Useful notes on making and publishing your own Tarot deck
(Revised March 2012)
Since I've already addressed the creative process and procedure that I've found helpful for making Tarot
cards in an earlier essay found on
I will focus on the more practical aspects of getting a deck published in the following essay. Tips on
becoming published, self published and/or making individual hand made deck copies for personal study & sale
will also be outlined as well some tips for self promoting.
*Note* There are also useful Tarot journal exercises to help stimulate your writing and intuitive skills that go hand in hand with making a deck found on the following links on my site:
A Major Arcana Sample Key Including Archetypal Examples of the Cards Depicted in Movies
A Sample Tarot Key Including the 4 Suits, Numerology, and Court Cards
A Fun, Contemplative Major Arcana Journal Exercise
That said, let’s dig into the nuts and bolts of getting your deck out into the world for all to enjoy!
Getting a deck published by a reputable company
I recommend before sending your work to a publisher that you contact them first and find out if they are accepting new submissions. They usually have downloadable submission packets on their sites. If you do find a publisher willing to publish your deck, expect it to take at least a year. If an advance is offered it will probably not be much more than $1000. They may do 10,000 copies the first printing giving you perhaps 9% royalty on the publisher’s net wholesale proceeds. They usually will ask for full/sole exclusive rights to license and sell internationally in any form. You will probably retain the copyright and the full rights will revert back to you once they’ve stopped printing. They can sell them to you at wholesale price (around 50% off), which you may then personalize for your fans and sell on your own website for full price (or include free shipping or some such bonus). You can also promote your deck at Tarot conventions and local book signings, etc. Other benefits to being published by a big company are... It's great for circulation! With (possibly) 10000 copies made the first printing and excellent promotional tactics, your deck will get great exposure. You needn't spend so much time and energy self-promoting and, of course, no huge personal financial investment needed.
Tarot deck publishers:
U.S. Games 179 Ludlow Street, Stamford CT. 06902 1800-544-2637
Llewellyn : P.O. Box 64383, St Paul MN. 55164 Phone: 1800-843-6666
Schiffer Publishing, Ltd (Pennsylvania) Contact: Schifferbk@aol.com, Phone: 610-593-1777
Some positive points about self-publishing:
1) You have full artistic control.
2) All costs are a tax deductible business expense (except your time).
3) It takes much less time to publish (3-6 months rather than a year or more).
4) Deck reviews and exposure may grab the attention of a big publisher (or other possibilities) for future ventures.
5) To help fray costs you could see if your friends/Tarot group would want to chip in for a cut in the profits. You could also make a collaborative deck with such a group if you didn't want to make the full deck yourself and split expenses. You might give a discount for pre-orders while they are being printed to offset up-front expenses. Also artists such as Monica Knighton of Stolen Child Tarot have used Kickstarter; (a program for funding creative projects with an incentive for supporters) combined with the power of media groups like Facebook to get the word out to her fans and new customers and was able to more than double her goal for a small printing of her latest deck.
My experience Self-Publishing...Going to a local publishing house
Back in 1995, I invested about 15 thousand into making and distributing 1000 decks, and books. That included most other expenses such as buying a shrink wrap machine to package the cards ($375), getting a business license, fictitious name, ISBN # ($150.), website, fliers, postcards, and attending Tarot gigs. The books and decks together cost $9530. The books, (B & W text with images, 100 pg. with color covers) cost, $4652. and the decks (80 card, full color front, two-tone back, with rounded corners) cost me $4876. The die cutter to perforate the edges and make round corners cost $800. 1000 blank, sectional boxes cost $800. I had 1000 extra book covers made ($200.) which I glued onto the boxes. Part of my dilemma was that I only had so much money that I could invest into this endeavor. Therefore the professionally minded staff at Self-Publishing Partners in San Diego, in trying to keep within my budget, were not able to offer options like protective plastic coating on the cards or seek out a printer specializing in playing card production. Another problem was that since I needed to cut costs somewhere, I did not opt for the cards to be cut and collated. Instead I got the cards in perforated sheets, which I then had to punch out and collate by hand. I couldn't fathom what a time consuming process this would be. But 5 sheets a deck multiplied by 1000 is months of work. Not to mention how careful I needed to be not to tear the cards when removing them from the perforated sheets. And then collating them also takes much time. The local printers that Self Publishing Partners relied on for this project were, in hindsight, not up to the task of making 'playing cards' of any kind and didn't understand how vital it was that each card back be EXACTLY the same. There was also a problem of inconsistency on the fronts of some cards. Certain cards came out off center, dark, muddy or had weird spots on them and had to be discarded. Eventually this Self Publishing company had to sue the printers and send half of my order out to be reprinted by another company in order to achieve a more satisfactory result. I deeply appreciated how Self Publishing Partners stood by me, while risking their own commission by paying for the reprint out of pocket while dealing with this lawsuit. In the end I fear they lost money by taking on this project.
