & boxes (if needed) would be a separate, costly print project but options may be available at your local professional print shop.

My creative friend Michele Jackson who has made several cool Tarot decks and done workshops on deck making while experimenting with various On Demand printers, recommends Printer Studio for overall quality, compared to other On Demand sites such as GameCrafter, or Superior Pod.

Recently another printer: Make Playing has gotten decent feedback (I think it's a branch of QPC - mentioned at the top of this essay - but more geared towards smaller, On Demand type commissions).

Saskia Jensen recently self-published a small (50 deck) order with Dutch printer - Groels Drukkerij with good results (2015). Thick, glossy cardstock & bright colors. She shares:
They don’t have a minimum. They do regular style print jobs or On-demand projects (cheaper the more you order) with digital printing (you need to request an estimate and proof copy). Prices are reasonable and quality for the 'On Demand' was better than most. Thick cardstock was an available option. For 50 full size, 80 card decks with a shinny lamination and rounded corners the cost was around U.S. $19. each plus shipping (no box or lwb).

Here are some useful notes from Michele regarding On Demand Decks:
This is the simplest method, but it requires a bit of planning. Companies that print cards on demand usually have a template available to help get your cards the right size for printing. If you think you will be going this route download the template before you start your deck. The safe area is the area you should work within for anything you want to appear in your card. There is usually an area around that called the bleed area. Your image should extend into this area, but bear in mind that it may be cut off. If you don’t extend it into this area you may have white showing, which is fine if you want a white border, but not so good for cards that you want to fill the entire space of. Each of the companies I tried used a different sized card so it helps to know the company you want to use upfront as it is difficult to resize your art in odd increments once it is complete. You can work in multiples of the desired size – for example if the finished card will be 2.5 X 3.5 inches, you can make your art in 5X7 size and reduce it easily. However, items (in your art) that are easy to identify at 5X7 may be difficult to identify at 2.5X3.5 so keep this in mind. It is best to work in the size the POD company uses.

*2013 Update on a On Demand Company - Gamecrafter (+ I've since heard from several people that card quality has degraded).
An artist (protecting his ID) complained that his deck, printed by Gamecrafter, while never of the highest quality, has been even less satisfactory over time. When he asked them to reprint the most recent decks due to inferior quality, they refused. Now he is left with inventory which he is not comfortable selling. Others say the quality is fine if expectations aren't too high, so it all depends on your perspective.

Tarot Book (Beyond the LWB)
For e-books or hard & soft cover books, the print options are more reasonable these days too (volume bringing price down). There are many choices out there but Donna Huntriss of As the Crow Flies & Druid Oracle decks, works with both and and recommends them both.

*December 2015 Update: Have also recently heard of Espresso Book Machine® - an OnDemand publisher. This company based in the U.S. has branches growing in other parts of the world (such as Italy). If you send your book as a Pdf to make hard copies, any imagery needs to be in Black & White. They give you 25% of the profits and take care of the rest.

My method for hand making decks
(1st Style: old school)

For my original deck Hero's Journey which I began handcrafting in 1994, I color copy (5 Tarot cards per 8 1/2 by 11 sheet), cut and glue individual backs on each front image (with Avery brand glue stick), trim, laminate (thin, 3 mil. lamination), and then trim once more. It's a good idea to put something heavy on the stack of cards between the process of gluing & laminating; if they begin to curl, they may get air pockets or wrinkles. It's worth investing in a decent paper cutter too. Estimating that each color copy page costs around 1 dollar; we're looking at about $16. for fronts plus the additional backs and the lamination sheet costs. And the cutting process is tedious: 80 cards x 4 times (fronts, backs, when glued together and lastly when laminated). Making a full 80 card deck in this fashion costs me about $65. including the spiral bound book and handcrafted box; not even taking into account the week's worth of time necessary (with special handmade box). All four of my handmade decks currently have individually designed colored backs.

II-HP from Circus Tarot Lucky Pack Deck
I print this deck with an Epson Stylus Photo Printer with great results. With Lucky Pack Tarot, (originally created in 2006), I print in high resolution (300 dpi), both fronts & backs onto sheets of Epson double-sided matte, 47 lb. (card stock) paper. Then I hand cut, laminate, and trim a final time. It is a simpler process (than Hero's Journey) and the imagery looks sharp and vivid (much better than copy shop quality). I include a lwb printed on parchment paper & a matching Tarot stamp set. While I recommend this method & Epson papers + Stylus Photo Printer, keeping all those printer inks in stock is pricey !

Simpler methods: You can also glue card fronts (while still in sheet form) onto colored, handmade or designer paper backs; which may be cheaper and much easier during the cut & paste phase of the process (many deck creators go this route). The quality of color copiers differs from shop to shop so it's good to check around if you don't use your own printer. Nowadays good quality home printers may make nicer copies than local printers/copy shops but printing sucks up a lot of ink when done on expensive papers with 'photo quality' settings. Best to experiment and adjust to your needs.

