How to (Self) Publish Your Own Deck
*Updated March 2014*
Since addressing my creative process making Tarot
cards in an early
let's focus on practical aspects of getting your deck (self) published as well ideas for self promotion.
Tarot journal exercises to help inspire your writing & intuition (which go hand in hand with making a deck)
can be found on the site including the following pages:
A Major Arcana Key
and also a
Suits, Numerology, and Court Cards Sample Key
That said, let’s dig into the nuts & bolts of getting your deck out there for all the world to enjoy!
Getting a deck published by a reputable company
Before sending your work off to a publisher, check their site and find out if they are accepting new submissions. They usually have downloadable submission packets. If you do find a publisher willing to publish your deck, expect it to take at least a year (more likely two). If an advance is offered it will probably be less than $1000. They may print 5000 ~ 10,000 copies the first printing; giving you perhaps 9% royalty on the publisher’s net wholesale proceeds (info based on 2006 USG contract). They usually require full/sole exclusive rights to license and sell internationally in any form. You may retain the copyright; in which case full rights will revert back to you once they stop printing. They will probably be glad to sell your deck to you wholesale (around 50% off), which you could in theory...personalize for your fans and sell on your site for full price (perhaps including free shipping, inscriptions or some other nice touches). You can also promote your deck at Tarot conventions and local book signings, etc.
Some benefits to being published by a big company: its great for circulation! With a large printing and excellent promotional tactics, international connections & the best options available; your deck will get incredible exposure. You needn't spend so much time and energy self-promoting if you don't want to and of course, no additional personal financial investment is needed.
A Few Main Tarot deck publishers in U.S.
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 Advantages and Tips for Self-publishing:
1) You have full artistic control (with your deck and of course...all related merch)!
2) All costs a tax deductible business expenses (except your time).
3) It takes much less time to self-publish (9-12 weeks - post production; as opposed to the year or more with publishers).
4) Deck reviews & exposure may grab attention of big publishers (or other possibilities) for future ventures.
5) These days it is quite reasonable to self-publish a deck. For less than $7500. you can conceivably create a professional quality, 78 card, full color Tarot set, with a (color) lwb, and custom box (1000 sets or less) if you know where to look (details follow).
6) To help fray costs you could check if friends/Tarot groups want to chip in for a cut in the profits.
7) You could make a collaborative deck with your Tarot group/friends and split expenses.
8) Give discounts or creative incentives for pre-orders while deck is being printed to offset up-front costs.
9) Artists can use programs such as Kickstarter (crowd funding site for creative projects with incentives for supporters) or Indiegogo (allows partial funding in order to still receive funds and fulfill incentives). These resources combined with the power of media groups like Facebook, Twitter, etc. help get the word out to fans and attract new customers; allowing one to conceivably match or exceed the financial goals for deck printing (and all the benefits that come along with that; including getting your deck out to a larger audience and letting go of inventory, etc.) Although it should be mentioned that a Tarot artist (who shall remain nameless), let supporters down by not coming through with the promised gift incentives on a crowd funding deck, and this has muddied the waters for future Tarot artists wanting to use these platforms, or at least made supporters more skeptical. So it helps if you are known & beloved in the Tarot community to go this route (since truth be told; it is also a bit of a popularity contest and relies on getting the word out to a big fan base and having a happy, excited buzz about your project.)
10) Thanks to our Tarot community being so visible and communicative online; Chat sites & Forums such as Aeclectic and Tarot Collector's Forum make it is easier and more comfortable to share your deck progress with international Tarot readers & collectors and also gain valuable support from them directly or get useful direction from creative colleagues and deck artists.
11) Also, if you know Wiki Code, you can create a page on Tarotpedia (which also tracks the number of hits and can be linked to your site for higher/faster search engine ratings.)
Self-publishing & Printing Houses Specializing in Card Decks (New Details - August 2013)
While working with a dear friend to publish her cool deck we did some research on American deck printers. Hope these notes & commentary are helpful.
Quality Playing Cards & Games, Inc. (in Florida), is a green energy company; and the printer we worked with, Summer 2013.