It's also worth noting that I priced my deck and book set at $24.95 but I didn't realize that when I sold them wholesale at $15.00 a set to stores, and $11.50 a set to distributors such as New Leaf that I would be breaking even at best and losing money when selling to distributers. So it's important to figure in the middle man when thinking of a price in case you plan to have them available in stores.
Once the deck was published, Michael and I traveled the west coast (from San Diego to Northern Washington) selling the deck wholesale to independent occult and New Age shops. If shops agreed to purchase 5 or more deck sets we would give them a free demo copy. I sent the deck to Tarot reviewers I discovered online such as DT. King, Mary K. Greer, etc., and was contacted with positive reviews from Michele Jackson and Diane Wilkes. DT. King helped us build my first webpage for promoting the deck set. Later Michael and I studied website building to create a more elaborate site. Things evolved naturally and with early support from the Tarot community for which I'm eternally grateful.
Now with the Tarot community so visible and communicative online, in Chat sites and Forums such as Aeclectic and Tarot Collector's Forum it is easier and more comfortable to share your deck with international Tarot readers and collectors and gain valuable support from them directly. You can also post details about your deck on Tarotpedia (which tracks the number of views to your page).
Self-publishing & Printing companies that specialize in making decks
Carta Mundi has a branch in the US. The phone is 1-800-892-2782.
A few years back I called for a quote and this is what they gave me. Please use as a point of reference as prices and minimum order amount, etc. may have changed in the meantime. The minimum order is 5000 decks. They quoted me a price of $10,000 ($2.00 a deck) for 5000 decks (no books or boxes) already collated and shrink-wrapped. The cards would be printed on quality card stock (called 'superlux 330') with a full color front and two tone back, sized 4 ½” by 2 2/3rds” with rounded corners. The price quoted for a B & W deck was $8600. ($1.72 a deck).
I've also heard that the printing industry has since been going through a great technological evolution and that we can expect higher quality print jobs for our decks at lower prices (with smaller print runs nowadays much more realistic), so that's exciting! It might be worth investigating. For instance check out the self published decks by Monica Knighton (Tarot of the Dead and more recently her Stolen Child Tarot), the Hezicos Tarot, Rock & Roll Tarot, 1st and 2nd editions, Baba Studios (has produced many gorgeous small production decks) The Pen Tarot and the Wild Green Chagallian Tarot and the decks by Julie Cuccia-Watts (Blue Moon & Maat Tarot), Lunaea (Full Moon Dreams Tarot), and decks by Ellen Lorenzi-Prince (such as Tarot of the Crone now in its 2nd edition), Joanna P. Colbert (Gaian Tarot) and others. Most of these are on my Tarot Links page You may want to contact some of these artists and ask how they were able to self publish their decks.
A company out of Canada called Palaimon Cards has contacted me that they are a playing card manufacturer specializing in custom tarot cards with quotes available online.
Playing Cards R Us, Inc contacted me, saying it is possible to customize card size, fronts & backs and do small printings.
Recently a self-publishing Tarot artist from the UK mentioned to me that the Italian company Printer Trento does quality Tarot card production.
A UK based company with strong ties to China called CT Printing Limited was also recommended by a self-published Tarot artist. This company was able to offer her the best price to suit her individual needs for a unique box style for her deck. The deck quality and price was competitive with other deck publishers.
Some of these printers don't mention Tarot cards in their online portfolio, but they have made Tarot and playing card decks and you can request to be sent sample cards along with a quote.
This site has an extensive list of deck publishers worldwide (not sure how up to date this list is, but its at least a stepping stone.)
*Note: You can always have books and boxes, printed locally to save costs. Ask these print shops or publishing houses to send you a detailed price quote, brochure and Tarot card samples. You might want to have a list of questions ready with details such as; what card size, quantity, thickness, and if you want 'common borders' or prefer the imagery to bleed to the edges, a protective coating, etc. If you are using a program such as Photoshop be sure to save your images in the recommended file format (such as 'Tif') and begin with a high enough resolution (at least 300 dpi).
My Method for Handmade Decks
For my original deck which I began to hand make in 1995, I color copy (5 Tarot cards per 8 1/2 by 11 sheet), cut out, glue individual backs on (with Avery brand glue stick), trim, laminate, and then trim once more. It's a good idea to put something heavy onto your stack of cards between the process of gluing and laminating because if they begin to curl, they may get air pockets or wrinkles. It's worth it to invest in a good paper cutter for cutting the cards once they are laminated, giving them a straight 1/8th" edge. It also helps to put a piece of colored paper down on top of you cards on the copier so that you'll be able to distinguish the edges of your cards (avoiding white on white borders). Estimating each color copy page to be around 1 dollar, for a full set of 78 cards you're looking at about $16. plus the backs and lamination. All three of my current handmade decks have individually designed colored backs.