You can buy a laminator and boxed lamination sheets at the local stationary/office supply store or online chains such as Office Depot or Staples. Or find good lamination products at a company like USI. Their website is Phone: (800) 243-4565. If you have a business resale license they can sell products at discount. And they have choices of lamination products, which most office supply stores do not. USI has many types of machines and lamination sheets. For example, USI sells lamination sheets in either 5 mil thickness (used for Lucky Pack Tarot and my personal preference for Major Arcana decks; nice and sturdy) or 3 mil. (used for Hero's Journey and most folks prefer this, since it makes a full deck easier to shuffle; not as thick & bulky and it's also more cost effective). The 5 mil 'Opti Clear lamination pouches' (item number 0182) costs around $25.00 and comes 70 sheets to a box (11 1/2" letter size). Depending on the size of the cards, 4 to 6 cards would fit on one lamination sheet. The 3 Mil 'Opti Clear lamination pouches' (item number 0179) costs around $20.00 and come 100 sheets to a box (11 1/2" letter size) so you get quite a bit more for your money. (2013 Note: prices are subject to change.)

Another Good Option: Un-laminated Deck
Here is an easy method for sturdy, un-laminated cards that I've also done by printing the deck on a nice quality, card stock such as Epson Premium Presentation Matte Paper (44 lb. 9 mil sheets). Or you may be able to copy cards on laser (color copy) paper or onto thicker cardstock at a local print shop. Craft stores have a variety of decorative or colored card stock for the backside of your cards (different thickness - depending on preference). You can spray (uncut) sheet of Tarot cards with an adhesive like 'Krylon Spray Adhesive' and press the sheet firmly on to your chosen backside card stock. This spray adhesive gives a few moments to adjust before setting cards permanently. Give it time to dry, and then cut the cards out with sharp scissors or a paper cutter. *Note: if you choose a decorative backside cardstock which has a pattern that is not reversible, then have the Tarot card (fronts) all line up in the same direction during the gluing process (so back design direction matches). Best to spray outdoors and cover your work area with discarded newspaper.

In the Essay section of my site ('Big Red Shiny Button') I have more on Tarot card making and creative, inspirational projects along with guest artists who have shared their own techniques of making decks such as: Eric Lerner who offers a detailed essay for artists; comparing various art mediums, and Jean Hutter who shares a quick & easy method of producing decks. And Michelle Cohen's article has a unique way of deck making which has a nice tactile presentation (thick cardstock, with a glossy, slippery feel.) While Michele Jackson goes more into the creative process of being turned on by the experience of making her first deck. Also how she went from someone who didn't believe she was at all creative to making many (beautiful!) decks... She has since become an accomplished, award winning artist and remains a great inspiration.

Self Promotion
I'm a hermit by nature and lousy at self-promotion so my website does some of the work along with Facebook. Also doing pro bono work for other Tarotists and collaborations with other artists is a beautiful experience and offers networking opportunities along with a good way to stay in touch with the tarot tribe. That and sending promotional copies to respected and reliable deck reviewers and contacting Tarot websites for a link-up, or joining and contributing to online Tarot forums, blogs, and doing collaborative Tarot decks & projects, or attending Tarot conventions, and writing articles for esoteric magazines, blogs & zines in exchange for free publicity. Many Tarot conventions will trade you a vending table if you agree to do an interesting presentation in exchange and many magazines that have an interest in Tarot will give you space to promote your deck & site in exchange for an article they agree to publish. Llewellyn for instance used to publish a wonderful yearly Almanac, 'Tarot Reader', and was looking for fresh approaches to Tarot. The next evolution of that was a calendar which had many artist and writer contributions. Not sure what the future phase may be but is a popular format and great way to bring attention to your project. (and others that have since cropped up) has reasonable fees, and lets you create a personal 'shop'; to sell your handcrafted decks.
Or get support from friends on Facebook (there are deck creator pages to share your creative progress) and Tarot chat sites and forums such as Aeclectic and Tarot Collector's Forum . Share ideas and ask details from other published/self-published Tarot artists, and introduce your deck to Tarot collectors, etc.

Deck Reviewers (willing to exchange a complimentary deck for a most cases):
Bonnie Cehovet
does Tarot reviews on Aeclectic and on her webpage
Staff at The Cartomancer - a quarterly Tarot journal (both online & hard copy) may also be willing to do a review for a free deck.
Aeclectic Tarot a great forum showcasing decks & specs. Tarotists post commentary, deck updates and reviews. Check here for details on how to submit your deck for review on Aeclectic.
On Facebook (member only): Tarot Deck Creators has helpful tips for artists including a list of potential reviewers
You can send a copy of your deck to the American Tarot Association's Quarterly Journal for potential review (may take a while since issues are only 4 times per year).
You may also find inspiration and good tips from this essay; where 4 popular Tarot artists describe their methods of publishing.

And of course...if you need an artsy website or help with production aspects of getting your deck published, feel free to contact Arnell Ando. All or partial assistance is available for a reasonable fee.

Please feel free to share feedback or any recommendations on printers or deck making methods with me also. Most of all, have fun and enjoy the creative process!

Arnell Ando
Creator & publisher of several Tarot decks since 1995, & co-host of Tarot Art History Tours of Italy with Museo dei Tarocchi + co-author of Tarot Travel Guide of Italy, available now as an expanded Kindle or Pdf eBook with over 70 images, maps & live links! Visit Arnell's site for art, essays, & reviews.