Things have certainly changed since I self-published in 1995 and it seems...all for better! I'd heard the evolution of the printing industry made the experience much more streamline, professional, reasonably priced and with higher quality options available but couldn't have imagined...especially compared to my challenging experience and high costs some 18 years ago. I don't want to bore you with that sob story; but nowadays you can work with a company like Quality Playing Cards which offers free card samples and detailed, reasonable quotes, as well as free assistance from their art department (can help you create templates for formatting your cards, booklet pages & box; all while working from your favorite digital art program, like Photoshop). And when you are ready; upload all completed 'un-flat' files to their 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 your deposit; QPC can also mail out hard copy proofs (uncut, flat, paper prints) for your inspection, if special requested (but this will add additional weeks to your 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 (post production) advanced deck set before shipping your entire inventory so you can inspect it carefully before your decks are mailed (in the future I will not bother requesting a hard copy proof and will wait for this actual hard copy set, since precious time was wasted needlessly. Nearly 3 weeks were lost on this paper version, but at that time I did not realize we would be receiving an actual deck set before shipment). I was most impressed with Steve in their Graphics Dept. and Melissa in shipping was extra helpful as well.
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 nice, 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, in either a custom (full color) tuck box or a custom 2 piece box for around ($7000. for 1000 sets = $7.00 ea.) including shipping. It could cost less if you chose a thinner cardstock (such as 300 GSM) or didn't need the lwb or box... This is just a round figure to give you a general idea of cost. Found this price chart for Tarot cards on their site too. They also offer booklets with 52 or 100 pages or can also make soft cover type booklets (instead of paper covers) for a bit more. Any version should still fit snugly together in the box. Any additions to the above estimate would of course cost more, so ask for your own estimate when you know all your deck specs. Also if the number of pages you need for the booklets is different, (but divisible by 4), they should be able to give you a quote and print them. They seem flexible if you are patient and also follow up with them when needed. (They are juggling a lot of projects so it maybe necessary sometimes to 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 special requests (such as hard copy proofs). QPC seems to like to take their time and do a thorough job.
*Update to Above* Received the advance '1st production' copy of the actual deck set and its even better than expected! Lovely presentation. The box is sturdy & nicely constructed...sleek finish & colors. The deck looks & feels great: cards came in the order requested and are sturdy yet easy to shuffle and have a very soft sheen. 350 gsm cardstock & satin finish - perfect and the card CMYK colors are beautiful & consistently vibrant. LWB is lovely especially with additional color card images. The text is easy to read (9pt Georgia font). The box, deck & booklet are all the same size and fit snuggly together. Recommending this printer highly for Indie deck artists! It was a positive experience and will continue to work with QPC with other client friends.
The price seems quite reasonable, compared to the $15,000. I invested for: 1000 deck & soft-cover book sets, which I had to hand punch-out of corrugated sheets (5 for each deck = 5000 sheets) and hand correlate, shrink wrap and hand-glue covers onto boxes; back in 1995. And don't get me started on the card quality (and I use that word sparingly) of the cardstock or print job back then. Suffice it to say I am envious...but very excited about the options available to artists these days!
Devera Publishing *Update - March 2014* Colleague - Lisa de St. Croix self-published her colorfully painted 78-card deck & booklet set with this esoteric print house out of Portland Oregon. They sent card samples which are nice quality (300 gsm - so not as thick as 350 gm option we went with QPC printers, but sturdy enough) with a smooth satin finish and rounded corners. Prices seem competitive with QPC. They offer extra services (for a fee) such as text editing and help with marketing & distribution. Jadzia DeForest the Project Manager responded to requests in a fast, professional manner and was helpful & approachable. The next project I am given, I will ask quotes from both of these great print shops and share results here.
Carta Mundi has a branch in Texas and it was important to get a quote from them because they have been in the card printing business for a long time and have a strong reputation. Years back the host of a collaborative deck I worked on, Artist Inner Vision had decks printed there and Carta Mundi did a great job. Their minimum deck order, however is 2500 decks.