Naturally B & W backs are much cheaper to produce although I would still copy them on quality, color copy paper. You could also just glue the fronts (while still in sheet form) onto colored, handmade or designer paper which may be cheaper and are much easier during the cut and paste portion of the process (that's what many handmade Tarot deck creators do). Also the quality of color copiers differs from shop to shop so it's good to check around. Some artists print cards off of their good quality computer printers especially if they have created their cards in a digital art program such as Adobe Photoshop.
I print my most recent deck with my Epson Stylus Photo Printer with great results. For my Lucky Pack Tarot , created in 2006, I print in high resolution (300 dpi), both fronts and 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 much simpler process and the imagery looks sharp and vivid (better than color copy quality). I'm very pleased with the presentation and recommend this method. I still make my original deck in the same time consuming manner described above since I don't want to change the look and feel of this special edition production midstream.
You can buy a laminator and lamination sheets at the local office supply store such as Office Depot and Staples or find good lamination products (often at a better price and more variety) at a company called USI. Their website is www.usi-laminate.com
Phone: (800) 243-4565. If you have a business they may be able to sell you the products at a discount. And they give you a choice of lamination products too, which some office supply stores may not. USI has many types of machines and lamination sheets. For example, USI sells glossy lamination sheets in either 5 mil thickness (my personal preference for Major Arcana decks; nice and sturdy) or 3 mil. (most folks prefer this as it makes a full deck easier to shuffle as they are not as thick and bulky and it's also more cost effective per box) The 5 mil 'Opti Clear lamination pouches' (item number 0182) costs around $24.00 and come 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 $18.00 and come 100 sheets to a box (11 1/2" letter size) so you get quite a bit more for your money. (Note prices are subject to change since the printing of this article. These prices were last confirmed in May of 2008.)
Another Good Option: Un-laminated Deck
Here is an easy method for sturdy, un-laminated cards that I've been also doing as of late... I recommend printing the deck on a nice quality, card stock such as Epson Premium Presentation Matte Paper (44 lb. 9 mil - $15. for 50 sheets). Or you may be able to copy the cards on laser (color copy) paper or better yet, onto card stock at your local print shop. Craft stores have a variety of pretty, decorative or colored card stock for the backside of your cards (different thickness - depending on your preference). You can spray your (uncut) sheet of Tarot cards with an adhesive like 'Krylon Spray Adhesive' (also available at Craft shops) and press the sheet firmly on to your chosen backside card stock. This spray adhesive gives you a few moments to adjust before setting your cards permanently. Giving it time to dry, you can then cut the cards out with sharp scissors or a paper cutter. *Note if you choose a decorative backside card stock which has a pattern that is not reversible, then you'll want to have your Tarot cards all line up in the same direction.
In the Essay section of my site (called 'Big Red Shiny Button') I have guest artists who share their own techniques of creating decks.
Jean Hutter for example, has offered an easier and quicker method than mine, (if you don't mind creating decks that have backs without a specific design). And Michelle Cohen's article also shares a completely different method of deck making which has a gorgeous and tactile presentation (a thick cardstock, with a glossy, slippery feel to it.)
I'm lousy at self-promotion so my website did much of the work for me. That and sending promotional copies out to deck reviewers and contacting Tarot websites for a link-up, joining and contributing to online Tarot list groups and forums, blogs, doing collaborative Tarot decks, putting my site on search engines (for free), attending Tarot conventions, and writing articles for magazines, blogs and zines in exchange for free publicity. Most 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 in exchange for an article of yours that they agree to publish. Llewellyn for instance used to publish a wonderful yearly Almanac, 'Tarot Reader', and was looking for fresh approaches to Tarot. Not sure if they will continue with this project in another form in the future.
Esty.com is a website (similar to e-bay) with very reasonable fees, that was created specifically for artists selling their work. I've opened up a (free) shop there for selling my handmade decks.
As mentioned above, you can also post details about your deck with links to your site on Tarotpedia
and join Tarot chat sites and forums such as Aeclectic and Tarot Collector's Forum to share ideas with other published or self-published Tarot artists, and introduce your deck to Tarot collectors.
Key folks to ask if they will agree to a complimentary copy of your deck in exchange for a review:
Bonnie Cehovet does Tarot reviews on Aeclectic and on her webpage
Aeclectic Tarot is a great forum that showcases tons of decks & Tarotists' posts commentary, updates and reviews
Mary K. Greer's Blog (I think Mary still does excellent reviews and you may contact her here)
Diane Wilkes inherited Michele Jackson's infamous site renaming it Tarot Passages. She has a long standing reputation for writing honest, in-depth, reviews. Her site is well traveled by the Tarot community. She resumed updating her site in July '09 briefly after a long hiatus. Its best to contact her first and she if she is interested in doing a review.
Most of all have fun and enjoy the process!