In May 2013 they quoted a price for 2500 decks (not including boxes, booklets or P&H), 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 either (which the rep warned would be well over a thousand; and more likely two). The cards would come collated and cello wrapped with rounded corners and be printed on 320 GSM cardstock (less sturdy than 350 GSM mentioned above with QPC ). 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 Tiff 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 4 - 8 weeks.
I sensed that they tend to work with professional card publishers and don't want to be bothered dealing with anyone else. And perhaps good deals could be negotiated for large quantities of decks 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 feeling not only from the attitude of the sales rep who spoke in rapid fire printer lingo, but that she flaked on our phone appointment and didn't return calls, e-mail or do any follow-up for several days and then the quote also took an additional week to arrive and didn't contain all requested details. She was courteous and professional 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 such as an art or tarot deck.
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, we never received any samples promised nor got any follow-ups. So someone dropped the ball there. They did however send a basic quote (in card dimensions requested). Their prices are 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. Want to hear feedback from artists who recently worked with them to give fuller commentary.
*Update * Have since heard from a friend in Canada who is currently publishing a lovely deck. It sounds like Palaimon had gotten good feedback in the past; but that they may currently be going through economic challenges because they dropped the ball on her large deck order with still months of time left on the print schedule. They gave no explanations or apology but luckily she had not lost anything financially (except her valuable time) and has since had great results by going local...so a happy ending for my friend at least.
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 set. And a lovely, full color, soft cover book. The deck quality is excellent and the price competitive with other deck publishers (including those in China).
Printer Trento another self-publishing Tarot artist from the UK recommended; saying this Italian based company does quality Tarot card productions. I plan to look into it in the future and will share details then.
Getting Your Cards Ready for Print
Some of the above printers don't mention Tarot cards in their online portfolios, but they have made decks and understand the specific requirements. You can request sample cards and quotes (but keep in mind English may be a second language).
You may be requested to fill out an online form stating your specs for the deck 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 & thickness), and if you want common borders, or a background color to bleed to the edges, rounded corners, correlated and cello wrap, any booklets, and boxes, etc. 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, 'Tiff'). Keep in mind CMYK colors may look different from RGB when printed; blue/green and red/orange hues most noticeably (may take a bit of getting used to). 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 the left, 0.0625" on the 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' border (in case it gets cropped off).
Begin with a high enough resolution (at least 300 dpi). If you are an artist creating your artwork presently, you may 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 quality. If your deck is standard size you can ask the printers if they have a template to work from; with outline crop marks, (would make it easier to work within those crop lines while formatting your cards in prep for print). Our most recent deck project was not standard size, so the printer gave card measurements for us to create a correct sized template in Photoshop. Once the template was made, it was methodical transferring every 78 card image (previously cropped & saved in correct card size) into the template set up; and at the same time to paste in card titles, and save (as unflat CMYK Tiff Files) in a folder on the computer. When all the files were saved the entire folder was sent as a Zip File to the printer's secure site (which took about 3 hours to upload).
Several self published artists have created amazing decks in recent years, (too numerous to mention) and many have gone on to also be published mainstream. Links to some favorite indie Tarot artists who self-published are listed on my Tarot Links page
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 any aspects of the process for you or with you.
Producing Those Quick, No Nonsense 'On Demand' Decks
An alternative to the above professional deck printers; may make good sense when you want a few copies of a deck printed (for family, friends, Tarot group or special limited edition or to mark an occasion, etc.) You can make a handful and be done with it in less time, with less hassle. The quality is not as high as a professional deck printer, but if you are not particular and mainly want to have the artwork on cards, then maybe it is a better option. More than double the cost per deck to produce but also needs less investment (less profit too if you plan to sell them; unless you charge a lot more per deck). No need to send un-flat files or mess with techy details; may make it quicker & easier. They don't tend to offer custom box, deck & booklet sets so most likely you will need to combine print jobs if that is your aim.
Printer Studio offers smaller card sizes with playing card symbols already printed on them, but 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 any personal adjustments or attention to individual cards (art or text) on the printer's end.
Here is a bit of math for a general idea of costs with Printer Studio: $14.99 each for 1 - 15 decks (thinner 300 gsm cardstock), or $16.50 for each Tarot deck (for the slightly thicker, bumpy textured 'linen' finish). The card price goes down if more are printed. 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 the shipping (perhaps another $500). Books & boxes (if needed) would each be a separate & costly print project & investment + P&H. Compare that with 1000 professionally printed, deck, box & booklet sets for around $7000. with QPC, in case you are considering a bigger investment.
My very creative friend Michele Jackson who has made several cool Tarot decks and done workshops on deck making while experimenting with various On Demand card printers, seems (at this point) to recommend Printer Studio for overall quality, compared to the other popular On Demand sites such as GameCrafter, or Superior Pod.
And more recently I heard of another printer which got decent feedback online called Make Playing Cards.com.
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.
August 2013 Update on a On Demand Company - Gamecrafter
A deck artist friend (protecting his ID) recently complained that his deck, which was printed by Gamecrafter, while never being of the highest quality, has since sent even less satisfactory print jobs over time. When he asked them to reprint the most recent decks due to this inferior imagery quality, they refused. Now he is left with inventory which he is not comfortable selling to anyone. As says...'Well, you get what you pay for!'
My method for hand making decks
(1st Style: old school)
For my original deck Hero's Journey which I began handcrafting in 1995; 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 $60. including the spiral bound book and handcrafted box; not even taking into account then week's time necessary. I still make this original deck in the same manner because I don't want to change the look & feel of the special edition production (but not for much longer)....
All three of my current handmade decks have individually designed colored backs.
Lucky Pack Deck
I print this more recent deck with an Epson Stylus Photo Printer with great results. With Lucky Pack Tarot, (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 & a matching Tarot stamp set. While I recommend this method & Epson papers + Stylus Photo Printer; keeping all those printer inks in stock is pricey (when the printer eventually dies we're stuck with boxes of ink)!
Simpler methods: You can also glue the 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. Nowadays good quality home printers may make nicer copies than local printers/copy shops but printing sucks up a lot of printer ink when done on expensive quality paper in 'photo quality' printer settings.
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 www.usi-laminate.com Phone: (800) 243-4565. If you have a business resale license they should be able to sell the products at discount. And they have choices of lamination products too, which some 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. (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 been also doing lately... 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 onto thicker cardstock at your local print shop. Craft stores have a variety of 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 shop) and press the sheet firmly on to your chosen backside card stock. This spray adhesive gives a few moments to adjust before setting your 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 you'll want to have the Tarot card (fronts) all line up in the same direction during the gluing process (so the backs all match).
In the Essay section of my site ('Big Red Shiny Button') I have more on Tarot card making and inspirational projects along with guest artists who have shared their own techniques of creating 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 to it.) 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 to me.
I'm a hermit by nature and lousy at self-promotion so my website does some of the work for me along with Facebook. Also doing pro bono work for other Tarotists and collaborations with other artists is a beautiful experience and also offers networking opportunities along with a good way to stay in touch with the tarot tribe. That and sending a few 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 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 & website 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 next phase may be but that's a popular format.
Etsy.com (and others that have cropped up) has reasonable fees, and lets you create a personal 'shop; to sell your handcrafted decks & artwork. And as mentioned above, you can also post your progress and details about your deck with links to your site on Tarotpedia
Or get support from friends at 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 review...in most cases):
Bonnie Cehovet does Tarot reviews on Aeclectic and on her webpage
Aeclectic Tarot a great forum showcasing decks & specs. Tarotists post commentary, deck updates and also reviews. Check here for details on how to submit your deck for review on Aeclectic.
On Facebook, (member only): Tarot Deck Creators page which 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 review (may take a while since the issues are quarterly)
Mary K. Greer's Blog (great reviews but being so busy, its a good idea to confirm with her first)
Diane Wilkes inherited Michele Jackson's infamous site renaming it Tarot Passages. Diane has a long standing reputation for writing honest, in-depth, reviews. Her site is well traveled by the Tarot community. Its also best to contact her before sending your deck.
And of course...if you need an artsy website or help with any production aspects of getting your deck published, please contact Arnell . All or some assistance is available for a reasonable fee.
Most of all have fun and enjoy the creative process!